God Is Working Things Out

“God Is Working Things Out”

Luke13-6 fig tree, medieval

Luke 13:1-9 – March 24, 2019

Mother Teresa is sometimes quoted as saying, “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish He didn’t trust me so much.” Oh, I am often pleased and proud that God gives me such weighty things to be in charge of! But, I sometimes wish God would let someone else be so responsible!

Can you relate to Mother Teresa’s wry comment? I know I can, sometimes. Sometimes, life sneaks up on us and tackles us. Life can overwhelm us. Work gets beyond hectic; family problems can pile up. And, what about health? A friend of mine is in college, and her father had a sudden catastrophic health reversal earlier this week, and was rushed to ICU. As Katya Ouchakof said in her recent blog post, “The underlying idea is that life gets hard sometimes – almost to the point of being unbearable.” [1]

If we turn to our Gospel reading for today from Dr. Luke, we might scratch our heads, at first reading. We seem to have come into the conversation in the middle of things, and there is seemingly no continuity. Jesus bounces around from topic to topic. From the suffering Galileans, to the eighteen victims of a tower collapse, to a rather stern parable.

Wait a gosh darned minute, Jesus! I know our Lord’s sayings and parables can be deep and sometimes difficult to understand, but this section today is just plain random. Isn’t it? Is there anything that can tie these disparate segments together?

These topics Jesus brings up may seem random, it’s true. Just as random as life catching us unaware, and biting us on the tail. Say, a random downpour flooding your basement and ruining all the boxes—decades of photos and papers you have stored down there. Or, worse, a loved one falling on cement and seriously breaking a dozen bones. Or, worst of all, your favorite relative getting a terminal cancer diagnosis when they were previously the healthiest one in the whole family.

What gives? What on earth is going on? Why me? Why them? Why not someone else?  

Let’s look at the reading from Isaiah 55, verses 8 and 9. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

At first glance, if we add these verses from Isaiah to the random stuff we read from Luke, we may come up with absolutely nothing. “Hey, God! You don’t make any sense! I can’t figure You out, no matter how hard I try!”

Jesus Himself said it. “Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no!” Again, later in this reading: “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!”

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: Jesus Himself said it. God does not work in a quid pro quo fashion. It is absolutely not “if I do good stuff in my life, God simply has to give me good health, good family, lots of money, and long life.” Isn’t that the “Health, Wealth, and Happiness Gospel?” That is unscriptural, plain and simple. If we think and act this way, we make God a vending machine in the sky. God does not want to be expected to perform like some performing seal or dolphin! An immature understanding like that just will not work. When we do seven, or seventy-times-seven good deeds, God does not “have to” give us anything.

Compare the eighteen people killed by the collapsing tower in Jerusalem and the verses from Isaiah 55. At first glance, this does not seem like a very reassuring message. But, both of the passages are communicating to us that God’s ways are incomprehensible to us. God’s ways are so far beyond our ways, we cannot even comprehend the workings of the mind of God. Sometimes, we just do not understand why, or why not, and that is okay.

The sentence from the Lord’s Prayer we are highlighting this week is “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Or, as Eugene Peterson says in his modern translation The Message, “Do what’s best—as You do above, so do here below.”

We are to ask God for God’s kingdom to come—as Eugene Peterson puts it so well, we ask God to “do what’s best.” This is important! We don’t have to have our fingers in every little aspect of every little situation. We do not need to micromanage. I am not God, and I am very glad of that!

Reminder: the next thing we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done.” In Peterson’s modern translation: “as You do above, so do here below.”

If you look at it another way, we do not HAVE to figure out why eighteen people were killed by the tower of Siloam falling on them. I love how commentator David Lose explains this: “in case they miss his meaning, [Jesus] adds his own story of recent calamity and repeats his point: tragedy is not a punishment for sin. Good news. Sort of.

“Because some calamity is a result of sin. What if the wall Jesus references was built by a fraudulent contractor (my guess is they had those back in the first century too)? There are all kinds of bad behaviors, in fact, that contribute to much of the misery in the world.”

“But notice that Jesus doesn’t sever the connection between sin and calamity. He severs the connection between calamity and punishment. “Do you think they were worse sinners than all the others? No. No worse than you.” [2]

Yes, some tragedies are intensely sad, sometimes incomprehensible. I think of things like shuddering earthquakes, massive floods, raging wildfires, and blinding blizzards. People are perpetually caught in the cycle of poverty. Children get terminal cancer. My friend Pastor Joe had a congenital eye disease, and now is completely blind. Jesus reminds us that people are not “punished” through these catastrophes. However, countless people mourn their losses and lament the passing of loved ones and strangers, alike.

