I remember, years ago, writing a reflection on the story from the Bible of Moses and the burning bush. Do you remember the story?
Moses is out tending sheep.
Doing his job.
Doing what he was supposed to be doing.
Day in and day out.
When one day, out of the corner of his eye, he catches sight of a bush which appeared to be on fire, but not consumed by the flames. He stops long enough to look (forgetting, for at least that moment, the sheep?). And, in that turning aside, encounters God.
Is that how it happens?
In that unplanned moment or that unexpected interruption
When out of the corner of our eye we catch a glimpse
And turn our head and refocus our attention
That the Holy has a chance to brush up against our life?
As some of you know, I grew in a small community just outside Pittsburgh, PA. We were members of and on most weeks my family attended the Aspinwall United Presbyterian Church. Growing up in that congregation, I memorized Bible verses in my Sunday School class. I sat with my parents and brothers in worship. After college I worked at a Presbyterian camp and conference center. Then at a church in suburban Chicago. Then went to seminary. Then to a church Wisconsin. Then to Bedford. All of which is to say I have heard read and read and studied and taught the Bible most of my life. But even so, with some regularity, the Bible continues to catch me off guard. I am sure it has much less to do with some new insight to the original meaning of the text as it has to do with the state of affairs in my own life.
Where I am.
How I am.
What I am thinking about or wrestling with.
Sometimes what I hear or read pulls to the surface of my consciousness a question or a concern, which before it happened, I was not even aware I was thinking about. So, it is with this particular story from Luke’s Gospel about Jesus, a wandering teacher, who is invited to dinner at the home of Simon, a recognized religious leader and, I am sure, a pillar in the community. Other than the difference in social standings, there is nothing particularly noteworthy about that. If Jesus can eat with tax collectors he can eat with a Pharisee. But then it happens.
In the middle of dinner, ignoring and breaking all kinds of traditional boundaries and social taboos, a woman interrupts the meal with her presence and her tears and with her oil and a kiss. The traditional welcome and hospitality which Simon should have shown, but didn’t.
Water for Jesus to wash his feet.
A kiss of welcome.
Is given in spades by a woman far outside of Simon’s circle of “acceptable” individuals.
This story in Luke’s Gospel is about repentance and generosity and forgiveness and grace. It redraws the line of who is included and who is not And it also includes this…which is what stopped me in my tracks when I was rereading this story.
As all of the drama around the meal is unfolding…
Jesus turns to Simon and says,
“Simon, I have something to say to you.”
And, this is where I stopped reading.
What, I heard and what I wondered and began to think about, is this:
What if I were Simon?
And what Jesus had to say was addressed to me?
And, because the Bible is never just about then, but also about now.
And never just about them, but also about you and me.
I found myself face to face with the question:
What is God trying to say to me?
What is God trying to say to me…
Amidst the craziness of the days in which we are living?
Amidst the angst and anxiousness of hyper partisan politics.
Amidst the weariness I sometimes feel.
What is God trying to say to me…
About hospitality and welcome when community members are arrested and deported? And, about who is included and who is excluded in the circle I draw around my life?
What is God trying to say to me…
And, about what it means to be a person of faith when, all too often, religion is seen as narrow-minded and bigoted. More arms folded than hand extended?
“Simon,” Jesus says…
“Paul,” is what I hear.
“I have something to say to you.”
Of course the Bible is never just about me.
The question is there for us as well.
What is God trying to say to us?
To Bedford Presbyterian Church?
About all those things I just mentioned.
About hospitality and welcome and generosity and grace?
About who we are and how we live?
About what it means to be a community of faith in these days we have to live? About how we care for one another and how we put into practice the best of what we believe? God is never about standing still or staying put or being comfortable where we are or patting ourselves on the back for who we are and what we have done because the last I looked there are still people who are hungry and forgotten and broken and in the shadows.
God’s Kingdom is still beyond what I can see.
And, besides me and us, do I dare push the question your way?
For you to hear and to grapple with as well?
Thank goodness I think faith is as much about asking the right questions as having the right answers because this morning all I have is the question.
What is God trying to say to me?
For right now?
For my life as it is?
For who I am and who I am called to be.
For who I am and what I am called to do.
The best I can do, at least for the moment, is to be intentional about asking the question and doing my best to listen for an answer.
What about you?
I subscribe to a daily reflection written by the Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes on his blog Unfolding Light. This is what he wrote for today. I thought I would pass it on.
