Careful What You Wish For!

As the Autumn begins, the gathered community in Crafton Heights is focusing on Micah 6:8 –

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.”

On September 21, we considered the command to “DO” Justice.  The scriptures that helped us engage this topic were Amos 5:4-7, 18-24 and Matthew 7:21-23.  

A man hides in the woods and shoots two State Troopers in Blooming Grove, PA, killing one and wounding another.

Drug cartel violence in Honduras causes families and children to run for their lives, which results in an influx of refugees that threatens to overwhelm our nation’s border.

IsisA single mother works full-time, but still cannot earn enough to feed her family, let alone move to a safer neighborhood.

Members of a terrorist group execute hostages and share the grisly images of the beheadings globally.

Police officers, sworn to serve and protect, shoot and kill an unarmed teenage boy in Ferguson, MO.

You work hard, you practice all summer, and are one of the better players on the team. Nevertheless, you get cut, and the coach’s kid – who is nowhere near your skill level – is starting.

In each of these situations and a hundred more, we cry out: “This is not right!” There is something in the system, something in the universe, that is fundamentally flawed and broken. When stories like these come across our televisions, our news feeds, or our kitchen tables, we pause and we lament the truth that things are not as they should me.

We want the killings, the discrimination, the violence, the favoritism, the fear – to stop.

More than that, there are times where in our anger and our pain, we want to inflict punishment and suffering on those who have caused it for others. I’ve got a relative who is a State Trooper. Would you like to guess what his friends were saying about the self-styled “survivalist” who took the life of one trooper and dramatically altered scores of others? What do your friends say ought to be done about the people who are beheading Christian children in other parts of the world, or beating their own children senseless?

We want to give them what they deserve, don’t we? We want to make them pay. We want to watch them cry out for mercy themselves. We want to hurt them so badly that… and then we remember the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who told the people of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL in 1963, “the reason I can’ t follow the old eye-for-an-eye philosophy is that it ends up leaving everyone blind. Somebody must have sense and somebody must have religion.”

We may accept the fact that doing more of the same isn’t best, but we want something to be different. We need to know that there is hope. If we have no hope, then we descend into a pit of lawlessness and despair – we loot, we riot, we lash out – because without hope, we perceive that nothing can ever change, and if nothing is ever going to change, then why not respond with violence and mayhem?

We were created for wholeness. We were designed for a world wherein people do not attack each other randomly, or manipulate and use one another, or diminish the personhood of their neighbor. We are “wired” to feel at home in a place characterized by security, completeness, purpose, and integrity.

The word that characterizes that kind of world is “justice”. In Hebrew, it’s mishpat – an action or a decision that establishes or reinforces what is right. In a just world, children are not abused and there is no such thing as a “race card” and terrorist extremists do not exist.

We want that kind of world. I know that we do.

In the Old Testament times, God’s people often found themselves, like us, in situations where things were not as they had hoped. And they began to pray for what they called “the Day of the Lord”: the yom YHWH. In their public worship and private lives, people proclaimed that there was much that was not well in the world, and there was too much pain. Yet the prophets continued to indicate that God would come. And when God comes, they said, God is going to straighten things out. God is going to bring justice! God is going to speak truth! God is going to make things whole and complete!

And when the people heard that, they cheered, “Bring it on! What’s not to like about that? You bet – we want to know the Day of the Lord!”

In our reading today from the prophet Amos, God’s people are told to be careful what they wish for. Like his colleagues Joel and Zephaniah, Amos reassures the people that the God who is coming is a God who will set things straight. The only problem, he says, is that the ones who are longing for the Day of the Lord are themselves crooked. The Day of the Lord will be painful, says Amos, because God’s people are themselves a part of the problem. Specifically, Amos points to the ways that the wealthy and powerful in Israel have neglected and mistreated the poor and the vulnerable. The prophet is incredulous: the people claim to be crying out to a God of liberation while at the same time they are adding to the burdens of those that are oppressed.

