Posts Tagged ‘mystery’

A prayer for Good Shepherd Sunday, after singing “Fairest Lord Jesus“.
Scriptures: Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9 -17; John 10: 22-30

We sing our praise to you, fairest Lord Jesus,
Ruler of all,
living among us,
moving in our neighbourhoods,
bringing your salvation and blessing
your beauty and grace.

We sing our praise to you, fairest Lord Jesus,
for You shepherd us like a good shepherd:
you lay down your life for us;
you protect us from the powers that would
take us from you;
you come looking for us when we get lost.

We sing our praise to you, fairest Lord Jesus
for you lead us to living waters,
immersing us in love
that is deeper than our fears,
inviting us to drink deeply
at the fountain of your mercy;
filling our hearts with your courage and strength.

We sing our praise to you
even as we bring to you those times
when we were stumbling through
the valley of the shadow of death
and could not feel you near us;
we bring to you those times
when we were in the presence of enemies
and not at all sure that
you knew what danger we were in;
we bring to you those times
when our prayers seemed only to echo
in a vast emptiness.

It is mystery to us
that you are present
even there.
It is mystery to us
that you care
even for us.
It is mystery to us
that even now
you are seeking us out,
calling us by name,
yearning for us to
and answer
and come to you.

It is mystery to us
but we lean into that mystery
and sing our praise to you.

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A prayer: “Mark 4: 26 -34” and the song “Morning Has Broken“.

On this new day, we do praise you, O God.

We live in the midst of great mystery:
the mysteries of your Creation,
of night and day,
seedtime and harvest,
life and death and life after death —
all unfolding within your steadfast love and faithfulness;
the mysteries of love and beauty and joy
that come upon us unexpectedly,
surprising us
lifting us up into your Son’s community of grace;
the mysteries of your Holy Spirit
giving us courage and hope and strength beyond our own.

We gather the week that has passed
and set it before you,
that you will do your work of
creation and re-creation,
of reconciliation and redemption
of healing and renewal
in us
in this church
in our world.

We open ourselves to you,
Lord and Friend,
Saviour and God of all Truth,
so that,
at the end of the day,
we may praise you
with hearts and minds and spirits
made new in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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Creator God,
Lord of all history,
Holy Spirit, breath of God,
with angels and archangels
and all the company of heaven,
we join the chorus of those who worship you.

We come, seeking your holy purpose in our lives.
Our hearts yearn for your presence.

We bring to you
our great need to belong
to be loved
to know that our lives matter.

We bring to you all the wrong pathways
we have travelled
as we seek to meet that need.

Touch us again with your grace and your mercy.
Teach us to rest in you.
Open us to wonder and mystery,
then set us toward Bethlehem.
There show us your Son, Jesus,
and fill our lives with your light,
for you are the One we seek.

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A prayer of confession based on meditation on Psalm 40 and Genesis 37

Holy God,
your name we praise.
You have called us by name
and welcomed us into Jesus’ family;
You promise your presence
and your Holy Spirit to help in times of trouble;
You stand by us
even in times of failure and shame.

Teach us to praise you
even when life takes us through dark places:
when death takes those we love;
when loss shuts down the future we had planned;
when hurts and betrayals wound our spirits;
when trouble gangs up on us;
when guilt swamps our hearts.

Open our ears so we can hear
your Word that brings truth and mercy and love.
Open our eyes so we can see
your Holy Spirit who works in surprising ways.

Then, grant us grace and courage
to enter they mystery of your presence in our lives;
grant us grace and courage to abandon ourselves to you.

We wait.

We listen.

We watch.

Come, Lord Jesus,
become part of our very being.
Speak, Lord, for your servants listen.


Assurance of God’s Grace

Our hope is in Jesus’ victory over the powers of this world.

We and our world belong to him

and he will not rest until all things are made new.

Be assured that God’s grace

is at work in your life

overcoming everything that separates you from God,

carrying you deeper and deeper into God’s great love.

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Holy God, holy and mighty,
You know the promises we have made in our best moments:
to love you with
all our heart
and all our mind
and all our strength.

We have promised to worship you alone.

And our intentions are good.

But you know the anxiety that grips our hearts
when problems loom large
and solutions are not easy to find.

