Finding Enough in the Wilderness

Shifting Sands on the PathwayScripture Text:  Romans 4: 13-22

13For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,  17as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

According to the passage, faith is and has always been the basis of a relationship with God.  (Well, duh!)  We know that.  We are told to believe, to have faith, no matter what.  And so we wander around in another wilderness perhaps beating ourselves up because it just doesn’t make sense to us.  Our pragmatic 21st century minds need proof.  We want to touch it or we want to somehow see it or AT LEAST be able to google it and get more information.  But, as Paul reminds us here, if our whole faith system depends on nothing more than adhering to some limited set of laws or hard and fast Scriptural interpretations that have been laid down by those that came before us, what good is faith?  It’s not bad, mind you, it’s just not enough.  Faith is about relationship; faith is about jumping off into the abyss of unknowing whether or not it makes sense; faith is about knowing only that what you know, what you understand, and what you’ve been told is just not enough.

Now I have to admit, I am a list maker of the highest magnitude.  There is a certain satisfaction, almost power-driven, in “checking things off” my list.  So, faith, for me, is definitely a walk in the wilderness where the winds blow the sands beneath my feet distorting my planned path, where the road winds and turns into unknown terrain, and where nothing, I mean NOTHING, is ever completed or “checked off” as “OK, I got that one”.  See, I don’t think Paul would have ever have meant to dismiss systematized religion or even the rules.  They help shape us; they give us a starting point.  But Paul is reminding us that they have their limitations.  They tend to make sense of something that, in our minds, in our limited human minds, does not and cannot fully make sense.  An authentic, growing, faith making its way through the wild terrain is one that weaves what doesn’t make sense into understanding, laughter into prayer, and grace into the everyday.  It is a mixture of sense-making and transcendence that, sometimes, on our very best days, opens us to an encounter with the Divine when we least expect it in our everyday, carefully planned, list-ridden life.  And in that moment, the path beneath us shifts just a bit as God gently moves us to face a new direction.

As the passage says, the promises of God do not come to us through our religion or through our laws or through even our reading of the Scriptures (shhhh!)  The promise of God comes to us through our faith.  The promise comes to be in the wilds of our lives when our lists cannot be completed and we can no longer control where our path leads.  The promise takes life when we encounter and know God as perfectly revealed and totally hidden.  The promise takes life when we finally know that what we know is never enough.

On this Lenten wilderness journey, we are taught to open our eyes to what we’re missing seeing and opening our hearts to the ways that we’re missing being and opening our minds beyond the boundaries that we have drawn to know that there is so much more, that what we know and what we see is never enough.  We are never called to tame the wilderness through which we journey or to try to redraw the shifting pathways but rather to believe that the Promise will be. The wilderness teaches us that faith fills the void where knowing is not enough.  And, for now, that is enough.

Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.  (G.K. Chesterton)

FOR TODAY: Put the list down. Stop checking things off.  Now let yourself travel into the wilderness where faith is enough.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

LENT 2A: Turning Right

LECTIONARY PASSAGE:  Romans 4: 1-5, 13-17
What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

Driving in Houston is almost always a challenge, even for those savvy ones of us who grew up in the area and do it all the time.  There is something that you do not expect–a closed freeway (I actually think they do that every week-end whether they need to or not), a new pothole, or simply a major freeway or intersection that is completely stopped for no apparent reason.  In a city in which you can literally drive for two hours on a “good” traffic day and never actually leave the city, there is lots of room for things that get in your way.  One day not too long ago, I was driving on a road that I drive often.  I got to an intersection under the Southwest Freeway with which I was pretty familiar.  There is a sign there with an arrow on it that implies a right turn only onto the feeder from that lane.  But apparently one of the bolts had come out of the top of the sign and the sign had slid farther down the pole and upside down.  If I took the sign literally, it would have told me to turn the car around, go back from where I came, and turn the opposite direction.  No, that’s not right!
 
Even with signs all around us, we know the rules.  We know what it normal.  We know the way.  And in that respect, we are no different from those in the Roman Empire to which Paul was writing this passage that is part of our lectionary readings for this week.  They all knew that if they followed the rules and did what was expected, everything would be fine.  They would get what they deserved.  They would end up where they needed to be.  They would receive their reward.  But now Paul was telling them that these things that they thought would make them “right” with God didn’t really matter at all.  That was not the way it worked.  It had to be hard for them to hear.  According to Paul (and possibly a surprise to many of these first century hearers and a few of us!), God is not waiting around for us to do the “right thing” so that we can be in “right relationship” with God.  God blesses all of us, all of humanity, as children of God.
 
Paul claims that the right relationship is not something that Abraham had earned because he had done the right thing.  It was freely offered by God.  Abraham’s belief did not create the “right relationship”; it was because of it.  Paul is almost contending that our belief is a fruit, rather than a reason, for our right relationship with God.  The right relationship is a free and undeserved gift.  (Hey, that sounds like grace to me!)  The relationship is already there.  We just have to live into it.  We don’t have to create it; we just have to turn toward it.  That’s what this season of Lent is about–not cleaning up your act, but turning toward God.
 
So, TURN RIGHT!
 
Grace and Peace,
 
Shelli