Norman Vincent Peale was one of the more influential American preachers of the 20th century. He remembered a day when, as a young boy, he found a big old cigar laying in the street. He slipped into a side alley and lit it – and suddenly felt very grown up and mature. As luck would have it, who should come down the sidewalk but his father. The young man quickly hid the stogie behind his back and tried to distract his dad. He pointed to a billboard advertising a visiting circus and said, “Can I go? Please, Dad, when it comes to town, can we go?” And his father looked him in the eye and said, “Norman, never make a petition while at the same time you are hiding a smoldering disobedience.”[1] That, of course, is what the “faithful” were doing: “God! Give us freedom…but not them.”

Eight hundred years after Amos, Jesus sounds very prophetic when he looks at those who are clamoring to be associated with him and says, “Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord’ is going to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” What does he mean by that?

inconceivable2Well, in the words of that brilliant theologian Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

When people – whether it’s fishermen in the first century or folks like us in the 21st – use the word “Lord”, we can only do so when we are referring to One to whom we are willing to submit, or One who is worthy of my ultimate loyalty. Too often, we say “Lord” and we mean someone who we are counting on to come and save my sorry rear end from some painful situation that may or may not be of my own doing. I experience some discomfort, dis-ease, or alienation as a result of some of my own choices, and I call out “Jesus – Lord! Come and save me!” When I do that, I’m not treating Jesus like the master of my universe and the One who orders reality. I’m treating him like the good-natured, if somewhat gullible, friend who will give me a ride home after I’ve had too much to drink, or the girlfriend who will take me back again and again, even after I cheat on her or beat her.

Cranach The Elder, The Form of the Body of Our Lord Jesus, 1553

Cranach The Elder, The Form of the Body of Our Lord Jesus, 1553

But when the Prophets speak of the Day of the Lord, and when Jesus says that he is Lord, they are saying that there is One who is worthy. There is One who has the authority and the power to direct my actions – One on whom I can center my life and my being. That affirmation has not changed since the time of Amos or Jesus. The call is simple: order our lives to reflect what the One we call Lord deems important. Jesus is Lord when we treat him as such. Jesus is Lord when we act like the stuff that matters to him matters to us.

One aspect to this kind of living is justice. In our theme verse for the month, Micah tells us that what God expects of us is pretty simple: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.

To “do” justice. That’s the first benchmark we receive from the prophet Micah.

Not to demand justice. Not to admire justice. Not to clamor for it in the streets. We are called to “do” justice.

“Do” justice. What does that even mean?

Really. In the face of terrorism and abuse and multinational corporations and systemic racism and situations that are simply just not fair, I’m supposed to “do” justice. What does that even look like?

There is an individual component to it, to be sure. Doing justice means that we are willing to stand with those who are on the margins, to speak for those who have lost their voices, and to stand between those who would do damage and those who are vulnerable. What does that mean?

I saw an example of it not too long ago. I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to embarrass anyone publicly, but I will tell you that in our youth group, there are some wonderful and amazing young people. And there are a few kids who will, for various reasons, get on your last nerve day in and day out.

We were getting ready to go on a trip, and three of our young people asked to meet with me. “Pastor Dave,” they said. “We want to talk with you about so and so.” Oh, yes, I could see that coming. This is a young person who – through no fault of their own – tries my soul. I braced myself. “So, look. On this trip, are you going to put us in small groups for activities and discussion?” I said that I was. “Well then, when you do, make sure that you put so and so in with at least one or two of us. We don’t know if you’ve noticed, but this person is hard to deal with, and a lot of the other people in the group aren’t always nice to this person. We really want to make sure this person has a good trip, and so please put this person in our group.”

Do justice. Stand up for the vulnerable and love those who are difficult to love.

