Thursday, August 28, 2008
And why would they?
In Dostoevsky's book, The Brothers Karamazov, one brother tells the pious brother a tell in which the priest finds Satan beaten and dying. Realizing that he has the chance to finish Satan off, he is warned by Satan what that would mean. He reminds the priest that so much of his own life is built upon waging war with Satan. Where would his life be - where would the life of the Church be - if Satan were no more. The priest takes Satan and nurses him back to health.
Why would he do that?
Sometimes it is easier to NOT be something that to BE something. Sometimes it is easier to speak of what we are to avoid, rather than focus on what we are to do. Rather than concentrate on the life to which God is calling us, we shout loudly against a life we are to avoid.
Those who called for Jesus' death were those who had devoted their lives to the prohibitions of the law. They weren't sure how to handle someone who focused on the prescriptions of God. It is easier to fight against the Devil than it is to to fight for the good.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
This morning I read from Acts 10. This is the account of Peter's vision in which he is told by God, "What God has cleansed, you must not call common." You would think that such a vision and visit from God would be enough for anyone. But we are told that the vision came to Peter three times - three times - before he was ready to accept it, or embrace it.
We, non-Jewish followers of Jesus, are grafted onto the tree. We are additions.
I am not trying to create a feeling of instability, rather one of gratefulness. We assume that we are "entitled" to belong. We forget that our inclusion came at a great price.
In Luther's Small Catechism, second article to the Creed, Luther reminds us, "At great cost (Jesus the Christ) has saved and redeemed me, a lost and condemned person. He has freed me from sin, death, and the power of the devil - not with silver or gold, but with his holy and precious blood and his innocent suffering and death."
We should not take our salvation for granted. It is right and proper that we would express our gratitude and appreciation to God for admitting us to the community which bears his name.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
There is a harshness to Jesus' words.
His words put us out of step with the world around us.
Not that being out of step is a bad thing. John Douglas Hall has a book titled The Stewardship of Life in the Kingdom of Death. In it he speaks of the things valued and sought after in our culture. The things for which way too many give their lives (huge house, fancy car, prestige) may look attractive, but they are not that which will give life.
The prayers of our second and third decade (that God might bring us success) are replaced by our prayers in the follow decades that God would bless us with a few good friends.
As the crowd begins to thin, Jesus turns to the twelve and asks them if they also would like to go away. We can't be sure of the tone, but their words reveal that they have given it some consideration. "Lord, to whom shall we go?" they reply. They might consider going elsewhere, but there is no other place where they can be satisfied. "You have the words of eternal life," they go on to say.
Being a follower of Jesus won't make you the most popular person. As a follower, you find it necessary to name the evil you see. As a follower, you won't be comfortable stepping on other's fingers as you climb the ladder of success. You can't be the really witty person who tells all the memorable jokes at a party. But you will know that your life is connected to the life which is eternal. You will understand that while others are serving themselves and their own ends you are working to bring about the conclusion which serves God's purpose.
Jesus' words can be harsh. But no other words have the ability to bring us life.
Monday, August 25, 2008
You know the basic plot - Job is identified by God as a mortal who is upright and blameless, one who fears God and turns away from evil. The question raised in the first chapter is whether Job would turn to God where he not so wealthy and fortunate. So, all that he has is taken from him.
There are these friends who come to be with Job. They start out doing the right thing - they sit with Job and observe his grief. But then, they begin to speak. One by one they try to convince Job that he has surely done something to deserve his fate.
Their speeches are very poetic and convincing. I read one of them this morning, from the fifth chapter. Were I not acquainted with the whole of the Book of Job, I might be convinced that the circumstances of our lives are a direct result of the way we live our lives. The piece I read this morning is beautiful, but it is really a counter argument to the book's message.
Understanding context is very important. Knowing something about the whole is essential to evaluate the part.
When you take up your Bible to read, affirm for yourself what it is that you already know about the story. Think on the things you have been taught and believe. Be aware of the assumptions and convictions already in place in your heart and in your mind. This is not a preventative to allowing the scriptures to speak to you, it is preparation which will allow the verses to sustain the faith already within you.
The whole is essential to evaluating each individual part. There is an end result toward which all this is moving. We are more likely to remain on track when we have spent some time considering the rails upon which we are moving.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Pentecost 15 - Year A (previously Pent14.A)
August 24, 2008
It wasn't the reason I decided to marry Laura, but part of what helped me to realize I could spend the rest of my life with this woman was the way she and her parents sat around the dinner table and talked theology. Yes, theology. Remember, I was in my final year of seminary - Laura was in her first. Getting married would mean a two-clergy couple. So, when I met her parents for the first time, I was delighted that we sat around the table and talked about the stuff which I knew would consume every hour of my work-week.
