When You Aren't who Others Think you Are.
Let's pray... Rev. Stuart Buisch
So Iconium seemed to be a repeat of Antioch, enthusiasm, acceptance, jealousy and persecution.
How does your story of faith unfold? When did you really understood for the first time that God loved you. That the death of Jesus was an act that was for humanity, that you are part of that humanity. What happened to you?
In my experience of coming to faith, the knowledge and the emotional response to being forgiven for what seemed to be the first time was quite powerful and convincing. I say seemed because I think God does many things without our awareness and sometimes with little input from us. So for me it is quite possible that God in an act of generosity forgave my sin before I asked or realized the effect of my asking for some reason that evades my human understanding. I could have easily been forgiven many times before I realized that forgiveness was my experience. After that enthusiasm and acceptance there do seem to be forces that try to destroy what we have come to believe. For some that gets so intense that persecution would be a way to describe it. For others there are distractions, essential things that must be done. These take our focus and energy away from the God who loves us and wants to be involved in our lives.
So the experience of faith can be seen both from the vantage point of the recipient and the proclaimer. Paul and Barnabas moved on. As Paul starts his presentation he observes a man who is unable to walk. That kind of observation most of us would be able to see. Today we are aware of some folk who are so self-consumed that they would not notice such a disability. We would hope to never be a church like that. Some in our neighborhoods might even consider the disabled 'in our way." Paul however observes something else. Luke tells us that Paul 'looked at him intently and saw that he had faith to believe he could be healed.'
The Bible would be a much simpler book without these sorts of texts. Some could read that and blame the unwell for lack of faith. Others would blame or praise Paul for being able to see faith. Certainly in the Old Testament, prophets were called 'seers', those who could see. What does your faith help you to see? For the self-consumed mentioned earlier faith could expose that consumption and help that one to see disabled or anyone outside of themselves. May I say we can be sure to never see what we don't look for. Jesus, too, is noted for seeing faith, in the centurion who says Jesus can just say the word, and in the bleeding woman who believed the touch would heal. I have a relative who can identify fauna at ten to fifty yards in nature, most of which I would not know to look for or see if right in front of me. He had a summer job of counting long horn sheep. Seeing is both a gift and a developed art. Not all of us will be seers but all of us can see more.
I believe that we could pray to be able to see more than we usually look for. But our story pushes this seeing further. The man is healed and the community, thoroughly engaged in the belief system of Zeus and Hermes, see Paul and Barnabas and name them their gods. We see what we are looking for. How troubling it must have been to see their gods tear their clothes and deny the names they were given. If we saw a miracle today, what might we call it? Who would we attribute it to? Thankfully this did not slow Paul and Barnabas' desire to see God work in their midst, this misunderstanding by the crowd. But equally the stoning that ended our reading could have put an end to healing. Surely the disciples surrounding Paul worked life back into him.
Again, so what? Our lives are shaped by what we see and to some extent by the things, situations, experiences that we fail to notice. Meditation, contemplation, mindfulness can turn on our senses to more that is around us. It can equip us to encounter that which we might go right by. I guess it is possible to imagine Paul and Barnabas grateful that what Paul did through God and the faith of the lame man qualified as an other-worldly event. But the community wasn’t interested in discussing the finer details of what happened. They were in the presence of living representatives of their divine being and they needed to worship. When did you feel such compulsion to worship? What would that be like? I have heard people refer to worship services as good or really good but the tone of the voices sounded like people who just finished a new accomplishment, a race, or had a high from some new experience or drugs.
When we are in God’s presence can you see it? How do you thank God for these experiences? The pandemic has turned us on our heads. It’s certainly self-serving to thank God each day that we are covid free so how do we pray? What do we say? Could the preacher look into my eyes and see the faith to move mountains? Amen.
Creator of light and peace, let your light reign in each of us… Christ our Lord, you walk the lonesome valleys with us… Breath of God, revitalize our very being to bring glory to You…