Benediction Online

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Living with a Free and Unpredictable God

Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 63:1-8
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 13:1-9

When I was a teenager I was an ardent and literally minded evangelical. One of the things I was taught was the principle of seed-harvest. Whatever you needed, you tithed to God what you had and God would give you lots more. Your tithe was the seed and God’s response was the harvest. Today, I still think that tithing actually leads to greater abundance that not tithing. When we take the risk of trusting God enough to give 10% or more of our precious income away, God’s blessing comes in many and unexpected ways. However, the seed-harvest system is rather different. It treats God like an investment - I invest 10% and God pays me back a lot more. It also treats God as predictable.

Which God is not. Today’s readings remind us that we cannot control God. God is awesome and powerful and free to do whatever God wants.

God can choose whether to cut down the fig tree or let it grow another year. God can reveal Godself to us in a burning bush or in any other way that God chooses. God can destroy and God can build up.

One of the big intellectual changes of the Enlightenment was discovering how to find out why things happen the way they do. You drop an apple and it falls because of the law of gravity. Everything must have a cause and every cause must have an effect. They thought that once scientists discovered the laws of the universe then we would really know how it all worked, and then we’d be able to accurately predict if not actually control the future. Of course, what has happened in reality is that as scientists have continued to explore, things have become more complex, not less. Each new piece of knowledge brings with it new questions.

But our theological thinking has not caught up with our scientific thinking. We still look for cause and effect. We want things to be as simple and clear as if I tithe money I will become prosperous; if I tithe my time, God will give me more; if I put my prayers in the right slot, I will get health and prosperity from the tray at the bottom.

But God is not a vending machine. The universe is not just a mechanical system, and even more importantly, our relationship with God is not like a relationship with an ATM.

Our relationship with God is the relationship of two free beings. God has given us freewill – of course that is constrained by the restrictions of being mortal and bounded by time and space – but none the less we are free. We are free to pray or not. We are free to participate in the Eucharist or not. We are even free to believe in God or not.

The relationship that God calls us to is one of complete dependence upon her. In that wonderful story of God’s revelation in the burning bush, Moses says, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" and God replies enigmatically, “I AM that I AM”. God is. God is and God is complete in himself. God is Being with a capital B, and we are beings. There is nothing which comes before God, but God creates each one of us. If somehow God ceased to exist we would simply disappear.

We ARE completely dependent upon God - sin is our behaving as though we are not. It’s difficult for us to let go of our human competencies, our ability to do things and to turn our lives and our wills over to the Spirit of God - especially when we still operate in a world which requires our abilities and competencies. God does not expect us to stop living our lives to the best of our ability but to do so in partnership with Spirit – with Spirit as the senior partner.

As with any human partnership, the other party, God, is also free - so just because we do what we think is expected of us does not mean that God will do what we expect. I think that’s the point that Paul is making in the second reading today. He wrote,if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.’ We can have complete confidence in God’s limitless and unconditional love, but the danger is that our human pride can lead us to think that we’ve got it sorted, that we’re standing on solid ground and just then it all moves.

The further we travel along the path of spiritual maturity, the more this is true. Just as we think we’ve got it all figured out, everything shifts. So the trick is to find a way to live in free fall. To find a way to live so that the unexpected changes in our relationship with the divine and in our lives can be weathered with grace and calm.

It wasn’t exactly an easy moment for Moses when Yahweh told him to go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt. He tried every which way to get out of it. But over the course of his life he came to have an extraordinary relationship with God who seems to have been quite hot tempered in those days. Day by day trusting God and doing whatever God told him led Moses to be able to bring the Hebrews through a time of great testing and frustration in the desert as they developed their tribal identities. Without his partnership with God he would have given up and gone back to being a shepherd.

The key to living in the uncertainty of a relationship with a free God does not lie in keeping rules, it does not lie in knowing the laws of the universe, it does not lie in being good. The key to living in the uncertainty of a relationship with a free God is in the third step of the 12 Step program – We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God. That is the key.

It’s not a once and for all decision because our human tendency is to keep trying to take back the control. Everyday we make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God. Sometimes we have to do it again every five minutes.

There is a tendency in popular spirituality to think that if we think right, have a good attitude or live good lives then the universe will support us, God will smile on us and all will be well. It’s great to have a good attitude, to think right and live a good life, and it probably makes things easier and happier. But it completely misses the point.

The point is that we are, amazingly and incredibly, invited to be in intimate relationship with the Creator God of the universe. We are invited to be all that we can be as we are fulfilled in that relationship of love and service. God, who is totally free, chooses to be in relationship with you. This is much, much more than living a good life and thinking right. This is abundant life. It’s like the difference between watching television and white water rafting - white water rafting with a knowledgeable and experienced guide.

Come on in, the water’s rushing and the guide is waiting for you.

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