“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” Psalm 25:4-5 (NRSV)
How long are we willing to wait for God? I suspect that waiting is a life time process because it doesn’t mean waiting idley, doing nothing. A the first part of these two verses indicates, the waiting includes learning. The Psalmist asks God to teach him (or her) what it means to live in God’s ways, to follow God’s path. Do we pray for God to teach us? Do we pray to learn God’s ways? Do we seek God’s truth as we wait for God to act in the world? Even more than that, are we part of God’s action in the world? Are WE the ones who are supposed to act?
So often we hear people who refuse to attend church say that they won’t go because there are so many hypocrites in church. That’s a harsh judgment, but sadly it is probably true if we look at it from the point of view that we are supposed to be perfect. What many people don’t seem to understand is that the church isn’t, as the old saying goes: “a haven for saints, but a hospital for sinners.” We gather together on Sunday mornings and other times to worship our God, to seek guidance and direction, to learn God’s truth and find our way in life. We continue to come together so that we can, as John Wesley says, “move on to perfection” although we will never reach it in this life time – it’s a journey!
When others place the burden of perfection on church goers, we will never measure up, and our sinfulness will be a very visible blemish. However, when we put on the mind and heart of Christ, when we live in God’s truth, when we continue to learn from God and trust God for guidance, we will live as faithfully as we can in God’s grace and forgiveness and acceptance. What I find most disturbing is when we treat each other as members of the same church with hypocritical behaviors. We claim that we are loving and caring, and yet we push our own agendas, expect things to be done OUR way, and, even worse, spread rumors that are harmful to others. This is the very thing that turns people off, and certainly defy the way that that God would have us live.
Sadly, the church is the very place where these behaviors show up. Most Sundays, my sermons are on how to life in God’s ways, how to grow in our faith, how to share our faith, but I sometimes wonder if there is any tranformative word that is really going out from where I feel God is leading me in my preaching. The behaviors don’t seem to change, and people continue to criticize, tear apart, and find fault with others in the church. There are times when I would like to throw the whole structure out the window, get rid of every committee, and just start over. However, that isn’t practical, and there isn’t any learning that takes place when we do that.
Rather, I believe, looking at this passage from Psalm 25, that God would have us learn together by example, by trial and error, through the hills and valleys of community life. I think we travel the journey, and even though we may not always see the fruits of our labors, we have to trust that someone is “getting it.” Somewhere along the line, there are people whose lives are being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit as they grow in their faith. I know I’m one of them. I believe that I have grown through the adversity I have experienced in my life. I think my faith is stronger and my trust in God is far greater because of the changes that have happened over the course of years and the moves I have made.
Oh, it’s not that I wouldn’t have LIKED to stay with the way things “used to be.” Life would have been so much easier! But then, God doesn’t call me to take it easy! Rather, God calls me to be faithful, and in that faithfulness, I will encounter conflict and frustration and discouragement. I suppose I’m at the discouragement part right now. I would just like things to fall into place in at least one area of my life, but everything seems to be a work in progress at this point. That is when I believe we have to hang onto the promise of God that we aren’t alone, and that this is one of those learning times in our lives.
When I decided to enter seminary, it was like jumping off a cliff and not knowing what was below. I gave up a well-paying teaching position, went back into debt with school loans and credit card debt, and had no idea what the future held. It is in that suspended state of falling that I learned to trust that God was with me. I learned that no matter what happened, even the worst thing in the world, God was the lover of my soul and NO ONE could take my soul away from me or from God. NO ONE and NOTHING could destroy my soul. It was in God’s hands.
The first day of classes, I sat down in my Old Testament class and knew I was where I was supposed to be. The bottom of the cliff was in the classroom where I would continue my journey in a different way than I ever thought I would. Every change in my life, every disruption, every upset, every discouragement, every painful experience continues to land in the truth that God is with me. What I experience in this life time strengthens me and helps me to be a better person, and ultimately it will lead me to finding the blessings and joys, as well.
We begin with trust. We live with hope. We live OUT forgiveness from God and toward others (as well as ourselves), and we continue to learn about God and our relationship with God even though we may doubt or feel alone at times. I pray that those in any church anywhere who are waiting will find God in the waiting. I pray that we all will find our purpose in life and know with confidence that we aren’t alone on the journey. God has given me many companions on this journey of life, and I celebrate the gifts of my wonderful husband, my parents, my sister, and my friends as well as many other people who have touched my life in significant ways.
May we find grace and forgiveness and acceptance in our hearts for each other and others as we grow in faith and as disciples of Jesus Christ.