Shaping the World
Sometimes our corner of the world can seem terribly god-forsaken. We listen to the news, look at what all’s been happening, and wonder if any sort of morality or ethics or integrity is even on the radar. It’s exhausting: each week a new crisis as we watch a multitude of government leaders do the two-step. It can start to feel hopeless and like maybe we’re just all going to hell in a handbasket. Yet there’s something comforting to know that other lands and cultures have survived equally trying times. Certainly, the Israelites experienced a similar confusion and chaos when the second Isaiah penned his poem.
Isaiah paints a “big picture” when he writes of the God who shapes the world into being. It might even make us wonder where we fit in as the poet takes us beyond the top of the bell tower, shifting our perspective while singing a litany about the God whose eternity and creativity dwarf our imagination. “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” God sits above the circle that’s the earth and turns the heavens into a tent. Let’s face it, if all of the heavens are subject to the God who creates the world and its peoples, can we think for a minute God isn’t fully aware of everything that happens on earth as well? The God of the universe is the God of the finite and fallible, fully aware of what goes on, whether with the Judeans of the 6th century BCE or the Kinsmanites of 2018. Princes and presidents, rulers and governing bodies, folks who think they know more than God, and folks who are just trying to play fair in the sandbox. God knows the difference between service and pretention, sees who offers compassion and who creates suffering. The God who formed the world not for chaos but out of chaos promises energy to the exhausted and strength to the powerless until all God’s children find a place of abundance. The God who shapes the world into being cares for each of us.
Such engagement, such intimacy of God, comes to light when Jesus enters into Andrew and Peter’s house. No sooner does he leave the synagogue, making a stand against forces that prevent abundant life, than he’s met with the reality that the mother of Peter’s wife is in bed with a fever. In a story that’s intimate, even private, Jesus enters her bedroom, crossing a line of decency, and takes her hand. At a time when fear from the contagion of a fever runs high, at a time when an unrelated male touching a female was taboo, Jesus touches her with healing and raises her up. Not just lifting her up, as the NRSV translates, but raises her up as in resurrection, as in new beginnings. For Jesus doesn’t heal to prove himself as able or divine. Healings may impress, but they’re a flash in the pan, and lots of folks were healers. But when Jesus heals it’s a sign of the in-breaking, the good news of the Kingdom. And as if to prove his point, the old woman gets up and does something she couldn’t have done earlier: she begins to serve, to minister to them. Now, at first glance it looks like the old lady isn’t even allowed time to recuperate before she starts waiting on the men. Many of us bristle at the thought—and many of us have heard ad nauseum what a woman’s place is with this particular passage used to define the lines—but, personally, I think that’s a misinterpretation by the church and folks in it who were, who are unable to get beyond the “first glance.” God bless their little hearts. Instead, perhaps, her service is a response, a statement of faith, that imitates the ministry of the angels who care for Jesus in the wilderness and foreshadows the very actions we will see in Jesus’ own ministry. “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life a ransom for many.”1 Maybe she serves not because she’s compelled to or because that’s her place in society, but she serves because that’s what caring for others looks like, what’s what, as the Kingdom breaks into our world, discipleship looks like. A woman released from her illness, restored to health rejoins the family, the community around her and begins a lifetime of service to the God who renews our strength and loves each one of us.
In her response to Jesus, the unnamed woman shapes her part of the world. Like hers, each of our lives, too, are part of God’s story and make a difference in our world whether we realize it or not. This week one of my friends passed on a story that’s been making the rounds on social media. Written by someone who works in an independent bookstore connected with a university, she tells of an older woman she describes as lovably kooky, at the counter going on about how much she loves the bookstore, how she’d love to spend more time there, but her husband’s in the car and Oh, she’d better buy him some chocolate (I can relate) as she’s piling up her books. She is, the author admits, her favorite kind of customer. When a student comes up in line behind her, the lady turns and demands he put his books on the counter, explaining she’s paying for his books, too. He’s a decent kid who refuses because it’s like $400 worth of textbooks, but the little lady takes them out of his hands, throws them on the counter and tells the clerk to “add ‘em on.” At this point the kid is confused and shocked and grateful. Then she turns to him, declaring he needs some chocolate, too, and adds some of that in as well. The lady pays the bill and in between the clerk bagging up the stuff and the kid telling her how grateful he is the woman says something profound. She says, “It’s important to be kind. You can’t know all the times that you’ve hurt people in tiny, significant ways. It’s easy to be cruel without meaning to be. There’s nothing you can do about that. But you can choose to be kind. Be kind.” The kid leaves and the old lady stares out the door after him and then turns to the author and tells her that her son is a homeless meth addict. That she didn’t know what she did or didn’t do, could or shouldn’t have done, but that when she saw the kid she saw who her son could have been if someone would have chosen to be kind to him at just the right moment. We never know how our actions may affect someone we meet along the way. As people of faith, we are called to act in Christ’s stead as best as we can, for we may be the only glimmer of Christ some people will see in a world where the Kingdom has come, but is not yet here, as is evidenced far too clearly every day. Yet, the God who creates the cosmos, who strengthens the weak and restores the fallen most often does it through the folks around us, through acts of kindness—buying books, or bringing non-perishables on Souper Bowl Sunday for NESFACE; or acts of courage, calling out partisan sideshows; or acts of justice, as young women’s voices are heard in court. As disciples, we’re called to offer the most we have of Christ’s healing and hope, for what we do, the good and the bad, will have an effect on others.
The God who creates the world has shown us through Jesus how it’s supposed to look and asks us to do our part, to continue God’s own work of shaping the world we live in.
1 Mark 10:45