Monthly Archives: August 2016

08-28-16 LEARNING FROM LUKE: HUMBLENESS

LEARNING FROM LUKE: HUMBLENESS
Luke 14: 1; 7-14

One of the hottest and driest summers in recent years brought out a couple of
items worth mentioning. For one thing, I heard a joke about baptisms.in the midst of water restrictions. But to do it, I have to ask you: “Do you know how hot it was?” And you call back to me: “How hot was it?” So let’s try it: “Do you know how hot it was?” “How hot was it?” I’m glad you asked! It was so hot that Baptists resorted to sprinkling, Methodists resorted to wet washcloths, and Presbyterians gave out rain checks! What a hot summer it’s been in Volusia County! But that is nothing compared to the heat and fires in California and much of the American West. Out of control fires brought an attitude adjustment among many who were in harm’s way. Fierce fires brought people out who were humbled by the sheer threat. I remember in the Florida fires of 1998, woods were burning near our home in Port Orange. It was not a tragic, blanketing kind of fire, but one that needed attention before it got that way. An attitude of pride and self-confidence allowed one fire truck and a couple of firefighters to think they could put out the fire by themselves. When they finally decided they needed help, a neighbor heard them put in a call for New Smyrna Beach firefighters to come help. “Why,” the neighbor asked them, “don’t you call a fire company closer?” The neighbor learned they would never call one of the other fire companies. It had to do with territorial issues and union vs. non-union firefighters. Meanwhile fires were beginning to threaten structures. Out in California, I have heard nothing about territory. The intensity of the fires has fighters working all for one and one for all. Likewise, I have rarely seen a communities behaving like families of God the way they do when natural disasters strike, or in the face of some human menace. Whether with hurricanes, or with devastating shootings like in Orlando this summer, people set aside pride, nationality, and other dividing issues and choose to just help a fellow human being. In Amatrice, Italy this week, the devastating earthquake has everyone helping others, through dirt, and tears, and pain. A spirit of humbleness set in in all of these situations. “We’re in this together” was the way people were thinking. And the world rallies to these devastating events. Prayers, clothes, and food get offered. In earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, or tornadoes, we are humbled before the forces of nature. God’s comfort and tears are often felt in those moments of panic. When someone sees a man with a gun; or a school or a clinic has a bomb threat called in; one may find neighbors helping neighbors. But the threat of nature brings out some of the greatest feelings of helplessness and humbleness in the midst of shock. The world has felt compassion for the little Syrian boy in Alepo, with his face and hair caked with dirt, blood dried in a trickle by his ears, and his eyes staring out, just occasionally blinking. What a sight. It makes some say “Whatever fighting or hatred that brought this bloodshed needs to stop!” It is an ageless problem. Even the Bible has plenty of lessons about brother rising up against brother and looking out for number one: Cain and Abel; Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his brothers; Saul and David; Herod and anybody else! But humbleness was never the crown of the conqueror. A conqueror may be cunning, clever, or ruthless, but never humble. If we contrast them with those God chooses to lead, they are great because they serve their Lord; they are humble to be chosen by God and obedient to him. They end up in the hall of holy fame because they were faithful. Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Isaiah, Jeremiah, David, Mary, Jesus, Paul. They were humble people because they faced human struggles. Humbleness, humility, servanthood; people with those qualities don’t often make the Fortune 500 list. Our world may clamor for polished cars, gleaming towers, streamlined offices, or Martha Stewart perfection in hospitality. Our world may also honor those who sit on thrones of the world or at the head of Board room tables. But what touches God? Who does God seem to notice, and to use to reach others? Think about who Jesus blessed. In today’s text Jesus noticed how some guests invited to a dinner chose to sit in the best seats. Then he told them a story. The story is about the human race. And it is about the people who God spots, through whom God chooses to work; like the small woman from Calcutta who chose to do God’s work with the poorest of the poor. The world called her “Mother Teresa.” Sister Susan of Grace Episcopal Church here in Port Orange worked along side of her for a period of time and will offer a presentation and retreat the Sunday afternoon of 9/11 at her church at 3:00 p.m. called “My Experience with Mother Teresa in India.” Susan saw a woman of humbleness and service. Humbleness and service sometimes look like simple things: like a church member who will give up a day to help comfort another person who has lost a loved one. It’s when an able bodied person decides to stand up in a crowded shuttle so a person struggling to stand can have a seat. It’s about the hostess who serves the guests first before taking a portion for herself, relieved that there is enough food. It’s about not hurrying to be ahead of everyone else in a food line. Treating others as guests, the way Jesus told it in the parable, is also about humility. Sometimes it is even about persons who suffer the humility of embarrassment.

