Whoever you are, wherever you are on your life or spiritual journey, God is with you! Cares for You! Loves You! God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit lifts up the weak, empowers the powerless, and renews hope among the weary, lost and hopeless.
This is the hopeful message of who God is and who we are called to be because of who we are and who God is. To use our presence individually and collectively to raise up, empower and bring hope to all who feel lost, alone, left out, downtrodden, or disconnected. This is the point of the message Jesus came to proclaim. It is the purpose of these stories, your story and the story we are urgently called to reclaim, renew and share in our service – together.
Here is one example of why. On Thursday evening I am at city hall waiting outside a conference room. There is young lady near me. We begin polite small talk. I eventually share that I am a minister and have been invited to offer the invocation for the School Committee’s meeting. After an awkward silent pause, she shares that she is “spiritual and not religious.” Like so many others, she says “It is not so much that I left church, it is more like church left me. Things were fine when my life looked picture perfect, but when I faced challenges, I felt shunned, silenced, helpless and alone.”
Listening to her story reminds me of the stories of so many others I have heard over the years, of my own challenging journey and this story from five or six years ago when I lived in Minneapolis.
I step into the crosswalk downtown and spot this mother duck and five or six little ducklings waddling up the sidewalk on the other side. They are heading toward the waterfalls and water features in the small plaza constructed amid the shops and high rises. Mama hops into the street. I smile as one by one they follow her lead. The last duckling struggles to keep up, hops to the street and lands in a small puddle. Losing its balance, it falls on its back, is covered in mud, squawks loudly and exhausts itself kicking its tiny little legs in the air.
And isn’t this a metaphor for so much of life. Even when we try really hard to keep all our little ducks in a row or blindly follow what others say we ought to be and do, often we end up feeling like this lonely little duckling. Lying there up against some curb or another, off balance, exhausted and covered in mud, dirt and other debris accumulated on our less than perfect life journey. And yet I believe that this is the essence and the hopeful point of the message of Jesus who meets us where we are on our journey came and comes to proclaim.
Look at our story from the Gospel of Mark! They leave the synagogue, go to meet Simon’s mother-in-law where she is. Jesus takes her by the hand, lifts her up, heals her body and renews her spirit.
And here is the thing, they leave their place of worship to head into the world to bring healing and hope. And Simon’s mother-in-law isn’t just rescued; her life is transformed so completely she immediately begins serving others!
They move into the community, heal many and Jesus takes time out to reflect and pray. Word spreads, the movement grows and more come seeking healing. Rather than return and heal everyone and do it himself, he says they must now leave?! "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do."
It is like finger nails being dragged against a chalkboard. For me, I am like “wait a minute, there are people who need healing and instead Jesus is going to leave? How can this be?!” Well, I believe, Jesus does not come to rescue us, he comes transform our lives and resurrect God’s dream for the world. He meets us where we are. Shows the way. Heals and empowers us. Lifts and inspires us. Invites and calls us to then do the same!
He is here to proclaim the good news that God is with you wherever you find yourself on life’s journey. He is here to remind us that we are each a child of the living God, already loved, blessed, beautifully and wonderfully made. He is here to empower us to lift the hopes and spirits of others. And he is here to inspire us to live confidentially knowing that no matter how stuck or covered in muck you may feel we are each made in the image of the God who is Love and already have everything we need to wash away the mud, dirt and debris. We find love in loving others. We increase hope by inspiring others. And we are freed to live authentically as we make place and space for others to do the same. Jesus moves on because he had healed and inspired, taught and empowered people who the follow by doing the same.
And so this baby duck lies there stuck in the mud. It becomes completely still and silent. Then, suddenly it springs to life. Drawing on some inner strength or hidden force it rolls to one side, is bathed in the water, rises up and runs on to join the others.
Mama Duck has jumped into a planting a foot or so above the sidewalk. The ducklings take three or four tries to overcome this new hurdle. They crash into the wall and one another. One by one they join mama on her perch. Until there is once again, only one left. I cannot tell if it is the same unfortunate strangler. He or she runs along the curb throwing itself against the wall every few feet. Panic increases. Mama honks loudly to guide the little one. It barrels down the curb trying to jump up every couple of feet to no avail. And then some ten feet from where it started, it rises up – and drops out of sight.
Mama Duck, aware something is amiss increases her honking. No use. The little guy or gal has fallen into a three foot cement square catch basin. Mama approaches the edge and proceeds to lead her other five ducklings safely away. I put down my bag. Step into the catch basin and attempt to keep this frightened lost and lonely one from falling into the drain.
My presence frightens the duckling even more and it races around the perimeter as fast as it can. First in one direction and then the other – because, I don’t know this strategy was so successful a few minutes ago?
After several failed attempts, I alter my strategy. I stand perpendicular to the corner furthest from the drain. Arms open high and wide I guide it into the corner. I lower myself before it, and slowly draw my arms closer together. I cup my hands, embrace this frightened muddy little lost one, lift it up and set it down in the planting. Freed, it races to join the rest of the brood.
The whole experience makes me wonder how often do we anxiously exhaust ourselves and spend our lives running in circles unable or unwilling to trust the arms and love of the Living God already embracing us? How often do we flail about like this little duckling; lying there waiting for rescue as we frantically exhaust ourselves trying to break free from the muddied waters not realizing that we already have everything we already need: God’s love, Christ’s compassion and Spirit’s empowering presence?
Greendale People’s Church, I believe that we are being gathered in, lifted up and sent out to reclaim and resurrect this message of hope, to lift up our neighbors, empower others and inspire a movement in which everyone matters and all feel they belong once more.
Look, this is HARD. Life and the circumstances we find ourselves in can be really hard and no matter how centered or hopeful we may be, there will be days – and we all have them – when we feel lost, alone, powerless, covered in dirt and exhausted like that lost little duckling flapping, squawking and kicking about unproductively. On this days, take comfort that you already have everything you need.
Read these hopeful words from Isaiah and Jesus and remember this affirmation from the apostle Paul:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.
May God bless you and keep you on this journey.