I was excited, as were they (I think,) until we began to run aground on the issues of theology where my ideas and theirs weren't quite in sync. Case in point – today's Gospel lesson. I think it was six years ago, when I preached on this text, that the dinner conversation got a bit testy. Bottom line – upon what is it that Jesus says he will "build his Church"? Is it Peter, the disciple? Or is it the confession made by Peter?
I am slow to back down from a firmly held position. But, as I prepared for this morning's proclamation of the gospel, I realized that when taken in context, Jesus pronouncement in Matthew 16:18 has more to do with what Peter says than with who he is. It is the confession of Peter, his ability to recognize Jesus as the Christ; it is his willingness to stake his life on such a proposition; this is the "rock" upon which Christ's church is to be built.
The issue here is faith. Peter finds the courage to model it. The rock, for which Jesus has been looking, is the firm foundation established in the lives of those who see and hear and believe.
I don't know how many of you have your bibles with you this morning. If you do, a quick scan of the material leading up to this morning's selected Gospel text would reveal the path Matthew has been lying down to get here. It is a path which traverses insightful preaching, great miracles, and an ability to see into the hearts and minds of others. The suggestions made by the disciples, when asked, "Who do people say that I am?" retrace the events of the previous three chapters. Jesus isn't satisfied with the names they mention; and neither are we satisfied by the acts of ministry capable by anyone less than the Messiah.
The disciples start with John the Baptist. A good start. John was very popular and effective. While the official records of the Roman government never mention Jesus, there are records which speak of John. He caused quite a stir with his preaching and his message. His life was cut short – latterly. His head was cut off. To think that Jesus might be another John the Baptist was a tribute to him.
Jesus had shown some of John's skill. While there are no stories of Jesus preaching the riverside and inviting hearers to be baptized, Matthew's 13th chapter is chocked full of things Jesus taught. The crowds who come out to hear him are impressed. They are moved by his words. But skill as an orator isn't enough. Jesus goes back to his childhood home and the people there won't accept him. An indication, perhaps, that no preacher can have the desired effect on everyone.
The disciples also suggest that Jesus might be Elijah. Elijah spoke God's word when it needed to be spoken. Elijah was also at the center of several of the Old Testament's greatest displays of God's power and strength. Remember the encounter at Mt. Carmel when the prophets of Baal and Elijah have their show-down. It is Elijah's prayers which result in the fire coming down from the heavens, consuming his sacrifice – and the prophets of Baal in the process.
An amazing miracle to behold. But not completely satisfying. Might the mention of Elijah here be an explanation of the material contained in the middle verses of Matthew 14. Here, Jesus feeds the 5,000 with the five loaves and two fish. A great show of power and might – but not completely satisfying. No miracle will ever be able to effect the permanent change desired. Only a Messiah can save us.
Great preaching; the working of miracles – how often do we find ourselves speaking of such things when we talk theology? And yet, neither of these are enough. They help, but they aren't going to keep Peter from sinking.
And, remember, that he does sink, at the end of Chapter 14.
That is the story of Jesus walking on the water. The disciples, who are comfortable in a boat, think they are seeing a ghost. When Jesus tells them not to be afraid, it is he, Peter says, , "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." Jesus tells Peter to come. He does fine for a few moments, then he begins to sink. Jesus reaches out his hand and saves him. In explaining why Peter was not able to walk on the water with Jesus, Jesus says to him, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" The story is not about Jesus' ability to walk on water. It is about the "little faith" of those who surrounded him. Matthew's story line builds and builds in such a way as to make faith the outcome of the wonderful teachings Jesus offers as well as the amazing miracles he performs.
When Peter is finally able to blurt out, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God," the story has reached its intended climax. It is the confession of Peter upon which the Church is built. It is our ability to confess with him which adds further stones to the foundation of the Church.
The Church is built up, not with eloquent sermons nor with the working of tremendous miracles. The Church is built up when sinking souls like Peter finally have the ability to set aside their fears and confess Christ as Lord.
