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A Word from Our Pastor 2017 November

What a terrible month! Hurricanes, shootings, fire.

We are surrounded by stories of suffering and pain, fear and loss, confusion and uncertainty about the future. I remember the words of Isaiah 58:9-10

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and God will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.

The phrase “Here am I” stands out to me today. I think about the hymn so many of us love, “Here I am Lord,” – the song in which we respond to God with the words, –Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if You lead me.
I will hold Your people in my heart.

It’s a beautiful conversation, isn’t it? It’s a sharing of promises to be “with” each other. First, God reassures us that when we call, God will say, “Here I am,” and then, as we hear the cry of God’s people, we promise to God, “Here I am.”

What exactly is God promising us? The text says God is promising to answer, to be present, to be in solidarity with us. Some people, and some Bible stories tell us that God protects us – when God is on “our side,” we gain military victories, or God stops the destructiveness of a storm for our benefit. I am not sure this is a helpful belief in our modern world. If we say God intervenes in daily events – and we say, for example, that God stopped the car from hitting us, then how do we explain the times when a car was not stopped for someone else? Were they being punished? Was it, according to God, their “time” to be killed or injured? Were those people at the music concert in Las Vegas somehow ignored by God?

I believe we have to accept that we live in a flawed and unpredictable world. Car brakes fail without warning, people are somehow triggered to choose to do terrible things like set off bombs and shoot into crowds; hurricanes have always been with us, although now more severe, due to climate change.

So where is God? If God is not omnipotent (all-powerful), who is God to us? What does it mean that God will “answer” our cries for help? The passage from Isaiah asserts that God will say, “Here I am.”

Have you felt that sense of God’s presence, that God is with you, in times of trouble or in times of peace?

Again, the Bible tells us in the story of Elijah that God is present in the “still small voice” that speaks to us when we are quiet. In this part of the story, Elijah is burnt out, exhausted, in fear for his life, and asks God to release him from what God has asked Elijah to do. There are several assurances from God, and Elijah expects to experience God’s presence. As Elijah waits upon God, first there is a terrible wind, then an earthquake and finally, a fire. The text says, God was not present in any of these things, but in a “still small voice,” a “gentle whisper.”

Sometimes we cannot hear God’s whisper when we are in the midst of emotions – of fear, of frustration, of anger. Our thoughts and feelings of anxiety keep us awake all night, our negativity blocks out any hope. But God is still speaking to us. In order to hear that gentle whisper, first we need to trust that it will be there, so that we can let go of the thoughts and feelings that imprison us. And second, we need to listen. To try over and over again to empty our minds of the things that are weighing us down, and to just breathe in God’s presence. Slowly, peace will begin to rise. It will rise and rise until we are able to say to God, “Here I am.”

–Rev. Naomi