– Epiphany 5C

I have had a week of confrontations – not all of them negative….

I’ve heard from friends who are worn out by struggles in their work

I’ve met with people who are resisting the reality of their ill health.

I’ve been confronted by loneliness in others –

by bitterness and anger in people

who know how futile it is to hold grudges.

I had a running ‘comment fight’ on an online journal over the doctrine of the Trinity

and on Friday, our Presbytery gathered for a very difficult task –

that of dissolving a pastoral tie between a congregation and their minister.

While all this was happening, I was also confronted with this morning’s Scripture lessons

and was once again overwhelmed by the way we can be touched by the things of God (through an experience of God in Scripture) in the most unlikely ways/at most appropriate times.

Confrontation is hardly ever a comfortable activity.

It can be startling and loud – it finds our weaknesses easily – it unhinges our emotions

and so we do what we can to avoid confrontation.

Which is why the Scriptures are such difficult texts to read –

and why God is a fearful topic of conversation

and why religion is such a bothersome and awkward part of most societies.

For in our religious movements – in our expressions of faith –

in our search for God we are confronted with something so enormous –

so mysterious – and (let’s face it) so troubling

that we are only really interested in a passing inspection of Scripture.

This fear of confrontation, I think,

is why we’re never really comfortable talking about God

and why religious activity

and interest in institutional religion is on the decline everywhere.

Our fear of confrontation – our fear of the truly fantastic –

a fear of the liberating, life-changing power of God

is actually getting in the way of our call to be followers of Christ / children of God

When I read Isaiah 6 –

when I hear again the story of Jesus convincing these tired fishermen

to try “just one more time – in really deep water” –

when I imagine their distress when the fish come up and the boat goes down –

when I am met with the wonders of God in the midst of my ordinary reality

I am not surprised that church is the first thing to go in a busy schedule –

that people would rather do anything else

than talk about how God might change their lives

because the reality is absolutely terrifying! The thought of it is too much.

“Woe is me, a man of unclean lips – among a people of unclean lips…”

“Depart from me Lord – a sinful man…”

even Paul is quick to admit that his flaws and failures

should keep him from the tasks of the gospel.

They should keep him apart – but in that terrifying meeting Paul (and Peter – and Isaiah)

found grace too; for each of them, the confrontation revealed a new possibility –

a vision of something truly remarkable –

and that fantastic vision was preferable to living life ignorant of (afraid of?)

the glory of God – the abundance of God – the companionship of God’s grace.

When we talk about what matters to us in the church,

we always talk about the folks who don’t come

but I think we should consider that they stay away –

not because we can’t hold their attention –

but because no one feels comfortable in the face of God’s goodness revealed…

People don’t stay away from church because “they’re busy”

they get busy with stuff that asks nothing of them

so they can stay away from church

which asks far too much of them –

as it always has, and always will

not because we have too many worthy projects, or committees,

or jobs that need filling – that’s nothing –

it is the unsettling reality of God-with-us

that places demands on us that none of us can really handle.

Those of us who come, must be ready to be unsettled by this demanding God;

God who points out poverty and asks “what are you going to do about it?”

God who hates injustice and demands that we treat one another with equity

God who knows all but tells nothing, (except if you are patient)

The demands of God’s call are high;

the boat is nearly sunk – the nets are ruined – the glory is blinding – our flaws are revealed –

it’s no surprise that only a few are willing to venture near – but our curiosity, and our determination to experience a sense of awe in the things or God manages to keep us coming.

You see, it’s not really about the music;

the length of the sermon;

whether we worship in the hall, or in a field or in the sanctuary,

or whether or not we have communion once, twice or an hundred times a year;

it’s about our willingness to admit that there is something in life that matters more than us.

We will see those who stand aside because of their fear drawn in,

not by our efforts to convince them of their error

or by persistent programming that plays to their preferences,

but by our commitment to the principles of the gospel

by God’s work in and through us

and by our visible delight in the awesome mystery of “God-who-IS”.

Amen

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