Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Presence and Absence of God

Just the other day I read a statement that caught my eye, probably because it was so germane to what I am doing these days as a part-time minister of visitation. Clearly my calling attention to the presence of God in whatever circumstance I find people is key to their comfort. But what can I offer when, to them, God seems absent?

"God's absence," writes Christain Wiman in the February 24 issue of The Christian Century, "is always a call to his presence." Referencing Simone Weil, she says, "her genius is to give form to the feeling of lack that leads a believer to cry out that this world, however much it is loved, is not enough." In other words, the very sense of God's absence so often felt in times of illness and/or tragedy is a recognition of our need for his presence. Inevitably there come times in all our lives when hungers arise in us for time beyond our time, eternal things that remain when the ground underneath our earthly life is shaking beneath and around us.

From somewhere else, in a place I cannot remember, came a piece of advice that might well prove useful in such situations. "Don't seek comfort first; seek the Comforter." If, in fact, comfort is all we seek, we may well miss the Comforter. But in seeking him first, his face and his presence, the comfort we most need will surely be granted.

Winan applies the advice in a broader context, calling on all of us to get out of our heads, as if faith were simply understanding things, and out into life to engage the needs of others. "Do not pray to be at peace in your belief," she writes. "Pray that your anxieties be given peaceful outlets, that you may be the means to a peace which you yourself do not feel."

Yes! That's exactly how I am experiencing God's presence in my own life these days. By seeking to be a means of peace in the lives of others, God is giving me a peace I would not otherwise have, deep peace in the heart of my being.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Day of Celebration

Yesterday at Salem we honored my brother Glen Wiberg in all three services, praying for him and dedicating his new book on Housing the Sacred: What I Have Learned and Still Am Learning about Preaching. It was a day full of joy and celebration, as God himself drew near in his house to honor one of his choice servants, and multiply his legacy as a passionate and disiplined servant of the Word.

As always when God draws near, the celebration magnified memories of all kinds of people, lay and clergy, that God has used to awaken faith in us and sustain our deep love for his house. The many we were at Salem were few compared to the multitude we became as God moved in through biblical history and our own to bless. A prayer for the day follows:

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!“ With the psalmist, “Our souls long, yea, even faint, for the courts of the Lord. Our hearts and our flesh sing for joy to the living God.

“Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young at your altars, O Lord of hosts, our King and our God. Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.

“Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are all the highways to Zion…

“A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. We would rather be doorkeepers in the house of our God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness…

“O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you” (Psalm 84).

How is it, Lord, that we have thus come over years to trust in you and love your house? Today we celebrate all those who have paved the way for us, and pave it still. Parents, Sunday School teachers, deacons, choir masters, organists and pianists, youth leaders, office and kitchen workers—and pastors, shepherds under the Good Shepherd, filled with your Spirit, passionate about proclaiming your Word, and humble in serving us all at table and font.

Today we thank you especially for Glen Vernon Wiberg, whose whole life has been, in one way or another, about Housing the Sacred. We thank you for the range of his mind, his dedication to the framing of life with worship, and the discipline he has shown over nearly six decades in proclaiming thoughtfully and carefully the good news of your word. We thank you, too, Lord, for his devotion to the sacramental nature of all life, inside and outside the church.

May now your blessing rest on him and this latest of his gifts to us, capturing what he has learned over years and still is learning about preaching—about what it means to both feed and tend your flock. Open our hearts and minds to the bountiful table he has set before us, that feasting with him on what it means to house the sacred we may ourselves become more and more the temples you created us to be, fit for your dwelling.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Fresh Green in a Clay Pot

The clay pot, a Christmas gift from our son Peter and his wife Bonnie, sits in our dining room as a living reminder of both home and heritage--of our address in life, our current home, and our family name, an inheritance we share with all the saints in light.

At first, standing alone, it was merely a clay pot, one more reminder that all of us are temporary, nothing but the dust from which clay is made. But used to host a small green tree now thriving within it, and graced by the sun streaming in through our dining room window, it has taken on a life of its own--symbolizing both the roots from which we have come and the wings those roots are meant to supply.

As Christians it is good to heed the Apostle Paul's reminder that "we are no better than pots of earthenware to contain this treasure" (2 Corinthians 4:7), referring of course to the freshness of new life in Christ. Whatever is green in us and growing, nurtured by his Spirit and light, lends meaning to everything else that is only temporary. The key to living is simply to host in the clay pots we are the fresh new life he offers within, fed by the same sunlight he once shed on our forebears, that we, like them, may "declare the wonderful deeds of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9b).