Monday, June 11, 2012

Just what I wanted to hear.

I think most of you know, I have been going through some difficult times lately.  Things just don’t seem to working out lately.  I keep waiting for SOMETHING to happen, and things just seem to keep loping along with nothing really happening.  Nic, in his dear, sweet, loving, way keeps reminding me that “the Israelites roamed in the wilderness for forty years before THEY got to the Promised Land.”  (Did I say he was “dear, sweet, and loving”?)  Arrrgggg!  I don’t want to hear that.  I want something to happen now!
So, I figured I could go to the Bible and I would find something.  I should be able to find something that will cheer me up and give me some inspiration to keep moving forward.  And what do I find?  I find the epistle reading for today.  You know, Paul really is not one to read when feeling down.  He goes on about how he has been thrown in jail.  How he has almost died.  How his life has been, actually, quite messed up since he became a disciple.  That is not the thing I wanted to hear.
Really, when we think about it, Paul seems to be the opposite of what we would want in as a spokesperson for the faith.  Marketing would tell us that we want people to feel good about their faith.  We want people to see their lives fill with good things.  We want people to believe that if they just believe, then their lives will be filled with wealth, health, and material blessings.  There is a whole branch of religion, the Prosperity Movement, that is focused on that frame of thought.  But Paul is just not going to go that way.  He wears his trials like badges of honor.
Now, Paul could become quite tiring if all he did was bemoan how horrible his life was.  He could become one of those people with whom you pretend you got a phone call just so you can get away.  But he doesn’t seem to fall into the pity-party trap.  He doesn’t life his trials up as a means to get people to feel sorry for him.  Quite the contrary!  He lifts up his trials in life as a means of showing the world just how awesome God has been and how God has been at work in his life.
I know you all here have been going through your own time in the Wilderness, and sometimes it must feel like God has abandoned you.  And I will also tell you that what you are feeling is understandable.  But I think we all can benefit from what Paul is saying in the epistle reading. 
This reading is the culmination of Paul’s argument in the book of 2 Corinthians.  He has been talking about how times may seem difficult for the people of Corinth, but that they are not supposed to give up faith.  That they are supposed to look at their past and see how God has helped them out and then use that assurance as a means of moving on into the future.  Paul lists his hardships, not as a means of saying “Look how great I am,” but as a way of saying “Look how great God is!”  He is not saying that God put him into the situations to prove anything, but that God was able to use the situations to show to Paul and to those who would see, that God is able to prevail in the midst of difficulty.
One of the things that I think Paul understood was that, in life, bad things were going to happen.  And if we dwell on the bad things, we can become quite frustrated with life.  But Paul asks us to do more.  Paul asks us to look beyond the bad things and look at how God was at work through those things.  We are to look at how God was present even when things looked beyond repair.
But we are not just supposed to spend our time looking back.  We are supposed to learn from how God was present and use this as a means of seeing us through the trial and challenges we see around us today.  We are supposed to use this knowledge that God will see us through and apply it to those difficulties we are living through now.
And as we can expect from Paul, not only are we supposed to look at how God is at work in our lives, we are supposed to spread that word to the world!  Our faith and our belief is to be the impetus to go out into the world.  Just because things are happening in our lives doesn’t mean we are to hide ourselves away and never share our message with the world.  In the midst of difficulty we are to be about spreading God’s love.
There are some very good reasons for doing this:  The first is that amid all of the strife and division we see in the world, a word of love and acceptance needs to ring over the babble of discord.  Secondly, when people feel lost, they are looking for a place to find safe harbor.  Our words of love can be the rest that many people need so as to find a moment of rest in a chaotic world.  And third, WE need to be out to gain perspective on our problems.  We need to see that in many ways, in the midst of our troubles, we ARE blessed and to open our eyes to those blessings that have moved off our radar.  I didn’t truly appreciate family and friends until I delivered Thanksgiving meals to those who were homeless and alone.
I know I can get caught in the problems of my life.  I am sure you all have difficulties that can bring you down.  And I KNOW that you are struggling as a congregation.  But Paul would have us look back; look back at how God has been present in past struggles in our lives.  To look as see how, even when we weren’t aware of it, God was leading and guiding.  And then to take this assuredness and move it into our present.  To move it into the troubles we see right now.  Paul would assure us that the same God who can break the bonds of sin and death can guide us through the trials of our lives.
Paul would NOT tell us that the problems will just disappear, though.  Jesus DID die.  Christ on the cross was not some sort of parlor trick to fool people.  The pain was real, the death was real.  But the pain and the death were not the end of the story.  That is what we need to be focusing on.  In the midst of the mess of a crucifixion, God was still there.  In the midst of a call process that seems to go on forever, God is still there.  In facing what may look like death, GOD IS STILL THERE!
Finally, Paul would tell us that while all this is going on that we are not to lose heart and that we are to continue to spread the good news of Gods love to the world.  We are to trust in our belief and go out and speak.  Again, this may be one of the hardest parts because when things are not going well, well, that is the last time we want to be out among the people.  But this is our call.
God has been evident in St. Swithin’s before, and God is still here!  It is easy to look at the current situation and decide that God has walked away.  But that is to forget the wondrous ways God has been present in the past and that is to forget that God is still present.  Paul urges us to look at the past as a promise for our future.

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