The Invisible Hand of God…

Just coincidence? Or hand of God?

Lectionary Readings:

  1. 2 Samuel 18:5–9, 15, 31–33
  2. Ephesians 4:25—5:2
  3. Psalm 130
  4. John 6:35, 41–51

A couple of years ago, I took it upon myself to read the Bible, from start to finish, SLOWLY.  Without any hurry.  Without trying to read 3 chapters a day and 5 on Sundays and finish within 12 months. Simply cruise through it slowly, and let it take as long as it takes…
Intent on reading it again for the first time.
Did I make it all the way through to Revelations yet? No… still chugging along, slowing. Getting side-tracked along the way. Enjoying the scenery and where the winding roads take me.

But, during this time, I re-read these verses from Samuel that we have in our lectionary today.
I wasn’t struck by the choices that David had to make between his public persona – King of Israel – and his private persona – father of Absalom.  I wasn’t moved by the grief of a father, upon hearing that his wayward son had been killed.  And I wasn’t even intrigued by whether Joab had done the right thing or not in slaying Absalom, the traitor.
No, the verse that caught my eye was 2 Samuel 18, verse 8.

… and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.

At the end of Samuel we read, verse 31:

“… The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”

But there is no mention made that God’s hand played a role in winning this battle.  I’m pretty sure that this wasn’t an “enchanted forest”, like the one in Lord of the Rings, where the trees talk, and walk around, and where vines reach out, tangling themselves around your legs, and pulling you to the ground.
There were probably just uneven ground, where horses would stumble, throwing their riders into oncoming immovable objects, broken branches, sharp as swords that would slice through you if you ran into them, vines and debris under foot that would cause you to stumble and fall.
And yet… all of this contributed to the defeat of Absalom’s army.  He outnumbered David’s men. He had the favour of the people.  He should have won…  but he was out-done by a forest.

And more than that, I find it particularly intriguing that David’s first instructions to his commanders was:

Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.

We read in verse 9 of Absalom’s undoing:

He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s head got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in mid-air, while the mule he was riding kept on going.

Notice that even the tree followed David’s instructions: “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.

Yes, Absalom was brought off his high horse, in the most humiliating way – hung out to dry by his pride and joy: his head of hair.  Ironic – The very source of his pride, brings about his down-fall.  (I wonder if the angels were laughing).

But he’s not killed by this – he’s killed by human hands.  By a person that takes the choice into their own hands to put an end, once and for all, of this rebellion.
So, was this all just coincidence?  Or was God’s hand directing the battle and the slipping banana skins under the rebel’s feet?

As I’ve said many times before, I find it so easy to find God in the woods and forest.  There I find it easy to sit, at peace, in solitude and quiet, and commune with God.  To hear the birds singing praise and odes to joy.  To listen to the quiet running of the streams and brooks.
But there’s a greater challenge:  We don’t live in the mountains.  I don’t always have time to get to Summit park or Parque Metropolitano, or better yet, further out of town and away from everything.
Monday to Friday I spend a good eight to ten hours a day confined inside an office, under fluorescent lighting.  No mountain vista, no deep oceans to contemplate, no soaring eagles to admire.

Where’s the supernatural in my life?
I haven’t seen any burning bushes like Moses.
I haven’t watched a wind come up and blow at gale force for a couple of hours, strong enough to move water out of the way, so that I can walk across on dry land and then when the wind stops the “tidal wave” that comes swelling back in as the water recovers its normal boundaries.

Just another mundane Monday morning?
So, maybe we need to start looking for God in the ordinary places.  A little closer to home, perhaps.

