Sunday, February 17, 2013

Overcoming the Whispers

So today we catch up with the people who are NOT in a wilderness, they are not really in a bad place. They’re pretty settled. Because God has already done the rescuing. Life’s Ok, and now they’re being asked to remember all the bad stuff they’ve lived through. In Deuteronomy we hear people being told to remember a past they really would rather not. Who wants to remember wandering in a strange land, isolated, confused, unsure? Can’t we just put that behind us? They’re called to come together and remember. Then respond. Told to bring an offering that confirms that God fulfilled a promise. Remember- remember that real moment of vulnerability. When you were really doubting and the Lord heard and responded. Remember your history not so you can be stuck there, but so you can focus upon how God responded. Remember that God has the power to provide, and to deliver and to give a future. Because you will need that. Because doubt will show up again. Remember your past and celebrate your present, you remind yourselves you also have a future with God. Because you’ll need to trust God’s history even more than your own. Your capacity to see that future will depend upon your connection to God. Remember. Strengthening that connection is as important in non-crisis moments as in critical ones.

Because lots of other voices out there will convince you otherwise. And in Scripture, those voices are called lots of names, the devil, the tempter, Satan. In the Hebrew language, the word for devil is Satan. But interestingly there are lots of satans. But there is one Ha Satan. The word satan means “adversary”. Ha Satan is THE adversary. Picture if you will being surrounded by adversaries. Maybe life feels like that sometimes. Like a contest.

Other times thought it might feel more like how the religion of Islam describes the devil. Shaytan, is the whisperer- the voice that when we listen to it, takes us from hearing God. The whisperer.

Maybe that is more like it for many of us. Being surrounded by whispering voices. Times when like the psalms we hope God will keep us free from the trap. Or we hear enemies whisper and suspect the worst before knowing if it is truth. Or fear others will turn against us. Or in Proverbs, a whisper separates friends. All ways of getting at our capacity to trust God and each other. Or not. The whisperer shows up in our doubts.

Who are you gonna listen to?

The people beyond the crisis are told to practice how to respond even when all seems well. Give thanks to God , remember and give the first of the harvest. Not something brought because the harvesting is done and you can see that it’s OK to give God a little. Come before you know the outcome. Because when you do you confront your doubts and meet God. Because if something happened to the rest of the harvest you have now given up your future for God’s in faith that God has you covered. This is where the whisperer starts.

What if a storm comes? You don’t know everything, you don’t have enough, you’re not in charge, you might go hungry. Can you hear the whispers? Who are you going to listen to?

Even if we’re not terribly stressed our world suggests that any threat to our sense of individualism or desires is a potential threat. We cannot be vulnerable. We don’t like the word loss. It makes life sound like a contest. And even God is our adversary. So when God says Come and give thanks like that and then live with everyone. Even those who are not you. Together. It just doesn’t compute. What if they need more? What if I have to sacrifice? They might mess with my tradition, my rights, my money. Or whatever else it is that I hold dear. I need my promises first. I need to fill my hunger first.

Can you hear the whispers? So many challenges where we feel alone trying to decide. Now imagine Jesus, seemingly alone when the whisperer shows up.  Tempted. Since you are the Son of God… go ahead. Do it! What difference does it make? Confronting and whispering to Jesus- you have the power, aren’t you hungry for it?

Jesus faces all our emotions and challenges.  I need to take care of me, I need to have control, I need a thrill. All things we do when we listen to the voices that say our doubts should fuel our decisions rather than our trust in God. Because sin in the end is listening to those whispers, and falling for the trap.

Jesus came and walked our wilderness and conquered to free us from this. For us to live in that belief takes practice. It takes being surrounded by others who support us, and it takes that connection to God in prayer. Jesus not only shows that God gets what it’s like to be us, Jesus shows us how to respond.

What gave Jesus the strength in the wilderness was the power of the Holy Spirit, and the word of Scripture, and the strength of prayer. I imagine him praying those same psalms for support. And it took the care of others, for him, the angels. For us it is each other here. To help each other remember who God has been, who God is and to trust God is our hope and future.  Responding to God and trusting takes community and practice. Lent is a time for us to strengthen our walk with Jesus. Together. By remembering what is really powerful and sustaining. That God’s history and power are stronger than our own.

So take a moment and think of something in which you feel life is pretty settled and blessed. A part of life where you feel God’s support- something that matters like love, job, relationship. Whatever you have thought of, this is a place of trust. Now think of a part of your life where it is a struggle. Something in your life that matters but that feels like not within reach. This is your place of doubt. Now ask yourself why you find it easy to trust God is in the one and not the other? And then I invite you this week to take home these lessons and to read them and ask God in Prayer to help you listen and trust that God is present and active. Practice. May you  sense Jesus walking with you in all things and filling your deepest hunger.

