October 23, 2017

The Homily

crooked pathConsider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked? (Ecclesiastes 7:13, KJV)

Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there.  So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” (Acts 16:6)

My 78-year-old mother has been having some kidney problems of late. In trying to figure out what brought these about, I thought of the many pain pills she has taken over the years for other ailments. So adding two plus orange to get a cloudy day, I came to the conclusion that I should stop taking ibuprofen to spare my kidneys. Of course, the week I came to this great revelation, my back began hurting with a vengeance. Not just hurting, but being spiteful about it. Out came the bottle of ibuprofen. Then, once I got my back under control, my surgically-repaired knee (two surgeries on it in the 1990s) began hurting like billy-o. I could hardly stand, let alone walk. I reached again for the ibuprofen.

Things don’t always go as I plan.

I once pictured myself working in publishing until I was 62, then retiring to a cottage where I could read and write and watch the stars at night. Then publishing went upside-down, I lost my job, and now I am working retail to get by, and most likely will until I’m 82. I sometimes see the stars through my windshield when I’m driving home at night from my store.

Things don’t always go as I plan.

Have I done something wrong, and now God is punishing me? Did I miss a turn on the road that would have taken me where I wanted to go? With the pain pills, I could suck it up and endure the pain. I have a pretty high tolerance for physical pain, and am developing the same for emotional pain. The thought, however, of stabbing, searing discomfort every time I move is not one I want to cling to, even though I had resolved to keep my kidneys clear of what would help my back and knee. With my job, well, I have applied for so many other positions over these last four or five year I have lost track. Not many want to hire a 54-year-old former teacher/editor who now works retail.

What has gone wrong? Where did I jump the track? After all, if I were really following the Lord, would these things be happening to me?

The answers are: Nothing. Nowhere. And yes.

I was once visiting with a retired missionary, a great man of God named Merland. I said, “Merland, listen to this verse from Ecclesiastes. Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?

“Oh yes,” said Merland. “God makes our crooked paths straight.”

“No,” I said. “That’s not what this says. It says God takes what is straight, and then crookeds it all up.”

Merland looked at the verse and said, “Well, that is something, isn’t it?”

It certainly is something. I want God to take what is crooked and make it nice and straight. I want a straight and level path to walk. That way I can see far down the road, where I am going. When the road is all twisty I can’t see around the next bend. I have no idea what is ahead. I want to know what is going to happen today and tomorrow and next week and next year. I am much more comfortable when I know what is going on. The fruit of knowledge, both good and evil, tastes good on my lips. I may say I trust God, but in all I honesty I want to understand more than I want to trust. And it seems God is having none of that.

My physical pain, my emotional pain, my struggles to pay my bills and to keep food on the table for my family are not the results of me sinning. They are part of the crooked path God has placed me on. God is not angry with me. He knows that the most important thing that can happen in my life is not for me to live pain-free or to have wealth in this world. He knows what I need most is to have strong faith that God is and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek after him. And for one like I who insists on understand and knowing, developing faith is a very hard task.

Paul and Silas were doing the Lord’s work, proclaiming the Gospel and establishing churches. They were set to go to Asia, but the Spirit of the Lord prevented them. Was it because they were in sin? No. It was because God had other plans for them, plans they could not see, plans that did not make sense to them at the time. I somehow think Paul was like me in that he wanted to understand. He wanted things explained to him. We don’t read the entire struggle, we just know that the Spirit of God would not let them go to Asia. Did the Holy Spirit give Paul an explanation? I’m betting he didn’t. But Paul and Silas obeyed, and that was all that mattered.

God has me on a very crooked, twisty path right now in many areas of my life. There are things he is doing that I just don’t get. I do know, however, that the desire of my heart is to follow after him no matter the cost. He knows that too. I know his ways are not my ways, just as his thoughts are higher than mine. And I know I am to trust him.

And that is the hardest thing I have ever been called to do.

Let us pray.

Comments

  1. I’m not sure I’d agree that your path is a particular intention of God. Stuff happens as part of the human condition and we have to deal with it, the important thing is that we continue on the journey. We can give up or we can dust ourselves off and start all over again learning along the way, not an easy thing to do, acknowledging that often this is a journey fraught with pain and disillusionment and sometimes the seeming absence of God. Clinging only to the promise of “I will never leve you or forsake you” or as I’ve been wont to say – tie a knot in the end of the rope and hang on, the buffeting winds of misfortune surely can’t last much longer. I’m told that suffering can be redemptive and I’ve no reason to disbelieve this, however I think when you’re in the midst of it and perhaps sometimes you can’t ever see the point. I’m sure believers in Nigeria, Syria, Egypt and Pakistan wonder greatly.

  2. That is the verse used as a foreword for the film “Gattaca”

    I am so glad that verse is in the bible. Actually, I’m glad Ecclesiastes is in the bible. I’m glad Tobit is in the bible too, and I’m slightly p*ssed that I never read it until this year.

  3. Aren’t there times though that things just happen because we live in a crazy world where not everyone is following God’s call and leading? Or stuff just happens, just because. Where God comes into it is when we allow God to transform those crazy times, those really hard times, into something much better. Maybe not at all what we’d hoped or expected, but somehow better. Or at least we can learn something from what we experience if we let God be our teacher.

  4. Your homily sure resonates with me, Jeff. For example, I just came home yesterday from an unexpected 7-day stay in the hospital during which time a lot of bloody hospital gowns and sheets were exchanged.

    As the great Saint John Lennon (I think it was him) said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.”

