God--An Unpredictable Force
Sometimes God just bangs me over the head to get my attention and remind me of what God is really like. This happened yesterday as I began preparing Sunday’s sermon.
I often begin the construction of a sermon while driving in the car. (Don’t worry I have never been pulled over by a police officer because I wasn’t paying attention. However, I have had people give me funny looks. Who is that old guy talking to himself!) As someone who doesn’t preach from a manuscript, after pondering the biblical text for the sermon, I often begin the sermon process by trying things out while driving. Yesterday I had a thirty-minute drive to visit someone in the hospital so I had a good chunk of time to try out a few ideas. The text for this coming Sunday is Acts 5: 12—42, one episode of which has the Angel of the Lord suddenly opening the prison doors and liberating the incarcerated apostles. I began to focus my sermon on the way the Bible keeps reminding us that our God is an active agent in this world. God liberates slaves from Egypt, God raises up prophets whether they like it or not, God raises Jesus from the dead, and God opens prison doors. The God of the Bible is not a passive presence or cuddly grandparent, but an unpredictable force that acts in human lives, often when we least expect it.
By the time I arrived at the hospital, I felt I had made some headway on this sermon about a God who transforms situations. I then went and visited a woman who is struggling with serious illness. Her husband had spent the night and was in the room when I arrived. He said that for several days she hadn’t said anything and had become increasingly less responsive. Her eyes were open when I spoke with her, but it wasn’t clear if she really knew who I was. After some time with her, I offered a prayer. In such situations, what do you pray for? Peace, total healing, new life? I was aware of my reluctance to ask for too much. The husband wants healing, but does that create unrealistic expectations? I decided to pray for it all: peace that passes understanding, “drive far from her all that keeps her from living fully and abundantly,” and healing.
When I left, I was grateful for the time with her and her husband and promised to stay in touch in the days to come. When I returned to St. Timothy’s, I put on my vestments for the Wednesday morning service and sat down in the sanctuary for some quiet fifteen minutes before the service. Then my phone rang. If there had only been a few minutes before the start of the service, I would have ignored it. In this case, I answered. It was the husband of the woman in the hospital. “Roger, this is Bill. Guess what happened. I went back in Maggie’s room and the doctor was there. The doctor said, ‘What happened?’ Maggie was talking for the first time in days and very much alert. Roger, your prayer worked.”
What happened? Maybe the active life-changing God I had been preaching about in the car is real. Maybe the God of the Bible really is an unpredictable agent of change that can even work through the prayers of a priest who is reluctant to ask for too much. Maybe the reason we read the Bible is to be reminded of who God really is.