Thursday, October 3, 2013

Two Stories, Two Promises

Posted by Michael

Most organized religions seem to hand our promises from God like fliers from a discount furniture store that is “going out of business” for the third time this year. Oftentimes, the promises come with a string attached. If you will do this, God will do that. These promises offer comfort and relief for a while, but underneath the short lived comfort lies tons of anxiety. “What if I can’t do this, will God still do that? “What if I get 80% of my this done, will God still deliver 100% of that, or will he only give me 80%, or will he punish me and give me 0%?” For the most part these sorts of promises have very little to do with what Jesus said or did during his short time on this planet. The story that Jesus told about who God is and what He desires is much different than what we often hear.  Jesus didn’t make a million promises, but there are two that kept coming up in his teachings. That brings me to the second story…

Less than a week ago, I went through an eight day stretch where I attended three funerals, and officiated two weddings. The week felt schizophrenic to say the least. The emotional ups and downs had begun to weigh on me until one of the stories told at one of the funerals stopped me in my tracks.The woman had died in her late 70’s after battling illness for several years. She had been married to her high school sweetheart for over 50 years. The story goes that her future husband drove a school bus when he was a student (student drivers were common in high schools “back in the day”). She would ride his bus to school and sat behind his seat to talk to him on the way to pick up the students in the mornings. At the beginning of her senior year, the doors of the big yellow bus swung open along a country road to let on a trembling five year old. It was his first day of school,and he was terrified. The five year old recounted the story as an adult, and remembered clearly what the girl said to him that day. She saw how afraid he was and simply said, “Don’t worry, it’s all going to work out. Come sit by me.” Just typing those words now causes me to tremble a bit. These were the promises of Jesus! Jesus never promised new cars (or camels?) or a heartbreak-free existence. In fact, he constantly reminded his listeners of the brutality of the world they lived in. We will fail and others will fail us. Jesus taught that a life lived in relationship with him would face the same pain and doubt as everyone else, maybe even more so.  The amazing promise, however,  is that those dark days and daunting challenges are somehow transformed into character and hope. God brings beauty even out of the darkest places in our lives. Our story doesn’t end in the muck and misery, it extends past all of that to a time of peace and fulfillment. The fact that our story ends well is encouraging, but Jesus went beyond that by promising to stay close to us on the journey from here to there. Even the meaning of the name he was given as a child, Immanuel,  promises what our heart longs for most, that God is indeed with us. That seventeen year old girl on an old county school bus summed up life with God perfectly. "Hang in there, even though it may not seem like it, we are going someplace good, and I will be with you 'til we get there."

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