Another example: think about how you shop. When you go out to buy something, where does it come from? Are you stocking up on so-called “deals” that are only possible because the people who produce those goods are living in inhumane conditions and being paid poverty-level wages? Does your desire for the latest “gotta have it” toy or accessory bless the people who live near where the raw materials were taken from the earth? I know that it’s impossible to know where everything we eat, use, wear, and drive comes from…but it’s pretty easy to be attentive to some of this. Check out the human rights records of the companies with whom you do business, and see if you’re getting a deal that you can be proud of.

Do you see? In our personal lives, every day we decide when we will speak and when we’ll be silent; we choose how to spend our money and our energy; we show up some places and ignore others. What do your choices say about your intention to Do Justice?

But it’s more than that. Justice assumes communal participation. In our various gathered communities, we participate in things that either bring healing and wholeness or that lead to isolation and death. We do that when we vote, or when we don’t vote; when we decide communally how to spend our taxes or our tithes, and in what we do to register our satisfaction or dissatisfaction with those decisions. As a congregation, are we willing to spend ourselves on those who are on the fringes?

Here’s the scary thing about the passage from Amos: it appears as though Doing Justice is the proof of our willingness to engage in faithful relationship God who invites us into covenant love day in and day out. In our worship, we say and sing and celebrate all sorts of grandiose truths about life and lordship and faith. And, really, they are wonderful and amazing words.

But that’s what they are. Words.

In the complex web of social and economic relationships in which we engage each day; in the decisions we make about where to shop and whose calls to send to voicemail and which cards we send and who sits at our table at lunch; in the normalness of our lives, we say what we really believe and acknowledge whom we really treat as “Lord”. In here, we sing about God’s care and we pray for God’s presence and we celebrate God’s faithfulness. And out there, the world says, “Prove it. I’m watching you, church. God is like that? You show me.”

May the lives that we live in the next six days match the words that we use this morning. May we, in our lives, say Glory be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever – and YES, bring to us and all creation the Day of the Lord. Amen.

[1] http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/p/prayer_unanswered.htm

The Wrong Answers

In the fall of 2014, the good people of Crafton Heights are considering some of the basics of faithful living, using Micah 6:1-8. On Sunday September 14, we also considered Romans 3:21-23

The country is a mess. I mean to tell you, there is not one thing that is going right.

Politically? Please. No matter where you look, there are nothing but broken promises and unmet potential. Leadership? Give me a break. They say one thing and do another. There is incessant, excruciating infighting between the various parties.

Let’s talk about Foreign Affairs. National security is an issue. There is the constant threat of war. Enemies are on the move in places like Iraq, Kurdistan, and Syria. The cost of war is eviscerating any hope for improvements in infrastructure or long-term benefits, and families are crippled by the loss of husbands, children, or property.

The Economic scene isn’t any better. One writer surveys the situation and says that there is “a shocking contrast between extreme wealth and poverty…exacerbated by egregious injustices on the part of the elite rich and ruling class against the stalwart [working class]…driven…into a dependent economic status.”[1] The richest of the rich build elaborate homes behind security fences and enjoy every conceivable luxury, while the middle class workers lose property, security, income, and stability. The disparity between the top .05% of the population and the bottom 50% is appalling.

stoning-of-stephenAnd Religion? Don’t even get me started on that one. By and large, public worship is dying on the vine. Nobody has any enthusiasm for it any more. Oh, a few courageous leaders speak out against the horrors of war and terror; they lift their voices against injustice, all right. But almost without fail, those voices are stilled far too quickly: they are martyred or marginalized. There are a few wildly successful preachers who earn a pretty good living by telling anyone who will listen that all God really wants is for you to be happy and blessed. Every now and then you come across an apparently successful congregation that seems to be full of obscenely wealthy people who bring in their offerings amidst a lot of fanfare and adulation.

