Monday, 24 February 2014

Of Doubt and Hope

Lectionary Passages for March 2, 2014. Exodus 24:12-18, Ps. 2 or Ps. 99, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matt. 17:1-9
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

There are so many parallels between the Moses and Jesus stories, and these readings of Exodus and Matthew show a clear one.  In both, there is a transfiguration at the top of a mountain. In both, an aspect of God is seen by key leaders, who eventually pass the message on to the people. In Exodus 24:9-10, 70 elders of Israel see God before Moses and Joshua go up the mountain and disappear into the clouds.  In Matthew, Jesus is transfigured in front of the disciples and they get to see Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. (another interesting bit-in Exodus the leaders eat together, in Matthew Jesus touches the disciples. Both are actions linked to physical being, emphasizing that this is more than a spiritual or mental experience.)
What catches me here is the focus on leaders. These people are enormously privileged, they get to experience God up close while surrounded by other leaders who see the same things. Yet, we know that in both cases, these leaders still have doubt and struggle. The Israelite leaders go on to forge a golden calf, warping the newly received laws and betraying God. Jesus’ disciples end up betraying and abandoning him at the crucifixion. People fail. God has to come in and rescue people over and over again.

Struggle and doubt are part of our relationship with God. Many of us have experiences of God and yet we struggle. There are times when we feel God is close and comforting, times when we are awestruck at creation and can’t help but know of the Creator, times when the miraculous touches us, and times when someone’s story of divine encounter sounds the strings of our soul. There are times when we despair and know that only God can speak into the mess of the world. All these experiences could be seen as ‘transfigurations”, places where God is revealed to us. Yet, like the leaders of the Old and New Testaments, we doubt and fail. Like them, we are also still called to carry the story of faith forward. God must see something in us that is hard for us to see in ourselves-something that rises above (or from) doubt and shines.

Psalm 2 talks about leaders of this world, and the futility of the counsel they take with each other. It is kind of apt as we bask in the afterglow of the Olympics, a time when world leaders try to pretend all is right between them, or at least it’s all okay for 2 weeks. The leaders of Canada, Mexico, and the United States have also just met too, and that certainly isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. (I wonder, cynically, if this meeting was planned so that it would be overshadowed by the feel good of the Olympics!) Here again, in scripture and current news, we see examples of human failure. Of relationships that don’t work, of power and problems, of leaders who don’t measure up to the unrealistic hype of elections. The psalmist, however, still concludes with hope; “Salvation belongs to the Lord, Thy blessing is upon Thy people.”  It’s hard to avoid doubt, but the hope here is easier to grab!

Finally, I Peter refers to the eyewitnesses of God’s majesty. When people experience God, there is a duty to share it with each other. Eyewitnesses have an important part in telling God’s story, however, the emphasis is on what God intends, not what people end up doing. Power is actually taken away from any individual leader in the statements (v20-21) that no prophecy is useful when it is of private interpretation. If it is the pronouncement of any one human leader it is misguided. God’s words of instruction and blessing are for all, not any select few. The experiences and words glorify God, not the speaker. In the end, it is God who saves us, not any human being. There is the hope that finally conquers doubt.

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