We value effectiveness.
We strive for efficiency.
We know how to get things done.
We want to fix what’s wrong.

So, we are not too good with mystery,
especially with the mysterious ways
you work in us and in our world.

We struggle to trust you —
You, whose ways are not our ways;
You, whose timing is so different from ours.

Worshipping you above all else
has turned out to be harder
than we thought it would be.

We try to use you for our own purposes.
We try to summon you to serve our own agendas.
We want you to help us get what we want.

We would give up,
except you will not let us go.
You meet us in mercy where we do not deserve it.
You transform us by grace we do not earn.
You give us your Holy Spirit
to begin again,
to learn a better obedience.

So, we wait —
for the gift of your forgiveness,
for the gift of your Spirit,
for the gifts we need to be your people.

We wait,
handing control over to you
and to your mysterious way with us.

We wait,
through the grace of Jesus Christ
who knows us as we are,
yet loves us still.

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A number of years ago, I was a student minister on a pastoral charge in the Eastern Townships. I was invited for a visit with one of the families who came to their cottage in that area every summer. At one point, the children and I had wandered outside. We noticed a number of mushrooms and circles around the mushrooms on the ground around their stems. I explained to the children that the rings were fairy rings. The children looked a little sceptical so I went on to say, “We seldom see fairies because they are so shy. At night, though, when nobody is around, they come out and dance around the mushrooms. They dance so long that they wear the grass down in a circle around the stems. In the morning, you don’t see the fairies but you see the rings. That’s how you know that these are very special toadstools and this is a very special place.”

The father of the children had come up to where we were and listened for a while. Then, he said, “We have told our children that there are no such things as fairies. We believe you shouldn’t teach children things that they will have to unlearn when they get older because those things were not true in the first place.”

As he talked, all the little fairies — who had just begun peeking their heads out from their hiding places — vanished in a second. We were left with quite ordinary mushrooms with rings around their stems for which I am sure there is a quite rational, scientific explanation.

Ever since then I have felt sorry for those children. I have often wondered about them. With their world rendered so flat and one-dimensional at such an early age, how would they ever learn to hear the songs of angels?

We have two mental operations that are meant to work in tandem: Explanation and Imagination.(Thanks to Eugene Peterson, in Subversive Spirituality, for these ideas.) Explanation pins things down so we can control them and use them. Imagination opens things up. Imagination makes connections between the visible and the invisible world. It helps us touch mystery. If you sever one from the other, you end up with a distorted view of reality. Human life and hope suffer.

Over the past hundred or so years, the balance tipped toward explanation. In the Western world, we were enthralled by what we could know and use and control. We were captivated by technology — the capacity to explain and manipulate increasing portions of the universe.

Few people noticed that a casualty of our rush to explain everything was imagination, and with it, our sense of awe and wonder at what we do not know and what is beyond knowing and saying.

I remember reading somewhere about a father who took his eleven year old son out into the backyard to look at the stars — to wonder at the immensity of the universe, at the beauty of the canopy that was spread out overhead. This was in the early years of space travel and communications satellites. The young boy looked up at the stars and only said, “So, which ones did we put up there?”

A theologian once asked some Amish friends, “Why don’t you have televisions?” She had assumed that they would say that they shunned all modern inventions. Their response surprised her. They said, “We used to have televisions. Then we noticed that our children were not singing songs anymore. They were not dancing and playing games. They were just sitting watching other people. So, we got rid of the televisions. Now, our children sing and dance and play again.”

The evidence is mounting that children who spend their days passively watching television end up with crippled imaginations. They have diminished capacity to envision something different from what is before their eyes. So much of the reality they see on television is violent and corrupt and ugly. Because their capacity to imagine a different scenario gets impaired, they believe society cannot change. The trouble is so big. The world is so out of control that nothing they can do will make a difference. They lose hope. They give up, turn inward, and focus on just taking care of themselves. They look for their own comfort or they act out in rage.

Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth tries to get our imaginations going again. That is not to say that what he tells us is just make-believe or made-up fantasies. Luke is saying, “Touch the mystery of God’s coming to earth in a baby born in Bethlehem.” There is something more going on here than what our five sense can account for. There is something happening in the world that cannot be fully explained.

