Often I have heard pastors say that they wrote this or that sermon because the point of the message was one they needed to hear themselves, maybe more than their intended audiences. And I do know the feeling with my own preaching, both with my weekly children’s messages and my periodic sermons for the congregation. For example, a few weeks ago I preached on the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, a real doozy in which Jesus seems to praise a man who cheated his boss. As far as I can tell, Jesus means that if this guy could use all of his smarts and wiles to win over the people who owed the master money, so much more should we use our brains and hearts for good. Or something like that. It’s a notoriously difficult text, interpretable in many different ways. My core comment? I truly don’t understand it, but I will keep thinking about it, to try and discern the meaning of this tricky Scripture passage. That morning I needed to remind myself that, in fact, I do not have the mind of the Almighty (news flash, right?)
My children’s messages are much simpler, most of them just stressing that there’s nothing the kids can ever do that would make God stop loving and forgiving them. And every single Sunday, I find myself wishing and hoping that what I’m saying is true, even as I am privately exempting myself from worthiness. God’s grace is all well and good, but how can God keep loving and forgiving ME? Again, I am parceling out (and withholding) that love and forgiveness as if they were mine to give.
“For my ways are not your ways, nor my thoughts your thoughts,” says the Lord. Boy, the Lord can say that again! Last week I led a study group at church, and I asked everyone to write down a question they would ask if God walked into the room. Once more, the subject I chose was one I am particularly struggling with these days. Indeed, I have so many questions for God that God would grow quite hoarse answering them all. My primary queries? Why in the heck is the world the way it is, and people the way they are? Why have so many forgotten Christ’s mandate (and a central mandate of all faith traditions) to care for each other—the poor, the sick, the refugee, our planet—because it is inconvenient to do so, and so much easier to criticize and demonize one another? Why does a loving God seem to step back and let us go on destroying each other?
In the Old Testament story, Jacob wrestles with a stranger (God) through the night, finally saying “I won’t let you go until you bless me.” I, too, am wrestling with God right now, and will undoubtedly keep doing so. And I will hold on for dear life, until God blesses me, blesses all of us, with some clarity and some peace.