This is a hospital.
We are all wearing flimsy, ugly johnnies,
maybe closed at the back, maybe not.
Everybody’s wearing them,
doctors, staff, chaplains, owners.
No nice suits on this planet.
We’re all recovering,
all wearing little blue johnnies.
So get over how silly you look. We all do.
Just focus on getting better.
And that one in the way,
shuffling through the hallway of your life
with his little tree of emotional IV’s,
give him some slack.
You have no clue what a miracle is is
for him to stand.
Don’t you wonder what his story is?
Besides, you’re no ballerina yourself.
Close your eyes.
beautiful stars in the sky of God.
Maybe its because I am a pastor.
Or, maybe its because I have been a part of a community of faith all my life.
And heard and read stories from the Bible.
Or, maybe it is just the way my mind works.
Whatever the reason, certain verses of the Bible have become stuck in my mind.
Lodged there somehow.
Waiting for that moment
When they push their way, unbidden, to the surface of my consciousness.
Like one did today.
This verse from Psalm 139.
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or, where can I flee from your presence?
I don’t particularly feel like I am fleeing from God.
But, I do feel a bit lost.
Lost in my worry about family and friends.
Lost in the weariness which comes towards the end of a year and before a vacation.
Lost in my effort to keep track of and stay on top of a million details.
The response to the questions asked in Psalm 139 is:
There is no where I can flee.
No where I can go.
No where I can be.
And escape the presence of God.
Not even lost.
I can’t prove this is true.
That that which I know and name as God is present.
In each and in all of those moments.
But, I can hold onto it.
Trusting that goodness and grace and hope surround me.
I don’t know it or feel it.
Nick and Lydia, what I want to say this morning is primarily to you.
Everyone else can listen in.
There is a verse in Christian scripture which begins like this:
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…
In a moment that cloud of witness who gather here today in this place as Bedford Presbyterian Church will surround you with both their presence and their prayers. We are not perfect. We don’t have all the answers. But we do try to ask the right questions. Like with our lives as they are and the world as it is what does it mean to love God and to love our neighbors, and to treat others the way we would like to be treated if we were in their shoes? What does it mean to be the light of the world?
If you forget everything else about today I would ask you to remember this.
We are here with you and for you.
Celebrating who you uniquely are.
And, with you, asking questions and reaching for answers and understanding.
And, walking with you as we do our best to follow Jesus.
So if you forget everything else…
Or, when life gets hard…
Or, when you are not sure what to think or what to believe or if God or faith has a place in your life and world, may you remember today and this moment. And always have a sense of this community which cares about you and for you and which adds its faith to yours.
But along with that there are two other things I want to say to you today.
The first is an affirmation. The second is a reminder.
The affirmation comes from the Statements of Faith which you wrote.
And that is, God is and God everywhere.
God is with you and with us. God is within each and all of us. Yet, while we all have images of who or what God is, God is also more than we can ever fully know or name. Lydia, you are right. God is that presence you feel when you walk in the woods or marvel at the complexity and beauty and miracle of life. Nick you are right. God is that presence which helps you find or maintain a balance in your life. When life gets crazy or you get pulled in a hundred different directions, God is that reminder of that which is most important. God is wrapped up in those moments when you know love or have your breath taken away by beauty or when hope gives you the courage to stand up for what you know to be right. God is there when forgiveness heals broken relationships and in the support and care extended in times of need. God is a part of that which inspires your dreams and your vision of a better tomorrow.
That is what you wrote. And I believe all that is true.
And now, this reminder.
I hope you remember God is not just a noun, but also a verb.
Not just presence, but action.
The question to ask is not just who or what is God.
The question to ask is what does God do?
If we can identify that…if you can name that and know that…then you and we can better understand how we are called to act and what we are called to do. This is where all those stories in the Bible come into play.
They provide a snapshot of that action.
A picture of what God as a verb looks like.
The list goes on.
As I shared with you in a conversation we had one Sunday evening, here is what I believe. Any time we do any of those things I just mentioned, we stand close to God and our lives move in the direction of God’s Kingdom come. So, remember this. God is not just a presence, something you feel or experience or know. God is also a verb. Something you do.
So, Lydia and Nick…
Here you are at the end of Confirmation and at the beginning of the next part of the journey surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses who do their best to follow Jesus. We add our faith to yours just as you add your faith to ours. Welcome.
And, continued blessings for both of you.