    But I wonder if you’re reading that verse from Ecclesiastes right. We learn in English grammar class (I know, I know, this is Hebrew) that a pronoun must agree with its antecedent. So if the “who” refers to “God” you are reading the verse right. But if the “who” refers to the “he” then the “he who” might mean us, you and me, humanity. We take God’s straight paths and manage to make them crooked — and only God can then make our self-messed-up crooked straight again. And, yes, we should consider His work. Indeed.

    This has been the gospel according to been there, done that.

  5. As the character of Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar sings to his disciples when they pester him with questions about what the future holds for them, “If you knew the path we’re riding, you’d understand it less than I….”

  6. Excellent homily, Jeff. I am sorry about all the pain you are experiencing, though.

    And Mule…I love that in the book of Tobit it mentions in chapter 6 about a dog going with Tobiah on his journey and then in chapter 11 it mentions the dog leaving with Tobiah and his wife. I love details like that. There are some great prayers in Tobit.too.

  7. Thank you Jeff for a needful reminder.

  8. We all need to go back now and again and wrestle with fiducia and assensus. I tried to Google fiducia and couldn’t get anything more than definition. I think we have lost it.

    Or maybe even further back to faith formed by love( fides caritae formata) and faith alone(sola fide).I think it would be pointless to recognize that “alone” is not in the Greek or Latin texts. The only reason we attack works so strongly and exalt faith to pre-eminence is that people need to be scandalized, so that they may learn that they will not become religious by their works, but by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Those who read St. Paul cannot say anything different.

  9. Thank you for this most helpful post! I have many times wondered the same things of myself even knowing all along that God is in control, He knows what He is doing in my life and why. In spite of the crooked road I seem to be on and not seeing very much ahead, I know Jesus is at the end. Faith and trust in Him is really the drive that keeps hope alive and real.

    Just recently I re-read Ecclesiastes and came away with different concept about our lives. Indeed, the conclusion of the matter is …”worship God and keep His commandments…” 12:13 (CEB)

    Also, thank you all for your comments–they are all inspiring!

    Ev

  10. The old saying “God writes straight with crooked lines”, which is hard going when you’re looping through the twists and turns of the crooked line.

    May your physical pains be helped through the intercession of the Holy Archangel Raphael (seeing as we’re discussing Tobit and today is the Feast of St. Michael and the Archangels) and may God bless and maintain you as you travel this crooked path.

  11. This reminds me of John Paul’s Salvifici Doloris.

  12. I am sorry you are going through these tough times. I wish I had more to offer than a benediction
    The Lord bless you and keep you;
    the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
    the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace

  13. The kind of unexpected turns and crooked paths your life has taken recently–I remember reading your first mention of losing your job in publishing–could pretty much describe my adult life (I’m 56). Some of those turns include a lost marriage, a seminary education I couldn’t afford to finish, children who want nothing to do with me, etc.

    I’m not going to be able to offer much substance to you in a single blog comment, but I have experienced over and over something I’m sure you’ve read a thousand times, that “peace of God which surpasses all understanding.” It is real and you can obtain it.

  14. I’m with Mule and Evelyn. I love Ecclesiastes and am glad it’s part of the Bible. It happened to be one of the first books I felt led to read after becoming a Christian, and I remember that as I read it I thought, “Wow, the Bible must be true if a book this honestly bleak is in it!” And yes, the conclusion of the matter is, no matter how meaningless life seems to be, “worship God and keep His commandments.”

  15. ” I do know, however, that the desire of my heart is to follow after him no matter the cost. He knows that too.”

    I’m not like you.

    I know, and the Lord knows better than I do, that it’s not the desire of my heart to follow him no matter the cost. He knows that in my troubles, my heart turns from him, and that, even were I to desire to turn my heart to him, my heart exists in a place beyond my own command, in darkness my weak will and desire can never penetrate.

    My heart is a thicket of tangled confusion, turning restlessly and painfully away from him and the frightening world he has created, the frightening starlit sky that he has set above like a mirror to reflect the darkness and scattered light of my heart back on itself.

    I turn away, and turn away, and I avoid his face.

    But however many times I turn, and whatever darkness my heart finds in itself, he is always there. In the darkness he surprises me again and again, as if it’s his darkness, not my own, and he’s been waiting there for me to turn and see him again and again.

    Every time it’s the face of Jesus that emerges from the darkness, from the very darkness of my heart that I’d hoped to escape into.

    “…..if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there….”

    Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
    As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, world without end. Amen.

    • I have disagreed with you a lot (silently, in the privacy of my own home) on internetmonk, but this is profound.

      What matters in the end, though, is whether that heart of yours is a stony one or a fleshy one (see Ezekiel for details).

      So ultimately the darkness you (and I) often find yourself (I mean ourselves) in is a good place, because God is there too.

      Thank you, Robert, I needed to hear that today.

      • There was a time when I, too, struggled with understanding/accepting what Robert F was writing here at iMonk. But then something clicked and I discovered there’s a lot of deep, profound stuff coming out of that brain and heart of his. Like what he’s written here.

        Thanks for your insights, Robert F!

  16. Hang in there, Jeff.

    Life can sure stink at times.

    But He’s in it, with us, in the winning…and the losing.

  17. Thank you, thank you, thank you. This is exactly what I needed. I am profoundly grateful!

  18. We all go through crappy times but for years I wonder if Job had to deal with some of the things I have had to, of course when we read Job we see all of his misfortune and then his reinstatement and it only seems like a few days but I believe it was many years.
    Patience and waiting on the Lord, some days that’s all that keeps me keeping on.
    I resonated with your knee, back pain me too. waiting and waiting on the Lord.