I admit, there are days when I wonder if there is a God. I mean, days when I am worn thin from the onslaught of violence, the destruction of terrible weather, the cruelty of human beings and our tendency toward prejudice and bigotry and self entitlement, the nature of politics in this, and other countries, and a general discouraging sense of reality, I wonder about God. Where is God when this stuff is going on? When I hear an athlete or someone else state, “God was with me,” I always think, and God wasn’t with the losers? Why would God choose one person or one set of circumstances in which to intervene, but not another? Why would God answer some prayers and not others? It’s never good when I start down that path. Let’s just say, it’s a curious process to be a parish priest and wonder if God exists. It does a number on my spirit, not to mention the moral, ethical, and psychological challenges I have to navigate to reconcile this.
On other occasions, paradoxically also a “lowest of low days,” I have no doubt that God exists, that life will be transformed, that resurrection and new life are a reality, and that God is guiding everything toward the hope that God has for all of creation.
Regardless of which side of the dilemma I am wresting with, I always end up in the same place. Trust. I trust that God exists and that God desires me and you, all of us, all of creation, to live healthy lives that are reasonably happy.
The trust is a bit paradoxical, trusting that in which I have doubts. However, paradox is at the heart of our readings today, as we hear stories of people experiencing God in unexpected ways.
In 2 Kings Naaman is a powerful general and like many people of his stature he is a bit full of himself. Even when he is ill with leprosy, a horrible skin disease, he remains prideful and arrogant. It’s a bit surprising then that Naaman listens to the voice of an unnamed young slave girl as she directs him to Elisha, toward a source of healing. Less surprising is Naaman’s response to Elisha’s cure – bathing in a muddy river – who in their right mind would want to do that? But, eventually Naaman is persuaded to bathe and he is healed.
God shows up in unexpected ways, even to people like Naaman, people who have no faith and don’t believe in God.
The heart of the Gospel reading this morning conveys a similar idea. Jesus speaks of sending his disciples out - and today those disciples are you and me – sent out to share the Good News. Sent out too love generously, to help, to share, to grow in relationship with strangers and, if what we offer is rejected, our task is not to judge, but to let it be, shake the dust off our feet, and simply continue to share God’s love as generously as we can.
The readings remind us that the kingdom of God is an unfolding process. It’s a kingdom that requires us to not become stuck in safety, comfort, pride, or arrogance. Living in the kingdom of God we are asked to stretch ourselves in love and for the love of God...and in so doing open the way for God to come into the world anew this day, every day, in simple, ordinary ways. As we participate in the unfolding process of God’s kingdom we are formed and informed by our faith in God and in God’s love as it is revealed in the person of Jesus. 2000 years of Christians have been assured by this faith.
And yet, faith is paradoxical. Faith is wrestling. Faith is asking difficult questions that have no answers. Faith requires tenacity. Faith is the ability to live in the abstract, and manage one’s anxiety and desire for absolutes that never come. Faith is trust.
So, I guess I’ll have to keep wrestling with faith and belief, and the hope that I’ll recognize God when God shows up. Usually I only see God, like a beautiful sunset in my rearview mirror - something I might miss if I’m not looking, something I only see in hindsight. It’s for this reason, having seen God often enough in my rearview mirror, that I have come to trust that God is present. On those days when it gets really bad I just have to adjust the mirror and forge ahead.
a reflection on the readings for Proper 9C: 2nd Kings 5:1-14; Luke 10:1-11; 16-20