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  • alisonwale

What's true in the light... still true in the dark.

I was preaching today. Here it is...

Exodus 17:1-7

Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16

Philippians 2:1-13

Matthew 21:23-32

Is the Lord among us or not?

I think we have probably heard this question, or versions of it, many times. And, if you’re anything like me, you have probably asked it of yourselves many times.

Does God actually care? Why are things so difficult? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why me? Is the Lord really here?

And these are really hard questions to answer. Because we, in our finite lives, and with our limited viewpoint, cannot really have any hope of understanding the ways of God, and the ways of the infinite universe that we are such a tiny part of. I am not going to even try to answer the question. There’s no point, because any thing I say would be just my feeble effort to make sense of something way beyond me.

But what I hope to do today is to remind you of one thing: to remind you that you already know that God does actually care. It’s just that at the moment, maybe, it doesn’t feel like it.

And that’s the danger for us finite and sense-driven humans. When everything is going well, and we feel good in ourselves, it is easy to say “God is good. God loves us.” God seems faithful and loving when we are getting what we want, but when things aren’t so easy we forget what we have learned about the nature of God and we look at how we feel – bad – and start to wonder if, after all, God really does love us.

In his book The Great Mysteries, Father Andrew Greeley puts it like this:

Life is filled with so many senseless events. Mindless tragedies fill our newspapers every day--airplane crashes, the murder of innocent children, insane terrorism, natural disasters. And much in our own lives seems without purpose or meaning--like a rainstorm on a picnic day, a bad cold when we are having a party, a handicapped child, the early death of a parent or spouse, a broken marriage, a car that won't start in the morning, a wrong number in the middle of the night, the treason of friends and envy of neighbours.

We are often left to wonder why such things happen. Is there any point and purpose behind them? Are we alone in a universe that cares anything about us? Is the Lord with us or not?

The Israelites were, it must be said, in a difficult situation and we can, perhaps, understand the rationale behind this question: they have after all, been wandering for quite a while, and are now getting thirsty. Of course they are worried, and so, in their anxiety they turn on Moses (and by association, on God) and ask “What’s going on now?! We are here, dying of thirst, and you do nothing!” They have forgotten everything that has gone before: the fact that Moses persuaded Pharaoh to let them leave Egypt, the miracle of the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, the pillars of fire and of cloud that led them when they were lost, the manna from heaven, the quails….all of this is forgotten in the extremely pressing concern of today: we have no water.

The Israelites have each experienced the work of God first hand in the darkest of circumstances. They have evidence. But what they want is personal satisfaction. "I'm hungry! I'm thirsty! I'm lonely! I'm broke! I'm hurt! I'm sick! What will you do about it God? Are you with us or not?" Suddenly, as the commentator Terence Frentheim writes, wilderness is no longer a geographical place. Wilderness becomes a state of mind and spirit for anyone who attempts faith.

Like the Israelites, when we are in the midst of a crisis, we don't want to stop long enough to consider what God has done in the past or consider the evidence that surrounds us of God's current, active presence. Our concerns are immediate and future oriented. We want to shove the issue at hand before God. After all, if God is all God is cracked up to be, what's my little problem to the One who has made the heavens and the earth? So we bring our desires and say, "Here's the situation, God; You solve it. And solve it before tomorrow, would You?"

This sort of presumption supports our faith as long as results are immediate, but what about the long pauses of silence and stillness when darkness descends and there is no response from Heaven? What happens when the promotion doesn't come or we lose the championship game or the diagnosis is cancer or the marriage cannot be saved or your child will never get well or you are in the wilderness without a water fountain in sight? "Is the Lord among us or not?"

And in this situation, what can we do?

If only I could give a magic formula that was easy to follow. I can’t. But…

Most, if not all, of you know that I went through breast cancer. Although there was a very good chance that it was not terminal, there was still that possibility, and so, of course, there was the insidious little question echoing in my head “Why me?” and “Does God care?” I felt disinclined to pray, or to worship God – after all, I thought, there’s not much evidence of his loving care in the midst of chemo… But then Pete & Debbi sent me a USB key with some music on, including one of my favourite worship bands, Rend Collective. Listlessly I listened, until one song hit me. Entitled “Weep With Me” it is a song that speaks of how when we cry to him, God is there, and it reminds us that What’s true in the light is still true in the dark. This song was part of the PowerPoint presentation at the beginning of the service, but in case you missed it, I will ask Mike to put a link in the notices. It may not be quite your taste in music, but the words are immensely powerful.