If you are finding it difficult to imagine yourself deciding to make a similar confession, make sure that you read the second half of verse seventeen. It is from verses like this that Martin Luther gleaned his insistence that we do not "come to faith" but are given faith. Jesus tells Peter, "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven." Faith, itself, is a gift, given to us by God. It is God's act, God's revelation, which makes possible our confession. We can't arrive at the critical juncture by mustering up our courage and conviction. We are able to share in the confession of Peter when the work of God is completed within us.
If you come back next week, you will be allowed to see that making the confession once doesn't mean that the deal is sealed. In Matthew 16:21 we begin the story in which Peter, the one who confess Jesus as Messiah, will refuse to accept Jesus' warnings as to what this will mean. It isn't an easy road – placing our confidence in this Jesus and then following him to the end.
But we are encouraged to begin, with an acknowledgement of our tongue, of our confidence in Jesus as the one for whom the world has been longing. Allowing the faith planted within us to break forth into the light of the day; confessing with Peter that in Jesus we have found the one who is for us that embodiment of the living God. Make the confession. Hold to the conviction. Then sort of going along for the ride, waiting to see where God will take us.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I can't imagine how many times I have read, or listened as someone else read, this verse from Psalm 23. But this morning a reading from Studdert Kennedy gave me a new insight to very familiar words.
We read of the green pastures and the still waters, and our first thoughts may be of a beautiful and peaceful place. The image which develops in our mind is of a place of luxury, a place where the sun and the rain have combined to create a visually stunning scene.
But this is not the shepherd's motivation for leading his sheep to such a place. This place is ideal because the green pastures means there is plenty to eat. The still waters means there is something to drink, without the dangers of a rushing violent river. This place is not a luxury, it is a necessity.
God does "add on" to our lives many wonderful things. God blesses us with beautiful sights and unspeakable joy. But our turn to God is not to make life better; it is to find life itself.
"God makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust." Whether we turn to God or not, God comes to us and provides for us. However, in turning, in acknowledging the one who creates the green pastures and the still waters, we become aware of the One who gives us these gifts. The add-on which is beyond comparison is the ability to eat our fill and knowing who to thank. It is realizing that our drink from the still waters is not taking something which belongs to someone else, it is receiving that which was created for this very purpose.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
I didn't know, last June when I started looking forward to this day, that it would also be the day that my oldest child would board a plane for New Mexico. She will be volunteering for the next year, with a Lutheran ministry called Border Servant Corp. Her specific area of responsibility will be volunteer coordination with the Las Cruces Habitat for Humanity Affiliate.
There are mixed emotions, for me, on this day. I am reminded that practically every strong emotion has two faces.
Some of you already know that my most often referred to story in the Bible is the story of Jacob and the night visitor. The man comes and wrestles with Jacob all night, but does not prevail. Finally, he strikes Jacob on the hip and puts it out of joint. Jacob still won't release him until he gives Jacob a blessing. Jacob receives the name "Israel," but is left with a permanent limp. Blessing and wounds - two faces of the same encounter.
I went to the Ron Rash lecture for First Year Reading Project. He talked about the characters in his book, One Foot in Eden. They were dedicated, hard working people. They also showed the signs of flawed humanity. No matter how hard we work at it, things seldom follow a simple and straight path.
Thank you for allow me to share my emotions with you. I do so for a purpose: To encourage you to acknowledge the multifaceted aspects of this day in your own life. Some of you are beginning your college career. Others are beginning their final year of study. Some of you are transitioning into the courses which define your career choice. Be excited; be nervous; be honest with all that is going on inside you.
The community which bears the name of Christ is a safe place to expose our mixed emotions. It is the perfect place to expose our fears and seek a salve for that which hurts us. Together we will make our way through the months and years ahead. Together, we will discover and then pursue the path God would have in store for us.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
He says, "You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life."
Jesus is speaking more about their hardness of heart than their ability to comprehend. But his words challenged me this morning, as I prayed for insight to what the scriptures are saying to me now; to the Church as it currently exists.
Without prayerful meditation; without intentional study; it is easy to allow the scriptures to reinforce what it is that we already think. It is rather easy (and way too tempting) to pull out those verses of scripture which endorse my life and the way that I have chosen to live it.
It is a horrifying thought, that I might be in the same boat as those to whom Jesus first spoke these words. I search the scriptures, because I do believe that they are my guide to eternal life. I pray that my search brings me to the place where I encounter the heart of the scriptures - Jesus the Christ.
