Title: What Now God?
Scriptures: 1 Corinthians 1:19-25 & John 2:13-22
Before Jesus’ arrival in the temple things were as usual. It was a crowded noisy hub-bub of activity. And after Jesus’ arrival? Very little activity. Almost no noise. And almost completely empty. What is the disciples’ response? They remember scripture – a scripture that speaks of God’s zeal for God’s house. The temple authorities respond by asking for a sign, some justification for what Jesus has just done. And Jesus? His response? Jesus talks about the future. A future in which the temple is destroyed. A future that isn’t really about a temple at all but about his body, and about God-given life arising out of death. Jesus’ response points all of us to beyond whatever difficulty we’re presently enduring. Jesus invites us to look towards a time that is coming when our empty new life springs forth – because this is the God Jesus reveals to us.
How well we all know the experience of life that is like the temple before Jesus’ arrival. Life is chugging along with some noise and some hub-bub and it is the way things are. And then suddenly life is not the way it has been. We’re bewildered. We may be close to panic. We become aware of lacking knowledge, even a frightening lack of knowledge. It’s as if there’s nothing but emptiness and silence. Our response maybe something like: “What now?”
How different this is from those times when we can say confidently “I’ve got this!
“I know what I’m doing!” (I so relish those times!) Needless to say that in this past year there’s been very little of “We’ve got this! We know what we’re doing.” Even the experts, experts in every field have struggled to find ways for us to survive, to live in, and to get through this worldwide pandemic.
When what we’ve learned is no longer helpful and when our wisdom has reached its limits, how do we respond? What is our response when there are no signs pointing the way and our lives resemble the cleansing or the emptying of the temple?
I remember a summer in my childhood (a summer many of you will remember). My parents made me stay alone in my own backyard as did other parents. The playgrounds were still and silent. The swimming pool was closed as was the movie theater. Why? Because of a polio epidemic. My mother’s best friend became sick with polio. She would recover but others were not so fortunate. She recovered but for the rest of her life she would deal with limitations as a result of polio. In time a vaccine was developed. My friends and I played together. Happy children again filled-up playgrounds and swimming pools. People of all ages lined-up again to see movies. The future had arrived.
When the time of the empty cross arrived, when the promised future had arrived, the disciples again remembered scripture. The gospel writer tells us that they remembered and they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
To be human is to experience those times when we look around and ask “What now?” However! Missing is one absolutely vital word: “What now – God?” When Jesus emptied out the temple the disciples remembered that this was God’s house. It was the place where people’s attention was to be on God. They were there to pray and to give thanks and to celebrate God’s faithful presence in their lives. They were there to be mindful of how God had always been their faithful deliverer.
From scripture, from Psalm 19, these words: “Holding you in awe, Yahweh, is perfect; it refreshes the soul.”
When we hold God in awe, our refreshed souls remember that our God is the God of scripture whose promises can be trusted. When we’re asking where are the ones who are supposed to know, we pray: “What now God?” The questions in 1 Corinthians take on contemporary meaning: “Where are the wise? Where are the scholars? Where are the philosophers?” When we can’t find our way, we turn to the God of the empty cross. If there’s only one prayer we can utter let it be: “What now God?”
In attending to our relationship with God memories will surface. We’ll remember difficult times in the past when we were delivered. Those memories may bring a smile, and at the very least a reminder that life goes on. It’s crucial, is it not, to remember and then to share how God was there – was there for us. We do this for our sake and for the sake of others, because we are, each one of us, faith historians. Jesus’ disciples became faith historians. Their fears and faltering and their believing and learning give us hope.
A story you may not know from the polio epidemic has to with Joni Mitchell, the accomplished and successful Canadian songwriter and musician. Joni Mitchell’s story was featured in the December issue of Maclean’s magazine. When she was 9 years old she got polio, spent weeks in hospital, and afterward, was physically weak. The Maclean’s article tells how she had to abandon hopes of being a dancer or an athlete. Fortunately, she had an English teacher who challenged her into using her gift for writing. Even though her left hand had been weakened by polio she learned to play the ukulele.
However (and I’m quoting from the Maclean’s article) “[W]hen she graduated from the four-string ukulele to a six-string guitar, her hand was often too weak to press the strings to frets and form chords. So she became adept at finding and applying new tunings, loosening or tightening strings to change the intervals between them.” For those of us who are not following these guitar words – we can still see how something new and wonderful came out of a human limitation. Joni Mitchell has been described as creating “rich and unusual harmonies.”
When faced with our own limitations let us be among those who turn towards God to remember, to trust, and to pray. In the words from 1 Corinthians: “For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” And so we prayerfully ask “What now God?”