Is God present when disaster strikes? If not, why not? If so, how and where?
Periodically the news carries a story about someone finding evidence of Jesus in a very ordinary place. One man saw the face of Christ in his cheese toast; another discerned Jesus in a splatter of grape juice on the wall. Recently, fabric conditioner on a t-shirt has prompted lively discussion. Is it Jesus or a juggler? Read the story and think the questions below.
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
Anthony De Mello, a Jesuit priest and psychotherapist, told a story about a monastery in decline whose leader sought help from a Christian hermit. The hermit told him the decline was due to the sin of ignorance—the messiah was among the brothers and they were not aware of this. The leader went home astonished—and wondered who it might be. He shared the news with the other brothers and each began wondering who it was. Mentally each begin ruling out those with obvious faults, the crabby cook, the surly gardener, and so on but after ruling out everyone they realized the messiah would be in disguise and begin treating each other as if each were the messiah. You can guess what happened. Soon the monastery flourished as others were drawn to the joy and happiness of the place.
Our gospel lesson is set in the dark days before Jesus arrest and crucifixion. Jesus has just told them that one among them will betray him and rather than being appalled, each wonders if they are the one. It is a time of doubt, not certainty. Phillip speaks not only for the disciples but for us, when he says, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” A popular hymn, “Open Our Eyes Lord” asks for much the same thing.
It would be cruel and insensitive to tell someone who is discouraged, in deep pain or grief to cheer up because God is with them. Yet, looking back at the dark places in our own lives we can sometimes see where God was present, often through the kindness of others.
This year during spring break Lutheran campus pastor’s all over the country, took students on trips to stand alongside people in poverty, marginalized or pushed aside. Students from South Dakota State University, where I serve, visited men in Tijuana, Mexico who had been recently deported from our country and heard their stories, played with children at an orphanage in Tecate, Mexico, visited people living atop and alongside the Tijuana dump, and fed the hungry in downtown San Diego, California. Each evening when we gathered to discuss the day we began with “Junk, Joy, Jesus.” It was a cutesy way of saying highs, lows and where it was we saw Jesus that day. Like the monks in Anthony De Mello’s story, it gave us a new perspective. Some students continue the practice as they say their prayers each evening.
Sit in silence for a few minutes and share “Junk, Joy, Jesus” with your group or a friend.
God, so many who claim to follow you spew out anger, violence and hatred, It’s hard to trust in you when those who claim to know you best are mean and judgmental. We share the disciples yearning to see you more clearly. Your challenge to love others touches our hearts and we want to do this even though we find it difficult to love our families, let alone those who wish us ill or hurt us deeply. Use us, as you used the disciples, in spite of their wavering faith and their fear of the future. Help us to let go of our doubt and rest in your promises. Amen.