“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.. Isaiah 55:8
This Bible verse never TRULY made sense to me until this year. Before then, it struck me as annoying. Yes, I don’t know as much as God, but I thought for sure I was doing Gods will. I’m finally following this call to ministry, behaving, learning, growing, and trusting deeply in the grace that I knew I needed for every time I inevitably mess up.
I had given up my messy history, I had stopped running from what the Holy Spirit was calling me towards, and I thought my struggles and doubts were over. I mean, I am following God’s plan, aren’t I?
But that’s not the end of learning and growing, is it? I know the Christian culture of the United States today wants you to feel like your life will be perfect once you “find Jesus” but for those of us lifelong believers, we know it isn’t quite like that. Life might be better, we may have peace knowing we are saved, forgiven, and be happy with the community, but life isn’t perfect just because you have faith.
I had grown up thinking at some point I would be fully grown up, fully faithful, and settled. I had even hoped maybe God might be more willing to give me a break now that I am pursuing ordained ministry.
I have been sorely disappointed.
As you well know, even beginning the fourth year, this year, of a life newly devoted to Gods will, I have struggled. “Think of the growing you will do,” others keep saying to me, reassuringly. I know it isn’t charitable, but all I can think is, I HATE THAT I DON’T KNOW IT ALL YET! I don’t want to grow anymore. I want to KNOW something already. Haven’t I been faithful enough? Working enough?
Had I known all that would change and challenge me in this year here at Bethany, I don’t think I would have come. I wouldn’t have been brave enough. I could have gone somewhere safe and familiar, lived out the tasks of internship, checked yet another task off my list, and I would probably just as good of a pastor. (Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not – that’s my cynical voice, but want you to hear it in case that’s the voice that speaks to you. You are not alone!)
But God had plans for me that were not of this world, but Gods kingdom. Plans that involved pain, sorrow, loss.
You know. You’ve had a similar story as I did. We all lost pastoral leaders. Some of you didn’t have surgery, but the pain and reality of this world and its brokenness was present. There were deaths. Problems with money, or fights in the family. Someone you hold dear may have had medical issues. You don’t have to be the one having surgery to feel the effects. Just ask my mom, who spent an inordinate amount on a flight to support my family when I had surgery, or my sister who was here when I got the news I would have surgery, or my father at home wishing he had more time to help alongside my mother, or my wonderful husband, working early hours, and caring for his cranky, impatiently healing wife and two small children, who are lovely, but don’t care that he was tired and had JUST cleaned the kitchen comf Spirit to make us powerugh it.t the church changing, losing members, changing tradit…
This story isn’t meant to discourage you, rather to own the reality we live in. Jesus promised salvation and eternal life, not sunshine and rainbows every waking moment.
And there WILL be sunshine and rainbows. Just not perpetually.
In the gospel for today we hear a lot of hope. Jesus is a healing machine. Goodbye sickness. So long demons. Jesus is here to stay!
But the next morning, Jesus wasn’t to be found. When they found him and asked him to do more, he said, let’s move on and proclaim the message to more, for that is what I came to do.
At this point, you could say, ouch, Jesus. Don’t you care about all the sick here?
The answer is yes, of course he did. But now that these people knew him, they could be the ones passing on the message. Doing the healing. Casting out the demons and continuing to proclaim the Gospel.
Does it sound familiar? We see leaders leave all the time. It feels personally devastating to some of us, anxiety producing to others. Do they not care about us? Of course they do. They are just following a call from a voice that we are all trying to listen to. Sometimes the voice is loud and clear and easy to follow. Sometimes the voice is quiet, and takes years to effect change – I know, because it took over 10 years for me to finally listen to the voice encouraging me to become a pastor!
Jesus was moving to the will of God, willing to be molded and shaped into the place and time he was called. Our leaders are doing the same, being open to the new experiences of life, risking the difficult or uncomfortable to grow, to follow the Holy Spirit.
This life we life does not have a specific date of full actualization. There’s no time we are fully “grown up”. I thought as a teenager, that by the time I was 30 I would have my life figured out. I’d know ALL the things. I could say those smart phrases my mother said, “Because I’m the grown up and I say so.” And life would be figured out!
The reality is that now, at 30, my husband and I, though we be the “grown-ups” are continuing to reassess the life we have – continuing to learn, grow, be shaped and molded. Learning new things about running our household, about raising our children. In fact, the other day, my husband asked if we should allow ourselves to be punished by our children when WE do something wrong. “It just doesn’t seem fair, that they have to stand in a corner, and we don’t,” he said. It was beautiful – his willingness to be vulnerable, grow, and learn alongside his children is just one of the many things that make him an amazing dad – though I did tell him there should be SOMETHING that comes from having a few more years behind you, like only having to say you are sorry if you do something wrong, and not letting your four year old punish you by putting you in the corner. I’m interested to hear what the boys think of this idea when they are teenagers…
I’m learning – slowly – that it’s not a bad thing that I’m not done growing. The Holy Spirit is still working in me, molding me like a lump of clay, and I’ll be learning until the day I die – and who knows, maybe even in the hereafter!
I spent a few days this past week in a seminar hearing about the church changing, losing members, changing tradition, and even though I do not believe God causes the mess or the suffering, I think God is moving and working through it. Does it make us nervous? Yes. Does it sometimes hurt to go through this change? My goodness, yes. Can we still have a positive outcome? It can, if we remember to invite the Holy Spirit into our process, even if only to say, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, as Jesus did in his suffering on the cross. God is a God who understands our suffering, and is there.
God isn’t sending the Holy Spirit to make us powerful and comfortable and at some point, perfect. There isn’t a date when the timer goes “ding” and we are done. We will always be growing and changing in life, in our faith, and hopefully, even in the parts that are messy and painful, we can remain open to what God is doing in this, for us.
I return to the text from Isaiah – but with a new translation. Rather than feeling like our plans are not good enough, as the first version made me feel, this new translation gives hope in the promise that God is bigger than what we could imagine, and has plans for us that we will prosper, if only we can wait out the mess. The new living translation says, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” Isn’t that better? One step further – we know that there’s something new and beautiful coming out of this. We do not need to cling to what we KNEW as the best, because different and new, that growth is new life, from God. Isaiah 43:18-19: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” One of the many promises of God, to help us forge a way, even in the hopeless, even in the times we think it will never be as good as it once was. It might have been easier in the past, but there is always hope in the future!
Remember when I said I am not sure I would have come to Bethany had I known how difficult this year would have been for me? Rather than cling to the past that was so comfortable, or the “easy” internship I may have had elsewhere, I am grateful God was working in this place.
I can’t imagine having missed out on this community. You, members of Bethany, have been so supportive and loving – and I would have missed ALL of that if I wouldn’t have been here. There’s a reason I didn’t know things would be tough before I came, God had plans for me to learn here, in this time, to know YOU, to be loved by YOU, and I thank God for that.
Those voices saying, “think of how much you’ll grow” were right! I didn’t have to like it – but there was the Holy Spirit, molding me into something new, to continue to be in this place, living out the mission of God.
So remember, in those moments where you feel God has forsaken you, agitated by what lies before you, that indeed God is right beside you, thanks to the Holy Spirit gifted to you in baptism through the death and resurrection in Christ. This agitation is not merely an instrument to frustrate you, rather, a stirring of the Holy Spirit in your life to refresh you, and help you learn and grow.
You are a loved child of God, fearfully and wonderfully made, but certainly not done growing and being renewed, thanks be to God.