The Pastor’s Pen – February 4, 2018

patrick-hendry-45133…is your way ever truly hidden from the Lord?

February 4, 2018

 

Scripture: Isaiah 40:21-31,Psalm 147:1-3, 6, 10-11

Who is it…in whom I believe?  Who is this one who reaches out to me in the quiet of a dark night? Who is this one whose insistent attempts to comfort or reassure reach deeper into my soul than any other?

Today’s reading from Isaiah truly is one of my bedrock assurances of God’s everlasting love and care over my soul.  It is written as though to a people deeply conflicted by the seeming distance between the promises of God’s love and providence, and the circumstances of a very troubled life and times.  In those times not so different from our own God speaks clearly of his love and protection for his people, seeking to assure Israel that no matter what things look like, no matter the circumstances of their situation, that they should never feel as though they are in a place of feeling the need to cry out, ‘My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God’.

And our reading from Psalm 147 seeks to reinforce that assurance when it tells us ‘His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;  but the Lord takes pleasure in those who stand in awe of him, in those who hope in his steadfast love’.  And actually it was that last word that caught my attention this week as I searched through the week’s readings for some point of entry into what the Spirit was seeking to share with us.  I remembered from my studies in Seminary that the phrase ‘steadfast love’ might be a translation of the Hebrew word chesed, which actually does not have a direct or single translation over into the English language even though the word is used many times throughout the scriptures.

And it is a word that has long troubled translators as to its exact meaning causing many of them to settle in on ‘loving-kindness’ or ‘steadfast love’, both of which fail to grasp the magnitude of what the author is seeking to convey.  For the context within which the word is found also seems to imply a keeping of the covenant God made towards humanity.  Chesed speaks of a covenant to love, to forgive, and to cherish, no matter what…a promise from one who can be trusted with all circumstances we find ourselves fearfully confronted with.  Both of our readings speak of a Lord who loves us no matter what…even when…or perhaps especially when we are not sure we have heard God’s voice…or in those times when the noise of life seems just too insistent to be silenced, depriving us of the quiet we may need in order to hear the whisperings of the Holy Spirit deep within.

And then there are those times…perhaps times similar to those which inspired the words Isaiah felt compelled to write, when our God seems to be silent…when the Lord seems to be so far away from our need or our hurt or even our fears.  However, times of seeming silence do not necessarily mean that God is not near or not hearing the cry of our hearts.  The lack of an immediate answer to prayer or the assurance that God is near does not mean he is not actually communicating directly with our hearts.

Times may be hard or situations tough, and try as you might there may be no obvious course of action before you, and you are just not sure how to move forward.  And yet, if you become as quiet as possible within, if you can just stop for a minute to try and reflect on what we know is the true nature of love…on the true nature of our God of love, there will come over you first a sense of peace, followed by the courage to take a first step in the direction that seems most right, most helpful…most holy.

For indeed our God fills in all the spaces, our God is all and is in all.  God is never farther away than our willingness to look for him…and in all those moments when you wonder which way to go, which side is up, or which answer is good and right, there are answers right in front of you.  At times perhaps more than one, but at least one from the Spirit of God’s love for sure, an answer that waits only on your willingness to step out in faith.

Remember our God is love.  He needs no ‘reason’ to love us, to endlessly forgive and reach out in love towards us…God’s chesed is not something we ‘earn’ and even less something we deserve, for at the end of the day…at the end of every day we are simply, gloriously, and forgivably human.  And truly we each have few if any completely good or ‘holy’ days.  In fact, spending a day from sunup to sundown without thinking ill of someone or something, without wishing ill on someone or something probably never happens…but that does not deter our God of love for even a second…our God loves us just because that is who our God is…

And I depend on this God…this is the one I have followed for so long…this is the God I need to be God…this is the God I find in the bible, the God I see embodied in the form and person of Jesus…the God evidenced in the ministry and compassionate loving care Jesus extended to everyone willing to truly see who he was…this truly is the God I worship.

Now some would surely struggle with such a simplistic explanation or description of our God, with what they would say is such a limited view of the majesty and glory of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Some would struggle with how ‘human’ I portray the love of God and the nearness of this one who came to live amongst us.  Some would say I am making God over into my own image of what I feel a good God must look and act like rather than vice versa.  Some would say I am irreverent and speak heresy when I insist that God loves more than we could ever imagine and that his forgiveness and loving-kindness far exceeds our ability to let him down or to act in ways unloving and unkind.

