What the Desert Teaches

What distinguishes the Christian exercise of silence in prayer is the “naked intent” of the person who, while empty of thoughts, nonetheless reaches blindly for the God who cannot be seen or even named. What keeps contemplative prayer from being privatized, disembodied, and free-floating is its anchorage in the repetition of the psalms, lectio divina, the sacramentality of the Mass, and the stabilizing influence of community.

What the desert teaches is a radical letting-go of the thinking-experiencing-managing self, so as to be content with God alone, a God without adjectives, without comforting signs of presence, so that at last one learns truly to delight in nothing. This nothing may be disclosed by the Christian habitus as “Something,” as the Holy Trinity hidden in light inaccessible from every effort to grasp its mystery. But the naming of the mystery is no longer an anxious concern to those who’ve been to the desert. Naming implies a control the wilderness no longer allows.

From Belden C. Lane, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes. This is the only work of theology that has made any sense to me in the last year or so. He spoke to my condition.

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Sermon on Psalm 90

The Safe Place

I am thinking today about the impermanence of things.

My wife and I used to shop at the Pharm, a drug store downtown. They stocked lots of groceries too; it was handy. But the Pharm closed. We used to shop at Country Market on South Main St. But it closed too.

Years back I read Charles Lindquist’s book on the history of Adrian. Time and again he’d mention something in Adrian at a certain place and time, and I’d imagine the location, and it wasn’t there anymore. Even in a stable community like Adrian, there is an impermanence to things. New things spring up, but old things you depend on disappear.

People are impermanent too. Tuesday night we had our annual church conference. Every church has an annual meeting, and one thing you do typically is work on the membership rolls. New members go on the rolls, and former members are removed. On Tuesday we removed the names of 18 people who died in the last year. They were people you knew and loved, people who once sat in this sanctuary with us. Their absence now is a sad reminder of the impermanence of things.

Do you know the difference between a match and the sun in the sky? Apart from size, the main difference between a match and the sun is the amount of time it takes for them to go out. A match goes out in a few seconds; the sun takes longer, but it will eventually go out too. They both have a finite amount of fuel to burn.

There is an impermanence built deeply into all things. I struggle with it. Perhaps you do to. Turn with me now to the scriptures, to Psalm 90, and let’s see what it has to say to our theme of impermanence.


There are two schools of thought on the origin of Psalm 90. One school says it was written by Moses; the other says it was attributed to Moses, but written after the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. I opt for the latter approach, seeing Psalm 90 as a liturgical response to the crisis of exile and all the heartbreak and loss that entailed.

Psalm 90 today is often read at funerals. I’ve read it aloud by many graves. After the heartache of loss, which plunges people into their own exile, there is beauty and comfort in its words:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were born,
before you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.

For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past
or like a watch in the night.

A watch in the night was three hours long. For God, a thousand years or three hours — it makes no difference. There is a rich contrast in this psalm between our life and God’s life, our time and God’s time (which is eternity), our impermanence and God’s permanence, that is, God’s undying, unending life. In times of loss, dwelling on God’s permanence is a comfort to the heart.

My favorite line is verse 12: “So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” When we number our days, when we realize that our days have a finite number, we begin to be wise and we cherish each day as the precious gift that it is.

In numbering your days, there is an app for that! (There’s an app for everything now.) It’s here on my phone. I put in the date of my birth and today’s date, and it tells me the number of my days now is 18,808. I don’t know what the final number will be, but it will be finite. Knowing this helps me cherish each one as a gift.


Now I must address a challenge in this psalm. There is hard language here about God’s wrath toward us. You see it especially in verses 7, 9, and 11. What do we do with this? This is difficult for me, and I do not know how to reconcile it with a belief in God’s goodness and loving presence with us.

There was a common belief in Bible times that if bad things happened it mean God was angry and was punishing us. So when Jerusalem was destroyed, the prophets said it meant God was angry with the people and was punishing them for their sins. Even today, you hear people who have gone through hard times say, “God must be mad at me.”

I do not subscribe to this belief, that in wrath God punishes us for our sins. (God may well be angry at injustice in the world, as we are, but that is another issue.) So when I come across language about God’s wrath, about God afflicting us for our sins, as this psalm says, I must simply bracket that language and set it aside. I don’t know what to do with it.

It’s like the ugly sweater in the closet. You have one, don’t you? Uncle Herman gave it to you for your birthday, so you can’t get rid of it; but you can’t wear it either because it’s so ugly. You put the ugly sweater in your closet and wear other things. There are verses and places in the Bible like this — you can set them aside and choose to wear something else.

