Monday, February 28, 2011

God and/or the Magic 8 Ball

If you are like me at some point you have had the chance to toy with the Magic 8 Ball- to pick up what looks like the 8 ball of a pool table, but which in the bottom has a viewing screen through which a you can see a "white, plastic, icosahedral die floating in alcohol with dissolved dark blue dye." Each of the 20 faces of the die has an affirmative, negative, or non-committal statement printed on it in raised letters. To use the ball, it must be held with the window initially facing down. After "asking the ball" a yes-or-no question, the user then turns the ball so that the window faces up, setting in motion the liquid and die inside. When the die floats to the top and one of its faces is pressed against the window, the raised letters displace the blue liquid to reveal the message as white letters on a blue background. The manufacturer notes that contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary (or recommended) to shake or jostle the ball before turning it, as doing so can create air bubbles that may visually distort the answer to life-altering questions like:"Will the hot guy ask me out?" "Will I get into the school, or the job I want?" "Will there be pizza for lunch today?"

The 20 answers inside a Magic 8-Ball are:

● As I see it, yes
● It is certain
● It is decidedly so
● Most likely
● Outlook good
● Signs point to yes
● Without a doubt
● Yes
● Yes – definitely
● You may rely on it
● Reply hazy, try again
● Ask again later
● Better not tell you now
● Cannot predict now
● Concentrate and ask again
● Don't count on it
● My reply is no
● My sources say no
● Outlook not so good
● Very doubtful

In probability theory, it can be shown that it takes, on average, 72 questions of the Magic Eight Ball for all 20 of its answers to appear at least once.There are only so many answers but our questions are endless.

Yesterday's gospel reading from the Matthew 6:25 stands in pretty stark contrast to the theology of the Magic Eight Ball as we hear Jesus say: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more (than these things)?

Boy do I need to hear these words. Why? Because I like many other ELCA seminarians am in my last semester in seminary which means hoping for a first call to ordained ministry, and yet it is a new day in the church- there are more of us than there are of them. We are waiting to hear from synods in the regions of the country to which we are being sent. As for myself I know that at some point we will be moving somewhere in Eastern PA- in two weeks I will know whether that will be Northeastern or Southeastern PA. Then we will wait for a bishop to tell us there may be a place where our gifts and a people's needs come together. All of this work of the Spirit however takes time and leaves very little in the "known" category." Many of us will be moving but we do not know where or when, or what we will do in the in-between.

For those of you in parishes, know that by the time we are serving in your communities when we preach on waiting, trusting and hope- we will know this very personally.The notion of possibly waiting a year or longer after graduation to do the thing you feel called to do is more than a little jarring. For those of us thinking about bills and moving and employment, "don't worry" is a little challenging- probably just as challenging as it is for many others who ponder healthcare, retirement (is it possible, is it forced upon me?)and the list goes on and on. And it is then tempting to turn to anything that will give some answer or assurance, maybe even a Magic Eight Ball.

After all in uncertain times perhaps we might even be convinced that the Eight Ball is seemingly no more random than real life. And don't we all just want to hear "it is certain" when we desire an affirmation that something is positive? And if you have ever used the Magic Eight Ball you know that you can just keep asking until you get the answer you want- that's how the probability theory serves us- if you ask about 72 times you are bound to get one of the 20 answers that you want. But think of how many minutes of your life that would take.

Of course while the manufacturer points out that shaking the Eight Ball actually works against us we can perhaps remember that using the Eight Ball is as distorted whether we shake it or not. And it not only does not know us, it has no power to grant what we seek or what we really need. No matter how many times we might use it we will never be able to show that the Eight Ball was active in our lives.

Yet I then wonder- how many of us would commit to praying to God 72 times about something we need or hope for? How many of us would listen to the advice- trying to shake God up distorts what we see, or don't see? How many of us can live in faith and trust that God really is Almighty? All questions I ask myself and lift up for you.

The disciples like many of us have been asked to leave it all behind to follow Jesus and to trust that the same God who provides for the rest of creation will provide for us. That we can trust in God's power and in God's love and care for us. It will all be good in the end. Yesterday in my home parish we sang "Praise to the Lord the Almighty" and I could hear the words in a whole new light: We hear why we should praise the Lord- ruler of creation, our health and salvation, one who gives shelter- and we're asked- "Have you not seen?" That what you desire has been granted in what God ordains- we are called to remember how God has been at work in all of the days and times before now.

We hear how God does and will prosper- will make to prosper the work we do and will be there attending us every day. What we have seen is what we will continue to see- God's goodness and mercy.

And we are asked to ponder anew what the Almighty can do. Ponder anew- not by asking the same question over and over until we hear what we want. Ponder anew how God might be working, not only in the ways we hope but in the ways where we truly will be sustained and sheltered and prospered. Maybe even ones that surprise us. Ponder anew that God is Almighty- bigger than all of the forces that are sure to try to dominate our lives.

Ponder anew that God is Lord- if we really ponder this, we can kick out all of the other things that try to be first in our minds, and praise God for this blessed relief.So that we can use the minutes and hours of our days living- really living. Remembering that what brought us here was the fact that we fell in love with God. The same God who still loves us back and reminds us- "I've got your back" this day and every day.