Saturday, August 23, 2014

As Long as We Have Days

“So, do you want a hug?”  I froze at the doorway on my way out to head back home.  I turned back to her and said “Do you want to give me a hug?”  “Well,” she replied, “you’re always saying that it is hard to leave without a hug.”  “Yeah,” I said, “it is.”  So, she stepped around the mounds of stuff on the floor of her too small dorm room and looked at me.  “You’re all sweaty,” she sniffed.  I almost said, well, duh.  It is 90 degrees out there and I just unloaded enough stuff to occupy a family of four and crammed it into a room you are trying to share with another person (who could also equip a small family, I noticed).  Instead I said, “so are you.”  She sniffed and stepped a little closer.  Standing off to the side she put her stick thin arms around me for a moment and then stepped away.

Half a hug is better than nothing.  That’s a bit of wisdom I couldn’t argue with.  Still I was vaguely dissatisfied as I drove the three hours back home from dropping my daughter Maddie off for her sophomore year at Wittenberg University.  Not so much with the lack of demonstrable signs of affection, she has become a wave across the room kind of person anyway.  No, what made me uneasy was driving away from my little girl - who is growing up way too fast but still vulnerable to too many enemies.

OK, perhaps a bit melodramatic.  After all, even she would say she is too cute to have enemies.  I don’t want to be one of those who sees threats hidden in every shadow, who lives in fear of a world gone awry.  And yet... she is my little girl.  And when I claimed her all those years ago, I took on the responsibility of keeping her safe.  And I feel like I’m falling down on the job.  After all, I’ve shepherded her for 19 years, how can I just give it up now?  It’s not like there is someone else to step into the role.  I mean the institution makes promises, but too many bad things can happen.  I’ve got friends and acquaintances in Ohio who all promise to keep an eye on her, but that’s asking too much isn’t it?  A bit unreasonable to expect anyone to be with her every moment of every day.  Isn’t it?

Psalm 23:1-6  The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.  2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;  3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.  4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me.  5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.  

Ah, well, a different kettle of fish completely.  Right?  I mean sure, God is everywhere.  But not really the kind of armor plating I’m looking for.  God takes too many risks for my liking.  God allows way too much messiness for me.  Too, I don’t know, laissez faire?  Too wait and see?  Too ...

The six verses of the twenty-third Psalm are probably among, if not the most familiar in the whole bible.  Even people who don’t claim faith seem to know these words.  Even more, we all seem to take comfort in them somehow.  You think you know them, and maybe you do.  But it just might be time to take another look.  Just in case there are surprises in store.

Verse one: The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.  Some translators render this as “I lack nothing” or “I shall not be in want.”  Wanting is not a bad think in and of itself.  This isn’t a prohibition to aspire to higher things, or to desire something new and different.  This is an acknowledgment that claiming God as shepherd, letting God lean, letting God provide, changes your desires.  To lack nothing is to have basic needs met and to be satisfied with that.  Verse one is about contentment.  About finding the source of fulfillment not in the stuff of the world, but from God, from that fundamental faith relationship which tells you that you are whole, you are complete, you are loved just as you are.  What else could we want?

Verse two: He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters.  Frankly lying down anywhere sounds pretty good to me most days.  We get so tired running here and there and then staying up late worried about tasks left undone.  Or responsibilities on the horizon that daunt you and wear you out even before you get to them.  Lying down sounds nice.  But in fact this verse is about more than rest.  It is about sustenance.  Green pastures mean plenty to eat, still waters mean safe water to drink.  God provides.  But what is the “he makes me lie down” mean?  Well, I’m not sure.  But it sounds like God provides but invites us to discover.  He doesn’t bring it to our lips, he makes us lie down and get it ourselves.  He leads us to the water but the choice to drink is still ours.  God provides an abundance, we fear a scarcity, so we hoard and fence out and over price.  There is another way, it could work, but God makes us lie down.  God leads us there.

