“Staring Across The Abyss”


Mediation for November 2, 2014, the 21st Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)

All Saints Sunday

Joshua 3: 7 – 17, 1 Thessalonians 2: 9 – 13, Matthew 23: 1 – 12

I have chosen to use the regular lectionary readings for this Sunday rather than the lectionary readings for All Saints Day. In looking back at my records, I don’t think that I have ever used the lectionary readings set aside for All Saints Day; in fact, in all the years that I have been preparing messages or writing for a blog, there have been only two occasions where November 1st was a Sunday and one of those Sundays I wasn’t writing or preaching. Maybe that is just as well, especially this year, as I don’t do well with Revelations or apocalyptic writings.

Second comment – this is not going to be a complete meditation, or at least as I begin it, it is not going to be complete. There are things going on which make the writing of anything after my opening thoughts pretty hard to complete. But if you find my opening thoughts helpful, go ahead and finish it out.

Last week, Moses got to see the Promised Land but he wasn’t going to be able to enter it. And I will be honest, for many years, I thought that his not getting to the Promised Land was his penalty for picking the men who first explored the land. Of course, as I reviewed the Old Testament reading, I was reminded that it was Moses’ own errors that prevented him from entering the Promised Land and not what others have done.

But in today’s Old Testament reading, the Israelites are once again standing on the edge of the River Jordan, staring at the Promised Land on the other side. It has been one generation since they stood in perhaps the same spot, one generation in time since some of the fore-fathers had lied about what was over the next horizon, one generation in which those who could not trust in God died off. Now, the next generation stood on the river’s bank, ready to cross over.

What must they have thought? Surely there were some in their group who remembered what had happened those years before and what had caused them to add years to the wandering. Was it going to happen again? Perhaps there was some unwillingness to take the step, wade in the water, get their feet muddy, and move on to the object and goal that for many was the goal of their lifetime.

Now, when I began thinking about this piece, I thought about standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and looking across to the other side and perhaps leaning over and peering down into the depths of that vast split in the Earth. I have never been to this interesting place though I have probably flown over it once or twice in my life. My only connection to the Grand Canyon is a book by Colin Fletcher, The Man Who Walked Through Time, in which he chronicled his two-month journey from one end of the canyon to the other. For those with a geological bent, walking down from the canyon rim to the bottom of the canyon along the Colorado River was also a journey back in time.

I suppose that if I were to ever go to the Grand Canyon, I would want to brush up on my geology and especially a discussion of the measurement of time in geological terms. For, as we stare in awe as what God has done, there will be some trying to tell us that it was all done at once during the Great Flood or something to that effect and that it wasn’t done over a period of thousands and thousands of years.

But that is a thought for another time. Right now, I stare across the abyss that separates me from something that I can’t quite grasp. Maybe it is a struggle with faith; maybe it is an uncertainty about how faith is formed and shaped. I know that you cannot put your faith on a pedestal, to be stared at and admired. Faith has to be a part of you.

There are certain things that I do when I struggle with my writing. If it has to do with Scripture, especially in the New Testament, I get up from my desk and find my Cotton Patch Gospel; reading the words of the New Testament as if they were written by someone I knew growing up always seems to help.

If I am in that part of the writing where I am trying to put things in place, I pick up Faith In A Secular Age by Colin Williams. This was given to me by Marvin Fortel in the spring of 1969 when I was trying to figure out how faith fits into my life. I don’t think that there are too many pages in this book that are still held together as I have put it to pretty good use.

And then there is A Guide To Prayer. I have two copies of this book, one given when I began my “career” as a lay speaker and which shows the signs of age of twenty-three years of use. The second copy was given as a combination Christmas present and going away gift from the first group of pastors that I worked with. In one sense, it marks one step in this journey that I have been on so many years.

And from that book I found two thoughts. Henri J. M. Nouwen wrote,

Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. Solitude begins with a time and a place for God and Him alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that he is actively present in our lives – healing, teaching, and guiding – we need to set aside a time and space to give Him our undivided attention. (from Making All Things New by Henri J. M. Nouwen)

I could not help, when reading that paragraph, think that perhaps the image that I have of the Grand Canyon as a great abyss separating me from something was not that but a reminder of what God can do and how He wants me to better understand how things work.

Nouwen also wrote,

The spiritual life is not a life before, after, or beyond our everyday existence. No, the spiritual life can only be real when it is lived in the midst of the pains and joys of here and now.

He concluded this by noting that,

Our first task is to dispel the vague, murky feelings of discontent and to look critically at how we are living our lives.

I think this may be what Paul was alluding to in his words to the Thessalonians.

So here we are. Somehow I have been able to put together a piece that meets the general goals of every piece I write (to at least link the three lectionary readings in some manner, shape or form). And I also have a conclusion, which I didn’t think I was going to get when I started.

There are times in our lives when we stand at an abyss, a wide spot that we seemingly can’t cross. And yet, as we look at what seems to be nothing, it gives us the opportunity to see and feel and sense the presence of God. Yes, we are scared; after all, it is a long way across and a long way down (and the old Gospel hymn reminds us that waters of the River Jordan are chilly and cold).

And it is totally possible that we may feel comfortable on this side but we know that the answers we seek lie on the other and the only way that we will get those answers is to get to the other side.

And the only way that we are going to get to the other side is through trusting in God, to lead the life that He would have us to lead. As long as we fear that abyss, we will find ourselves separated from God but as soon as we trust in Him, things are going to get better.

And pretty soon, we will no longer stare across the abyss but find a way to cross over to the other side.

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