( Thanks to David Lose for the exercise at the end, though slightly modified)

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Best Destination Yet

“Let those who wish, have their respectability- I wanted freedom, freedom to indulge in whatever caprice struck my fancy, freedom to search in the farthermost corners of the earth for the beautiful, the joyous, and the romantic.”  Thus spoke Richard Halliburton, author of the Book of Marvels, documenting his adventures traversing the globe without permanent connections. These daring tales of globe- trotting adventure inspired a post war world to step out of an insular existence and to open its eyes. Many an armchair traveler was inspired to actually trek to the places Halliburton illustrated, for the sheer experience of it. This book among others inspired Louise. She herself searched the farthermost corners of her world for the beautiful, the joyous and I daresay, the romantic. Indeed as I have heard, Louise could have written her own Book of Marvels, being a rapacious scribe of her own travels and life, traveling broadly to Europe, the Middle East, China, Africa, Tahiti, India and more. Traveling in a day when even the colorful passport stamps themselves hinted at the exotic. For Louise, feeding her insatiable curiosity and delight in God’s world was a lifelong quest. And yet, she was terrified of flying. How on earth could a real adventuress overcome that? Louise was so afraid to fly she adamantly stated that only a state of emergency would convince her to do so. But eventually for this loving spouse, mother and educator, the lure was too great. And in her own inimitable way, she wryly declared a “State of emergency” so that the family could embark on a six week adventure through Europe and the Middle East, complete with caravanning on camels.

Flying with her fingers and teeth clenched but determined. Because it was time. She immersed herself as though it was the only such adventure she and her family might ever take, and she wrung every last drop of enjoyment out of it.  She would however go on to all those other places with the same spirit. But her true beauty lies in the fact she used her gifts and desires for more than herself. Not to sell a novel but to open up this splendid world for others. She had an incredible facility for languages- Latin, French and Spanish, becoming the Head of foreign languages at Reading High. More than book smart, she was beloved by her students for her enthusiasm, bubbly personality, and her sense of joie de vivre.

She engaged that same determination to endeavor to make the world of the languages come alive. Holding Roman banquets for students to experience the culture, the stuff of the language, even learning the proper way to drape a toga. Writ large events complete with freshmen serving as slaves, and pantomiming the myths to bring them into the world of others. And she used her love of music to play piano for talent shows, and more, full of song and laughter. And unlike Halliburton, she did not toss aside the notion of relationships and “respectability” as he called it. She was devoted to Dodson whom she met teaching at Mt Penn. They shared mutual interests, but even more, they absolutely adored each other. Reading, listening, writing broadly and to each other. Never a cross word between them that anyone can recall. It came as no surprise to me that the Scripture passage she wanted read this day was the passage we heard from I Corinthians. Written not to an individual or to a couple, but to a community. Louise’s life example and faith witness show her endeavor to engage the world around her with the love illustrated in this text. As a person of faith and hope but most importantly love, in all of her relationships she knew that the love of Christ and the love of others was the vital cornerstone of her life. Even more important than freedom she would tell Halliburton, was love. In the end when the curse of dementia robbed her of her capacity to speak so that we could understand, when she spoke a language only she knew, she was still a loving person. I recall seeing her and Dodson there together at Berks Heim still looking upon each other with love, admiration and devotion.

I selected our two other readings based upon Louise’s story as well. If ever there was a story that captures the words of Ecclesiastes, it might be hers. She lived as one who knew when to plant seeds, to build up, to laugh, to dance, to love and to embrace.

 In her capacity to overcome her own fears she truly understood God’s desire that we live happily and “do good” when we can. Because those other moments, of sadness, or mourning, of becoming diminished and dying, they will come, but we are given the capacity to be happy and do good and to find satisfaction in our life’s work and to see God’s providing in it.

And in the words of the Gospel, we hear Jesus is preparing the disciples for their journey into the future. He will not be with them, but tells them not to worry because they know the way. We hear Thomas saying, “wait a minute, we don’t know.” How often in our travels we don’t personally know the way. It takes trust. The guides and pilots could just as easily get us lost. But we travel because we place faith in what we cannot say we know for sure. Jesus tells Thomas and the others- “You know enough. I am the way, and the truth and the life.” Whether it was in gathering up the gumption for that first plane flight, or the capacity it would take to walk the journey of the ending, I have to believe that Louise knew these words of Christ to be true. One of the ways I think we can know is based upon the music she chose- “Lord of my Life and God of My Salvation” “Jesus My Lord, My God, My All” speak volumes of her desire to place her faith in Jesus’ promises. A faith that in later years perhaps turned more fully to hope in their fulfillment. It is for this reason that of the three songs she selected we are ending this day with the one she is living now- “O Master Let Me Walk with Thee.” Words to help us in our journey too as she is perhaps teaching one last time. For Louise the traveling days are done, and the journey is ended. These words are fulfilled. She is experiencing what we can only read about and hope for. We give thanks to God for her life and for a loving God who promises that for Louise and for all of us, our final destination will be the best one yet.