Verse three:  he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.  An odd shepherd don’t you think?  Sure making the sheep lie down and eat, leading them to water to drink, that sounds shepherdy.  But restoring souls?  Leading in right paths, ok, but for his name’s sake?  Do sheep bleat out a salute to God when they walk the right paths?  Do we for that matter?  Let’s come back to that later.  Let’s restore a soul for now.  What’s interesting here is that soul could also be translated as life.  He gives me my life back.  Or even translated as passion.  He makes life worth living.  He makes me alive.  Not just living, but alive - if you know what I mean.  Another book full of shepherd images is the Gospel of John.  We can’t help but hear Jesus as the Good Shepherd when we Christians read Psalm 23.  “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.”  That’s the Good Shepherd talking, in John chapter ten.  Wow, it’s like Jesus read the Psalms or something.  

Verse four:  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me.  We are used to reading the Valley of the shadow of death.  But the original just says the darkest valley.  Or a valley of deep darkness.  It represents the worst fears.  For most that is death, or course.  But maybe your worst fear is something else.  Abandonment.  Shame.  Rejection.  Our fears are almost too numerous to mention.  Now here is the sobering part, the good shepherd doesn’t keep us out of the valleys.  I know that is our preference.  But it isn’t the promise.  God doesn’t say follow me and there will be no valleys.  Almost makes you wonder what the point is.  I mean if God isn’t going to keep us out of the valleys what good is following God?  Why bother?  Psalm 23, and almost all of the rest of scripture for that matter, says valleys are inevitable.  Unavoidable.  It is the result of living in the world. It is the consequence of being human.  The question then is not how to avoid valleys, but do you want to walk them alone?  The promise is that you will never walk that valley alone.  The shepherd is there, with power.  The rod and the staff are the tools the shepherd used to keep with beasts at bay.  Tools like love and grace and acceptance keep the beasts of self-doubt and rejection at bay.  Tools like life eternal keep the beast called death at bay.  You are with me.  Evil cannot win.

Verse five: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  The scene shifts, we leave the sheep field and now move to the big house, the banquet hall.  Where we are the honored guest.  I don’t know what the phrase “in the presence of my enemies” means to you.  But I used to imagine it was a taunt.  That a table was set up in the battle field and we would thumb our noses at the bad guys while we dined on fancy food.  But I don’t think that’s what it really means.  I think it is simply an acknowledgment that we don’t have to wait until everything is fixed before we can celebrate being God’s family.  We don’t have to have everything in proper order, we don’t have to have everything figured out and all the answers and all the doubts erased.  In the presence of these struggles, God invites us to the table.  And then blesses us.  We are the anointed ones, we are the ones who’s cups are never empty because God stands ready to fill us up again.  So drink deeply, live powerfully, God will fill us up again.

Verse six: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.  At last we come to the reason why I picked this one for this series on Goodness.  But first, dwelling in God’s house always sounded like a vacation home kind of image.  But what it really means is that we will be belong to God.  We will be a part of the family.  We will bear God’s name.  How long?  The original Hebrew says “for a length of days.”  Most translate that as forever.  And that’s not a bad translation.  I came up with a clumsy one: “As long as I have days.”  As long as there is life to live, I will belong to God.  And what does that mean, that belonging to God thing?  Well, it means goodness and mercy shall follow me all those days.  Really?  Sometimes the opposite of mercy seems to follow us.  Sometimes the absence of goodness seems to follow us.  What I love in this psalm is that the word follow is a bad translation.  Elsewhere in the Old Testament it is translated as pursue.  Chase after.  Hunt down.  It is, frankly, usually a negative image.  Bad things are coming after you.  But here it is the most positive idea ever.  God is relentless in bringing us goodness.  God is tireless in offering us mercy.  Even when we run away, run in the opposite direction, goodness will hunt us down.  Just ask Jonah.  Even when we give up in despair, mercy will find us at last.  Just ask Peter. Goodness and mercy pursue us, even when our lives seem to be a denial of those very ideas.  Just ask Paul, who came to write “In everything, God works for good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.  He might have said, God pursues with good those who dwell in his house, those who are part of his family.  How long?  For a length of days.  The long days that never end.  The short days that are gone too soon.  As long as we have days - and the promise is there is no end to the days we have.  

