Stop the World and Let Me Off
I remember as a kid the first time I rode the Mindbender. It’s a roller coaster at Six Flags Over Georgia near where I grew up. It goes up about eighty feet then drops into three vertical loops. A friend of mine talked me into it. He was excited and enthusiastic, telling me all about the ride and how it was, at the time, the best coaster you could ride in the park. How we would love it and ride it over and over. I was psyched at first, thinking no big deal, everyone over forty-eight inches tall is riding this thing. Little kids younger than me can do it, so no big deal, right? I got up to the top of the first hill and looked down at the first of the three loops in front of me and thought, stop the world and let me off. It went down the hill and I wasn’t sure if I would throw up or pass out. I had a death grip on the metal bar holding me in the seat, as though my life would end at any given second. I wanted to ride a roller coaster but I was thinking about settling for the one in the kiddie section on the other side of the park.
Life throws a few loop de loops at us as well. It’s the expected unexpected, the things you know could happen, actually happening. One minute we’re standing comfortably in line waiting for our turn in the next phase of life and the next, BAM! Something pops up out of left field and we feel ourselves being lifted off the seat. In that moment we recognize that the roller coaster we’re on isn’t the roller coaster we want to be on.
Do you ever feel like you just don’t belong? Like there’s something not quite right about the world around you? It’s kind of like waking up from a dream and not quite being able to get past the fact that you are dreaming. The feeling reminds me of a line from a song I heard a long time ago, stop the world and let me off.
Job was feeling a bit like his mind had been bent by the time we get to chapter forty-two. After all the time Job spent challenging God and asking, pleading, begging, for God to speak, the Almighty finally does. And Job is left feeling a bit inadequate in the answer.
Job repeats two of God’s comments and offers responses born of a little more perspective.
Q: “Who is this darkening counsel without knowledge?”
A: I have indeed spoken about things I didn’t understand, wonders beyond my comprehension.
Q: “Listen and I will speak; I will question you and you will inform me.”
A: My ears had heard about you, but now my eyes have seen you.
The entirety of Job’s experience was that he spoke about what he didn’t understand and he heard about God but didn’t really know what he had heard until he saw it. Throughout the text of Job, Job cries out to God without answer. His cries seem to go unheard and the only response he gets is from his friends who can’t believe God would ‘punish’ someone who had not sinned. When God does answer, the answer is not what Job expects. God shows Job that the perspective that Job has of the world is limited and finite and that his place in the world is for God to decide as Job is one part, a small part, of the created order. Job realizes that he has a place in the world and that place is as a part of creation as a whole. He realizes that God cares for all of that creation and if God cares about the details of the entire created order, it is up to Job to simply listen and hear what God would have to say. God is saying to Job, “Trust me and let me show you what I have in store for you. Be patient and wait to see what I am doing.”
Too often we decide that our place in the world is a different place than what God has created for us to live into. We try to force our ideas and our beliefs on God and those around us in an effort to define ourselves. We try to act as creator, telling God what he should do with us and how we should live instead of the other way around. We try to make our spiritual world comfortable by proof-texting or cherry-picking religious ideas from the Bible that make us comfortable while ignoring the stuff that we don’t really like or want to do. It’s the mindset of Job’s friends, and in truth the same mindset that Job lives by, in assuming that they know and understand how God sees the created order without seeking God first.
It reminds me of the instructions. You know, the instructions in just about anything that has more than one part. For years, instructions have been packaged and sent with products so that men can ignore them. We don’t need instructions, there’s a picture on the box. All we have to do is make it look like the box, right?
It’s the old mentality that if looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. So if we put things together and it looks like the box, we got it right. Never mind that there are pieces left over and the thing falls apart the moment you touch it. Never mind the fact that it only looks right from one side because we were looking at only one side of the thing. It looks like the picture so it must be right, right? What we are talking about is a spiritual impatience that drives us to trying to play God. We assume we have big picture view and begin orienting our lives toward it. When God opens the heavens and reveals the wonders of all he has for us we can’t see it because we aren’t looking for it. We are simply looking at what we have created and nurturing that in place of what God has to offer us. We assume we understand things so well that instructions are a waste of time and if we do look at the instructions, we look for the instructions that align with what we think we already know.
Finding our place
In our New Testament text this morning, Jesus has been traveling throughout Galilee and comes to a mountainside. He steps up and begins to deliver what is the centerpiece for early Christianity and for many throughout Christian history, the sermon on the mount. The importance of this passage from Matthew 5 through Matthew 7 should not be lost on us as just another set of teachings. The early church was built on this passage. In fact, if you became a part of the assembly in the first century, you had a sponsor who had watched you live out the principles of this passage for a three-year period. When they had seen sufficient evidence of your faith, you were invited to become a part of the assembly.
As Jesus comes to the last part of this teaching, he says,
“Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened. 9 Who among you will give your children a stone when they ask for bread? 10 Or give them a snake when they ask for fish? 11 If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.”
In other words, God knows what is needed. God is aware of the situation and circumstance we live in and it is no surprise to him. As we develop as relationship that asks, searches, and knocks, we are developing a relationship that draws us closer to God. Close enough in fact to be comfortable going to God to ask for what we need but having enough of a sense of the spirit to know what we should ask for. Close enough to seek out understanding and wisdom from God while knowing God well enough to see the difference between our folly and his knowledge. Close to enough to have courage to knock on doors that open into God’s perspective and being willing to make that our perspective, even if it upsets our apple cart.
I’m going to be honest with you, I’ve had a hard time with the sermon this week. I feel a little like I’ve been back to Six Flags and just gotten off the Mindbender. After sharing the news about our new bishop last week, I have had some people come and say they are happy about the news and some come to say that most definitely not happy. But the truth is, regardless of your perspective, we are called to the place God has for us to live into and to serve from. For us, that place is Newcastle and the rest of Weston county. The mission this week is the mission last week and the week before and the week before all the way to the moment when Jesus said, “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.” No matter what else happens around us, that is the mission, the driving force of our existence and the central marker for our place in the world. And it is a mission we can live into because it is a mission driven by the real presence of Jesus the Christ, undergirded by the comfort and direction of the Holy Spirit, and created by the hand of God the Father, Almighty, amen.