In Psalm 90 I choose to focus on positive things, things that lift my spirit and encourage my heart. I chose to focus on God’s permanence, God’s undying life, which is the antidote to my impermanence and the impermanence of things around me. I choose to focus on God’s steadfast love, which is new for us each morning (verse 14). I choose to focus on the work God gives us to do in life (v. 17).

But mostly, I focus on this beautiful idea of God as our “dwelling place” at the beginning of Psalm 90. We live in God, and God lives in us — these are two sides of the same reality. There is within an abiding connection with the living, undying, permanent God who made all things. When I am beset by heartbreak, loss, and exile, my comfort and security lie in knowing God and being known by God, loving God and being loved by God. This is how Psalm 90 encourages my heart.


We have a black and white dog named Jazz. She is a Hurricane Katrina rescue dog. (It’s a long story how we ended up with her.) We will come home and find the remnants of something in the living room. Jazz has eaten something she shouldn’t have. Oh, like a pound of butter! Or something else we accidently left out. So we’ll call her in and say, “Did you do this?” She won’t make eye contact with us, and at her earliest chance she’ll trot down the hall to a back room with her kennel in it. Her kennel has a blanket flap covering the front and lots of cushioning inside. Jazz loves her kennel. And when she’s in trouble, that’s where she goes till the wrath of the human passes. The kennel is her safe place.

We all have safe places in life, places we feel secure. Psalm 90 teaches us to see God as our safe place. When all else fails in our impermanent life, God will not fail. And the very impermanence of things teaches us to place our trust in God as our only true and lasting safe place.

Now someone here today may be thinking, “That’s all fine, preacher, if I believed in God. I used to, but I don’t believe in God anymore. So do you have anything for me, preacher?” I imagine there is at least one person in this room who is thinking this, and my thoughts now are directed to you. I have two words for you: Pascal’s Wager.

Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician 350 years ago. He invented the first computer. He was a brilliant man, with a strong interest in faith, religion, and spirituality. He said belief in God is like a wager. If you believe in God, or if you believe there is no God, you don’t know for certain whether you are right nor not. Either belief has risk to it. Either way you are making a kind of wager. It is in your best interest, Pascal said, to wager that God exists, to believe in God, for you have everything to gain from that belief and nothing to lose if you are wrong. If you get to the next life and discover there is no God and no next life — only oblivion — then you don’t lose anything because there will be no ‘you’ left to lose out. Meanwhile, in this life you have gained all the benefits a belief in God will bring, such as emotional comfort and the support of a faith community. So even if you are wrong, you still win.

Turn things around now. Say you wager that God does not exist. There is so much suffering in the world, you say, how could there be a loving God? You choose to believe in no-God. That’s your wager. But you have nothing to gain from this belief, and you have potentially a lot to lose if you are wrong. This belief brings you no benefits in this life. You are all alone in the universe. Then you get to the next life and discover — surprise! — there is a God after all, and you have made no effort even to begin a relationship with this God. You end up losing if your belief is wrong. It is better for you to wager that God is and to live now as if God is.


What I am asking you to do today is to walk the path of faith. I am less inclined now to see faith as a tidy set of beliefs I can check off one by one. I am more apt to see faith as a path through the woods. To walk the path is to walk by faith. I cannot see far ahead on the path. I do not know what is around the next bend. I cannot transcend the path but only walk it. So I walk the path of faith, mile by mile, day by day. I trust the path, I trust the one who showed me the path, I trust the path leads somewhere good and full of blessing.

Walk the path of faith today. If you haven’t walked by faith in a while, put on your shoes and get back on the path. You will be surprised, you will be astonished, at where it takes you.

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Sermon On the Philippian Jailer

When You Are Lost (Acts 16:25-34)

He thought this was going to be another night at the office. He was an ex-Roman soldier, working now as the head jailer in the Greek city of Philippi. His job was simply to keep prisoners safely locked away. For a setting, imagine stone walls, dirt floors, and a damp musty smell. This was where he worked each day.

He received two new prisoners, named Paul and Silas. Some kind of disturbance in the marketplace. Apparently they were preaching about foreign gods. He put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the wooden stocks. Then he went back to his desk to finish a bit of paperwork.

Later one he heard them singing. That was strange. Prisoners would either curse or moan. But these two men were singing songs of praise to their god. The jailer had never heard that before. He finished his work, blew out the lamp, and stretched out on his little bed to sleep.

