Believe It or Not?

view from space of US east coast
Photo credit: <a href="">NASA</a>

Isaiah 40:21-31

You don’t know?
You haven’t heard?
Nobody’s ever told you the story from the beginning?
You haven’t understood the rudiments of creation?

It’s God who sits above the great circle of the earth,
From whose perspective people are like ants,
Who hangs the heavens like hanging curtains,
Who unfolds the sky like unfolding a tent,
Who makes even princes into nobodies,
And who nullifies the laws of kings.

They’re hardly planted,
Hardly have they hit the ground,
Hardly have they sprouted,
Hardly have they taken root,
When God blows on them
And they wither,
And the wind blows them away like grass clippings.

“Who will you compare me to?
Who is my equal?” God asks.
“Raise your eyes to the sky and see.
Who created all this?”

God brings out the whole panoply of stars
Numbers them,
Names them,
And because God is so powerful,
So awesome,
Not a single one goes missing.

How can you say, Jacob –
Israel, how can you talk like:
“God can’t see where I am,”
And “God has let my rights be ignored”?
You don’t know?
You haven’t heard?
God is forever,
The maker of everything that is.
God doesn’t get worn out or tired.
God knows more than you can even guess.
God empowers the worn out,
God revives the beat down.

Even teenagers get tired and pass out.
Even young people crash when they’re exhausted.
But those who live in God
Renew their strength,
They take off like eagles,
They run without tiring,
They walk without feinting.

This is Isaiah’s answer to the defeatist, “we can’t” attitude.

To put it into context, this is the opening scene of Israel’s return from exile. Permission has been granted to return home, but it’s going to be a long trip. Many of those who are contemplating making it are old. They’ve lived in exile most, if not all, their lives. They’ve been beat down all their lives. Now, though the way is open, some are saying, “Never mind. It’s too hard. It’s too far. We can’t. We just don’t have the energy.”

Against this tide of defeatism, the prophet reasserts that what they cannot do on their own can be done by God’s strength and help. Even the teenagers and the youngest people are going to get tired out on a trip of this magnitude. Never mind, God will provide strength for the journey.

Behind this particular story of one community’s grappling with whether they are ready to make a journey home is the story of everyone who ever had to consider taking on a task that seemed, before it began, too great a thing to even bother considering. The question for every person, and every community, behind this story is: am I (or are we) going to attempt the thing we’ve always dreamed of doing. Even for those who don’t believe in God, the question remains: Do we believe the world we dream of is worth the effort and risk and sacrifice to attempt bringing it about?

To consider that kind of question, the prophet suggests that what we really need to take stock of is whether we really believe in the viability of the worldview we say we believe in. For the Israelites (and for people who believe in their God), the question is: Do we really believe what we say we do when it comes to our God’s ability to get us through this? We’ve heard the stories of God’s deliverance and power. Do we really believe them, or are they just stories? Because if we believe them, then we are responsible to act on that belief. Whatever you believe in, it’s time to put your effort where your faith is.

Believe it, or not?

Just Do It

child reaching with leaf
Photo credit: <a href="">Oleg Sidorenko</a>

Romans 1:15-17

This is why I want so much to tell the Jesus story to you Romans. I’m not bashful about the Jesus story. It’s God’s restoring power given to everyone who embodies it. It came first to the Jews, and now also to everyone else. When people embody the Jesus story God’s justice happens, and still more embody the story. The sacred writings say: “One who is just lives by embodying.”

Let’s dispense with the traditional translation that renders the Greek, pistis with this over-used word, “faith.” Faith, by now, is too bland a rendering. It’s too easily relegated to propositions, pie in the sky, and namby-pamby sentimentality. Paul believed in pie in the sky, of course, but even Paul wanted his new Christians to do something about Jesus. Faith goes beyond thinking in the abstract or working up the proper emotional adjustment.

Let’s recognize that to live by faith means, in essence, to embody the Jesus story in oneself. In other places, Paul talks about “putting on Christ.” This is what he means. Embody it. Live it. Do it in the way those who spoke the truth did it when they said, “Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God.”

