Does life still surprise you? When was the last time? Do you expect the unexpected to be positive or not so much? Has that changed since, oh I don’t know, maybe March of 2020? Do you still surprise yourself sometimes? Maybe with what you can do that you weren’t sure you could? Maybe you finally tried a food that you were sure you would hate, and you didn’t? BTW, that was NOT the sushi experience for me. Or you tried taking a walk and it wasn’t as not fun as you thought it would be? (Grammar police hide your eyes). How do we move into the future unafraid, both the future tomorrow and the future long beyond the tomorrows we can see?
Can I tell you that sometimes I’m more excited about our future as a species than I’ve ever been and sometimes I’m sure we’re self-destructing within the next 6 months; and sometimes I’m certain of both of those things at the same time!
I did a service of death and resurrection last Friday afternoon on what turned out to be a most beautiful day. It was a small gathering of family at a small cemetery in a small town and it was simply just right for us to be there. This woman died during the pandemic, and as with so many, we were unable to have a formal gathering to safely say goodbye. The gap of time has been so difficult for so many, and I’ll confess that I wonder if the comfort of our collective faith is as healing as I always so hope it can be. You all know I believe all our stories can be found in the scriptures, and the particular scripture out of many I considered, seemed simply to fit this woman and the occasion and the time. And then . . . and then one of her daughters texted me on Sunday afternoon with a screenshot to show me the scripture that was the reading for the worship service where a great-granddaughter was baptized, the same weekend . . .circle of life . . . and it was the same scripture that sifted its way through my spirit for use on the day of the great-grandmother’s funeral. God still surprises me in this life. And it catches me up short when it reminds me that sometimes what I expect in the unexpected is NOT necessarily blessing – and then it is. The reality is that there is authentic sadness that great-grandmother did not get to see great-granddaughter baptized, and faith would say perhaps she did simply from a different vantage point, and grace gave us a little reminder that it was so.
I think when things in life get difficult, knowing the presence of God is walking beside us isn’t always as comforting as we might want it to be. On a boat ride back to England after what seemed a failed missionary journey that John Wesley had longed to take, he was struggling with his faith and my guess is questioning whether God had truly called him to the journey, or he had simply decided himself and therefore it wasn’t as fruitful as he expected or hoped. There were also some folks from the Moravian faith on the same ship and as the story goes, John later reports them to have told him that sometimes you have to “preach faith until you have it.” So it’s not denying that we’re struggling, or filled with doubt, or perhaps flat-out certain that there is no God, or that if there is, then that God is not filled with good things. It is rather continuing to hang-on, even in our disbelief, to a faith that says there is a God and there is still grace, even if it’s not clear what that is or how it is working. So we live “as if” there is a grace-full God in the midst of doubt and struggle and that living and leaning into faith will bring us back, even when we don’t understand and the grief we experience is not gone. It helped John Wesley, credited with as the founder of the Methodist movement, and I daresay has helped more than one pastor and maybe even a plethora of lay folks to hold tight to faith even when it feels like we’re only hanging on by a thread – or maybe by a random scripture that two unrelated pastors in two different worship services at the end of life and the beginning of life “somehow” come upon as a foundation.
This family’s mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother is yet gone from this life, but somehow that “sign” of grace pierced their darkness a tiny bit, and as reported brought tears, certainly of sorrow, but also of a little bit of healing faith, and for this pastor too. I pray that’s true for each of you as well. Sometimes in the darkest night even the tiniest light will pierce it’s way through doubt, struggle, anxiety, even anger and disappointment to bring an unexpected promise and affirmation that God is real, the journey is worth it, and love wins.
I seriously had not heard this song until I pulled up youtube and put in the search box “songs about light in the darkness of faith.” Why am I still so surprised when things fit in a way that I sorta didn’t even know I was looking . . . maybe you too?