Assyria_TP-IIIThe country is a mess all right. I should say, the country was a mess. I’m not talking about the USA. No, no, no. I’m not talking about 2014. The scene I’m describing is from Israel and Judah in the 8th century BC. All those things I just said are mentioned in the Bible – you know, that really big, really old book that has nothing to say about our lives or the modern world because everything is so much different nowadays?

I’m not talking about our culture. I’m telling you about the kind of world into which God sent Micah the prophet. Ha! Failed leadership, constant war, gross injustice, and hollow religion. Like that could happen here, in 2014! Ha!  That’s a good one.

But try to imagine, if you can, God sending a prophet into a world that looks like the one that I’ve described, and giving the prophet the task of helping people to remember who they are, and to claim their identity as God’s own children…only the people to whom the prophet is sent are not at all interested in hearing that message. I know, I often ask you to do difficult things, and this morning I am wondering if you can even imagine that God is not only longing, but willing to speak a word into a culture that is characterized by failed leadership, constant war, gross injustice, and hollow religion. I am hoping that if you can imagine God doing that once, that maybe you’re open to the idea that he’ll do it again.

For five chapters, Micah has thundered God’s judgement on the people for their failure to live in obedience and faith. He has accused and cajoled and encouraged. He has begged and he has threatened. And now, in chapter six, we are presented with a courtroom drama.

Micah Exhorting the Israelites to Repentance, Gustav Dore, 1870

Micah Exhorting the Israelites to Repentance, Gustav Dore, 1870

Verses 1 and 2 introduce us to the cast of characters. The Lord himself is the plaintiff, and he engages the prophet Micah as his prosecutor. The very land of promise – the hills and the mountains surrounding Jerusalem – is called to witness these proceedings. Israel is named as the defendant.

In verses 3, 4, and 5, God, speaking in the first person, recounts the history of his relationship with his people. He speaks in language that is covenantal, and reminds them of the ways that he has provided for them time and time and time again. God brings up names from the past, and shows precedent for how he has consistently come to engage, enjoy, and equip his people. “And yet,” he says, “my people are not interested.”

The speaker shifts in verses 6 and 7, and the defendant, Israel, is given voice. The leadership of the nation is presented here as saying, essentially, “Look, YHWH, what’s it going to take to make all this go away? Yeah, we get it. We haven’t been the model people of God that you say you want. Great. OK. Noted. But look, we’re busy. We’re workin’ here. What do you need? What can we bring to you?”

Look at the suggestions that the people make – each offer consists of something more valuable. “What do you want, God? A burnt offering? No problem. We’ve got animals here. Pick one.”

Calves a year old are a little more expensive, as they have required a great deal of care, but thus far have offered no labor and no return on that investment. “Thousands of rams” seems a bit excessive, but there is evidence that King David made an offering of that size. “Thousands of rivers of oil” seems an obvious exaggeration, as the typical sacrifice called for a pint or at most a quart of oil. The last offer was to bring the firstborn and offer that child to the Lord – and what “everybody knew” back then was that was exactly the kind of offering that the Canaanite god Molech required. There were altars throughout Israel where people offered their children to the fire god.

Do you hear the arrogance here? The people saying, “Come on, God, how long are you going to be busting my chops here? Can’t you just get off my back? Let me give an offering and we’ll be square, OK?”

When I read this, I have in my head an image of one of the junk-bond swindlers from the 1990’s getting up from the defense table, pulling out a checkbook, and paying off a fine for millions of dollars – all the while, eager to go back out and start making money again. Or maybe you remember not long ago when Google was fined $22.5 million for violating the personal privacy settings of its customers…and earned that much money back in about five hours.

In all of these cases, ancient and modern, there appears to be no intent to actually modify one’s behavior. No, the “accused” is simply eager to placate those who are upset and get back to business as usual.

But here’s the deal: God is not primarily interested in business – not business as usual or any other kind of business. God is interested in you. In me. In us. God is not interested in the conventions of the day: God is interested in relationship.

