1I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3and all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.
6Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 7Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” 8We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. 10And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
|Chocolates from the Winchester Cocoa Co by Dominic Lockyer. Creative commons image on flickr|
Chances are, you probably know it… Lucy and her best friend Ethel are working in a chocolate factory. A harsh taskmistress puts them in charge of wrapping individual pieces of chocolate as they come down a conveyor belt.
At first, they have no problem keeping up—but the conveyor belt starts moving faster. Having been told that they’d be fired if one piece of unwrapped chocolate makes it into the packaging room, the women resort to hilarious means to try and keep up.
I think the reason why we enjoy this scene so much is because it’s so much like real life. Sooner or later, we’ll be burdened with more than we can handle. Sometimes, we can laugh about it. But sometimes, it just isn’t funny…
In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about the brutal deaths of Galileans at the hand of Pontius Pilate. He also speaks of a tragic accident, in which eighteen people die when the Tower of Siloam falls upon them. It was widely believed that God was punishing them for their sins—in the very same way that God had done in the Old Testament. Paul gives the early Christians a history lesson, warning people that if they indulge their sinful appetites, God is going to strike them down.
But Paul says something— “no testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God …will not let you be tested beyond your strength.”
In other words, God’s not going to send more troubles and temptations your way than what you can handle, right? This is how generations of Christians have heard this. But is it really true?
I ask this, because if we take this one-liner as ultimate truth, it paints a rather harsh picture of God, as if God is saddling you with heavier burdens and stronger temptations—waiting for that second when you either lose faith, give into temptation, and then, BAM! You’re done.
We feel a lot of guilt if we’re struggling and we can’t “believe ourselves” out of suffering, and just break for ourselves the chains that bind us in sin.
And when prayers don’t get answered, pains get worse, and we can’t stop doing what we don’t want to do, doubt and despair take hold.
There’s no hope… Just more pain, more failure, more disappointment, and ultimately—death. Isn’t this how we feel about ourselves? About our town? About our congregation, and the future of the Lutheran witness in our area?
But do we really hear what Jesus says? Do we pay attention to what Paul writes? They don’t testify to a God who attacks and destroys people for their sins, shortcomings, and lack of faith. They speak of a God who helps those who can’t help themselves. They speak of a God who’s faithful, whose grace overflows when everything else runs out. They speak of a God who delivers us from temptation. Jesus himself gives his blood to set us free from the deadly grip of sin, who dies because we die—and who rises, so we can arise.
As a child of God, when worries pile up, pain multiples, and we fall deeper into sin, it’s not wrath that’s coming down the conveyor belt from God—it’s grace! He comes to you when temptation is strong; and he still comes even if you give in and mess everything up. He comes to us when the pain is too much and we can't move on. Faith is all about lifting up our heads, trusting in God, and claiming the graces that come our way.
So often in life, we let ourselves become controlled by what we lack. By what hurts… By the ways we’ve failed… Problems define our existence and determine our destiny.
Faith is about seeing God’s abundance as a grace that’s greater and stronger than the problems. We’re seeing God in the everyday, ordinary things—like the food we eat, the water we drink, the clothes we wear, the homes we live in. We’re seeing God in the people who love us and show us kindness. We’re seeing God even in the air we breathe and the beating of our hearts.
But thankfulness is just the beginning. God’s grace is like a box of chocolates. It's meant to be shared! Instead of chocolate, we give our presence; our time; our listening ears. We give our time, our hands, our voices. We give our prayers and tell our stories.
God comes alive as love meets human needs; when mercy is given as well as received.
And sometimes, all we’ll really have in abundance is pain, and the wreckage of sin. Even then, you can still give yourself—because when love draws one person to another, healing begins. A burden is never as heavy when you’re not bearing it alone. When two or more are gathered, Jesus is there. Healing begins.
In Christ, you can be filled with grace even as you’re giving something away.
Lent isn't about what we do to get to Jesus, but instead about what Jesus does to get to us—and come to us. The fact that he went to Calvary for us proves that.
Lucy and Ethel put the chocolates pretty much anywhere they can. So where and when will you be open to Jesus to receive his grace—and give it away?