For me, as many of you know, the past few months have been fraught with health challenges.  To re-wind a little and give you the bigger picture:

  • For the past 10 years I have suffered from what I thought (mis-diagnosis it turns out!) from IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome. This was brought on by a horrid bout of food poisoning or Montesuma’s Revenge that I got in Nevis… yes, I can still vividly remember that night and the next day!
  • About 2 or 3 years ago I was diagnosed with Insulin Resistance, which is a common problem which plagues men & women, when they are accidentally starving their bodies from bad eating habits.  In order to ensure your body is getting the right amounts of sugars and not rapidly digested sugars, the doctor’s recommend a whole-wheat diet, with a switch over to whole-wheat pastas, bread, and cereals.  I learnt to eat on schedule, with controlled portion sizes and to avoid highly processed foods.
  • But about 5 weeks ago, after 5 years of trying to get pregnant to no avail (“assisted conception techiques”, 4 artificial inseminations, 2 in vitro), my doctor sent me to test for Coeliac Disease (allergy to gluten).  It turns out that’s exactly what I have.  Good-bye whole-grain pasta/bread/cereals.  Welcome back easy to digest carbohydrates…
  • So, after those positive results, I went in for an endoscopy, and the biopsy came back positive for little monsters: helicobacter pylori.  So, I was sent on a round of 15-days of antibiotics and treatment to kill my internal monsters.  The side-effects of these anti-biotics have drawn on every ounce of my strength to carry on.
  • One of the effects of helicobacter and Coelic Disease is that my iron reserve levels are through the floor and my B12 is almost non-existence. So, to add injury to insult, injections for 10 days.  I’m black and blue…

Even though I feel that I should know better, I couldn’t help but ask – WHERE is God in all of this?  Why am I being put through this?

I have felt totally like Absalom, hanging in a tree by my hair; knocked of my high horse, the one that has always enabled me and given me the strength to “push through” any obstacle along the way.
This time round, I have felt defeated.  I have felt that “I can’t go on”.

But the Spirit speaks to me and says “there’s a lesson to be learned here” – search for it.  And as I started looking, I fell across (as one usually does accidentally) the Hand of God in my health and well-being.  I was looking at the characteristics of vegetables & fruits, to see which ones would boost my immune system and which would rebuild my reserves of iron, B12, Omega 3, etc.

And I tripped over “The Doctrine of Signatures” – the relationship between us and God – how God placed a signature on each plant indicating what it was useful for.  Without realising it, I started reading articles on how the qualities of plants are often reflected by their appearance.
Is this just coincidence?

For example:

  • the seeds of skullcap – they resemble small skulls – and the herb is known to be effective in the treatment of brain and nervous system disorders.
  • The hollow stalk of the garlic – resembles our windpipe – useful for throat and bronchial problems.

There’s a whole area of science dedicated to “Teleological Nutritional Targeting”  – every whole food has a pattern that resembles a body organ or physiological function, and this pattern can indicate to us the benefit the food provides to us.

Here are a few better known examples, and some that may simply astound you:

  • Sliced carrot – resembles the human eye – the pupil, iris and radiating lines… and we all know that if you eat your carrots you’ll be able to see better in the dark!
  • Try some heart food!
  • Tomatos – with their four chambers and blood-red colour. They’re loaded with lycopine – essential for the functioning of the heart and blood.
  • Grapes – the cluster often resembles a heart, with each grape looking like a blood cell
  • Beetroot – excellent for cleansing the blood. A fantastic source of iron, helping you to produce haemoglobin
  • Need some brain stimulation?
    • Walnuts – open them up and there you have it: left and right hemisphere, upper cerebrums and lower cerebellums.  These little nuts will help you develop more than 3 dozen neuro-transmitters for brain function
  • Having kidney problems?
    • Look no further than your kidney beans.
  • Need to strengthen your bones?
    • Bones are 23% sodium – and so are these food items that look a little like bones:
      • Celery
      • Bok choy
      • Rhubarb
  • Having female problems? How about looking for some vegetables that resemble the womb and cervix?
    • Avocado – interesting detail – it takes exactly 9 months to grow an avocado from blossom to ripened fruit!
    • Eggplant
    • Pears
  • Problems with your ovaries?
    • Try olives
  • Need to improve sperm count and mobility?
    • Try figs – they are full of seeds and hang in twos when growing.

You cannot imagine how the list continues…

This isn’t just a formula for healing – it’s a spiritual quest.  The expansion of our spiritual quest will lead us to a complete cure, if only we would listen and open our eyes to see.

If we would return to the study of plants, we would learn that they are so much more than just the nutritional attributes that we focus on.  They are each unique, created for a purpose, as only our Great Creator could have designed.
Coincidence? No.  I don’t think so.  Definitely the Hand of God!