The Ghent Altarpiece (detail), Jan van Eyck (1432)

The Prophet Micah in The Ghent Altarpiece (detail), Jan van Eyck (1432)

Look back at what God says in verses 3 – 5. When we read that, we see the language of covenant. God describes his history with the people in terms of gift and of personal sacrifice. He reminds them of promise and deliverance and the ways that he has willingly bound himself to his people for their own good, the ways that he has consistently given of himself in every age.

Contrast that language with the words that we find in verses 6 and 7, where the people are presented as speaking contractually. In a contract, we see two independent contractors coming together of their own free will. They negotiate an agreement, which implies some level of obligation on every level. A contract is a deal, and property is almost always the most important thing. It’s nothing personal: it’s just business.

And again, I repeat: God is not interested in the impersonal. God is not interested in that kind business. One does not sign a contract with the Almighty.

That is very good news, my friends. Every day, we ought to be eternally grateful for the fact that God will not give in to our demands that he become a bean-counting, score-keeping, party-of-the-first-part, party-of-the-second-part kind of Diety. Because if we insist on trying to contract with God; if we insist on trying to pay our own way; if we insist that we are just fine on our own and don’t need your covenant, thank you very much… Then we will surely perish. As Paul says in his letter to the Romans, everyone has sinned. Everyone has fallen short of God’s glory. And since a contract can only be entered into by two independent parties on equal footing acting of their own free will, we can’t contract with God.

The bad news of the Gospel is that God can’t be bought. You don’t have enough sheep, enough oil, enough children to make God happy.

The Good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t need your sheep, your oil, or your children. Those are the wrong answers.

In verse 8, the prosecutor tells us what does count: “He has shown you, people, what is good.”

It’s not about impressing me with the ways that you keep all of those so-called “rules”. I don’t need you to get straight A’s, or to be so smug and self-righteous just because you have never been caught doing the worst thing that you do, or thinking the worst thought you’ve thought. Again, those are all the wrong answers.

It’s about the walk. The way that you live your life. When we speak of our “walk”, we mean the people that you choose to follow; we mean those for whom you are looking while you are on the journey. It’s not about trying to collect the right answers – it’s more about learning to ask the right questions.

“So don’t come to me with that ‘What’s it gonna take, Lord’ kind of nonsense,” says God. “You know exactly what it takes: Justice. Kindness. And walking purposefully in covenant with me.”

We’ll talk more about those things and that kind of relationship in the weeks to come. For today, let me encourage you to delight yourself in the notion that the Creator of all that is, seen and unseen, comes to you and invites you to order your life according to the covenant that God is offering. Let me encourage you to go a little easier on yourselves and a little easier on each other – so that we all have more energy to grow into those things that God is seeking to do in our lives.

Thanks be to God for this amazing gift of covenant. Amen.

[1] Baker, Alexander, and Waltke, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale Old Testament Commentary Series) InterVarsity Press 1988, p. 138.

A Mixed Bag

Some months ago I read Debbie Blue’s Consider the Birds, and for the first time in years, I felt compelled to share some of a book’s insights in the form of a sermon series.  To that end, the folks in Crafton Heights will spend ten weeks in the Summer of 2014 considering some of the insights brought forward in that volume and by the creatures and stories featured therein.  For the sake of brevity, let me simply say that if you read something that strikes you as profound and wise, it probably comes from her work.  If you read something that seems a little heretical, well, chances are that it’s from me. 

On September 7, 2014 our readings came from Luke 12:22-25 and Psalm 37:1-7

Have you ever noticed how when two people describe the same event, there are almost always some subtle differences between the two accounts – small details that reveal the biases of the person who is telling the tale? I might mention that on a late night outing to do some mission trip planning, we shared a pizza. Someone else might describe the same trip and say that Pastor Dave ate five pieces and everyone else had one. It’s the same information, more or less, but the omission or addition of detail reflects the different emphases of the storyteller, and perhaps influences the way the story is heard.

