... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Pentecost 7 Year A
Message August 24, 2014

Realized Divine Providence: Life Change!

Text: Exodus 1:8 – 2:10; Psalm 124; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

So often we do not see, appreciate or understand God’s presence until well after the fact. We all can call to mind the story “Footprints in the Sand” where the man questioning God about why he had been abandoned during the hard times in life, discovers that the single set of footprints was in fact those times when God had been carrying him. Sometimes the realization is more closely tied to the hardships.

Fred Craddock, a theology professor and story teller with a wry sense of humour tells the story of a flight from Boston to California in the days when there were still smoking and non-smoking sections on airplanes. He had reserved an aisle seat in the non-smoking section, and shortly after takeoff the passenger in the aisle seat across the aisle from him lit up a cigar. Now cigars were not allowed even in the smoking sections. Prof. Craddock, checking his seat and that he was in the non-smoking politely told the fellow passenger that he must have made a mistake and that the smoking section was in the other area. The fellow not only ignored Prof. Craddock but puffed the harder creating billows of obnoxious smoke. The flight attendant – a very pretty young lade – also spoke to the offending passenger but to no avail. Somewhat later while the snacks and drinks were being served the plane hit an air pocket. It just so happened that this occurred just as the attendant was beside the smoker. Well, she lost the large drink tray and the liquid not only doused the cigar but drenched the man from the belt – south. And with a twinkle in his eye, Fred also added that the pretty young lady landed in his own lap and he remarked, “There really is a God.” I’m not sure that this would be any form of proof of God’s existence but it sure states God has a very keen sense of humour.

Somewhere between the realizations of God’s presence as told in “Footprints in the sand” and Fred Craddock’s airplane tale, we have the story of Moses. A new Pharaoh ascends the throne of Egypt and we are informed he had no knowledge or recollection of Joseph, seeing the Israelites as a potential threat to his rule. An enforced servitude ensued and worse yet all male children were ordered to be killed and even when God seemed to intervene, Pharaoh devised other means. Such is the introduction of Moses who will become the agent of God’s purposes to liberate the chosen people. However even here God’s keen sense of humour must be appreciated for while Moses’ mother complies with Pharaoh’s decree to cast her son into the river, she does it by first putting him into a basket or ark. And who should be the one to find him and take him as her own – Pharaoh’s daughter. Now that’s an ironic twist of humour. Over the next few weeks we will continue the Mosaic odyssey in about two months with the revealed promise of God to restore the people to the Promised Land.

The psalmist of Psalm 124 fives us the theological realization of Moses birth and deliverance showing us that first and foremost it was God’s presence with the people, not just one human being. If God had not been present from the beginning the people would have been crushed defeated and likely as not – perished completely. The psalm beckons us to see and appreciate the danger facing us at all times, and that on our own we would never be able to survive. God the Creator of all things has concern for us and works on our behalf even when we cannot or simply refuse to acknowledge it. Despite our foibles, despite our waywardness, despite our wicked tendencies, despite everything to the contrary, God remains faithful. The psalm is a voice of trust, but confidence in a counter-life with God, beyond threat, liberated and confident.

This idea of a counter-life is explored more fully in Paul’s letter to the Romans. However, before we look at that there is one other aspect of realization of God’s presence. Sometimes it is fleeting and sometimes it takes a nudge to get us there. That’s what we hear in the Gospel story of Peter’s coming to realization of God’s presence in Jesus. The context of this section comes after the feeding of four thousand men plus women and children, when the disciples are walking by themselves bemoaning that they had forgotten to bring bread for themselves. Jesus calls them to task, “O ye of little faith…do you not remember…the seven loaves of the four thousand…?” Pushing them further he asks them, “Whom do men say that I am?” The disciples reply by listing all the rumours surrounding Jesus. Then he asks for their thoughts. Peter answers, “Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God.” And we throw our hands up and say, “Finally they get it”. Unfortunately they didn’t. The realization is short lived and it is only a matter of hours that Peter tries to dissuade Jesus from the sonly logical course of action in his mission.

The insight and response to the realization of God’s presence is oft fraught with denial, slow understanding and reluctance to act. And perhaps these responses are due to our human desire to stick with that concerning which we are familiar. As mentioned before God’s providence, God’s presence with us, demands a response and a change to a counter-life in line with God’s will and design.

Paul in his letter to the Romans invites his audience to not only be open to God’s presence but to be transformed by it. In the chapters preceding today’s lesson Paul has laid out a theological treatise on the presence of God, the proof thereof to be found in the life of Jesus, and a call to see what God has done. In Chapter 12 Paul moves from the theoretical to the practical, from the theological to the ethereal and the practical and ethical is a call to change. Now as many will soon realize change is not easy, nor is it quickly achieved – ask anyone who has tried to lose weight or quit smoking or for that matter change any habit. It’s far too simpler to slide back to the old ways. And in one’s spiritual or theological life the ways of the world are far more convenient than the path called for by a totally God focussed way. In fact Paul tells us that by ourselves we cannot achieve it. It can only be accomplished by God transforming us. We only have to be opened to the idea of being transformed. And Paul’s use of the phrase, “renewing of your minds” might better be understood as “transforming your mindset.”

Herein lies the key to a practical and ethical response to the realization of God’s presence with us. Only when we can come to see ourselves in relationship with God and to one another can we truly see beyond ourselves and commence to be aware of ourselves as part of a larger greater body. Paul saw this, understood this and tried to explain it to his audience. He used the body and its various parts as an analogy to open the eyes of people and at the same time to set an ideal of what it means to be Church (the whole people of God).

In such a concept we lose our individuality in favour of the community living in God and living out Christ’s teachings. Yes, as individuals we have various gifts and capabilities. However, rather than using these just for our own enhancement our own gains or our own wealth, we are to use them for the welfare of the whole and the betterment of those who are less fortunate. Thus Paul contends we have the gifts of faith, teaching, ministry, prophecy, oration, generosity to be used to further the life of the Church as a counter-life to the culture and society of the day. As we then become transformed we see and appreciate a wider understanding of the events which surround us.

The air pocket which results in the spilling of drinks, the dousing of the cigar and the stewardess landing in the believer’s lap no longer becomes a quirk of fate or a coincidental loss of balance, but a window to see God’s sense of humour and a call to a counter-life to the accepted world-view.