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Sunday, July 8, 2018

Wrestling with God


For those of you here in the United States, I hope you had a good celebration for the 4thof July.   I happened to be on the road late in the evening the night before, and skirted the western edge of Omaha just as fireworks displays were lighting up the night sky.  I’m not quite sure why they were being done on the 3rd, but it was something to see, because it appeared that there were neighborhoods or suburbs all around the city each having their own display.  As a result, I was treated to a horizon of multiple fireworks displays almost 360 degrees!  Last time I saw something like that was when I was in San Francisco on the 4thof July some years ago, and went up the hill in Berkeley from which we could see the displays of San Franciso, Oakland and Richmond simultaneously.

At the same time, I might add that to me, it is a hard thing to celebrate our country’s freedom and heritage when we are seeing its citizens on both ends of the political spectrum declaring the other end to be their enemies, with so much vitriol and anger…...and choosing to do battle against one another instead of finding ways to work together, which is what the U.S. is at its best.  

Our people and our leaders have a long way to go to heal the divisiveness and rift that have torn our nation apart in recent decades.  It is sad.  Pray for change, and then work to learn to actually respect and accept people who happen to have a different view of things than your own.  

Well, that’s my rant, but not really the subject of the blog. Today in worship, the topic for the day was learning how to hear God’s voice, based on the words of Jesus describing those who have “ears to hear.”  For those individuals experienced in the Christian lifestyle and trained in biblical teaching, that seems to be such a simple topic…a foundational piece of the Christian faith.  After the service, though, I had an individual remind me that to some people, the very idea that we could hear God speak to us sounds utterly foolish or crazy. (Gee, what biblical book have we heard THAT before?...the answer, by the way, is 1 Corinthians 1…non-Christians have been making that claim since the very beginning!)

After our consideration of ways to be able to recognize when God is speaking to us, my parishioner shared with me that while watching a national television talk show recently, the same topic had come up.  On the show (and I shall leave it unnamed), the individuals were discussing a well know person and that person’s faith.  My parishioner said that the general tone of the discussion was that it was one thing to claim to talk to God, but they just found unbelievable the idea that somebody could actually believe that they can know when God is talking to them.  I suspect that most Christians would find unbelievable the idea that people think God DOESN’T or CAN’T or WON’T talk to the people he created.   It made for a very interesting contrast this morning.

Many religions teach the notion of a transcendent being they call God, a being far beyond us in power, understanding and even presence.  Their notion is that there is a God, but that God is so big or so busy that God can’t be bothered with the trivia of our individual lives. 

But the most profound teaching of Christianity is that there is a tension that exists in the fact that God is, indeed, transcendent and far beyond us, but that in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit, God is also imminent…present with us.  

One of the Christmas names of Jesus is Immanuel (or Emmanuel), which means simply, “God with us.”  Jesus goes so far as to say that God knows when every sparrow falls from the sky, and the number of hairs on our heads, and it is God’s desire for us to know him personally in an ongoing, mutual and intimate relationship.  But for those who only know the concept of God in terms of his transcendence, the notion that God would be interested and involved in communicating with us and guiding us and listening to our concerns is absurd. Such is the wisdom of men, which is foolishness to God.  

One of the passages we mentioned today was from the story of Jacob, whose wrestling with the angel of God is recorded in Genesis 32.  Jacob took hold of that angel and refused to quit until he had received what he needed from God, which in that moment was God’s blessing.  That is the challenge for us, as well, to approach God and not give up, not let go, until we hear from God what we need to know.  

If you are a person struggling in the throes of divorce (or any other of life’s struggles for that matter), I want to encourage you to remember this central and powerful teaching of Christ:  

that no matter what your struggle, God is with you, and cares for you, and will help you, guide you, and yes dear talk show hosts, even speak to you! There is nothing that you can encounter in life that you have to face alone.  You can invite Christ to be part of your life, and walk through life’s toughest journeys with God at your side.  Even if nobody else understands, you will know that you have been in the presence of God.

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