The men who wrote our Gospels are the same way. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each chooses to include some details and leave others out. When we look at what they mention and what they don’t, we can guess some of their priorities.

St. Luke, Frans Hals (1625)

I thought about that as I read today’s scripture reading, and about how much more I tend to enjoy Luke’s writing than I do that of Matthew. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not down on Matthew. You can be sure that you’ll be hearing from him in the months to come. But I simply love the way that Luke takes every opportunity he gets to tell the story of Jesus from the vantage point of the underdog.

When Matthew wrote his Gospel, it was directed primarily towards educated Jews who had become believers in Jesus – people who could be considered “insiders” in some important ways. A few years later, Luke wrote the Gospel that bears his name with an eye towards gentiles who had heard about this Jewish messiah, Jesus, and wanted to follow him. Luke’s readers are often those who are on the outside looking in.

To give you a sense of how these differences are reflected in their writing, consider the fact that when Matthew is giving us Jesus’ “family tree”, he traces it back to Abraham, the “father” of the Jewish nation. Matthew wants us to know that Jesus has come to save “us”! But when Luke presents a genealogy, he goes all the way back to Adam, indicating that Jesus is here to offer salvation to everyone.

Matthew tells us that Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” opening up a can of worms as to what it means to be poor in spirit. Luke simply says, “Blessed are you who are poor.”

feederbirdsMatthew remembers the day that Jesus was preaching about trusting God, and he says that Jesus reminds us to “consider the birds of the air”. That lacks specificity, and, if you’re like me, you hear someone asking you to think about birds and you think of small, beautiful, brightly-colored and dainty creatures. Inoffensive, happy, chirping little companions who have come to brighten up your day. Jesus says that God feeds and cares for these birds and you think, “Well, why wouldn’t he? I put out a little birdseed myself every now and then. They are just so fun to watch…”

Yet when Luke remembers this story of Jesus’ teaching, he points out that Jesus said, “consider the ravens.” Well. Hmmm. That changes the old mental picture a little bit, doesn’t it? If you stop to consider one of these birds for a moment or two, I’m pretty sure that “dainty” or “beautiful” are not words that will come to mind. What is his point?

The Common Raven

The Common Raven

Well, let’s consider the raven. According to Leviticus, it’s an unclean animal. Many in the ancient world taught that the raven was a cursed beast; some say that ravens were white when Noah took a pair of them onto the ark with him, but when that bird proved to be unhelpful to him, God ordered that all of its offspring wear the color of coal. A few ancient rabbis taught that this curse was given because the raven feasted on the flesh of the corpses of those who had died in the flood, and of course when we see ravens today it’s often because they are scavenging roadkill. Ravens are described as menacing, and are associated with death and desolation. In some cultural fables, the raven is associated with gluttony, and in fact if I want to tell you how hungry I am, I will say that I am simply “ravenous”.

On the other hand, though, ravens are one of the few birds known to relate intentionally with mammals. In many parts of the wilderness, ravens and wolves travel together, and the ravens can be seen actually playing with wolf cubs. Similarly, ravens have been taught to speak. While it is true that a raven turned its back on Noah and the occupants of the ark, Elijah, the prophet of God, was saved from starvation when these birds brought him sustenance.

Not only that, but the raven is an incredibly intelligent creature. Studies have shown that these birds can learn, will use logic to figure out puzzles and tests, and can recognize individual human faces as well as remembering specific birds for at least three years.

Consider the raven. A large, intelligent, ominous creature. One that has the potential to partner with wolves or rescue prophets. A creature with an enormous capacity and an even larger desire. The raven is truly a mixed bag, isn’t it?

Does anything sound familiar here? Are not the ravens far more like us than we are like the juncos or hummingbirds or cardinals? Are we not creatures who know something about what it means to be capable of great good and terrible harm? Of, shall I say, ravenous capacity for that which brings life as well as that which would kill?