I don’t need to shepherd Maddie, I can leave her in the hands of the One who loves her even more.  And I will let goodness pursue her.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Rescue Me

A relatively calm day today.  Especially compared to last week.  Whew!  Just a wedding later on this afternoon to break up the quiet Saturday.  A quiet and beautiful Saturday.  My goodness, have we been blessed with an amazing summer, or what?  Cooler temperatures for the most part.  Today was actually chilly.  I had to dress in layers as I got up to walk the crazy dogs this morning.  Isn’t it August in Indiana?  How can this be?  Still, I’m not complaining. Even early this morning the sun was shining, the dew was thick on the grass, the bunnies were hopping (OK, say the crazy dogs, could have done with less of that!) And the pond was still as glass, a mirror reflecting the cerulean sky, accented by white cotton ball clouds.  Kind of a “God is in His heaven and all is right with the world” feel to the day.  What could possibly go wrong?

I know, it feels like a set up to you, doesn’t it.  I’m going to pull the rug out, I’m going to hit you between the eyes, I’m going to knock you back a step or two for daring to think that everything is all right.  Yeah, well, no.  Not this time.  I’m in a good place.  I’m happy.  Content. Got the world on a string.  On the road to perfection.  And constantly at war with myself.  Same old, same old.

Wait, what was that?  Something about war?  Not a word you expect to see on such a list, in such a moment.  The wars start when we are down, or angry or attacked, or hurting or... right?  Well, right, they do.  The struggle arises at our low points, no question.  But Paul seems our problem is more than just a “having a bad day” kind of thing. In face he sees it as something much more fundamental than that.  And much more ubiquitous than that. Much more... human than that.

Romans 7:15-25   I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.  17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.  19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.  20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.  22 For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self,  23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin. 

Good old Paul.  You can always count on him to spoil a perfect Saturday.  Paul seems to be having a bad day to end all bad days.  Or maybe even a bad life.  Wretched man that I am!  He seems to shout to the heavens.  Nothing good dwells within me.  Yeah, I’ve been there.  I’ve had those moments when it seemed like all my choices were bad ones.  When all my mistakes were big ones.  When all my thoughts were broken ones.  Yeah, I’ve been there with ya, Paul.  So, buck up.  Hang in there and it will get better.  You just gotta hold on until the storm passes.

No, he replies, you aren’t listening.  This isn’t a momentary weakness in your impenetrable armored will.  This isn’t a didn’t get enough sleep last night, my biorhythms are out of wack, or the moon isn’t in the right phase for me right now kind of thing.  This is you.  This is the real you.  This is the consequence of living in the world as it is right now instead of as it was originally designed.  This is the result of sin running loose in the world.

Yeah, you say, I get that.  I do bad stuff from time to time.  I mess up, my bad.  I make a goof, a boo boo, an open mouth insert foot moment in the conversation.  I know that.  I’ll do better, I really will.  I can hoist myself up by my bootstraps, and try a little harder.  Thanks for the reminder there Paul, woo, close call there.  Thanks for the boost, thanks for the lift.  Just, thanks.
No, says Paul, you still aren’t listening.  I’m not talking about an exercise program.  This isn’t about trying harder, digging deeper, climbing higher in your attempt to do good things, to embrace the good, to be good.  This is about admitting that there is nothing good in you.

Whoa there, Paul.  There might have been a time when that sort of approach would work.  When you wanted to scare folks into the faith, when you wanted to shame them into responding to the altar call on your sawdust revival trail.  But we’ve gotten a bit more sophisticated these days.  We need goal setting and strategic plans.  We need behavior modification and checks and balances.  We need self-esteem raising and awareness training.  We need the rules explained and defined, the boundaries clearly marked and the punishment delineated.  We need self-help books: 5 days to be a better you, 6 minutes to tighter abs, 7 ways to total transformation.  