There was a minister years ago who attended a big mission conference in Chicago. He was in a big, downtown church, the kind with the long center aisle that slanted down toward the front. It was time to see the film in the days when churches used a projector and a screen. The host pastor asked the film to be started. But the projectionist hadn’t arrived. He asked the minister who brought the film: “Can you, Pastor, start the film?” “Sure!” he said confidently. Hundreds of people had gathered by that time and were waiting for the film to begin. The projector was in the back of the church and the large screen was set up at the end of the aisle at the front of the church. The master of ceremonies gushed over how grateful he was to have a minister who knew how to handle such equipment. As the minister put the film reel on the projector, the missionary gushed over him, calling him “the audio-visual expert from New York.” The man beamed with pride. The giant reel was in place and the film was threaded to the take up reel. Everything was set; the lights were dimmed, and the movie began. Some of you will remember that on those old movie projectors, some had a little toggle on the stem to hold the reel on the projector. Guess who forgot to latch it? With a quick thwang, the reel with the film fell to the ground and began rolling down the slanted aisle to the front of the church, unraveling film as it went. The flustered minister charged down after it with the movie showing on his backside as he tried to catch and re-roll the runaway reel! Providentially after the film, the program that December evening called for a reading from Mary’s Magnificat. One of the lines was: “God has put down the mighty from their thrones!”

Humility in our day must have set in as some of the Space X rockets they sent into the air blew up or landed and tipped over. But they keep trying! I remember the chagrin at the Cape years ago when two shuttles in a row did not launch successfully. The Space X team will all do their job better next time because the rug of self-assurance has been pulled from under them. In 1912, the White Star Line kept building ships after the Titanic sank, but they added a double hull bottom and stopped allowing headlines like “God himself could not sink this ship.” Smugness and arrogance in part sank that ship. J. Bruce Ismay, head of the company, would not approve having enough lifeboats for all passengers as engineer Thomas Andrews had urged because “too many boats will frighten the passengers and it would give the promenade deck a cluttered appearance.” God brings down the proud, and undergirds the humble. Jesus told parables to back up his words: “Whoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Old Testament has one of the greatest stories of humbleness. You can read about it in 1 Samuel and it includes two main characters: Saul- the tall, handsome, people-pleasing man who had a tarnished character, and the man God chose to succeed, or rather, overthrow him. A humble man with a heart that was true. David was the youngest son of Jesse. He was out tending his father’s sheep when God’s appointed people came looking for a king. After David was asked if he would agree to be king, he was anointed and the Lord’s spirit began to fill him. He who is faithful in the smaller things can be trusted with the greater things: Jesus taught it; God knew it; and David exemplified it. He didn’t go out to run a campaign, or buy new clothes, or hire a manager. He responded with humbleness. Later Saul was jealous and sought to murder David. And at a time when he returned to the land of the Philistines, the one whose giant he killed when he was a boy, David was a desperate man, faking insanity and drooling to escape capture in 1Samuel 21:13. David was panicked. David, the king-elect, retreated to the cave of Engedi. He did what I have done, and perhaps you have done, when he was struggling: he called out to God. David’s cry to God is recorded in Psalm 142. Try reading that lament one night and see if you feel a kindred spirit with David. When you are truly in the cave of your life, humbleness is that quality that starts you back toward God. Pastor and author Chuck Swindoll writes: “some of us are living in an emotional cave, where it is dark and dismal and damp and disillusioning. Perhaps the hardest part of all is that we cannot declare the truth to anybody else because it is so desperate … so lonely. I weary of the philosophy that the Christian life is just one silver-lined cloud after another—just soaring. It is not! Sometimes the Christian life includes a deep, dark cave. The conversion of a soul is a miracle of a moment, but the making of a saint is the task of a lifetime. And god isn’t about to give up [on you.] (Swindoll, DAVID, p. 78.)

Marks of true humbleness: are they yours? Can you give a gift without needing credit for it? Are you expecting God to bless you or choose you for a task, or are you just busy with the tasks of life? Do you push to be first or to be noticed? Do you have an entitlement attitude? As the fires of California and the earthquake in Italy have taken away most of the “I can do this on my own attitudes” there, may we join them, come to our knees before the Almighty, and know that God will be there, for you, and for me.