We know he’s trying to touch they mystery because there are so many angels in the story. An angel comes to Zechariah and Elizabeth and tells them that they are going to have a baby — a baby that all the reason in the world says is impossible.

An angel comes to Mary and tells her she’s going to have a baby. Again, it is a pregnancy that defies rational explanation.

An angel tells Joseph that it is all right to take Mary as his wife. What is going on in her life and in his cannot be accounted for by everything he knows but he can trust it anyway because it is a holy work of God.

Angels — a whole host of angels, angel armies — announce to shepherds that God’s Messiah, God’s Saviour of the world, has been born in a little village outside Jerusalem.

All of this is unbelievable. It is unexpected. Yet, it is so true that two thousand years later we still tell the story and sing praises to the One that the shepherds and worshipped that night.

There are angels everywhere in Luke’s story. They are a healing balm for our imaginations. They open us to the possibility that, just beyond what we see and know, God is at work saving the world.

Did you notice that , in the middle of his talk of angles, Luke insert Governor Quirinius and Caesar Augustus and an explanation about Joseph and Mary heading to Bethlehem because of a royal decree and a census of the Jews? These are the folk who are trying to keep everything nailed dow. They keep adding up all the numbers, hoping that that will keep people in all their proper places. They have some power, to be sure. They saw a word and pregnant women have to travel across the country. But, says Luke, do not be so impressed by them. Luke spends 132 verse telling the story of Christ’s birth. Caesar and Quirinius together — history makers that they are supposed to be — get two verses. And, they don’t get any visits from the angels.

An old couple, a young girl, a worried man and a bunch of no-account shepherds get angel visits and songs and stories. The men who are running countries and empires get two verses and no angels. By the time Luke wrote his gospel, Herod was dead in the ground. Quirinius was gone. caesar’s glorious Roman Empire was beginning to crumble and fall. It is the followers of that little baby born in Bethlehem that are making the empire’s foundations shake.

Feed your imagination with Luke’s stories. Learn that you cannot tell what is really going on merely by reading the news. God is at work in unexpected places among the most unlikely of people, bringing new possibilities for which we had not planned. Because God is at work, hope stays alive. Corrupt systems will not last forever. The wicked will not always prevail.

Because God is at work, no situation is irredeemably hopeless. A light shines, even in our darkest nights. There is a force loose in the world that is greater than we are. That force gives hope that is stronger than our despair. It brings peace that is stronger than our conflicts. It gives joy that is stronger than the sadness. There is love that is stronger than all the forces of hate.

On that first Christmas night, we learned that that force is not an impersonal power. That force has a name: Jesus, God saves. Emmanuel, God with us. We know the name because the angels told the shepherds and they were not ashamed to speak of things they could not explain.

Make room for imagination in your life and in the lives of the children you encounter. Help them see that a vast, amazing reality hovers just beyond their sight. Show them a world brimming with glory so that they fall to their knees in wonder and in awe. Encourage them to stay open to the unexpected. Tell them the stories of God’s intrusion into our world. Give them eyes to see and ears to hear the angel’s songs. Tell them, “Unto you is born this night in the City of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” This is good news which shall be for all people. Though many do not see it now, one day, all creation will cry, “Glory!”

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A meditation for Christmas Eve


“Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.  This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.  They were sent to the house of an old professor who lived in the heart of the country….”

So begins C.S. Lewis’ children’s fantasy novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  The ‘something that happened to them’ was a series of adventures in a magical land called Narnia.  The way into Narnia was through an old wardrobe in the spare room of the old professor’s house.  It was not always possible to get into Narnia through the wardrobe, but sometimes, they would open its doors, push their way through the fur coats that were hanging there and, instead of coming up against the back of the wardrobe, they would just keep on walking.  Soon, they would find themselves in the middle of a forest in a place very different from England.

For one thing, in Narnia the animals –some of them anyway – were able to talk.  For another, time passed differently in Narnia.  The children might spend months in Narnia but, when they made their way back through the wardrobe and tumbled out its doors into the spare room, they would discover that only a few seconds had gone by back in England.

There were two worlds existing side-by-side.  The four children moved back and forth between them, sometimes living in the ordinary world of school and homework and games and arguments with each other, and sometimes having amazing adventures with talking beavers and fauns and a wicked queen and a mysterious lion called Aslan.