It has been stated that this generation is the first to suffer from “Nature Deprivation Disorder” – a lack of regular, intentional interaction with nature is causing a definable syndrome in children and adults.  Perhaps we overlook the importance of creation in our understanding of God and ourselves.  When we look to nature, God’s handiwork is evident – order, variety, colour and even a sense of humour.

Throughout human history we have seen God’s reflection in nature. The same way that we can feel that we are at one with all creation, the creatures that walk the earth, the plants, and air, the water, and earth itself.  And most importantly, a Oneness with that Spirit which permeates all and binds all together and gives life to all – a Oneness with God.

Mis-quoting Emerson:

The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship. The noblest ministry of nature is to stand as the apparition of God. It is the organ through which the Spirit speaks to the individual, and strives to lead back the individual to his Creator.

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the word of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. … [1]

Job 12, verses 7 to 9 instructs us:

Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?

St. Francis of Assisi is rumoured to have said:

Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.

According to Genesis we were put on this earth to be its stewards – to look after it and care for it.  Nature is not independent of its Creator.  Each day, creation looks to God for provision: they seek their food from God.

Hosea has warned us:

Hear the word of the LORD, … because the LORD has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying.”

How often have we failed in our responsibilities before God? Everything that we say & do affects the balance of the earth – the natural, the human and the supernatural.

The most important part of our example of our relation with the Creator is in our actions.  What we have learnt will be reflected in what we do: how we live our lives, day to day.

Our reading from Ephesians provides us with some solid instructions to show that we have a special relationship with our Creator – that we allow the Spirit to control our lives:

Don’t grieve God – don’t break His heart.  The Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life. Don’t take this gift for granted.

  1. Suddenly you will find, you are walking in the Spirit – and this means no more lies, no more pretences. We are all connected to each other. Tell your neighbour/brother/sister/work-mate the truth –When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.
  2. Watch carefully the way you talk. Let nothing cruel, degrading, hurtful or dirty come out of your mouth.  Instead – say only what helps.  Each word out of your mouth should be a gift; gentle & sensitive
  3. Go ahead and be angry – but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. Don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. You have to let it go.  Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God, in Christ, forgave you.

[1] Psalms 19

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Lectionary Readings:

  1. Acts 10: 34-43
  2. Psalms 118:1-2, 14-24
  3. 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
  4. Mark 16: 1-8

Let’s pray:
Lord of life,
From the beginning of time, You knew the final outcome and watched as the jigsaw pieces were slotted into place.
While Your blood was poured out and on Your head was placed a crown of thorns, even to the darkness of the grave, You saw the triumph that would be won over the power and fear of death.
You walked from the empty tomb, opening wide the gates of life. You defeated death to show us that we can rise from all that binds us to the world: pride, envy, anger, fear and the debt of sin that holds us here.
Lord of life, You defeated death to demonstrate a love that is beyond our understanding.
On this day we pray, Lord of love and Lord of peace, Lord of resurrection – be known through our lives and through Your power. Amen.

How many men in history can claim to have had such a radical effect on the world as that man Jesus of Nazareth?  While many may doubt the historical accuracy of the Bible, it’s impossible to ignore the striking effect of Jesus on those who witnessed his life, his death and his resurrection.

In our day and age, with the internet, television & radio, news travels in a moment.  But 2,000 years ago, there were no mass means of communication.  There was word of mouth, the news was passed on from village to village… And yet, we find in Acts we find Peter in Caesarea, speaking in Cornelius’ household, where he said:

“you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.  He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”[1]

In the first Century after Christ, we find that the Emperor Domitian (in the second great persecution – not the first one under Nero), some 40,000 Christians were martyred. If forty thousand died in just this second phase of persecution, how far had Christianity spread in those first 100 years?  It has been said that there may have been as many as five hundred thousand or a million Christians by the end of the first century.  All of this, by word of mouth.

Try, for a moment, to put yourself in the shoes of those early Christians, living 100 years after Christ. The apostles were all dead.  There was no one living that had been a personal witness to his life and death. There were no history books to refer to, cataloguing the life of Christ as a historical fact.  There was actually no New Testament either.