08-21-16 LEARNING FROM LUKE: SABBATH

— sorry, no sermon audio this week —

LEARNING FROM LUKE: SABBATH
Luke 13: 10-17

This week I learned that there is a new condition that is becoming more prevalent, especially in the bodies of young adults. It’s called “text neck.” From looking down, excessively texting, people are putting a strain on their neck and shoulders. On the older end of the age scale, some are bent over with balance issues or having to watch where they step. In all stages of life the old maxim “Sursum Corda”- “lift up your heart” might be extended to all of us: “Lift up your head!’ Taking the time to pause, to gaze out across a landscape, or a body of water, or to look out of a window can bring relief and rest to minds and necks under strain.

With the strain of life in mind, I am sure that the Almighty created the Sabbath Day for the health of men and woman. With the inclination of people in our world to take things in print and make them rigid, the Lord Jesus demonstrated the flexibility he believed was intended to keep of the Sabbath Day. Over the years there have been those at both ends of the Sabbath debate. At the rigid end of the spectrum are Orthodox Jews in Israel, for example. During Sabbath hours, absolutely no work may be done; no cooking, no schoolwork, no labor. Some who have been to Israel with us before noticed the “Shabbat” elevators in our hotels; elevators that stopped at each floor automatically so that a person would not have to “work” pushing buttons. Looking out of our hotel windows on the Sabbath, the streets looked like an evacuation order had been given and we’d missed it! The hustling streets of the day before were deserted! On the other end of the Sabbath spectrum are those treating a Sabbath just like any other day: people catch up on work, or shop, or pack restaurants or theme parks or grocery stores. That’s what Florida looks like on every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, no matter what day different faiths observe. We fail to observe the Sabbath to our own detriment. But some people in our society think of non-work as laziness. Ministers such as me often have no business acting like an expert on Sabbath because my days of rest are not regularly done well. Today I will admit to you where I have succeeded and where I’ve failed.

Our daughter Jenny is a Hospital Chaplain, a Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor. She has a trying and taxing profession in addition to being the mother of a one year old. One day last week she told her boss she was overwhelmed and asked if she could take a couple of personal days. (Remember, ministers are always going beyond a 6 day work week) He said, “Of Course.” So on her personal day of exhaustion, she dropped her son off with his teachers and went home to bed. She awoke noticing two text messages: “Jenny, where are you?” And a second one: “Are you alright?” It was from a colleague. He reminded her that they had a meeting that day. Now you should know that Jenny is wired like I am: we always put things on our calendars and are hard on ourselves when we overlook a commitment or let someone down. So Jenny felt terrible; she had missed a meeting. But what was harder on her was hearing the response from that colleague, “Jenny, I’m disappointed in you.” Now, in her state of exhaustion, she experienced shame and tears. Her personal day turned into a day of anguish. Words can be powerful and cutting. By contrast, this summer I had one of the most restful vacations I have ever had. Janet Nace, whose mother died the day before my vacation started, agreed to wait until the end of my vacation for me to do her mother’s memorial service. What a gift. Kristin and Cara and Richard also handled all issues that came up so I did not get regular phone calls or texts. One I sent a business related text to an elder with what I though was an important question. He taught me and encouraged me with his answer: “What are doing texting me now? Take your vacation! You deserve it!” How empowering. Thank you for helping me take time, weekly, or yearly. I am back at 100% because I was granted a hassle-free break.

Sabbaths sometimes have to be molded to the circumstances. People who necessarily work on weekends will need to carve out a different day. I try to make it Mondays. Any of us who keep plowing through the evident stop signs that are intended to point us to a Sabbath time; stop signs like chest pains, tears, depression, excessive drinking, or exhaustion, keep going at our own demise. And God must be watching and saying:” I’ve given you a gift for life; you will see how miserable life can be without regular Sabbaths.” Those of you, like me, who keep your proverbial “nose to the grindstones” will drop in productivity, in joy, and in functionality. So Americans get heart disease, stomach ulcers, or mental illnesses often at a higher rate than those in other countries. One of the reasons: work gives us meaning, to the point at times of giving us our identity. Some get lost when they are disengaged from their work. I have known people who worked very hard, too hard, for years. They told themselves they would work, work, work, until retirement, then take it easy after that. But such a life dwindled the health of their bodies. Others never developed enjoyable hobbies outside of their work. Some I have known became totally bored with retirement; some became hard to live with, and some died soon after they retired. Too much work is detrimental; so is too much free time. Some people in their retirement do other things for their community; things like doing a new kind of work, or volunteering in their church, at a school. My father, for example, a salesman with ALCOA, retired to play golf: something he did all his life. But he also volunteered at their church, read books to children at a local elementary school, and joined the Service Corp of Retired Executives. He was great employee, but he learned how to retire well. The long approach to balance in life is important. But so is the weekly approach. And that brings us back to Sabbath.

