Monday, 26 May 2014

Wind full of sand, or encouragement?

Lectionary Passages for June 1. Acts 1:6-14, Ps 66:1-10, 1Peter 4: 12-14, 5:6-11, John 17:1-11

There's a lot here about waiting. Waiting through times of suffering, secure in the knowledge that everything will work out, that it's all for the good.

That's hard, and it's not a welcome message when you are in the middle of crisis. I remember being in the midst of grief after my dad passed way suddenly. A man at the funeral reception "preached" at me, quoting some scripture and saying that it was all good, that dad was in a better place. I know he meant well and wanted to offer comfort, but he was speaking to my head and it was my heart that was hurting.The message was unwelcome at the moment.

In the midst of struggle and pain, words like those in 1 Peter blow like a wind full of sand. I think the words make a lot more sense after the worst of the crisis is over, when the mind can process the experiences of the body and spirit.

To be fair to 1 Peter, this passage isn't meant to be applied to our individual struggles and griefs. The Christians he refers to are suffering because of their faith, not because of a natural loss or illness or some hardship they couldn't avoid. This is suffering brought on because they are actively following Jesus and being persecuted for it. They are thinking through decisions every day, and choosing a hard road. In their case, I can understand how words spoken to the mind, even during the hardship, make sense. They are to keep their heads up (no disgrace) and keep right on choosing the good. There are two verses that jump out at me, speaking to my mind and soaking into my heart: 4:19 "Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God's will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.  5:7 "Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you."  God is there in the midst of their crisis, helping them to understand and keep on doing what is right.

This scripture is about the big stuff, the choices made to follow God when that means giving up certain opportunities for careers and money, even when other people might get angry with us, even when our life may be at stake. It's quite a stretch, for those of us in a free country where the living is easy, to understand what the original recipients of this message were dealing with. We get tempted to apply words of comfort and assurance rather shallowly, to our individual stresses, making it all about us instead of all about God.. I think we need to resist the urge to stay in the shallow water. This is meant to apply to those deep decisions/choices of faith that make like difficult. It's meant to encourage a persecuted people, not to merely assuage life's regular trials.

I love the way Psalm 66 works. The psalmist offers great praise, but does it from the perspective of being past the crisis. He is no longer in the refiner's fire or carrying burdens. He speaks from the place of abundance, v. 12, and calls out for people to "come and listen, let me tell you what he has done for me..." v. 16.  It is after the crisis when the psalmist is able to look back and think about where God was acting. After the crisis he is a clear headed witness to God's consistent caring.

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