It can be tough to know what the scriptures mean. It is tempting to read into them what we want to believe. Our life is found when we allow the scriptures to place us in a relationship with the living Christ. It is not this or that verse which will bring us joy. Our peace is found in the One to whom those lines bear witness.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Knowing one's limits is a good thing to remember. It prevents us from venturing too far into uncharted territories; it prevents us from promising more than we can ever hope to deliver; it means that our talk will be matched by our walk. Even Jesus admitted that of which he was capable and that which was not within his grasp.
I need to acknowledge the tone of the preceding paragraph. I don't mean to imply that Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is limited. Rather, I am using this verse of scripture in order to highlight Jesus (the man)'s understanding of where his ability to accomplish anything at all comes from.
The verse continues.... "the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing." This completes the thought. Jesus may be unable to do anything of his own accord, but in mimicking the Father, he is able to accomplish amazing things.
We should also be humble enough to realize that the great things of which we are capable are possible because of the gifts that God has given us. Our minds, our insights, our work - all of this is possible as a result of what our Father has done. We are able to do, because of what our Father has first done.
There are times when we might feel discouraged. Those emotions come over us when we become too detached from the One who is able to accomplish all things. We become frustrated with our limits when we compare ourselves to those around us, looking at them rather than to the Father who gave the ability to accomplish our own tasks.
On our own, we can accomplish nothing. But when we keep our eyes focused on God, we are able to do that which is needed in the kingdom which bears His name.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
The salesperson was representing Lutheran Brotherhood (predecessor to Thrivent Financial.) And the magnet is in fact a quote from Martin Luther. It reads: "When you wash your face, remember your baptism."
Luther remembered his own baptism, every morning. In remembering he gained confidence that the sins of the past day had been forgiven; that the new day was a new opportunity for him to be a child of God; that his choices were as fresh as the sun which would soon brighten the world around him.
By the time you read this, you may have already washed your face. But you can still remember your baptism. And, you can be reminded of the opportunity to begin anew.
Many of you are packing for the move back to Clemson. Integrate the opportunity presented to you by your baptism with the beginning of a new school year. Be affirmed in your relationship with Christ; make choices which reflect the faith which lies within you.
I look forward to seeing you next week, and discovering together the ministry to which God is calling us.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
This woman's life is changed by what Jesus says to her. She goes to the village and tells others and they go out to the well so that they might encounter Jesus.
This change comes as she is going about her daily activity. She is not on a spiritual quest when she encounters Jesus. She is not searching or seeking or looking to fill the void in her life. She is doing her chores and there she meets Christ.
I highly encourage attendance at Sunday worship. I have even been known to suggest that persons get involved in a Bible Study Group. And you don't have to be around me long before I start pushing you to attend a retreat or mission trip. It is a good think to make attempts to be in the places where God's Word and God's will are being set before us. But we must avoid the temptation to think that God will only be found on the mountain top. Christ is most likely to make his way into our lives during the day to day activity of our lives.
We can read about love and sing songs extolling the virtue of loving one another. But it is in loving the hard to love person down the hall that experience Christ. We can discuss what it means to make Christ first in our lives, but it is when we speak Christ's word to an abusive or demeaning situation that we appreciate the God who makes His home among us.
When we allow ourselves to be changed as a result of our living in the world we are more likely to understand and appreciate the Messiah who did not consider equality with God a thing to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
In Acts 5, the Apostles are before the Council. They had already been forbidden to teach in Jesus' name - a directive they had ignored. The Council is trying to decide what to do with them. Gamaliel stands before the Council and tells them, "keep away from these men and leave them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of human design, it will fail, but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them."
Gamaliel's wisdom has been noted throughout all of Christian history. His advise serves the purpose of assuring believers that the Apostles' plan and undertaking were from God. His caution is good advise to those who would rush in and assert the truth of one conviction over another. "Be patient. Allow time, and God's hand, to reveal that which is Truth."
Patience is a trait hard to come by. We rush to conclusions; we act on our hunches; we have an opinion about everything. Convinced that we know God's intentions, we make declarations and pronounce judgments. Those inclined to such behaviors may think they are defending God's honor, or being strong in service to God. I sometimes find myself catching glimpses of self-affirmation in their actions. It may not be God whom they are supporting, but a belief system weighed down with fear or weak reasoning. It takes a strong and confident faith to be patient. It is only when we are firmly rooted in God that we can trust God's will to be done, regardless of how insistent we are that will be done as we would will it.
It is God's plan and undertaking which we long to see unfold. Sometimes, like Gamaliel, the best thing we can do is be patient. Our greatest contribution is to wait and see what God has in store. We need not be quick to judge, in a rush to act. The in-breaking of God's Kingdom is not dependent upon us. It is a gift which comes to us, and to all of creation.