Around midnight, his bed started shaking, and then he woke up on the floor. Was it an earthquake? Or had he simply dreamed it all? He wasn’t sure. Then he looked toward the cells and saw all the doors to the prison had opened. Something had happened. He didn’t know what.

All he knew was that his life and career were over. Open doors meant the prisoners had escaped, and escaped prisoners meant that he would be executed. The best thing he could do was take his own life. He took out his long sword, sharp point up, handle down resting on the ground. He leaned over and put the point of the sword over his heart. All he had to do was let his own body weight finish the task. All was lost. He was lost.
What do you do when you feel lost? Do you give in to despair, as this jailer does? Despair is one option when we feel lost. But there are other possibilities too.


I love donuts. Especially Morning Fresh Donuts. They are the best. I usually get just one. But lots of people come in and get donuts by the dozen. They go in a box like this one.

I have noticed there are two ways people get donuts by the dozen. Some people pick a couple favorite kinds, and then they simply say “assorted” for the rest, leaving the worker behind the glass to finish filling the box. This is simple and takes the least amount of time.

But others insist on picking out every single donut that goes into the box. “I’d like one twist, one lemon filled, one chocolate glazed… not that one, the one next to it. How many more do I have now?” This way takes longer, and if the workers are short handed, everyone must wait.

Some people approach life in the same way. They assume everything that goes into their box must be something they chose personally. But life doesn’t work that way. In life we get to choose a few items in the box, but then there is an assortment of things we didn’t choose, some good and some bad.

The bad thing will happen. It will end up in the box. We’ll be tempted to feel lost. How we respond then makes all the difference.

I enjoy reading The Upper Room devotional. In one of the readings for August, Michelle Knight, from Indiana, spoke of an ongoing struggle with cancer in one of her family members, who is facing it a third time. Michelle writes, “In spite of the suffering and the pain, our family has witnessed firsthand God’s power and faithfulness. So with renewed hope, I find myself asking, ‘What will we discover about God this time?’”

This is the other option when you feel lost. It can be an opportunity for despair, as it was for the jailer. Or an opportunity for discovery. A chance to discover new things about God and about yourself.


Just as the jailer in Philippi was about to fall on his sword, he heard a voice calling out. “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here.” It was the voice of Paul, who’d been singing songs of praise earlier. The prisoners hadn’t tried to escape after all. Which was as much of a miracle as the earthquake.

So the jailer calls for lights (highly symbolic detail). Then he asks Paul, “How can I have what you have?” He realizes he is at a turning point in his life. So Paul shares the gospel with him.

At the heart of the gospel is a simple idea. We who are far from God can come near to God through Christ. We who are alienated from God can become friends of God through Christ.

Paul shared with the jailer this glorious news that we can enjoy a daily friendship with God who made all things. This news astonishes the jailer, fills him with joy, and changes his life. He’s moved from despair to discovery.


This past summer I read Walden by Thoreau. I hadn’t read it for twenty years. It’s his account of living for two years in a little cabin on the shore of Walden Pond in Massachusetts.

Sometimes Thoreau would visit friends in town, and he wouldn’t come back to his cabin till after dark. He had no lantern to light his way. He would feel his way along through the woods. His foot feeling for the path, his hands feeling for the trees, his eyes looking up at the stars to guide his steps. At times he’d get lost for an hour or two in the night.

But he found that those lost times were also times of discovery. He’d discover the world around him in a new way. He wrote about this in the words on the front of your bulletin: “Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.”

If you are feeling lost today, feeling your way along in the dark. Don’t despair. Discover. You will learn where you are and who you are. Just as Thoreau did and as the Philippian jailer did. You will also develop a friendship with God that you never dreamed possible. And with God as your friend, amazing things can happen.

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Sermon on Faith

Today is the first of a three part sermon series on faith, hope and love. In the next two Sundays, Pastor Drew will talk about hope and love. Today, the topic is faith, what faith is and what it looks like. For a scripture, I have chosen the story of Gideon in the Book of Judges. I love the characters in the Old Testament. They are earthy and real, full of strengths and flaws, as we all are. Gideon’s story tells us about faith.

Gideon lived in a scary time in Israel’s history. They were being oppressed by the Midianites, who were terrorizing them and burning the crops. The Israelites had to hide away in caves to survive. Gideon is hiding in a wine press when an angel appears to him. The angel says, “You are a mighty warrior. God wants you to deliver Israel from the hand of Midian.” Gideon laughs in response. He doesn’t see himself as a mighty warrior. If there ever was a reluctant leader, it was him.