So, why would they slip out at night, away from their masters and hiding from the Romans, to meet in caves and catacombs and darkened rooms?  What did they expect to happen that was so different, so important, that it would attract them to risk their lives to hear of the gospel?  What kind of church meeting would bring them out at night, against the threat of a government that was trying to kill them?  If today it’s hard to fill a church when it rains, what would it be like if you thought you might be killed for coming on Sundays?

Forget about the paraphernalia, comforts and trappings that we have inherited from nineteen hundred years of church councils, traditions, theologians, translators & interpreters.  Forget the creeds, the prescribed order of worship, the special church language, the hymnal, scholarly commentaries, or anything else that we may use to structure our services.   What was so special about the events of Easter that it was worth dying for?

What is it that we celebrate today?

Today we celebrate the ultimate sacrifice of that man Jesus, who taught us:

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.[2]

His crucifixion was indeed the greatest act of sacrifice, perfectly demonstrating his teaching.  But his death is not where it ends.

We are taught that there is no fear in death, because Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  This celebration is not about Jesus hanging on a cross; we celebrate because we believe he is the Lord of life, that there is life after death, and that there is victory over death.

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians emphasises the importance of the resurrection:

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  … For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.[3]

As followers of Jesus, we are to live in hope – not just a hope for a better world or life in this lifetime, but a hope for all eternity.

But I want to take this day not only to reflect on that ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made, believing until death that his sacrifice would be enough; I want us today to reflect also on the sacrifices of his life.

His daily walk was an example of the Golden Rule: doing unto others as we would have them do for us.  He exhausted himself in giving to others: preaching the Kingdom of Heaven, healing, casting out demons, and comforting those who came to Him for help.

His life has been exalted as the perfect pattern for our lives.

But let’s be honest: sacrifice is not a concept that any of us truly enjoys.  Yet the man we know as Jesus, sacrificed those things that we prize as “good” and “worthy”:

  • Family, with all the joys and comforts that come with it;
  • Ambition, wealth, prestige & popularity
  • Position and other elements of success

How do we embrace being a follower of Jesus more seriously and focus on its core: the life of Christ?  When considering how to live our lives and how best to demonstrate the love of Jesus and that we, are truly his followers, we should ask ourselves daily “What would Jesus do?”

Right now the phrase “What would Jesus do?” is being used by the Occupy Movement.  It has been used by anti-war protestors in the question “Who would Jesus bomb?”, and even gone so far as to be the subject of the “What would Jesus eat?” biblical diet plan.

Many of us may be confused about how to imitate the life of Christ, when He lived in such a different culture, society and age as we live today.  Some may argue that the Bible offers little detail about Jesus’ daily life when he wasn’t preaching or performing miracles; and others will mischievously point out that when he wasn’t doing that, he was hanging out in bars, with prostitutes and tax collectors or trashing the temple.  (Perhaps that’s not quite the answer we’re looking for.)

Jesus’ purpose on this earth was to show us the way to establish a relationship with the Creator God, with the Divine.  To open the way for us to be anointed by the Spirit, to do bigger and greater things.  Jesus didn’t tell us to do what He did, He told us to do even greater things.

In the spirit of asking how we can better follow His example, it may be helpful to ask “What did Jesus do?”?

  1. He was humble and served others – no matter how much power and glory he had or was entitled to, this is the man who washed the feet of his disciples.  Is your life characterised by a servant’s heart?
  2. He glorified God – In all of Jesus’ teachings, he doesn’t speak of Himself, so much as of God and God’s Kingdom.  His purpose on this earth was to re-establish our relationship with the Creator God.
  3. He lived a life of prayer, meditation and constant communion with God.  As if points one and two weren’t hard enough, I truly struggle to take the time to stop everything and just be still.  Many of you know me as “the Prayer Lady” – but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier.  I’m not talking about those prayers were you have a list of petitions that you put before God, those ones where we try to convince God that we want Him to uphold our agenda, and bless our ambitions (I’m quite good at those ones! They fit into my way of working and thinking).  I’m talking about that prayer and meditation where you have a private two-way conversation with the Spirit.  That time where you stop everything else and get quiet, open your heart and mind, elevate your spirit, care for another and become one with the Universe, reaching out for God, where you bow Yourself humbly before the supernatural and inquire of the Creator, stop thinking, analysing and planning and just listen; and then make sure that you test the spirit & nature of anything that pops into your mind.
  4. And lastly, Jesus lived a life of sacrifice – He gave of his time to others, He gave of his energy to others, He laid his hands on the sick and worked till He was exhausted.  And his final sacrifice completely changed the world’s religions in a way none of us could ever have imagined.