I can say it no better than the writers of the song, who posted this on Facebook:

Worshipping despite our feelings does NOT mean ignoring them or pretending that we aren’t in pain or struggling. In the western church we so often associate “worship” with “praise” or unrelenting positivity, that we lose some of the complexity offered to us in the Psalms. The Psalms of “disorientation” or psalms of lament are roadmaps to processing the full spectrum of human emotion with our Creator.

In Psalm 58 we read “Lord shatter their teeth in their mouth...” and in Psalm 13 “How long oh Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (13:1) When’s the last time those sentiments crossed your prayers? Sometimes I think we can feel disqualified from worship or communicating with the Holy Spirit because we need an “attitude adjustment” or to muster up some faith. Nothing could be further from what the Bible encourages us to do. Jesus wants it all. He wants our tears, our sorrows and anger, he wants our sarcasm and petty thoughts. Worship happens when we bring them to Him, because in doing so, we’re letting Him in to the process.

One of the things we’ve been processing …is that even though things may FEEL more insecure than ever, nothing has ever actually been a given. It’s why we’re encouraged over and over again in the Bible to anchor our hope and trust in Jesus, and not the things of this world. As that extract says, the Psalms echo every human emotion, from doubts and despair through to joy and worship – by recognising that the Psalms are holy texts, we are basically saying It’s OK to feel the whole gamut of emotion. Do not deny your feelings, and cram them in a box and go to God pretending everything is rosy. Scream and swear and shout at him, bring him your fears and your worries, but don’t ever, ever forget those things he has done for you. Don’t forget that even though you may not feel it, he is there. Because in the past he has shown it. What’s true in the light is still true in the dark. He was a loving God before I got cancer; he is a loving God now. He is the same, yesterday, today and forever.

The Psalm we read today was written as a reminder to the Israelites that God did great things for them, and says We will recount to generations to come the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord, and the wonderful works he has done Remember, it is saying, remember and praise God. Even in the dark, remember what he has done. And hold onto that. He is good. He loves you. He is with you.

The Philippians reading also is a reminder of what Jesus did for us. As one commentator wrote this ancient hymn tells us that Jesus stepped down so low, so that he would always be below us, so he could always be there to catch us when we fall. He could always be there to catch us when we fall.

I know that I seem to be quoting from a lot of different people today, rather than sharing my own words, but it seems to me that these people can say what I’m trying to say a lot better than I can say it! And so I want to finish with words from The Rev. Sarah Jackson Shelton who writes:

in the darkness, there are moments where glimpses of God's glory are so intensely bright that they blind our eyes with light. These glimpses of glory hint of a deeper joy and peace that represent more than anything we have yet known. They are glimpses of grace that shine in the darkness like fireflies on a summer's night.

There is one particular night that stands out in my memory, Sarah writes.. It was that night that Jim taught me how to catch fireflies. They were lighting up our yard, and so he showed me how to cup my hands around them so as not to hurt them and then to stand in wonder when they flew away blinking their lights into the dark. I was completely fascinated. So, of course, I wanted to capture and keep these little treasures. I took a glass jar and began to deposit the fireflies within. We took them inside and placed them next to my bed.

After my mother came to kiss me goodnight, I turned to watch the glow of the tiny insects. But they weren't lighting up. "Jim! Jim! My fireflies must be dead; they are not lighting up." Quietly, Jim tiptoed into my room. He laughed and said, "Don't you know they can't light up if they can't fly." And so he unscrewed the lid of the jar. I do not remember when Jim left the room, but I do remember falling asleep watching for and seeing those tiny lights blink off and on in my room...filling the darkness with light for just a moment, reminding me of their mysterious presence and ability.

I think perhaps that this is a parable of what God's grace is like. If in our dark wanderings and questions of "Is God with us or not?"--if we will but keep our eyes open in anticipation and not shut them in fear and dread--we will see glimpses of God, moments of joy that will take our breath away and bring tears to our eyes. For faith does not shut its eyes in the darkness. Rather, faith keeps its eyes open and focused and watching for the miracles of grace that punch holes of light and hope into the darkness.

Using the words of the song, let us pray:

Lord, You know I believe -Help my unbelief

Yet I will praise You - Yet I will sing of Your name -Here in the shadows - Here I will offer my praise - What's true in the light Is still true in the dark - You're good and You're kind And You care for this heart - Lord I believe You weep with me


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