He proposes a test to see if the angel is for real. He puts a blanket on the ground. If the blanket is wet with dew in the morning, but the ground is dry, then he will know the angel is telling the truth. Sure enough, that’s what happens. But Gideon is still unsure, so he reverses the test: make the ground wet with dew, and the blanket dry in the morning. The angel sighs and agrees. And so it is in the next morning. Gideon knows it’s truly an angel speaking to him. He gathers an army together, and they go out to fight the Midianites. In our scripture today, the battle is about to begin.


Let’s stop for a minute and talk about battles. We see battles play out in the news. Battles in Iraq. Battles in Missouri. Even battles in the mind of a depressed person who takes his own life. The world is full of battles.

And our lives are full of battles. There’s an old saying, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” The woman who rings up your groceries at the store is fighting a great battle. The man who changes the oil on your car is fighting a great battle. Many of you here today are fighting battles too. Some battles are with people in our lives, a friend or family member who is driving us crazy. Some battles are with things in our lives, a leaky roof or a budget that doesn’t cover all expenses. Some battles are with our own body – usually our body is our oldest friend, but sometimes it becomes our enemy. We may not be facing the same kind of battle that Gideon faced, but we face our own battles. We know the fear and the struggle that a battle brings.


Even though Gideon is afraid, he is comforted by his large army of 32,000 men. There is strength in numbers, he thinks. But then God tells him his army is too large. He is to send anyone home who wants to leave. Two-thirds of his army goes home. But he still has 10,000. And that is still too many for God. So God devises a test. (Earlier Gideon tested God; now God tests Gideon!) God has him take all his soldiers down to the river to drink. Most reach down and cup the water with their hands, but a few hundred kneel all the way down and lap the water like a dog. This small group of lappers, only 300, are the ones God wants to fight Midian. The rest are sent home. God has reduced the size of Gideon’s army by 99 percent. Not so much strength in numbers anymore! The Midianites number many thousands.

Why did God do this? In a word, God wanted Gideon to have faith. God wanted Gideon to learn to trust, to trust in God’s resources rather than his own numbers. God is teaching Gideon about faith.

John Wesley said that faith is a disposition of the heart. An orientation of the heart, an attitude of the heart. A heart with faith is a heart that looks to God and God’s resources first because whatever resources we have or think we have can evaporate in a moment. Faith always looks to God first. God comes through for Gideon; he will defeat the Midianites in a dramatic nighttime encounter. God promises to come through for us as well in the battles we face.


There is a great scene in the third Indiana Jones movie, the one where they are searching for the Holy Grail. Jones has come through a narrow passage, and he stands at the edge of a great chasm. There is no way he can get across. But he must get across to find the Grail. He checks his book to see if he is in the right place. He is. He can’t go back; he must go forward. So he takes a deep breath and steps out in faith. The picture for an instant shows his foot, hanging out in the air over nothing. Then he steps down on something solid. A bridge. An invisible bridge right in front of him. He couldn’t see it because the pattern of rock on it blended in with the far wall of the cavern. He walks across the bridge and finds the Grail.

I have shifted the metaphor from a battle to a bridge, but the idea is the same. Some of you today are facing a great chasm in your life, and you have no idea how to get across. But there is an invisible bridge before you. It is the very love of God, and it will carry you across. It is a bridge visible only to the eyes of faith. There is a scripture in Romans 8 that I love, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

When we face a battle in life, faith tells us God is our best ally who will be our strength in the struggle. And when we face a chasm in life, faith tells us God’s love is an invisible bridge that will carry us safely across.

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Shorter Morning and Evening Prayers

It’s been a while since I have posted from the Prayer Book for Earnest Christians, an Anabaptist resource I use on most days, coupled with the Psalms and Bible readings from the daily lectionary. Here are shorter morning and evening prayers.

Merciful, good God and Father, once again you have allowed the rising sun to shine upon good and evil. May praise and thanksgiving be declared to you, O good God, for your tender grace and for the protection and blessing I have enjoyed this past night. Let me enjoy your blessing this day as well.

Illumine my heart with your light of grace, so I may examine my faults and mistakes and recognize them. Shelter me today under the protection of your grace. Fill my heart with your divine love, with true humility and modesty. Strengthen me in faith, and let me grow and improve in all goodness from day to day.