What you need, says Paul, what you’ve always needed and will always need is a savior.  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  We need rescuing, he says.  We can’t save ourselves.  And while we know that intellectually, it is hard for us to claim this truth.  It is hard for us to live into it every day.  OK, we might accept the need one time for a rescue, or a hand up.  But then we tend to live the rest of our lives with an “I got this Jesus, thanks anyway” attitude.  We live in a world that tells us we can be anything we want to be.  Which is both true and false at the same time.  It is true that opportunities abound for many of us, maybe not all of us - that is the tragic inequality of the world in which we live. 

Even so, even without that imbalance, the war within us means we can not consistently choose the good.  We cannot will the right, live in the light.  Sin, Paul says, is not an act or even a pattern of behavior that we choose or to which we succumb.  It is instead a power and a presence that dwells within us.  And as long as it is there, our efforts might be successful for a time, but they cannot last, will not last.  One commentator likens Paul’s view of sin to the disease called shingles.  It is a viral infection that continues to live in our bodies and every now and then it breaks out in the rash that causes so much pain.  Even when the rash goes away, the virus is still there.  Even when we don’t engage in sinful acts, Paul says, sin still dwells within us. And the war goes on.  And no one is strong enough to win that battle on their own.  They may hold out for a while, we may hold out for a while.  We may want the good, and not want the evil, but, says Paul, but ...

Who will rescue me?  That’s the real key to the passage.  That question.  It is a cry of faith.  It follows the cry of despair, wretched man that I am.  Wretched woman.  Wretched creature.  In a world without hope, that is the final cry.  But praise be to God there is another cry to follow.  Who will rescue me from this body of death?  The Lord of life, that’s who.

The promise here is that this disease, this cancer that dwells within us can be replaced by the Christ who dwells within.  We can be transformed from the inside out.  It is sometimes instantaneous.  But more often it is a lifetime of inviting the indwelling Christ to come and take up residence within us.  Which I guess means that there is a struggle either way.  Either we struggle against the sin that threatens our very existence in the world, that makes us ill equipped to live in community, to maintain relationships, to be content within our own hearts and we live that constant battle knowing that we will ultimately lose.  Or we struggle against out own will that doesn’t want to be given over to a loving God who can remake us into what we really want to become.  That struggle was described by the late songwriter Rich Mullins in the song Hold Me Jesus: Surrender don't come natural to me / I'd rather fight You for something / I don't really want / Than to take what You give that I need / And I've beat my head against so many walls / Now I'm falling down, I'm falling on my knees.

When we finally fall to our knees, when we finally surrender, we find a new strength, we find a new support network, we find a new possibility.  We find the sun still shining even though the clouds have rolled in.  We find hope instead of despair.  We find joy instead of shame.  We find goodness within as well as all around us.  Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!


Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Fruit of the Light

It’s late, I know that.  This has been a day.  A good day, though.  Or maybe a bad day, depends, I guess.  What was that comedy routine?  Someone telling their friend about how their day went and after every statement the friend said “That’s good” and the response would be, “no, that’s bad.”  Or vice versa.  Um, maybe you had to be there.  The point is we don’t always know what is good and what is bad in a given situation.

I started my day with a funeral.  Well, that’s bad.  No, that’s good.  Or maybe it’s both.  There is sadness and grief certainly.  There is loss and an uncertain future.  All things that we see as bad.  But at the same time there is relief that suffering is ended.  There is joy that a life well lived is now sealed with a promise of eternity.  There is the confidence in those promises and a hope of seeing our loved one again.  That’s good.

