Looking for Grace Where you Feel Most Comfortable? "Good luck with that," laughed God.
One day I was talking to one of my professors about not wanting to be a parish priest, as he and others were encouraging me to consider. I said to him, “I don’t really like people stuff. But there are no academic jobs, worse, I don’t really seem to have the capacity to publish papers at the rate necessary. I don’t know enough in this bigger fish pond of PhD candidates. I’m struggling with focus and anxiety, I’m not able to compete. I’m losing ground. Why did God call me out of what I was doing into these deep waters of learning about him only for me to drown.
He responded to me with a parable like story. One day a boat capsized and this man was left floating out in the sea. He was convinced God would save him. Within an hour of his ship sinking a tugboat came by. They asked him if he wanted to get in. But he said, ‘no, no, I’m waiting for God to save me. Then a container ship went by and asked him again and he replied, nope, waiting on God here. Finally a jet ski came by and the rider asked him if he wanted on board and the man of course again replied, nope, waiting on God here. So the man drowned. When he gets to heaven God says, ‘how did you end up here?’ The man replies, ‘well I fell into the sea and was waiting for you to rescue me.’ God replies, ‘but I sent you a tugboat, a container ship and a jet ski,’ what more could you have asked for?
One of the challenges I think all of us face is being able to tell the difference between the things of the flesh that tend to provide us with security, comfort, and mostly, self satisfaction, and those things that God gives to us that often tend to challenge us and push us out of our comfort zones, out of what we know, out of our own self satisfaction because this is where we tend to have to rely on him.
This is a central theme of our readings this morning. In our reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul has just summarized the gospel to the folks in the Corinthian church because a dispute had arisen in which the very claim of Jesus’s resurrection had been challenged. Paul says, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.” Apparently for the Corinthians, being asked to believe that God had come to people as the person of Jesus, the Son who was executed and then raised from the dead was simply not acceptable. God wouldn’t come into the world like that, or live, die, be raised from the dead, just like he wouldn’t send a tugboat or jet ski.
We must be missing something. We’ll have to go back to our own chalkboard on this one. But Paul continues, friends, ‘if there’s no resurrection from the dead, the Christ wasn’t raised and if that’s the case, the world hasn’t been transformed and we’re still stuck in our sin. If you’re a Jew and follow the law, well, that appears dead in the water so to speak too; if you’re a gentile, well, it would appear you’re just completely out of luck, sunk to the bottom without any boat even being launched to come get you. But my dear Corinthians, Paul continues, this is not the case. Stop falling back into your old ways of thinking for you have received the truth of God come for you: “[for] in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.”
The greatest temptation for us, for every person who lives in a world where control, power, and prestige often dictates not just survival, but freedom, provision and even flourishing, is to shape our whole lives around obtaining and sustaining these things. We’re taught that our capacities and our acquisitions and our conformance dictate our value, worth, power, and so survival, freedom, capacity and flourishing. We form habits that ingrain this mentality into us from childhood all the way through to death. I know what God is going to look like when he comes to me and it sure isn’t going to be via tugboat, container ship or jet ski, so I’m not getting on board with that. I’m not doing that, no way. I’m not being a parish priest. Not on your life. I know who I am and I’m certainly not a people person.
And God says, “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals, [including themselves] and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the LORD. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.” And herein lies the little lesson from my own story and that of our unfortunate overboard passenger: “They shall be like a shrub in the desert and shall not see when God comes to them.” The point here my friends, is that when we are not willing to step out of our comfort zones, we close ourselves off to God coming to us: “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse-- who can understand it?
But in fact we know from Scripture that God often comes through people, in places, at times, and through events that provide us no comfort, control, or power. He comes to us through people who often irk us, challenge us, frustrate us, cause us to question who we are or what’s going on, or who demand patience, who force kindness and self control we really don’t want to have to exercise.
And he comes to us in those situations and contexts where we feel out of our depth, sick of dealing with, the political situation with trucking blockades right now might be a current example. How are we going to respond if we hope to see what God is doing with all of us, and respond to it as Christ would? As we consider it, and the ramifications our responses have for the future of how we engage with one another, do we consider this: “I the LORD test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.” Or do we fall back into our old ways, the things we’ve been conditioned by that would have us seek to gain power and control or maybe even vengeance? How did that work out for those who engage that way in Scripture?
Woe to you who think you’ve got it all figured out, the world in accordance with your will, for Satan has brought you to the top of the tower too. Will you take him up on his ways of dealing with the world? Blessed are those who live their lives with humility and charity, allowing the patience, kindness, gentleness and self control, the desire for reconciliation and peace to pour forth from hearts filled by the Spirit of Christ, for theirs is the Kingdom of life. Where are you challenged to open yourself to Christ coming at you this next week? AMEN.