Place my frailty and mortality squarely before my eyes, so I may constantly be on guard. Set your Holy Spirit to watch over my heart, senses, and thoughts, that if this should be my last day in this woeful world, I may be alert and attain peace of soul.

Thus into your hands I commit myself, body and soul and all that I have. It is no longer mine; it is totally yours. In times of distress and need, grant me patience. During times of testing and temptation, grant me strength and vigor. During prosperous days filled with well-being, grant me a thankful heart. And protect me from all evil, here on earth and there in eternity, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Praise and thanksgiving to you, almighty God and Father, for your protection and blessing, and for all the good which I have enjoyed this past day. I would gladly enter the inner sanctum of my heart to worship you in spirit and in truth. But it is still so full of impurity, for today I have been burdened with many scattered thoughts. Also, in my actions and life, I have not responded in the best way, for I am full of defects and mistakes; I am poor and miserable.

Although I am only dust and ashes, I still have dared to call upon your holy name. I pray and woefully implore you, O my God, forgive me all my transgressions and mistakes with which I have offended you. Cleanse my heart of all fleshly and worldly desires. Fill me with your Holy Spirit. Illumine me with your light of grace. Thus may I come to know how my hidden mistakes look in the light of grace.

Truly soften my heart, making it the bearer of remorse and sorrow. Through your grace bring about true regret and repentance in my soul. Give me the true, living, and saving faith. Kindle the fire of your divine love in my soul, and let it glow and burn until my selfishness is completely consumed.

I also pray for all people, for all the poor and unknown sinners, for all my enemies and opponents, for all the sick, and for all the widows and the forsaken. You know the needs of each one, and may you aid each one who needs your help.

Now I lay my body down into the arms of your grace and mercy and commit myself, body and soul, into your hands. Protect me with your holy angels. Bless and shield me from all evil, whether I am asleep or awake. Teach me to reflect upon my nothingness, my dying, and my death. Finally receive my immortal soul into eternal joy and rest. This I pray, O almighty God and Father, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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All That We Do

All that we do
we do in your sight, O Christ,
but we cannot
see the light of heaven for we
walk in the dark.
Hear our prayers for help as
we live our life in
the flesh. Hear and answer.

Today’s Lectionary Readings:
Psalm 65; 147:1-11; 125; 91
Judges 3:12-30
Acts 1:1-14
Matthew 27:45-54

Selected Verses:
O you who answer prayer!
To you all flesh shall come. (Psalm 65:2 NRSV)

The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD strengthened King Eglon of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the LORD. (Judges 3:12)

They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. (Mt 27:45)

(This approach to the readings comes from here.)

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Be Open to Being Surprised By What Is Possible

Scientists in Colorado are studying the amount of light in the universe, and they have discovered a curious thing. There is far more light in the universe than they can account for, from the sources of light they know of. One of the scientists said, “The universe is like a brightly lit room, but you only see one 40-watt bulb. You wonder where all the light is coming from.” Then he said, “The way we understand light may be fundamentally wrong. The universe is exciting, scary, and mostly mysterious.”

I love this honest, humble admission of how limited our knowledge is. And it reminds me of what I call the ‘Thimble Principle.’ What I know fits into a thimble, and what I don’t know fills the rest of space. It’s always good to keep the Thimble Principle in mind and remember that what we don’t know if far more than what we do know, and even what we do know may be ‘fundamentally wrong.’


Let’s turn to today’s Bible reading (Genesis 42:29-38). Jacob was the grandson of Abraham and Sarah, the father and mother of the Jewish people. Jacob lived in the land of Israel with his family. A famine came upon the land, and Jacob had to send his sons down to Egypt to buy grain. He sent all of them except his youngest son, Benjamin. Benjamin was the only remaining son of Jacob’s wife Rachel. (He had 12 sons by several mothers; his was the original blended family.) Rachel is gone by now in the story, and her older son Joseph is also gone. All Jacob has left to remember Rachel is Benjamin, so he wants to keep him safe at home, and he sends his other sons down to Egypt to buy grain.

They meet with the head Egyptian official in charge of grain distribution. He is unexpectedly harsh with them, asking them many questions about their home and who is left back in Israel. He accuses them of being spies. He takes one of them hostage, Simeon, and he sends the rest back to their father Jacob, along with grain for food, but he tells them they can only return to Egypt to get more grain (and recover Simeon!) if they bring their youngest brother Benjamin with them. They return to their father Jacob distraught. Jacob himself has a meltdown. He doesn’t want to put Benjamin in harm’s way. Rachel has died, and Joseph, Benjamin’s older brother, is gone too. He doesn’t know what to do.

