Monday, March 08, 2010

I AM: Learning to Trust God in God's Time (Sermon)

Delivered at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit; Bellevue, NE; 03-07-10. Year C, Third Sunday in Lent: Exodus 3:1-15 • Psalm 63:1-8 • 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 • Luke 13:1-9.

My dad has had lousy health pretty much since I was born. He’s fine now, and in fact, thanks to a kidney transplant he got about two years ago, he’s actually in the best health of my life. But it was an extremely rough 20 years getting there.

It started when I was about nine months old and Dad was diagnosed with an extremely rare and aggressive form of vasculitis. His lungs were virtually destroyed, his kidneys were kaput, and he was put on dialysis, oxygen, feeding tubes – you get the picture.

I was just nine years old – I couldn’t have cared less. But as you may imagine, this was all very rough on my mom. She’s a very strong woman, but she was absolutely terrified about losing Dad and facing life, and motherhood, alone. The day the weekend doctor quite impatiently told her that Dad wouldn’t make it through the night was one of the hardest days of her life.

And then, just as she had no idea what to do next, she heard a voice. There was no one else in the room, but the voice was very real, and it said,

“It will be okay.”

No details, no instructions – just, “It will be okay.” Things didn’t get any easier, but my Mom now knew that God hadn’t gone anywhere and that whatever happened, it would be okay. And indeed, it was, and still is, okay.

When we trust God to do what needs to be done and to do it in God’s time, things always wind up okay. But, when we trust ourselves even just to know, much less to do, what needs to be done, it’s usually a different story. This message, trust in God alone, may be clich├ęd, but it runs deeper than any inspirational Hallmark card, and it starts with today’s Old Testament lesson.

This story, of God leading the Israelites out of Egypt, is the cornerstone of the Jewish faith as well as the heart of liberation theology, the 1960s Latin American movement. Liberation theologians teach that Christ came to liberate the poor from unjust political and economic circumstances. They come to this faith from Scripture, pointing not only to the Exodus but also to Christ’s rebukes of Rome and to passages like the Magnificat, where Mary says that God casts down the mighty and lifts up the poor.

This theology has its critics, some of whom claim that yes, God does liberate us, but not from El Salvadorian death squads or other political injustices. No no, God liberates us from sin, and from ourselves!

Eh – I would certainly agree that God liberates us from sin and that most liberation theologians have too narrow a view of Scripture, but, the burning bush itself said that God will take on unjust governments, and who am I to argue with a burning bush?

The thing is, though, that God does it God’s way, and in God’s time. The real problem with liberation theology’s narrow view of Jesus is that mortals can also be social revolutionaries. Christ was a reformer, yes, but unlike a Thomas Paine or a Martin Luther King, He was and is one who brings us into a deeper intimacy with our Creator and who reforms on God’s time, not our time.

The thing to remember about that is that we can’t hurry up God’s time, as painful as it may sometimes be.

And it is painful. There’s a reason they say recovery from divorce takes a year for every year of marriage. And there’s a reason that even after coming home, at least 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer PTSD. Liberation, whether from personal pain or public oppression, is painful, and it takes time.

Getting through that pain is where trusting God comes in. All too often we don’t understand why time has to be liberation’s most important ingredient, but that’s because we run on our time. And when we do so, when we give up on God’s time and decide that we just can’t wait for Him anymore, that’s when we fall in even lonelier ways.

Look at today’s Epistle. The Christian leaders at Cornith were strong, but their strength turned into arrogance and led them to trust in themselves too much. So Paul warns them, stop putting Christ to the test. “If you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.” He reminds them: the Israelites didn’t lead themselves out of the desert.

We can’t do this alone. When we trust God’s time, we find Cana. When we trust our time, then like the 23,000 felled in a single day, we get in some pretty big trouble.

This is also what Jesus was warning about. We can’t do things our way. Even when Pilate slaughters friends from Galilee in that holiest of places, the Temple, or the sanctuary at the Church of the Holy Spirit, we cannot take up our own arms in our own time and think ourselves capable of wiping out the threat. Bishop Tom Wright, the same one we’re watching in our Sunday evening Lenten series, explains this Gospel passage:

“In line with the warnings he has issued several times already... Jesus is making it clearer that those who refuse his summons to change direction, to abandon the crazy flight into national rebellion against Rome, will suffer the consequences. Luke’s arrangement of the material... leaves us in no doubt as to how he saw the matter: when Jerusalem fell in AD 70, it was as a direct result of refusing to follow the way of peace which Jesus had urged throughout his ministry.”

When we don’t follow Christ’s urgings, when we think we don’t have time to wait for God, bad things happen. How bad? Will 23,000 people – half of Bellevue – be felled in one day?

I don’t know. I doubt it.

I believe God is a God of pure love who, as Fr. Tom said last week, gives the gift of grace even to those who don’t know it. But at the same time, Christ said that if we don’t repent, then we will suffer the same fate as the Temple’s Galileans, and Christ didn’t say things He didn’t mean.

We can’t ignore Scripture’s warnings, but we needn’t dwell on them, either. We should be motivated not by fear but by reverence for God’s glory and by gratitude for the liberation that has come and is to come – even if it doesn’t come on our timetable.

And for all the pain of following the holy timetable, for all the frustration of screaming at God but getting no explanation back, it’s still worth it. Jesus knew that pain too – just look at the Garden of Gethsemane – but He also knew something else. He knew God’s name: I AM.

Those two words represent far more than a simple proper noun. If God wanted to reveal just a name, He would have stuck with Yahweh or Jehovah. But instead, he tells Moses not just a name, but an identity.

I AM not male, I AM not female.
I AM not white, I AM not Arabic.
I AM not rural, I AM not urban.

This is a name that transcends every boundary we know and every label in our language, a name that pulls us from our time into God’s time.

I exist.
I AM here.
I AM present.
I AM for you.

So when Jesus tells me to wait, that it’s not God’s time yet, I’m not going to say no, Rome is at my door NOW, I must ACT! I’m going to say, ok. You’re Jesus and I’m not.

And when God tells me “It will be okay,” I’m not going to say, this is the second time Dad’s been in the ICU in a year and I’m just 19, I can’t handle this! Whaddaya mean, it will be okay? I’m going to say, ok. You’re God, and I’m not.

Maybe your ears will never hear a voice say, “I AM,” nor even, “It will be okay.” But that voice is still for you, and it will never stop whispering,

“I love you.

“Trust me.”

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