Figuring out those catastrophic things is just not in our job description. It’s beyond our pay grade. We don’t need to worry about that kind of stuff. Worry and concern applies to many situations and problems in our lives. Or, rather, NOT being worried or concerned. Maybe it’s us recognizing what is beyond our control, and that is ultimately a beneficial thing.  

Remember the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Perhaps it is best for us to return to the sentence of the day from the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Or, to be more understandable, from Eugene Peterson: “Do what’s best—as You do above, so do here below.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Ultimately, even if we do not understand stuff, God has it handled. God is working everything out. Everything is in God’s hands, and that is the very best place to be—in this world, and the next.

[1] https://revgalblogpals.org/2019/03/19/revised-common-lectionary-beyond-understanding/

by Katya Ouchakof, March 19, 2019

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2461

“When Bad Things Happen,” David Lose, Working Preacher, 2013.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

An Instrument of Peace

“An Instrument of Peace”

instrument of Your peace, round

John 14:27 – February 17, 2016

This evening, we are going to consider pursuing peace within ourselves. Tonight we consider two things: a verse and a prayer. Both have a great deal to say about peace. And both are examples for us and our daily lives.

First, the verse. Giving you some context, this verse comes from the final night our Lord Jesus spent on earth. Jesus was at a Passover dinner, or seder, with His friends. The Gospel of John gives us an extended look at this evening, and devotes several chapters to this time. Jesus discusses some things and gives His disciples some last instructions.

Now, the verse, John 14:27. “27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

These familiar words of Jesus we’ve just read can sound far away and distant. Perhaps we remember this verse from a funeral, or quoted by a chaplain at a hospital or care center. It seems that almost every week we are surrounded by evidence of upset, catastrophe, and trauma. Many people today are searching for peace in an anxious, unpeaceful world.

Remember the political situation Jesus was operating under! Israel was an occupied country. Politically, the situation was not good. Personally, in the life of Jesus, this was not a peaceful time, either. Remember where Jesus was, here in John 14. This was the Passion Week of our Lord, hours before His arrest. Imagine what Jesus was preparing Himself to go through, in the next hours. Yet, we hear Jesus talk about peace. His peace. He wants to share His peace with all those who are listening. Amazing. Astounding. Almost inconceivable.

Suppose we catch on, and suppose a light bulb goes off in our heads, and we say to ourselves, “Maybe what I’ve been hearing in church on Sundays and in services on Wednesdays is worthwhile, after all! Maybe God really does want to give me peace. Maybe God wants me to focus on peace on the inside. Internally.”

So, some people turn around and concentrate on the inside! To be more specific, on their insides. The internal person. But there’s a danger here, too. If we’re not careful, worry and anxiety can sneak into the picture. Worry and anxiety can push away peace. Worry and anxiety can gnaw away on the insides, as well as our relationships with God and with others around us.

Has anyone here had any experience with termites? I never have, thank God, but I understand that termites can go through large amounts wood over an extended period of time. If we allow worry and anxiety to eat away at our peace with God and with others, it’s like termites eating away at a wooden front porch. After a period of time, even though the porch looks stable, and seems like it can hold weight, it collapses.

It’s the same way with us, when we lose peace. When we allow worry and anxiety to get the better of us and take control of our insides. This refers to the second part of verse 14:27, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” This is Jesus giving advice to us! He is helping us hang onto the peace He’s just given us, just as He told the disciples so long ago. This is an exhortation, not a suggestion.

The second half of this meditation tonight lifts up a prayer. It is a really good prayer: arguably the most famous prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. There is no direct link to St. Francis, but one of his companions, the Blessed Giles of Assisi, wrote a short synopsis of this prayer. The prayer could very well have been enlarged and written from those words.

The first line of this prayer runs as follows: “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.” I am assuming we all want the peace that Jesus so freely gives away. Jesus gives it away to anyone. I mean, anyone. Step right up, and Jesus will lovingly give you peace. His peace.

This wonderful prayer lets us know some of the outgrowths of the peace of Christ. For example, using God’s peace, we can sow love, pardon, faith, hope, light, and joy.

St. Francis and St. Giles knew very well that they were both imperfect people. Yet, this meaningful prayer was an expression of everything they strove to do and everything they tried to live by. We, too, are imperfect people. Anxious, fearful, sometimes even angry and sinful people. Yet, we can be instruments of God’s peace, too.

This night was the most event-filled night of our Lord Jesus’ life. He knew what was coming. Yet—He makes the statement, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you.” He gave His disciples the gift of His peace.

Jesus gives us the same gift, today, too. His peace. It isn’t peace like the world would expect. It isn’t always external peace (although it can very well be that, too!), but it is peace on the inside. Peace where it counts, as far as Jesus is concerned. We have His word on it. He promises to give us peace in our interior selves. So that, imperfect as we all are, we can be instruments of God’s peace to our brothers and sisters, and to the world.

Amen.