I went from there to moderate a conversation on church unity in the face of significant disagreements.  The case study being the division caused by opinions and belief about same sex relationships and homosexuality in the church.  Oh, that’s bad.  No that’s good.  There is a fear of the inevitability of schism, that our differences are unreconcilable and the sooner we can figure out how to divide the property the better off we will be.  There was even a member of another denomination who has already gone through a split on these same issues and said that yes it was bad, but now it is better.  Remarkably freeing, was the phrase he used.  Amicable divorce another used.  That’s bad, in my opinion.  No matter how friendly a split might be (and frankly I can’t imagine it being friendly at al) it is still a split.  A break in the covenant, an admission that despite our rhetoric we don’t really believe in reconciliation.  We don’t really believe in healing what is broken.  We just need to learn to go our separate ways.  That’s bad.  And yet the very fact that we decided to talk about it is good.  That we want to talk about how we might learn to live together even when we disagree, and what we can live with in disagreement and what we can’t.  By choosing to talk about it we are standing in the face of the inevitability.  That’s good.  It may still happen, this schism thing.  But it will definitely happen if we don’t talk.  So, that’s good.

After that and some other ad hoc conversations started from that more formal one (which I saw as good), I then participated in a presentation of letters to the church.  A group of us were asked to write a letter, like Paul’s Epistles to the church of today and then we talked about those dreams and visions.  I was honored to be asked and loved being a part of the conversation.  It was good.  But not everyone got to share their dream, and that was bad.  But everyone had a chance to reflect on the dreams that were shared, and that was good.  But none of these dreams may do anything to change the future of the church, and that’s bad.

Then I came home for a quick supper and then back to the Festival for the concert with Amy Cox and then Rend Collective.  Both of whom were great, by the way, and that was good.  But it got to be late and I still hadn’t done my bible study, and that was bad.  Is bad.  Because I’m not done yet.  That’s bad.  But if you are reading this then it was completed at some point and that is good.

But I can’t quite see how, and that’s bad.  Maybe, and this is good, we should actually look at the text and go from there.  Oh, that IS good.

Ephesians 5:1, 8-11   Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,...  For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light--  9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.  10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.  11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 

OK, now first, I can’t remember why I didn’t do the second verse too, so we could have a complete sentence to begin with.  Ephesians 5:1-2  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,  2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.   That would help.  Live in love, why wouldn’t I want that?  Leaving that out would be bad.  Maybe I assumed it would be implied?  Dunno, am looking for the good here.... Makes it shorter?  Weak.

Secondly, why include verse 11?  It just kind of muddies the waters in my opinion.  Much better to end with “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.”  Now that is a mission statement we could get behind, don’t you think?  Well, no, not exactly.  It wouldn’t make a good mission statement.  It would make half of a good mission statement.  A background for a mission statement, the homework before going on the mission trip.  Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord, could be an academic exercise.  OK, find out what is pleasing to the Lord.  Then find out what is pleasing to Chuck Pagano, coach of the Colts.  Then find out what is pleasing to Kim Kardashian. Then find out, on second thought never mind.  

See, not a mission statement.  Unless you follow Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord and then do it, for heaven’s sake!  It doesn’t become a mission until there is action, until there is movement, until there is service going on.  But why expose works of darkness?  Are we being called to point fingers?  Or worse, to wag fingers?  Or to give the fin... never mind.  Some metaphors get you into trouble.  Maybe verse eleven isn’t an action verse, but is instead a result verse.  Maybe it isn’t so much about pointing fingers as it is bringing light.  What happens to shadows when you turn on the light?  What happens to darkness when the light is brought?  We expose works of darkness by living the opposite.  We expose works of darkness by being light.  Not a negative approach to the world, but a positive one.  Not a shaming, but a glorifying.  Not a pushing down, but a lifting up.  Find out what is pleasing to the Lord and do it, be it, let it shine.

Live as children of light.  Now that’s a mission statement!  But how do we do that?  What does it mean?  Live as children of light, by ....?  Paul defines the function of God’s people as the fruit of the light.  Jesus says by their fruits you shall know them.  So, Paul says, yeah is their fruit the fruit of light?  Paul would have flunked creative writing with all his mixed metaphors.  Fruit of light?

The fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.  Finally, whew, we got there.  The sixth of the nine fruit of the Spirit is goodness.  All that is good.  Last week we learned that God’s goodness is that blessing that empowers us to act, to live and to love.  So, what is this fruit of the light found in all that is good?

Paul loves his dualities.  Light/dark, spirit/flesh, heaven/world; these and many more represent the ordering of existence from Paul’s point of view.  But we need to take care not to go too far with any of them.  They are metaphors.  He never meant to imply that there is nothing good in darkness, that there is nothing good in the flesh, that there is nothing good in the world.  He would be appalled to hear we took that so literally.  He does, however, want us to know there is good and not good all around us.  He does what us to know that there is a choice involved here.  And he is asking us to choose good.  To choose God.  Find out what is pleasing to God.  Find out what is of God in the world.  God created the world and called it good.  But not everything is good.  So we choose.  The fruit of the light is that never-ending process of determining what is of God and what is not, what is pleasing to God and what is not.  What will bring us peace and what will not.  What will make us love like Jesus told us to love and what will not.  

We are invited to harvest the fruit of the light by living and choosing and being God-pleasers every single day, every single moment.  Hard work?  That’s bad.  No, that good, because it is work we were made to do, and we find our joy in it.  That is good.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Everything Needed

It is beyond me.  The task, the responsibility, the need, the moment, whatever it is.  It is beyond me.  I’m not up to the task.  I can’t do it.  I’m not good enough, smart enough, cute enough, able enough.  I am just not enough.

Been there?  No, of course not.  Not us.  We rise to the occasion.  We lean into to the moment.  To declare otherwise is ... what, weak?  Whiny?  UnAmerican?  To claim that we don’t have what it takes is to fail as a human being, we think, or feel, or are told.  We have to call on our inner resources.  We have to dig down deep and find the intestinal fortitude to do that task that is before us.  Failure is not an option!  Surrender is not in our vocabulary.  So, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and just keep going.  Right?  Right.

Except when it is wrong.  Which is way more often than we would like to admit.  So, you’re asking yourself, what isn’t he up for now?  What is beyond him that we have to hear him whine about until we finally get around to the bible study this time?  Well, thanks for asking, your concern is compelling.  It’s life, actually.  Nothing major.  Just life.  My role in it.  My calling, my gifting, my place in the world.

Oh, well, if that’s all.  Thought it was something serious there for a moment.  We all have those days.  We all have those doubts, don’t we?  The how can I take one more step when every step seems to be the wrong one?  Those kind of days, or weeks, or ...    Even great leaders had those kinds of days, didn’t they?  Like ... Moses for example?  (When up against a wall, head to the bible...)

Exodus 33:11-23  Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then he would return to the camp; but his young assistant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the tent.  12 Moses said to the LORD, "See, you have said to me, 'Bring up this people'; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, 'I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.'  13 Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people."  14 He said, "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."  15 And he said to him, "If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.  16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth."  17 The LORD said to Moses, "I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name."  18 Moses said, "Show me your glory, I pray."  19 And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, 'The LORD'; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.  20 But," he said, "you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live."  21 And the LORD continued, "See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock;  22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by;  23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen." 

What an odd little story tucked there near the end of the book of Exodus.  So odd that I don’t intend to explain it all to you in this space.  Mostly because I can’t.  Mostly because when you are dealing with manifestations of God you are in the realm of mystery anyway.  So, I don’t have a clue what this is all about.  So, exhale, and don’t wait for an explanation.  Please.

No, I grabbed this story because of one word.  One curious, yet fascinating word that moves us along our journey through the Fruit of the Spirit we began way back in January.  We are up to number six of the nine aspects of that Fruit.  Number six which sometimes is translated “generosity” and sometimes as “goodness.”  Now, we’ve got a five week month here to wrestle with this idea of goodness, so don’t expect it all sewn up in one week.  Besides we’ve got a strange passage to deal with, and odd conversation and a weird little promise to wade through before we get back to some larger understanding of how this goodness works in us.  So, hang on, OK?