But what Jacob doesn’t know, and what his other sons also do not know, is that the Egyptian official they have spoken to, the man who was harsh to them and demanded that Benjamin come down to Egypt too — this man IS Benjamin’s older brother and Jacob’s lost son Joseph. You see, about 20 years earlier, Joseph’s brothers played a terrible trick on their father. They faked Joseph’s death because they hated him, and they sold him into slavery to a group of traders headed to Egypt. All these years that Jacob believed his son Joseph was dead, Joseph has been alive and having his own adventure in Egypt. Joseph is playing a trick on his brothers now by pretending not to know them, just as they played a trick on their father many years earlier.

Jacob is about to have a surprise that will blow his life wide open. The impossible is about to be possible for him. He will allow Benjamin to go down to Egypt with his other sons, and Joseph, on seeing his younger brother, will reveal himself to his other half-brothers, who had not recognized him before. (He spoke and dressed as an Egyptian.) Then Joseph will invite Jacob and the whole family to come down to Egypt and live as long as the famine continues in Israel. There will be a great family reunion.

But my point is this: this belief that Jacob had for 20 years that his son Joseph was dead, this belief was fundamentally wrong. That Joseph was actually alive was not in Jacob’s tiny thimble of knowledge. And when he discovered that Joseph was alive, he was astonished with the surprise of his life.


Be open yourself to being surprised. Surprised by life. Surprised by God. Surprised by what is possible. Remember that what you know is tiny compared to what you don’t know. When you own your own ignorance, then this opens you up to being surprised. The ones who are never surprised are the ones who cling tenaciously to their thimble of knowledge.

There is a scene in the movie Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence must cross an awful, deadly desert. No one ever crosses it because no one comes out alive. But Lawrence takes his men across the desert, and they survive. Just as they are coming out of the desert, as the oasis is in sight, Lawrence notices that one of their camels is without a rider. The rider has fallen off and is back in the terrible desert. Lawrence determines to go back and rescue him. Everyone in the company objects. Lawrence’s friend Ali says, “It must have been that man’s time to die. It is written.” But Lawrence takes his camel back into the desert to rescue the lost man, while the rest of his company continues forward to the oasis and safety. Waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting. Finally, cue the dramatic music, and Lawrence comes out of the terrible desert a second time, holding the rescued man with him on his camel. He comes to the oasis and takes a drink of water from his friend Ali. Then he says to Ali, “Nothing is written.”

Nothing is written. That someone could survive that desert a second time was not in Ali’s thimble of knowledge. Lawrence taught him that the impossible is possible.


So be open to being surprised by what is possible in your life. Remember that what you know or think you know is tiny compared to what you don’t know.

Be open to being surprised at what you can do personally. Maybe you are facing a desert, and no one thinks you can cross it. Maybe you don’t think you can do it either. But how do you know? Nothing is written. Allow yourself to be surprised at what you can do.

A group of us went to Cass Community Social Services in Detroit last Wednesday for a day-long mission trip. In the afternoon, we listened to the formerly homeless men there tell us their stories. They work in the little factory Cass has making mud mats, coasters, and flip-flops to sell. They used to live on the streets, and now they have jobs and apartments. One of them said, “I am learning to manage my finances.” It made me smile. He used to be on the streets, and now he needs Dave Ramsey! He must be surprising himself at what is possible in his life. Let yourself be surprised at what you can do too.

Also, be open to being surprised by what we can do as a community of faith. Some folks here think our congregation is going to continue to decline and then close the doors. But you don’t know that. The 184 year history of our congregation has already been written, but whatever happens from now on is a blank book with a bunch of blank pages in it. Allow yourself to be surprised at what will be written in those pages as we cooperate with God. Some things are disappearing, and new things are coming to birth here. Remember the thimble, and open yourself to the future.

I have my thimble here. I have a little piece of paper that I will fold and put into the thimble. It says three words: “I Am Loved.” That’s all I know for sure. I am loved. I am loved by Linda and my family. I am loved by my friends. And mostly importantly, I am loved by God.

When we know that we are loved by God, then that gives us a deep security. We know that God will always take care of us. And we can walk with confidence into an unknown future, step by step and day by day with the God who makes all things new. Amen.

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