For me, the following phrase sums up the life and example of Jesus “Not my will but Thine be done”.[4]

It’s that life that relinquishes and unclasps our grubby little fingers that are tightly grasping our possessions, money, hopes & expectations, and then demanding that God uphold our plans.  It’s understanding that our wants don’t come first, and understanding that it’s the Divine Way, not “my way”.

Today, we remember Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  We give thanks to God for his gentle mercy and untiring love.  We give thanks to Jesus for His ultimate sacrifice and for his pattern of how to live our lives: saying “yes” to the Divine, and “no” to our own selfishness.  We learn today the meaning of sacrifice and surrender.  We learn today that we are given enough grace to do what our Creator has planned for us to do – whether that be serving a meal to a homeless person, buying uniforms for needy children, taking a meal over to widows and those without families to support them, or contributing to our society in any other way.

The pattern of the Christian life we are to follow, demonstrated by Jesus, provides us with unadulterated peace in our relationship with the Creator God. It’s one in which we may have to learn obedience through suffering, and submit to the will of the Divine.  Heaven is waiting for those who have gone through Gethsemane, who have finally handed over the reins of their lives, and let go.  No longer stubbornly refusing to submit, hoisting clenched fists defiantly in the air… but humbly saying to the Spirit: “not my will, but Thine be done.”

That will be the moment in which we begin to do greater things than even Jesus did, as we were put on this earth to do by our Creator.

Let us pray:

Grant us the strength, Lord God, of body and of spirit, to offer you the sacrifice of our lives.
So often we find ourselves apologising to you for our abbreviated prayer life; and yet you draw us into your presence, as you did the disciples at Gethsemane.  You ask us to share in your life and to play our part.   You ask us to watch and pray, so that we might not fall into temptation.  And yet, so often in prayer our thoughts are distracted by sounds or circumstances, or diverted by trivial concerns.  We carry our baggage with us, rather than leaving it at your feet.
Come Holy Spirit: dispel the darkness from our minds and open our eyes.  Revive our drooping faith, our doubts and fears.  Kindle in our hearts the flame of everlasting love.
Grant us each the strength to be still and know that you are God.   Speak to us through the grass of the meadows, through the trees of the forest, through the valleys and the hills.   Speak to us through the rain, thunder and lightning, through the waves of the sea, through the dew of the morning and the peace of the evening.
God of gods, in Thy mercy, in Thy love, be with us now.  We know and we speak of Your love and ask that you help us to put away, for this hour, the cares of this life; so that we may know in truth your presence.
Let us each find that place of the inner vision and through Your Spirit let us hear the wondrous secret.  Through Your mystic insight, cause a spring of knowledge to well up inside us, a fountain of power, pouring forth living waters, a flood of love and of all-embracing wisdom, like the splendour of your eternal Light.
Creator, open our hearts to peace and healing between all people; open our hearts to provide and protect the children of this earth; open our hearts to respect for the earth of which we are guardians and the gifts that it grants; open our hearts to do greater things than those done by Jesus in his brief 33 years on this earth.
God who sees all things, in our consciousness, let us find happiness in the love of Thee.  Fill us with love towards our fellowman. Make us worthy to serve our fellow men throughout the world, especially those who live and die in poverty & huger.  Let our life, our words, our deeds, bring the joy and happiness of Jesus to each person that we meet, day by day.  Give to our fellow man, through our hands, this day their daily bread and by our understanding, give them love, peace & joy.

[1] Acts 10: 37-38
[2] John 15: 13
[3] 1 Corinthians 15: 13-19
[4] Luke 22:42