The analogy isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t do justice to the story, but in some ways, Christmas Eve can feel like the border land between two different worlds.  There is the ordinary world of getting ready for Christmas – decorating, shopping, travelling, all mixed in with children’s hockey games and doctor’s appointments and shovelling the snow.  Then, we make our way into the night for the Christmas Eve service.  We put aside the busyness, the candles are lit, we sing the carols and we enter into worship.  We sense that we are in the presence of mystery – mysteries we cannot explain or really understand.  Mysteries we can only enter into.

Those mysteries speak to the longings that are deepest in our hearts:
for someone who will bring peace on earth;

for things that are beautiful and holy and true;

to live for the things that matter;

to be what we were created to be.

Sometimes, in a moment haunted by grace, we catch a glimpse of the glory of God.

Luke tries to help us touch the glory.  He fills the story of Jesus’ birth with images that are large — larger than life.  There are angels, but not just any angels.  There is the “angel of the Lord” who makes even hardened shepherds ‘sore afraid’.  The skies explode with a “multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and singing, ‘Glory to God in highest heaven.’”  For a few moments the night is filled with light from a world beyond our own.  We touch the mystery of things holy and eternal.

Then, Luke draws us into the glory in another way.  He shows us a scene of profound simplicity.  Two ordinary peasants, far from home, arrive in Bethlehem to pay their taxes.  While they are there, they welcome their first-born child in very humble surroundings.  They wrap him in swaddling clothes and use a manger for a cradle.  It is all so ordinary.  It’s not really worth taking notice, except that Luke makes sure we know that here the Saviour is being born.  This common, ordinary place is full of the glory of God.

In C. S. Lewis’ story, England and Narnia don’t intersect.  The children venture into Narnia but creatures from Narnia don’t come into England.  The children talk about their adventures in Narnia only with each other because they are pretty certain that people in England would neither believe them nor understand.  The two worlds are split apart.

But, that’s not the way it is with the story Luke tells.  Here, as we stand at the borderland between two worlds, we are given startling news.  In the baby born in Bethlehem this night, God has put our two worlds back together.  God  has traveled across the boundary between the two worlds and has taken up residence in our midst.  In Jesus, God brings God’s glory and God’s Goodness and God’s beauty and God’s holiness into our ordinary world.

Most of us have few dramatic, extraordinary moments in our lives when we glimpse glory or touch holiness.  We long for it.  We spend our lives searching for it.  But, for the most part, it’s not part of our experience.

Tonight we train ourselves to see that glory and to touch that holiness in the midst of the mundane.  We listen to the story that points us to the glory in humble circumstances.  We come to the table to receive ordinary bread and drink that have been made holy by the presence of Jesus Christ with us.  Then, we begin to realize that it wasn’t just a story that happened long ago.  Because of what happened that night, we can know that God’s salvation is being born in our trips to the hockey arena, in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, around the supper table, in our schools and in our places of work.
The wonder is that we get to participate in the holy work God is doing in our lives. It is a gift, which means that what is required of us is simply to open our eyes to see it, our hearts to cherish it and our hands to receive it.  As we leave this place, the taste of grace lingers in our souls.  We return with the shepherds to our ordinary lives, glorifying and praising God for all we have heard and seen.

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Where We Live

 A sermon by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett.  The worship service in which this sermon was originally preached can be found at Reformed Worship, week 4.

Scripture: Genesis 2:4b -15

“Where shall I look for enlightenment?” the disciple asked the elder.
“Here,” the elder replied.
“When will it happen?” the disciple wanted to know.

“It is happening right now,” the elder said.
“Then why do I not experience it?”

“Because you do not look.”

“But what should I look for?”
The elder smiled and answered, “Nothing. Just look.”

“But at what?” the disciple insisted.

“Anything your eyes alight upon.”

“Well, then, must I look in a special kind of way?”

“Why ever not?”

The elder said quietly, “Because to look, you must be here. The problem is that you are mostly somewhere else.”

