I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
Recently on nPR there was a story about economic revitalization in Detroit, Michigan, one of the great manufacturing centers in modern america. a local businessperson has purchased one of the abandoned warehouses and turned it into an incubator for small businesses. One of these is a non-profit program which hires people who are struggling to find employment and gives them meaningful work. the employee interviewed sews coats made from recycled car parts, which are, of course, plentiful in Detroit, coats that will then be distributed to the Detroit homeless population.
Employees are required to spend time with each other discussing new ideas for products or businesses, instilling hope and reengaging these employees in creative and productive activity again. Also important to this non-profit is that the participants are local folks, people who live in Detroit and are reinvesting in their own community.
among these so called social entrepreneurs, joining and integrating into the existing Detroit community is how they can build each other up, can engage in a way that each person can make a difference for a whole city. their story is not about remaining helpless and expecting rescue. It is about the spirit of power and of love given them to bring about the kingdom amongst the ruins of Jerusalem.
this is a story of hope, of obedience to God’s duly expected reverence, that we should continue in righteous works and acts of charity. but more often than not, we prefer to wallow in our grief.
like the Psalmist we remember the good old days, the days when employment rates were high and mortgages easy to come by, when credit was widely available and the gates of the cities were where justice prevailed.
and so it is for Detroit, and many cities in this country, that we citizens weep and gnash our teeth over the destruction and violence overtaken us. We cry for Jerusalem, the wormwood and gall of homelessness that beset Judah as her people flee to exile and servitude. We sit by the waters of Babylon…or the Mississippi River…or the New Jersey shoreline…and bemoan the suffering sent by God as punishment for our sins!
oh we of little faith! If we told the truth, we might see that our sins, our collective greed, has contributed to putting the world into a financial tailspin. If we told the truth, we would admit that we believe that God punishes this world for our collective and individual sins. If we told the truth, we would admit that we want God to strike down those who wrong us because of their sin, but not to strike us when we ourselves do the wrong thing.
thankfully, God does not operate according to our sense of justice! God operates on God’s justice, on love and mercy beyond our understanding. and as any good parent knows, sometimes that means sitting back and watching your beloved children accept the consequences of their actions
Consequences are not the same as punishment.
sometimes that means the whole class has to suffer because of the mis- behavior of one student. and sometimes, it means acknowledging that those consequences are not nearly as terrible as would be the logical, natural result of our sinful actions.
Don’t get me wrong; there are times for weeping, times to mourn and be- wail. the range of human emotion is also a gift from God
Grieving losses is part of our collective experience as humans. the mercy appears when God does not let us completely destroy ourselves. the miracle takes place in us, when we do not lose hope. and we do not lose hope because God’s faithfulness to us is greater than even the possibility of our faith in God! We are implanted with God’s faithfulness to allow us to wait patiently for him, even when the waiting seems interminable.
Really, it is our job to keep on going and to trust that God will give us what we need. a servant does not expect praise for doing what he knew he was required to do. Jesus makes this clear in his example in today’s gospel. So it is with Christians and with God: we have to know that our continued faithfulness is not something to be cooed over and congratulated, but it is what is expected of us when we say “Yes, Lord, I believe!”
our mere existence is gift! We have done nothing and can do nothing to earn our sheer being-here. We are thus driven to remain faithful because that is the onlY response which makes sense in the face of tragedy, in the face of loneliness and strife, in the face of personal pain and loss.
so why is it news that someone has started a business incubator and encourages the downtrodden of Detroit with hope and a future? We can’t look at the good that is happening in Detroit or anywhere without marvel and wonder.
We blink twice when we see acts of kindness and compassion in everyday life. We find ourselves touched by commercials for hospitals that claim to “really care” about their patients, or for schools that claim to “actually value sound education.”
because we, like Israel and Judah, have drifted so far away from remembering the gifts we are given. It has taken great tragedy and pain to remind us, individually and collectively, of how good we really have it as children of God.
2013 Preaching Excellence Program 79
80 Celebrating 25 Years, 1988-2013
and most of us need daily reminding of God’s faithfulness. even the Psalmist knows that!
an episcopal deacon recently posted something to a blog, asking whether God can suffer as a result of human suffering. the concept of God’s suffering has been debated for centuries. Many have declared that if God suffers, then God changes, and that idea is unacceptable to a lot of people.
the blogger wrote that every terrible thing committed on earth has physically disfigured God, changing God’s image. On the surface this may seem like a strange claim. but the last time you looked at a painting or window depicting the ascension of our lord, didn’t you notice the nail holes still visible in his hands and feet
Is it so outrageous to consider that God’s experience of witnessing all the suffering and pain in the history of the world has affected God in some way?
I’m not suggesting that God is weakened by witnessing such pain. but I am wondering if our suffering in this life is only a taste of the cosmic suffering God has undergone just to give birth to this world and its inhabitants.
so if we suffer because of christ and his message, as in the second letter of timothy, or if we suffer under our duly appointed burden of our labor as God’s servants, is it in part because we lack proportionality in our view of how our life should be?
the lord is good to those who wait on him. God’s goodness does not negate the possibility that we will experience suffering during the waiting. It is part of the deal of being human, made in God’s image.
It is also why God does not give us a spirit of cowardice. because he knows the challenges placed before us cannot be navigated if our energy is taken up by fear. We suffer with all the saints for the sake of the gospel, just like Paul and the disciples.
therefore I have hope
the steadfast love of the loRD never ceases. . . morning by morning new mercies I see.
all I have needed for, thou hast provided; Great is thy faithfulness, lord, unto me.