Monday, August 11, 2008
The line reads: "Give your people the joy of hearing your word in every sound."
The discipline of rising early in the morning to read my bible, reflect on sacred writings, and offer my prayers sets a tone for my day and establishes a pattern for my life. By turning to the ancient sources of inspiration, where I expect to hear God's word, I tune my ears to listen for that message of joy in all that is spoken around me. By reflecting on what God might be saying to me through those texts, I develop the habit of discernment. The rest of the day, wherever my activities might take me, has a pattern with increased awareness of God's presence.
Much of what is spoken in the classroom (all of what is spoken in the classroom) is said with an intention other than inspiring devotion to God. The calling, issued to University professors, is to expand useful knowledge. In faithfulness to that calling, they leave it to those who learn to draw the connections between the subject at hand and the One whose hand is at work. The word is there, in every sound. It is those who have been given the joy of hearing who can recognize it and give thanks for it.
Sometimes the spoken word lacks eloquence. Sometimes the speaker uses improper English (or misspells words.) The hearer also has the opportunity to look beyond the shortcomings of the speaker, discerning the joyful message contained in the humble offering.
I invite you to join me, this day and in the days to come, in listening for the word of God, spoken in every sound. I encourage you to train your ears to hear and your hearts to perceive the message of our loving and gracious God.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
August 10, 2008
I Kings 19:9-18 & Matthew 14:22-33
Showy God – God of the Still, Small Voice
I spent two days with my mom this week. She is doing about the same. She is relatively alert and tracks conversations pretty well. I don’t think we will ever get her back to where she can walk, but she has regained enough strength to stand, which makes it easier to transition her from her bed to the wheelchair to her recliner. My prayer life is always affected, when I see my mother. I find myself sitting by her side and wondering, “Where is the God who restores weak limbs, and takes away illnesses?” “Where is the miracle-worker God, whose stories I study and preach on week after week after week?” Sometimes we talk about it – Mom and I. And each time she affirms for me that the God in whom she trusts – the God whom she expects to hear me proclaim – isn’t the God who comes in dazzling events. The God with whom we have come to build a comfortable and comforting life is the God who comes to us in ways which are much less showy, but terribly more satisfying.
I am convinced that Jesus is Messiah because of all the wonderful things told about him in the Gospels. His walking on water is one of those powerful stories which allows me to realize that he is who he says he is. My faith is strengthened by such stories. But the God of I Kings 19, the one who comes to Elijah in the still, small voice – that God is the God who walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am His own. The showy God, the God who walks on water, is essential to my belief system. But the God who quietly remains by my side is the God who receives my prayers.
Appointed Sunday lessons are a bit like real estate. In order to understand a passage you must consider three things – Location, location, location. The passage I read this morning is located in the 14th Chapter of Matthew. The 13th Chapter of Matthew is the one which contained all those parables. In those verses, Jesus spoke of unsurprising worth of the Kingdom. He was instructing us on this pearl to be valued above all others. He provided stories of seeds sown and taken root as a way of illustrating that not all will hear and gladly receive this message of invitation. From there we moved to the beheading of St. John (our appointed lessons skipped over this part.) Then, we get to last week’s Gospel, the story of the feeding of the 5,000. Immediately following the feeding, we come to today’s recounting of Jesus walking on water. I don’t want to get too far ahead, into what comes next, but let me tell you that there are going to be two encounters dealing with faith. You get a hint of that in the exchange between Jesus and Peter, when he tries to walk out on the water. In these exchanges to come, Jesus will compliment the faith of one and condemn the disbelief of another. From there Matthew throws in a few more miracles and then includes the confession of Peter – you know, the one where Peter finally blurts out, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Now, if you will accept that this is where we are in the story, then you might be willing to agree with me that the particular passage for today figures heavily into the whole process of coming to faith. That what Matthew is doing is telling his story, using an order which leads us through demonstrations of the power of Jesus and finally encouraging us to find it possible to have confidence in him as our Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
It is no small thing – to come to such a confession. And Matthew realizes that it would take a lot to convince his readers of the power and presence of Jesus. And so he gives them what it takes. He speaks of Jesus’ superiority to the elements of the earth. Remember Matthew’s story of the calming of the storm (Chapter 8.) Chapter 9 has the story of the little girl who had died, Jesus insists she is only sleeping. They laugh at him, but he wakes her from her “sleep.” These stories help Matthew lead his readers from a state of unbelief to a place where they can at least contemplate joining Peter’s confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
As I said before, these stories and images are very important to me and my faithful response to God’s call. I would not find it possible to believe in Jesus were it not for the stories Matthew tells.
