Psalm 18:6-19(NRSV)In my distress I called upon YHWH; to my G-d I cried for help. From G-d's temple YHWH heard my voice, and my cry reached G-d's ears. Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because G-d was angry. Smoke went up from G-d's nostrils, and devouring fire from G-d's mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from God. YHWH bowed the heavens, and came down; thick darkness was under G-d's feet. G-d rode on a cherub, and flew; G-d came swiftly upon the wings of the wind. YHWH made darkness a covering around G-d, a canopy thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before G-d there broke through the clouds hailstones and coals of fire. YHWH also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High spoke. And sent out arrows, and scattered them; G-d flashed forth lightnings, and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O G-d, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. G-d reached down from on high, and took me; and drew me out of mighty waters. G-d delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity; but YHWH was my support. G-d brought me out into a broad place; and delivered me, because G-d delighted in me.
Romans 8:18-27(NRSV)Future GloryI consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now;and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We've been spending these four weeks in September on what is known as the season of Creation. This week the theme is wilderness or outback Sunday. It seems like a natural segway from land sunday as last week, when we watched Adam and Eve be expelled from the Garden of Eden, thrust into the wilderness with God's protection- and then heard the story of Cain, who after killing his brother, also got sent to a wilderness of sorts, but again, with God's protection. And I find it interesting that though God allows us to live out the consequences of our actions, God sets us up to succeed- no matter what wilderness we are going to enter, God provides us with everything we need to survive, and thrive.
This week, we see the theme develop further in the words of the Psalmist, who from the wilderness cries out to G-d- and G-d literally moving heaven and earth to protect and provide- finally pulling the psalmist from the water, bringing them safely them to a broad place. (A place of peace) And then in the passage I just read to you, part of a letter written by Paul to the Christians in their own version of "wilderness.' They were being persecuted for their faith and Paul was reminding them, God was with them- wait on God- start living in hope, because all of creation will be set free from it's bondage of decay... creation groans for redemption, we groan inwardly for adoption... yet paul says, don't lose hope.
So, I look at all four of these texts and think, this is a no brainer- God is always with me, God will never leave me, and I don't need to be afraid cause God is in control and will eventually show up to bring me to a place of peace- thank goodness!
Except I must be missing something, because as good as all of that sounds, and as much as I honestly do believe it, there are stil times when i am scared to death- no matter what the text says there are still times when I feel worried, or beat up, or even like what I'm going through will never end. I cry to the heavens like the psalmist, where are you God? But "wait a second" is not always the answer I want to hear. Or "Don't lose hope" sounds to me like any other encouragement card from hallmark. The sentiment is nice, but I don't know how to do that. Besides, its much easier to wring out hands, walk around worried, or fearful or gloomy, and oh, yes, sharing it with others.
Let me stop here for a second, because as much as everyone just laughed, let me tell you how detrimental to a group that kind of behavior is. Forbes magazine recently published an article that talked about how negative talk affects people in the workplace- and they use the word gossip, but it can be any kind of negative conversation. It not only makes people less productive, it causes moral issues, group distrust, and worst of all, a high turnover of employees as people do not want to remain in a negative environment. No wonder Paul was instructing the early church to stay hopeful! Imagine where we would be today if the people undergoing persecution adopted a negative attitude about their future, or about each other? Just something to keep in mind as we go forward...
So how then do we keep hope- or as Paul says "live in hope?" Because this won't just help us as a community of faith, it will help some of us on our jobs, our schools, for all of you starting a new school year, and even our home environments. It begins with the individual. It begins with our heart- the core of us- and how we see ourselves. It's why we have that big banner outside the church that says God loves you no matter what, because how we see ourselves will dictate how we go through life, and our ability to live and act in hope, even through disappointments and heartache. Do we see ourselves as loved, valued, and an important part of the reign of God?
Last year an experiment was done with 15 year old novice soccer players. (They call it a study, I call it an experiment) The players were randomly divided into three groups, and then given either positive, negative, or neutral self-talk as they were learning a new kick. You can guess the results. The ones who literally talked themselves into believing they could do it, did it. The ones who were surrounded by negative, even if it only came from their own heads, didn't perform nearly as well. This is one example, but numerous studies have been done to corroborate these results. What we believe about ourselves and our abilities, positive or negative, plays out in our actions. Now lets apply these findings to our jobs, our schools, our homes and our church...
How different would your job look if you didn't spend time talking with others about how bad things are, or feeling like you are underpaid, overworked, treated unfairly. Some of those things may even be true, but adopting a victim-like attitude, or participating in office gossip isn't going to make your job easier to sustain. What if, instead, you decided to put your head up, as Paul says, and live in hope- to do your work to the best of your ability, being part of bringing a positive work ethic, and inner peace to the workplace? My husband was a teacher for 34 years, and loved it, though he worked in the lowest paying district in the state at that time, taught in a run down building filled with asbestos, in a town plagued by teen suicide, broken families and alcoholism- he traveled all over the school taking kids back and forth to music lessons, but there was one room he never went in to- the faculty lounge. He used to say that walking in there, you could feel the negativity- if the teachers weren't trash talking the administration or the facilities, they were talking about the kids, how bad this one or that one is, how low the pay was, how they didn't have this or that. It would affect his whole day. I'm sure you have similar experiences where you work- or where you go to school, or even at your home... places where you go to either get positive or negative reinforcement.
The same is true for us as a community of faith. What is the hope we have for our church? We see in scripture that God has promised us a hope and a future, but how do we live out that hope right now?