On tablets brought down from Mount Sinai, Moses revealed laws for living that he said came from God. We give great weigh to them and have great debates about the meanings of some, like “Thou shalt not kill,” or “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” But another commandment, higher in number but not higher or lower in importance is “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.” The other commandments I mentioned cause more ethical dilemmas than the last one for many people. But people regularly disregard the Sabbath commandment. Is it because Jesus healing someone on the Sabbath that allows guilt to govern our choices for that day? We would do well to triage legitimate crises that bring us to break Sabbath from non-rest choices driven by guilt or convenience. If a family member becomes critically sick on a Sabbath day, don’t wait for the next day: call 911 or get to an ER right then! Or if a pipe bursts in your kitchen, don’t wait a day to act: turn off the water ASAP! If a hurricane is bearing down on you, or if you are in Louisiana and water has come up to your roof, preparations, safety, and recovery may take weeks without a break. (I’m preaching to myself as well as to you as I do every Sunday) Do not let ordinary events of life take away your Sabbath, and do not let a Sabbath take away your emergency response when necessary! ‘Jesus said, when people chastised him for healing a woman on a Sabbath: “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox from a manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

When I was in Israel, I was keenly aware that a Sabbath day had arrived because things were so different. When I was up at Columbia Seminary in Decatur, Georgia working on my Doctor’s degree, on Sunday people went to church. That day classes met, the dining room was closed; even the seminary library was closed until mid Sunday afternoon. There were no distractions from the Lord’s Day. Then I returned from Israel; and I returned from Georgia, …back to Florida. In our state I can hardly tell it’s a Sunday. Cars pack the parking lots of stores, and traffic is still heavy. So I need to do what I advise you to do: carve out your own Sabbath. Receive the gift from God and honor God by observing it. But habits that have been entrenched in our lives can be hard to change. I’ll need your help to keep it. Remind me to keep a Sabbath. And I’ll do my best to help you keep the Sabbath too. To do so honors God, and offers us God’s gift of living that is neither boredom nor a constant grind.

God has given us a gift if we will take it. I will try; I’m not good at it, but I’ll try. What about you?

Jeffrey A. Sumner August 21, 2016

08-14-16 PROPER 15C

This is one of those passages we would all rather pretend didn’t exist. There are several that we come across as we read the Bible and I find this one particularly unsettling. I mean, Jesus is the Prince of Peace right? So why is he talking about dividing families and bringing fire to earth?

Division isn’t something I’m all that crazy about in the first place. I will argue when I think something is important enough, but I don’t understand arguing when no one will budge on their position. This is especially true during election seasons when I know that people won’t change their minds but want to argue about it anyway. People end up yelling until they are red in the face and the only thing that happens is that they grow even farther apart. I want us all to be harmonious and unified over the things that are really important, and not worry too much about the things that aren’t.

I think most people feel that way, except for the few who love a good fight. The problem is, of course, that we can’t agree on the really important things. That’s why there are so many different types of Presbyterians alone. Every time there was a big enough theological issue that people couldn’t agree on, the church divided. For instance, in 1973 the Presbyterian Church of America split off from us, the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America, because of our policies including the decision to ordain women. That was a big enough issue on both sides to cause literal division. And that is just one example in one denomination. It is estimated that there are over thirty thousand separate Christian denominations in the world.

It’s hard to argue that there isn’t division when it comes to religion, but surely that is our human imperfections. How is it that Jesus, the guy who said “My peace I bring you,” turns around and says: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

To understand this seeming extreme change of heart from Jesus, I think we need to look at what was happening in the world around him. Jesus lived in an exceptionally volatile time and place; Judea in the first century was a tinderbox of tension and aggression. The Zealots who were active during his time, actively protested Rome’s rule. Several decades after Jesus’ death, Judea revolted against Rome, leading to the Jewish war and the utter destruction of Jerusalem, the surrounding countryside, and much of the people. In the second century, it happened again.