First, God says to Moses “I will make all my goodness pass before you.”  What?  What in the world does that mean?  Or what out of the world, maybe?  I will make all my goodness pass before you.  Hmm.

OK, take a look at what is going on here.  I started with verse eleven so that rest of them make a little bit more sense.  See, the text says that God and Moses spent a lot of time in conversation, like friends.  Like friends, meaning they enjoyed one another’s company, but argued as much as agreed.  It was a contentious relationship from the beginning.  No denying that.  They complained to each other, dreamed together, they debated the meaning of life.  All the usual stuff that friends do.

This time, Moses is saying he’s gotten the short end of the stick again.  You gave me this job, he says, but you don’t say how I’m supposed to do it, or who is going to help me do it, or even for sure what it is we are supposed to do now.  I’ve got no road map, I’ve got no itinerary, I’ve got no clue what’s next.  All I’ve got is this vague sense of call and the fact that you seem to like me for some reason.  And besides this is your mess to fix and not mine anyway.  God says, I’m here, take it easy.  Moses says, well, duh.  You’re here.  Better be here since this is all your idea anyway.  But I need more than that.  Way more.  God says, OK.  Because I like you.  Because I told you my name.  OK.  Moses is a bit stunned by this turn in the conversation and he whispers “Show me your glory.”

So, what did he ask?  For a light show?  For thunder and lightning?   Or something else?  Glory.  How do we give God glory?  Or how do we acknowledge God’s glory?  By how we live.  Yeah, sometimes it is praise and worship, but mostly we glorify God by living as God would have us live.  Moses wanted something tangible.  He wanted to see God walking around, living the way Moses was supposed to live.  In short, thousands of years before time, he was asking for Jesus.  He wanted God to put on flesh and come and hang out with him.  Come and guide him.  Come and sustain him.  For the task he was feeling way too inadequate to do.  To lead the people he was sure didn’t want to be led by the likes of him.  He wanted a glimpse of how it was supposed to be, how he was supposed to be in God.  He wanted Jesus.

In the morning, when I rise, give me Jesus.  We are asking for glory when we sing that song, when we pray that prayer.  Give me Jesus.  Give me a glimpse of how I’m supposed to walk.  Give me a hint of how I’m to do this task you’ve given me to do when I know it is beyond my ability to do.  Parenting, pastoring, teaching, leading, living in love with neighbor and family, none of it is within my capabilities to do.  None of it.

God says, I know.  So, here’s what I’ll do.  I’ll make all my goodness pass before you.  Wait, what?  My goodness, God says, just what you need.  Just what will equip you, just what will fill you.  On your own the tasks before you are beyond you.  But filled with my goodness, then the impossible becomes possible.  Filled with my goodness, God says to Moses, you can lead these people.  Goodness is not some ethical standard, some state of being, it is the empowering force that equips us to live as God’s people.  It is blessing.  God blessed Moses on that mountaintop, just as God blesses us anytime we let the Spirit fill us.  Filled with my goodness, God says to us, you can be who I created you to be.  Filled with my goodness...  See, we are so used to thinking these are attributes that we generate ourselves.  That if we work hard enough then we will become good.  But that isn’t how it works.  It is a gift.  It is the Spirit.  At work within us.  And we let it, because we know that without it, we fall short of who we want to be, let alone who God can equip us to be.  And we invite the Spirit to bring us God’s goodness because we want it, we want to be there.  We want to be that.  That something more, that something new.  We want to love like that.

2 Peter 1:3-4  3 His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.  4 Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature.  

We can only live and love like Christ when we participate in Him, and we participate in Him when we are called by God’s glory and goodness.  That’s all we need.  All we need.  God’s goodness.  Thanks be to God.