Matthew 27:46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
I remember a long afternoon in graduate school; not cramming for an upcoming exam or finishing an important paper as a deadline loomed, but suddenly aware that the only reason I was working on a Master’s degree in Physics was that studying was the only thing I had done. God and I had a long chat: God listened while I complained for most of that afternoon. “This isn’t fair! Give me some guidance!”
Jesus’ words from the cross resonate with us for nearly everyone can point to a time when we have felt alone or forgotten.
But stay with God. Psalm 22, of which Jesus recalls these opening words, enumerates many ways of being forgotten, then asks for deliverance, recalls past successes, and looks forward to future celebrations.
My long afternoon did not end with a complaint, but with hope and courage for a new adventure. An adventure that continues to unfold before me.
Romans 14:20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; 21 it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble.
Two-thousand years ago new Christians were troubled by meat and wine that had been offered to a pagan god, since purchasing such meat or wine implied approval of idolatry. Since much of the meat and wine in the market had been offered as a sacrifice, the Apostle Paul advocated abstaining from meat and wine, if eating or drinking such items would contribute others thinking these idols held some power.
This is a hard teaching for instead of an easy to follow listing of what to eat and what to avoid, we must consider the cultural context of our eating and drinking. Furthermore, instead of easy to identify false gods with well known rules and customs, we are threatened by an illusion of self-sufficiency.
Thus abstaining from beer is essential when I dine with a colleague recovering from excess, and enjoying a beer at social event is essential lest others deem me to be smugly self-sufficient. In other words, build up one another by what you eat and what you drink or choose not to eat or drink.
Joshua 3:13When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.”
Imagine being one of these twelve priests, having to step into the cold rushing water of the Jordan River, faithfully trusting the LORD to cut off the flow of the river. Perched on your shoulder is a pole supporting the Ark of the Covenant, a box commissioned by God to hold the fragments of the stones upon which the Ten Commandments had been carved. This box is so powerful, you have been warned not to touch it, lest you die. Before reaching the river, everyone else had been warned to stay a thousand yards away from this box.
The stones under the fast moving water may be slippery. All twelve of you must venture into the water before the flow will stop. Are you afraid? Do you have faith to step into the water?
Each day life presents challenges of faith and fear. Fear teaches us to act wisely. I imagine twelve strong sure-footed priests were selected to step into the Jordan River that morning three and a half millennia ago, so if anyone might slip, the others could support the load. Faith teaches us that we can accomplish great things when we step beyond our comfort zone. We believe the twelve priests successfully carried the ark into the river, and Israel did cross into the Promised Land.
Our lesson for today is to have faith beyond fear and step into the water.
Deuteronomy 1:13Choose for each of your tribes individuals who are wise, discerning, and reputable to be your leaders.” 14You answered me, “The plan you have proposed is a good one.” 15So I took the leaders of your tribes, wise and reputable individuals, and installed them as leaders over you, commanders of thousands, commanders of hundreds, commanders of fifties, commanders of tens, and officials, throughout your tribes.
Some decisions are easy and can be made by one person or with the faithful support of a close friend. Others are more complicated and merit prayerful discussion by a congregation. A few decisions have such regional, national, or global impact that they demand discernment in the context of worship to hear how God will lead us into God’s future.
For difficult decisions God gave us congregations and regional fellowships to discern leaders who have covenanted to stay with us and see us through our adventures.