This wouldn’t have been lost on Christians of the second and third generations, who would have read and heard these texts with the knowledge that the Jerusalem temple lay in ruins and that the kind of chaos Jesus described had actually come to pass. Luke writes of these events about forty years after they’ve happened, and as with all the Gospel writers, he shapes his account to address the situation and questions of his community, which had seen the divisions first hand.

There is no getting around the fact that Jesus was indeed an instrument of division. That families split and people were divided over what he said. But the important thing to realize is that division isn’t Jesus’ goal, it is the side effect of his message.

It’s not that Jesus is arguing for division, instead he’s predicting the impact his message of love will have on our self-centered human nature. Some people will follow and some will not. There’s no hidden agenda here. He has come to turn the value system of the world around and that doesn’t happen with complete agreement from everyone.

Did you notice the significance of the divisions Christ talks about? Father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. All places where there are often lots of conflict and divisions to begin with. He’s not breaking apart families deliberately, Jesus merely knows the effect of his message.

The text for today comes right after the passage from last week. Jesus tells everyone that they will not know the day or the hour, and Peter asks “Are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” This passage is the second half of his response where his frustration really shows through.

Jesus is heading to Jerusalem at this point. He is heading towards the cross and his disciples still don’t get what he’s teaching. He comes right out and says “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!” That baptism is his own torture and death. Is it any wonder that he says how stressed he is?

Over and over again Jesus makes it clear that following his teachings will not be easy, that not everyone will understand. That some people will mock or ridicule or take advantage of his followers and that they should follow anyway. Though division is far from Christ’s goal, he knows perfectly well that it will happen regardless.

And it still does today. Following Jesus means doing such unpopular things as caring for the poor, showing hospitality to immigrants, honoring the sanctity of all human life, forgiving those who have hurt you, praying for your enemies, showing compassion to the weak, respecting those with whom you disagree, and generally loving your neighbor as yourself. Truly acting this way will leave some people thinking you are naive at best, and crazy at worst. Even if all of the members of your family are Christian, there still can be plenty of division between how you follow Christ.

And following Jesus’ teachings can leave us divided in ourselves, can’t it? On the one hand we want to follow Christ, doing exactly as he did. And on the other hand, we want to see to our own interests first. We don’t always want to stand up for others or love our neighbor. The division goes all the way to our own decisions, between what is right and what is easy.

This passage isn’t a threat, it’s a warning. Follow the teachings of Christ, really live the way he calls us to live, and we will be divided from the rest of the world. Not that being divided is a good thing, but because there will always be some people who do not understand.

Now, Jesus is not saying that we should start the divisions. This passage isn’t a call to war either literal or figurative, or an excuse to exclude those who don’t think just like us. It is just an acknowledgment of the inevitable results of following such a radical way of life.

This is not a comfortable passage. It shouldn’t be. But it is also not a passage we should ignore. We are called, as was Jesus himself, to transform ourselves, to show and to tell the world what it looks like, and how it’s different to live as we are created to live. That may set us at odds with people, even people we love.

And yet the result is people living in such a way that the Kingdom of God is here among us. It may divide us, but it will also allow us to live lives as God calls us to live. It creates a better world, despite the division, not because of it.

Every day we make decisions about how we will live. And those choices put us on one side or another. So the question is, how will you choose?

08-07-16 – FAITH

It is easy to look at Hebrews 11 and think of it as a list of great deeds by great people in the Bible. Indeed, the verses that our morning reading skipped include even more faithful people of God and what they had done. These people are pillars of faith so naturally they have great faith stories. And if we read it only in that way, it is quite easy to let our own selves off the hook. Of course we don’t have faith like Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Jacob, we say to ourselves. That’s why they are Bible stories and we’re just us.

But what if the real point of this reading is instead that all these people shared one important attribute: they all believed that God is going to prevail in the end. Then that conviction informed the decisions they made and the actions they took.

In his book “Good to Great” Jim Collins interviews Admiral Jim Stockdale who was a prisoner of war for 8 years during the Vietnam War. During that time he was tortured more than twenty times, had no reason to believe he would ever return home again, and yet he retained his faith that he would survive throughout that time. Stockdale said: “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

But at the same time, Stockdale saw over and over again that it was the most optimistic prisoners who didn’t survive, the ones that were convinced they’d be saved any day now. Stockdale observed, “They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

These optimistic prisoners refused to acknowledge the reality of their situations. Closing their eyes and assuming the bad stuff would just go away, helped in the short term, but in the end, the reality of their situation would come crashing down upon them and they couldn’t deal with it.