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, once said, “The hardest thing in the world is to be where we are.” It is hard to be where we are because life is hard and we want it to be easier than it is. It is hard to be where we are because the three thousand advertisements we see per day tell us that life — our life— can be better than it is. We deserve more. We deserve the best. All we have to do is to buy the products they are selling: beer, soap, drugs, shampoo, lottery tickets. We can drive a better car. We can impress better people. We can travel to a better place.

“The hardest thing is to be where we are.” Where we are, says Genesis, is the garden in Eden. “The Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east. And there he put the human he had made.” Genesis 2 tells us that twice in seven verses. “The Lord God took the human and put the human in the garden of Eden.” Perhaps the storyteller was afraid that our minds might be elsewhere. We might be distracted and not know where we live our lives.

When many of us think of the Garden of Eden, we think of a perfect place, of paradise. Since we don’t live in a perfect world, we miss what the storyteller is saying about our lives. The place where humans “are” is Eden. Eden is bounded by four rivers — Pishon, Gihon, the Tigris and the Euphrates. We know where the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers are. Use a search engine and they show up on a map. However, nobody knows where Pishon River is. Nobody knows where the Gihon runs. You cannot find them on any maps. Not on the internet. Not in an atlas.

God places us in Eden. Our lives are bounded by the known and the unknown. We live in the midst of visible realities like rivers and maps and trees and buildings and different kinds of soap and beer and shampoo. We also live in the midst of invisible realities like love and forgiveness, truth and humility, hope and mystery. You cannot touch them but they influence our lives in powerful ways.

Generally, we are more comfortable with the visible, concrete, material realities of our lives. They are easier to control and manage. I do not know if it is peculiar to Western culture, or whether it is just human nature, but we tend to like things we can control. At least, we like things that feed our illusion that we are in control. One phone call, one appointment with the doctor, and that illusion dissipates in a flash, but still we cling to the illusion that we can control our lives.

The largest part of our lives — the love, mystery, hope, truth — they are not things we control as much as we experience them. We enter into them. Generally, we do not attend to them as much; however, they influence our lives in deep, profound ways. If we are to live well, we need to drink deeply from the rivers of Pishon and Gihon.

The names of the rivers are plays on words. “Pishon” means “that which spreads out far in the distance”. It is a river that overflows. It floods its banks and destroys home and farms and roads. It is a wild, destructive river.

“Gihon” is also a river that grows. However, it grows in a positive sense. The harmony is large and growing larger. It leads to life and fruitfulness and vitality.

Tigris and Euphrates hold a similar tension. hideqel means sharp, violent, hard, piercing.

pherat means being fruitful, productive. This garden in which God places us includes both positive and negative possibilities.

We live in a wonderful world. We are especially conscious of this as we live in Canada. It is a land of enormous beauty. It has bountiful, productive land. It abounds in amazing diversity. However, this is also a world where one out of three children in Sub-Saharan Africa is dying of hunger. This is a world where earthquakes and tsunamis wipe out whole villages; where refugees crowd into boats that capsize before reaching freedom; where greed and exploitation put whole ecosystems at risk so that the coral reefs around the world are all dying. Eden is a good place but it is not perfect. Bad things can and do happen here. Good and evil are part of the realities of our lives. So are birth and death, harmonious growth and violent destruction.

Any faith worth having is a faith that helps us deal with both realities truthfully and with hope. Said Craig Barnes, “Christians always live carrying in one hand God’s promises of how it will be and, in the other hand, the hard reality of how it is”.  We carry God’s good and holy purposes for us in one hand. We carry the hurts and losses and pain and grief that contradict the goodness and joy and peace that God intends in the other. That’s where we are. “Life isn’t logical or sensible or orderly Life is a mess most of the time. Faith must be lived in the midst of that mess.” (Charles Colson)

That is where we wrestle for faith: which is why it is crucial that the garden is in Eden. Eden, says Genesis, is in the east. The east is where the Messiah, the Saviour, comes from. The word Eden is qedem, which also means “the glory of God”. We live in “the glory of God”. Most of the time we miss it, but that is where we are.

Eden can also mean, “where new beginnings come from”. It can mean “the place where grace comes from”. We live our lives in the midst of God’s glory, in the midst of the new beginnings God is making possible, in the midst of God’s amazing grace. Said C. S. Lewis, “God walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”

Genesis 2 spends a lot of time telling us the lay of the land where we live. It is getting us oriented in the presence of good and evil, of life and death, of fruitfulness and destruction. Much of life consists of negotiating our way among those realities with courage and hope and faith when courage and hope and faith are not easy to come by.