In Consider the Birds, Debbie Blue writes

They are scavengers. They are ravenous. They rave…you can see the dark in its eyes. And God feeds it.
It’s one thing to believe that God feeds the little pretty birds of the air. They have small appetites. They need a few seeds. Everybody loves them. It’s not that much to feed. They do not seem needy. But what if you’re ravenous?
Is the hope that God will feed you as long as you’re not that hungry, as long as you don’t need that much? God will feed you, sure – if you have the appetite of a little dove, as long as all you need is seeds, dry little seeds? The hope is not so proscribed.
God feeds the ravens, the ravenous, the mixed-up greedy gluttonous carrion eater. That’s saying a lot more, somehow, something more shocking, maybe, than that God’s willing to give bird food to light eaters. And how much more will God feed us? We need a lot. A lot of food and attention and love and healing. The world needs a lot. And I don’t think I usually believe that God will feed us all. Jesus seems crazy here to me, unreliable, like, how can we even listen to him here? How can we model ourselves on the raven, the lilies – it’s lunacy to ask us to believe we will be fed.[1]

That’s why I like Luke so much: because he is daring us to believe great things about God and God’s care for and in our lives.

Jesus doesn’t like you better if you know all the verses to all the songs they play on K-Love. Jesus doesn’t care if you feel particularly holy or if you feel so overwhelmed by the problems of the world that you’re not sure what to do next. God’s not asking us to be polite, or to be beautiful, or to smell nice or to have sensible diets.

What Jesus is telling us is that God wants us to trust him. It’s OK, says God. Just settle down and listen for a moment. Relax. Let me take care of things.

A Raven

A Raven

Maybe we are, in our heart of hearts, ravens. We know that we are a mixed bag; that we can be too smart for our own good sometimes and that we are willing to scavenge for whatever scraps we can find laying around. We sometimes choose to run with the wolf pack and share in the kill, and yet we have it in us to befriend prophets and love our neighbor, too. Maybe some days we get out of bed and we look ourselves in the mirror and we realize that we are sleek, dark, shifty creatures who can’t always be trusted to do the right thing, and who are afraid, in our heart of hearts, that we aren’t good enough – for God, for each other, or for ourselves. And so we pretend to be juncos or goldfinches or hummingbirds instead.

What if somehow, some way, we were able to believe for an hour or two that God really will take care of us? What if we could stop pretending long enough to listen to what Jesus is saying, and to trust that God does long to shape us according to his purposes?

If we could approach life with that kind of trust in the One who made us, then maybe it would be a little easier to care about other people, and to cut people a break when they need it. If we wasted less time and energy pretending to be something we’re not, then maybe we’d have more enthusiasm for seeking justice and peace in the world.

If we could believe that God was truly holding tight to us, and to those whom we love, then maybe we could loosen our grip on our children and grandchildren and be less inclined to hover over or smother those with whom God has entrusted us.

TrustGodIf we could trust that God is willing to give us what we need, then maybe we’d be more likely to recognize the gifts of God when they show up in our lives, and it’d be a little easier to offer what we have and who we are to those who surround us.

Yeah, I hear you, Pastor Dave, but I’m starting a new job. I had to change schools last week. My kid is riding the BUS now. I haven’t had a regular paycheck for three years. They shut off my gas. I’m not sure my wife loves me anymore. You can talk all you want about trust, Pastor Dave, but I’m falling apart here. Do you know what will happen if I can’t hold it together?

Luke gives it to us straight: consider the ravens. Look at those things, and all that is true about them. God made them. God cares for them. God is present with them. How much more, then, is he with and for you?

Believe that. Accept that. And be with and for God. And be with and for those people who are sitting all around you – and those who are afraid to come into this room – so that they, too, might know – and trust – the embrace of God.

[1]  Consider the Birds (Abingdon, 2013), pp. 201-202.