Jim Stockdale on the other hand, accepted the horrible situation he was really in. He knew he was a prisoner, but he stepped up and did everything he could to lift the morale and prolong the lives of his fellow prisoners, creating a tapping code so they could communicate with each other. He developed a milestone system that helped them deal with torture. And hidden in the letters he wrote to her, Stockdale sent intelligence information to his wife.

Collins, the author of the book, names this mindset the Stockdale Paradox, and puts it like this: “You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time…You must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

This Stockdale Paradox does a great job of defining the faith that our author of Hebrews talks about this morning. We just need to replace “You will prevail in the end” with “God will prevail in the end.”

Real faith combines a central, core belief in the existence of God and the ultimate triumph of God’s ways, with a realistic appraisal of the world today. It then acts in accordance with God’s ways, even when it seems counter-intuitive, in order to affect the current reality and move it toward God’s reality. In other words, we act as though God’s kingdom is here even as we know it is not.

Abraham and Sarah had years where life wasn’t going like God had promised. Where they traveled to lands that were not friendly to them. When Sarah continued to not have a child. They didn’t pretend that life was otherwise. But they continued to follow God and what God promised them, even when that promise was a child long after they were past childbearing years.

And then they finally had a child. They saw the beginning of God’s promised fulfilled. But like the scripture says “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.” In Isaac, Abraham and Sarah saw the hope of that promise, but they never saw the generation after that. They never saw the descendants that would “outnumber the stars in the sky.” Yet, God kept God’s promise. And Abraham and Sarah lived in that faith, imperfectly, but persistently.

I love the end of this passage. Because the writer, after describing these saints who lived in suspense, had their doubts, and admitted that they were strangers on earth who could not ever quite fit in, tells us that they desire a better country, God’s country. And then the scripture says: Because of all of that God was not ashamed to be called their God.

In other words, the honest experience of these saints, doubts and stumbles and hard days, made these folks God’s kind of people. God doesn’t want blind faith that ignores the world around it. God doesn’t want us to smile through the worst of things in an effort to cover over the insufficiency of life as it really is. No, God wants honest saints, honest believers, honest strugglers, who somehow manage to keep longing for that better country that just is the kingdom of God, all the while not denying the pain and suffering of living in a world that is still so broken.

That is what faith really is. Not putting on blinders to the world so that we are convinced that everything is great, but instead seeing the world as it is, and living as though God’s kingdom will come anyway. Just like the Stockdale Paradox, we are called to see the world for the mess that it is, and live as though God will prevail in the end.

That means, you get the call saying the test was positive, you deal with the new reality of illness, but still live as though God will prevail. When you lose the job you were counting on, you set up interviews and figure out what comes next, but you still live as though God will prevail. When it seems like nothing can possibly go right in your life, you don’t grin and bear it, but find a way to get help, because God will prevail.

Frederick Buechner once said: “Faith is the word that describes the direction our feet start moving when we find that we are loved. Faith is stepping out into the unknown with nothing to guide us but a hand just beyond our grasp.” God loves us. God’s will will prevail in the end. Faith for us means that we take those steps. It means that we live like we really believe that.

The great spiritual writer Henri Nouwen said received the greatest revelation about faith at the circus! In his book The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, Nouwen talks about going to see the German trapeze group “The Flying Rodleighs” perform. He was mesmerized by their breath-taking performance as they flew gracefully through the air. At the end of the show, he spoke with the leader of the troupe, Rodleigh himself. Nouwen asked him how he was able to perform with such grace and ease so high in the air. Rodleigh responded, “The public might think that I am the great star of the trapeze, but the real star is Joe, my catcher…The secret is that the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. When I fly to Joe, I have simply to stretch out my arms and hands and wait for him to catch me. The worst thing the flyer can do is try to catch the catcher. I’m not supposed to catch Joe. It’s Joe’s task to catch me”

God will catch us. We may not know what that will look like and it may not always be comfortable, but God will catch us. Faith does not stop the bad things in our lives from happening. Faith simply gives us a path to follow while the storm rages.

Think about your life today. Things may be going great or maybe not so great. Regardless, how would things change if you lived your life assuming God’s will will prevail? That at the end God’s kingdom will come here to earth. How would that change the decisions you make? How would that change how you behaved?

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We may never see all of God’s plans. We may never see the result of God’s promises. But in faith, we shall move forward in God’s direction, trusting that God will indeed catch us. Amen.