Genesis 2’s most decisive orientation is the one that keeps us awake and alert to God’s gracious presence: we live in Eden, a holy place filled with the glory of God.

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Sally Longfellow is a minister in the United Church of Canada. Years ago, when her children were still young, she would give them “the speech” every year at Christmas (Christianity Today). “Remember,” she would tell them, “Jesus only got three presents, and none of them were toys, so don’t be disappointed by what you get.”

One year, during a worship service after Christmas, she called the children of the congregation forward for the children’s time. She asked them about their Christmas celebrations. They told her about all the presents they had received. She asked, “What do you think Jesus would say to Santa Claus today?” Her daughter answered, “Jesus would say, ‘How come I only got three presents and none of them were toys?’”

In the seasons of Advent and Christmas, we celebrate God’s choice to come to us in a most unexpected way. God, Creator of the cosmos, full of power and might, chooses to be born to two Jewish peasants on the fringe of the Roman Empire. The Holy Spirit, free and wild, chooses the limitations of human life.  The God of  unimaginable glory shows up in the midst of ordinary human beings who are confused and frightened and not at their best.

The mystery we touch in this season is that God uses such unexpected people and such unexpected methods to get near to you and to me. Ever since that first Christmas, God has been gathering together people who have been surprised by Jesus and who are open to the mystery.

I have a friend, a minister, who sometimes prays in worship, “Lord, let something happen in this service that isn’t printed in the bulletin.” He wants to leave space for God to break into the familiar routines. He wants to leave space for the Holy Spirit to break into places where the congregation had stopped expecting anything significant to happen.

It is a great mystery — that through the unexpected God brings new life, and hope, and salvation. Jesus often gets born into places where you are confused or broken, frightened or uncertain.

Leonard Cohen’s song, “Anthem”, is a beautiful, haunting song about God’s intrusions into our hurting, broken world. The chorus says:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

There is good news: even when life has not met your expectations, you are not abandoned. God is not absent. God has not given up on you. Look around — look closely: even in the darkest night, the presence of Jesus the Christ still shimmers there. The darkness has not overcome the light of Jesus.

God’s path to the future opens in unexpected directions. Stay open to it. Your life, your Christmas, don’t have to be perfect or good enough or right enough. In Jesus, God offers you three gifts and none of them are toys.  In Jesus, God offers you God’s own presence — full of mercy and grace and love. Receive the gifts and you discover they were what your heart wanted all along.

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A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett at Central United Church, Sarnia, Ontario on August 11, 2013.

Scriptures: Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16 , Luke 12: 32 -40

The letter to the Hebrews is written to a church community that is in trouble. To be fair, most of the New Testament is made up of letters to churches that are in trouble; churches that are barely holding on.

There are no perfect churches. There are no churches that ‘have it all together’, where there are no problems. There are only groups of ordinary people who have been gathered together by the Holy Spirit. They find themselves on a journey with Jesus and most of the time they are not sure where they are going. Much of the time they are pretty sure that this journey is going to take a lot of faith — more faith than they can muster on their own.

“Faith,” says the letter to the Hebrews, ‘Is the assurance of things hoped for; faith is the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) In case that’s too vague, it goes on to say that faith is Noah building a boat to save his family from a flood even though there isn’t a cloud in the sky and all he has to go on is a word from God telling him he needed to do so.

Faith is Abraham at 70 years of age hearing God tell him to pack up his belongings and head out on a journey even though he didn’t know where he was going.

Faith, says Jesus, is being dressed, ready for God to show up at any time, surprising you with what he wants you to do. Faith is being open to receive God’s creativity into your life even when it comes in unexpected ways (Luke 12: 35 – 36).

People often talk about faith as if it were something they were trying to wrap their mind around: “I gave up faith when I studied science at university. Now I can’t believe in the virgin birth or the resurrection from the dead on Jesus walking on water.”  They think people who still have faith are like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland. “One can’t believe impossible things,” said Alice. The Queen replies, “I dare say you haven’t had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes, I believed as many as 6 impossible things before breakfast.” (Through the Looking Glass, chapter 5, Lewis Carroll)

Some people pit faith against doubt and thing that they have to wrestle their doubts to the ground before they can have faith. That’s not what the Bible does. In the Bible, the opposite of faith isn’t doubt. The opposite of faith is fear. The opposite of faith is being afraid of what life might bring you; being afraid of what God might ask of you.