In this sense, Jesus (and maybe even Paul) isn’t really a religion. Jesus is a way of living well. It’s a way of living that demands justice be done, not just in theory, or on paper, or eventually, but in reality, here and now. Live and do like Jesus, bring his story to life in your own life, and you may soon find the religious people are all against you. Live and do like Jesus, and even if you don’t believe in God, you’ll be closer to living the life you know deep down is yours alone to live.

Don’t let faith be just an idea or a belief. Make it a life. Embody the Jesus story. Do it.

How You Get Through when Things Fall Apart

life magazine, German ruins1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

You don’t need anyone telling you when all this will happen, friends. You already know that it will be like a thief in the night. When people say “peace and security,” that’s when it’ll hit. It’s just as inevitable as a pregnant woman going into labor. But because you’re not living the night life, the thief won’t surprise you. You’re children of light. For you it’s always daytime, never night. So don’t fall asleep, but stay awake and sober. Those who sleep, sleep at night. Those who drink, drink at night. But you’re daytime people, sober people. Arm yourselves with faith and love, and protect your head with hope.

God’s anger isn’t meant for you. God’s intention is to spare you that. That’s what Jesus’ death was about: keeping us alive, whether we’re awake or asleep. So, keep on cheering each other up.

Of course, except for the quotation about the thief in the night, none of this is true.

  • People take naps.
  • The Thessalonians were just as flawed as the rest of us.
  • People drink around the clock.
  • And Jesus never claimed any of this about his dying to spare his followers persecution, let alone God’s wrath.

In fact, Jesus said just the opposite: “If they did it to me, they’ll do it to you.”

So what use is this passage? Two salvageable bits:

  1. Bad times are sure to come, and often when you least expect them. And especially when overconfidence is the flavor of the day. It happens in markets: dot-com bubble, housing bubble. It happens in government: “mission accomplished.” It happens in religious life: crystal cathedral. It’s no use arguing about whether these ups and downs are divine punishment. Sometimes they are consequences of one’s actions, but just as often, they’re just part of living on the planet. Expect them.
  2. Three of the best ways of dealing with bad times are by responding with faith, hope and love. Even if you did deserve what you got, but especially if you didn’t. Keeping your commitments, keeping your chin up, and reaching out to help someone else get through it. These things go a long way toward improving a bad situation sooner than it otherwise would on its own, alleviating the some of the suffering, and sometimes, keep things from being a lot worse.

Faith-Healing 101

Blind manMatthew 9:27-31

As Jesus was leaving, two blind guys followed along, calling, “Help us, Great Deliverer!” He went into his house, and they followed him in. Jesus said, “Do you really think I can do this?”

“Yes, sir” they said.

So he touched their eyes and said, “Let it be as you believe.” And they saw. Then Jesus said, “See to it that nobody gets wind of this.” But as soon as they left they started blathering it all over town.

In this instance, as well as in the previous healing story, being able to see and being made well has not so much to do with some magical power or ability of Jesus. It has to do with the capacity for faith, the system of beliefs, that pervade the lives of those needing sight and healing. All Jesus does is help us get in touch with that.

The woman with the flow of blood remained sick so long as she believed what everyone told her about her about being a pariah and unworthy of medical care.

With these blind guys, too, they see what they believe. Who knows what they were blind to, or what the content of their vision was that they saw in Jesus’ house that day! Perhaps they saw (gasp!) that Jesus wasn’t that kind of miracle worker. That Jesus was someone altogether different than the Deliverer they expected. Or could it be that their experience only confirmed what they thought they knew, making their misrepresentation about what kind of deliverer Jesus was even more far-fetched than before? What story – that Jesus didn’t want told – did they blather about town when they left?

We have no answers, of course. But the story leaves us with (at least) three questions worth pondering for ourselves:

  1. What do we say about Jesus, not because we know but because we’ve always been told it about him?
  2. What are we (intentionally) being blind to?
  3. Do we allow our experiences to enlighten us, to change our minds and paradigms, or do we shoehorn our experience into the contours of the stories and worldviews we’ve always told ourselves?

Happy soul searching (I mean faith healing)!