And to them I say they are probably right in that I do not conform to a lot of what our theology tries to tell us about God and God’s nature, and about sin and judgement and of what God expects of us.  But my life is the only one I know…my life is the only one I have and continue to live.  And my own experience of this God who reached out to me and found me and in fact continues to find me in all of the places of my need…this God who came as a man that I might see that in fact he does know what it means to feel as I do, to struggle as I have, to hope as I so fervently do, and to love as I have been blessed to be able to do so…this God of whom I speak in quite human terms, through the lens of my own human experience is the one I have come to know and to love with my whole heart.  This is the God I wake up to and to whom I turn and speak freely and openly, knowing that my thoughts and words do not fall on empty and uncaring space but rather are heard and acknowledged by the one Lord of endless love.  Every thought, every prayer both formed and unformed flies on wings as of eagles to the heart of my Lord.  And sometimes the answers come quickly and are easily recognizable…while at other times it seems as if God remains totally silent even though I know that he has heard my call and considered my need.  And it is in those times that I must wait until my heart is ready to receive the answer that eventually comes…those times that I must wait in the silence of knowing that God hears, but also realizing that the Spirit may have work to do in preparing my heart and even the circumstances of the life I must still travel through.  It is in those times of silence that I must not go to that place of feeling that ‘my way must be hidden from the Lord’

When my mom and dad had their auto accident in 1971, I was young and nowhere near fully formed in my love of God…even though I believed.  And when it became clear that my mother’s paralysis was going to be permanent and that she would forever be confined to a bed or to a wheelchair that someone else needed to push…when the only thing I could possibly hope for was a miracle, I began to make that my fervent prayer.

And great was the outpouring of love and care upon my family by this church…so much so that I personally began to hope for and even to believe that such a miracle of complete healing was not only possible but perhaps even God’s will for my mother.  And so I waited and I hoped…for thirteen long and trying years in which my brothers and sisters and I all grew up and began to live life as children of a mother in great need but one also who was filled with a love that went far beyond anyone’s understanding…a love that accepted all, loved all, and forgave before even being asked…one who cared for each one of us as only a mother could even from the cruel confines of her situation.

And over those thirteen years I too grew to be an adult…I got married and settled into life as one looking forward to all of the promise life could offer.  But I never lost sight of the deep conviction that at some point God was going to answer my prayer and that my mom would one day walk again and be able to experience the wonders of life I was sure she was missing out on.  I never let God off the hook, reminding him each time my mom became ill, each time she again battled respiratory illnesses that were so incredibly difficult for her to fight off.  Each time death seemed to be knocking on her door I looked to God and breathed a sigh of relief when my mom’s condition improved and she made it through yet another battle…my prayer may have been as yet unanswered but it was still out there.

And patiently I waited…I waited on this God of whom I had read, this God I had come to know and to trust in, this God who had convinced me that his love for me knew no bounds.  I had come to believe that there was nothing I could do to turn him away from his forgiveness and compassion on my seeking heart…this God who healed so many who came to him, this God for whom stepping out and countering the forces of nature seemed so second nature…it was on this God that I waited for an answer to my prayer.

And then, one hot and sunny day as I worked at my job, dealing with many details and the needs of multiple employees over whom I had responsibility…as I stood and worked, I was informed that my Aunt Betty, my mom’s older sister was on the phone.  A lump rose in my throat, somehow I think I knew that this was it,  that try as I had to insure a healing for my mom on this side of heaven…it was just not meant to be.  And as I listened to my aunt tell me that my mom was just too tired to fight off pneumonia a fifth time, that she was ready to finally let go, I found myself numbly and quietly telling my aunt thanks for calling me and that I understood…

And yet as I hung up I knew I didn’t in fact understand.  I was not ready to let go of this promise I thought God had made to me so long before; I was not okay with what seemed to be a betrayal of some sort from this God I loved and sought so diligently to serve…I was not ready for this answer…

And as I went back to God over the next few days I realized I had two choices…I could turn and walk away from God, convinced that my prayers were not answered as promised…or I could wait…wait on understanding as to why such an angel had been allowed to suffer so patiently and for so long…

And I must admit I wrestled for a while with this choice.  I just could not get my arms around why what I had so strongly believed for so long just seemed to be all for naught.  But eventually I turned back to God with tears in my eyes and no understanding in my heart whatsoever.

And then over time I began to realize that my understanding was not only clouded by my own desires, but by my lack of seeing that my mom was only able to be the angel she was…was only able to minister to so many hundreds who came to her bedside or watched in amazement as her smile never once faded from that face…my mom was only able to be who she truly was from a place of serving our Lord from within the confines of total paralysis.

It took a while to come to know, to understand, and to accept that the work of love that our Lord asked of my mom required that she love from right where she was.  Which is never to even hint that the accident was somehow divinely inspired, but rather to say that no matter what we give to the Lord…no matter how it is that we come to him…no matter what our situation, our story, or our physical abilities…if we come with a willing heart, even if that heart or our body is broken…if we come with a willing heart then the life we offer can be used in incredible ways by our Lord of love…there is not one life given over unto him that goes to waste…no matter what…

This…this is the God whom I love.  The one who sometimes answers my heart in the moment, sometimes even before I call…and sometimes only after the Holy Spirit has worked a great work in preparing my understanding…

But no matter what, I know the answers will come, for the grace remains and never leaves us and the miracle of living in relationship with one who loves such a this will never fade nor diminish in the offering of hope it promises to whoever seeks after it…

So never say ‘your way is hidden from the Lord’…for it never truly is…

…amen

Isaiah 40:21-31

21  Have you not known? Have you not heard?  Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22  It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

24  Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25  To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26  Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.

27  Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?  Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
30  Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm 147:1-3, 6, 10-11

1   Praise the Lord!  How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
2   The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3   He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.
6   The Lord lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground.

10  His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner; 11  but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.

 

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

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