The really critical question of your life is not, “Can you believe?” The really critical question is, “Will you trust? Will you trust God with your life?”

Have you noticed how often the Bible says, “Don’t be afraid?”

“Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people,” say the angels to the shepherds as they announce Jesus’ birth (Luke 2: 10 ).

“Don’t be afraid”, says Jesus, ‘It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  (Luke 12:32)
“Don’t be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows.  (Luke 12:7)

“Don’t be afraid,” say the angel to the women at the empty tomb. “the one whom the world crucified has been raised by the power of God.” (Matthew 28:5)
“Don’t be afraid,” says the risen Christ to the his disciples before he sends them out to be in witnesses in the world.

“Don’t be afraid”.

God promises joy and peace and steadfast love and faithfulness.
God promises to lead you home and to a place of rest and to a city where love rules and life flows to all people and you shall see God face to face.
God promises that nothing in all creation will be able to separate you from his love.
God promises that God will never leave you or forsake you.

However, the truth is that, for much of the journey, we travel by faith and not by sight. We hold only promises that are about things that are not clearly evident. Partly that is because we are dealing with great mysteries — large realities that cannot be seen and touched and measured. Partly it is because God’s ways are not our ways and some of God’s ways confront us with difficult and painful truths. They disrupt the plans we had for our lives.

Jesus said, “God can be like a thief in the night. (Luke 12: 39 -40) It is not a particularly flattering picture of God, but that is what faith can feel like sometimes. In order to follow Jesus, you have to leave somethings behind. Sometimes, what you have to leave behind is the safety of the careful plans you had made for yourself.

Some people find faith hard because, at some level, they know it is risky. They have been wounded in the past, or they are afraid of being wounded. They decide it is safer not to trust anyone, not even God, especially a God they cannot control; especially a God who often works in hidden ways; especially a God who might take you on a journey and you will have no idea where you are going. They choose not to venture any further into faith.

You can do it: you can life you life operating more out of fear than out of faith. But know this: fear will make your life small. Fear can take over and paralyze you. It will keep you from opening your heart to others. it will keep you from opening your life to God’s grace. Invite it into you heart and it will threaten your soul and control what you do. Fear steals the kingdom from you — the reign of blessing and love that God wants to give to you.

Somebody said, “Faith does not mean that you have no fear. Faith gives you the courage to walk through the fear.” (Joanna Adams,   “Faith and Fear”, Journal for Preachers 19 no 4 Pentecost 1996, p. 25-29)

Faith is trusting God to walk with you through your fear and to get you home.

There was an evening when Jesus gathered his disciples together in the upper room of a friend’s house. He knew that they were about to head into an unknown future full of danger and fear. He said to them, “Don’t be afraid. In my Father’s house there are many rooms and I am going to prepare a place for you. You know the way to where I am going. “ One of his disciples said, “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”   Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”  (John 14: 1-6)

Stanley Jones was, for many years, a missionary in Africa. He loved to tell the story of the time he got lost in the jungle. He wandered around for a while and did not see any familiar landmarks. At last he came upon a small settlement of huts. He asked if someone could show him the way home. “Follow me,” one of the villagers said and set off. As he hacked their way through the jungle, Jones became worried. They didn’t seem to be on any path. “Are you sure this is the way?” he asked. “Where is the path?”  The man turned around and said, “Bwana, in this place there is no path. I am the path.”  (“Proclaiming the Gospel on Mars Hill,” Michael Rogness, Word and World, June 1, 2007, p. 275)

There are no perfect churches. There are only communities of people who have been gathered together by the Holy Spirit who find themselves on a journey with Jesus toward God’s reign of love. Most of the time, you are not sure where you are going. Much of the time you are pretty sure the journey is going to take a lot more faith than you have on your own.

“Don’t be afraid,” says Jesus. “I am the Way. I am the Truth. I am the Life. I will lead you home.”

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