the baptism of our lord …

Isaiah 43. 1-7
We need a god who can fit into a manger and hang on a cross!

“I Found God, Became a Pastor And Then Lost My Faith” That’s the title of an article that appeared online, about eight months ago. I read it, at the time. And I read it, again, just a few weeks ago, as it made it’s second go-round of the internet. “I Found God, Became a Pastor And Then Lost My Faith” For the record, what that pastor wrote about wasn’t anything new. It wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard, before. There hasn’t been a whole lot of victories the church is able to celebrate, nowadays. Not a whole lot pastors can lift up. And it wears on a person. Both in the pulpit and the pews.

She wrote of an older sister who had been diagnosed with breast cancer and died about a two-year struggle with the disease. She wrote of her second child who had been born with a heart defect, underwent surgery when four-days old, and died unexpectedly, six week later. Not easy things for anyone to endure, let alone someone called and ordained to embody goodNews. “I Found God, Became a Pastor – Was Worn Down And Worn Out – And Then Lost My Faith” might have been a more accurate title. According to the article, she questioned and she doubted. Questioned and doubted god’s presence and god’s trustworthiness. Questioned and doubted the presence and trustworthiness of the church, as well. And, of course, felt guilty about it all.

But it was her description of the “Big Dream,” as she called it, that drew me in. The “biblical vision” that had first drawn her to the faith. The hungry fed! The homeless sheltered! Justice, restoration, coming to those who needed it most! Love binding us together – especially – but not exclusively – those of us who are church! Sickness, no more! Suffering, ended forever! That Big Dream claimed her! It inspired her! Moved her! But the more I read, I couldn’t but wonder if it wasn’t that big dream that was her undoing! If it isn’t that big dream that is our undoing!

Like I said, it wasn’t anything new. Each of us, all of us, at one time or another, have to “wrestle with the angel!” Either we turn and walk away. Or we stay the course! We continue the journey! Proclaiming and administering – not the Big Dream – but the goodNews! Albeit, with a limp … like Jacob at the Jabbok. “I Found God, Became a Pastor And Then Lost My Faith” She’s not the only one.

Problem is … our god’s not too little. Our god’s too big! Too big! Too powerful! And because of that, we assume, we expect, too much! “Immortal, invisible, God only wise!” Remember that song! “In light inaccessible hid from our eyes!” We have this image. God in heaven. Up high. Far away. Seated on a throne of gold. Surrounded by legions of angels. Ready to do god’s bidding. God’s word, their command. Anything. Everything. And when it doesn’t happen. When today is the same as yesterday. Tomorrow no different from today. We’re baffled. Confused. Why god can’t. Why god won’t. And it frightens us. It makes us angry. It isn’t that our god’s too small. The problem is just the opposite!

Believing isn’t a magic wand. The gospel’s not an incantation. To change the world. To escape. To make it all go away. The changes and the chances. The chaos and confusion. The uncertainty and doubt. The hurt. The tears. What if it’s not god’s will to change the world? What if it’s not god’s job to write a new ending? What if we are meant, not for heaven, but for creation? Right here? Right now? Look at it this way …

Christianity – the church – has been around for a hundred generations. During that time, there’s been a lot of believing. But how much has changed? How much have we changed? Sure, humanity has its ups and downs, its ebbs and flows, which don’t have much to do with faith. But life remains, pretty much, the same. In bondage to sin. Captive to our humanness. Doing what we shouldn’t. Not doing what we should. And of course, none of it our fault.

But what if Jesus came – what if Jesus comes – not to change us? What if Jesus came – comes – not to change the world? But to give it – to give us – a reason to live! In spite of all the … clutter! What if Jesus came – comes – to open our eyes to what is really, truly around us? To the beauty all around us that we just can’t see? I’m not talking about wishful thinking or make-believe. That tears aren’t salty or heartache doesn’t hurt. But what if the purpose of believing is god’s way of convincing us that this – all this – is still an amazing gift! What if Jesus leads us to the cross to show us that even suffering and god-forsakenness is sacred, holy?

Jesus doesn’t pretend that darkness is light. But he does show us that it’s in the darkness that we can see the stars! That it’s in the silence that we can hear the song! God doesn’t take us out of the world! God doesn’t give us a happy ending! The gift, instead, is the poetry! And the music! The painting! The dance! In spite of the gloom! In spite of the despair! In spite of the agony! Or maybe, truth be told, it’s all because of it!

“When you pass through the waters,” says the LORD, “I will be with you!
“When you pass through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you!
“When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned!
“When you walk through the flame, you shall not be consumed!”

God doesn’t say, there won’t be waters … or rivers … or fire … or flame … But god promises that we won’t be overwhelmed or burned or consumed! God promises that god will be with us! God promises that we will live! Live abundantly! And that in the midst of the storm, there are still things worth living for! Because the waters and the rivers and the fire and the flame can’t take away the gift! The waters and the rivers and the fire and the flame can’t rob us … of us!

The problem is simple. It’s not that our god is too little. But that our god is too big! Too powerful! Too controlling! We need to remove god from heaven! God – OUR god – needs to be smaller! Less impressive! Less imposing! Until god is able to hang on a cross! Until god fits in a manger! Because that, my friends … That’s where life begins! That’s where life ends and where life begins!

Midland Lutheran Church