But I would be lying to you if I insisted that this is the way God comes to me in my day-to-day encounters. My personal relationship with Christ aligns more closely with the experiences of Elijah.
Elijah has been about as faithful as one can be. He has followed God’s directives; he has done God’s bidding. He has spoken a word which God has given him. (Now, it is always tricky for a prophet to claim to speak a word which God has given, because God does not send those words in written format. They come in a dream or a vision and we all know how chancy it is to begin sharing with someone else some “feeling” we have had upon waking or coming down from some experience of euphoria.) Chancy, yet Elijah has tried to do his best.
He goes to King Ahab. Ahab tries his best to make Elijah go away. Finally there is that big competition on Mt Carmel in which Elijah defeats then destroys the prophets of Baal. It is after this humiliation that Ahab goes home crying to Jezebel and Jezebel swears that she will kill Elijah.
Elijah is about as faithful as one can be. But good things don’t follow him all the days of his life. It is in following God that he has gotten himself in a whole lot of trouble. Part of that following has included some showy actions on the part of God. But now Elijah is alone and frighten and hiding out on Mount Horeb.
The word of the Lord comes to Elijah and it tells him, “Go out and stand on the mountain … for the Lord is about to pass by.”
The story has us all set up. We are expecting something big and powerful; something at least as moving as the tongues of fire which destroyed the altar on Mt. Carmel. God owes Elijah that much, doesn’t he? Sure enough, a great wind comes. A wind so strong it splits the mountains and breaks the rocks. “Ah, surely here is God passing by?” But no.
Next there is an earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire. Yet in these horrible and terrible and wonderful and powerful things God is no where to be found. God was not there, in these showy things. God comes as a voice in the midst of a sheer silence. Earlier translations of the passage referred to it as a still, small voice.
This quite voice. This barely perceivable word. This is the way God comes to Elijah and assures him. Elijah wraps his face in his mantle. He strains to hear what God will tell him. There is no show; nor is there any manipulating of his surroundings. God speaks to him and tells him that what he is doing is the right thing to do. God whispers in his ear and encourages him to continue on the path he has taken.
The wonderful stories Matthew tells, about Jesus feeding the 5,000 and walking on the water figure heavily into my ability to have faith in Christ. But in my day-to-day journey of faith, it is the whispers, the still, small voice which assures me God is with me. It is the word I strain to hear which convinces me I am on the right pathway.
I feel woefully unprepared every time I am summoned to a hospital room or called upon in a crisis situation. In such situations I strain and struggle as I try to wrest from God a miracle. I want so desperately to be able to repeat stories in which a similar situation has had a wonderful and triumphant ending. I so desperately want God to provide a show equal to the task.
I wish I were one of those pastors who found it easy to say that every thing has a meaning and purpose and that God is working through what might seem to us to be a tragic set of circumstances in order to accomplish some greater good. I wish that I were able to provide such assurances.
But God has not come to me that way. God has most often left me and those with whom I pray right smack dab in the middle of whatever mess it is that we were in the first place. The student sexually assaulted by his supervisor did not receive an apology – rather a perpetrator who wondered out loud if God might be using this molestation as a way to get the young man back in church. No amount of prayer has kept the alcoholic son from returning to the bottle. The man who raped Jodi also stabbed her and she bled to death. No one, in such circumstances, ought to be forced to believe that this present darkness is God’s way of leading them to some later, bright shining glory.
There is a God whose presence is made known in great and showy acts. But the God who most often comes into my life is a God who whispers, a God who encourages, a God who does not change the outcome but remains faithfully by my side and shares tears with me.
I do not want to disrupt anyone’s confidence in God. I do not want to challenge or insist on change in the faith experience of someone who sees God’s hand continually manipulating events and outcomes. What really needs to be said is a word of affirmation for all those whose lives don’t fall into place in neat and perfect boxes. What needs to be heard are the stories in the Bible in which God doesn’t do the showy thing, but comes in a still, small voice. Those of us who do not receive the great miracle are not left out. We may not be invited to walk on the water. We are more like Elijah – given a word through a vision or a dream. A word which instills in us the confidence to come down from the mountain and do what it is that has to be done.