I miss our dogs Lucy and Obie. I miss the walks and hikes we used to take together. In fact that is the original reason for how I convinced Jon we needed a dog, so that we had a good reason to go for walks. With a dog a walk is really not an option, but a requirement. We would walk through our neighborhood. We would walk the trails following the old train tracks. We visited State Parks: Sleeping Bear National Park, Ludington State Park, Saugatuck State Park, Indiana Dunes State Park… One summer, probably 15 years ago, my sister Marsha and her family came to visit us. We decided to walk through the sand dunes at Warren Dunes State Park to get to Lake Michigan, a walk Jon and I had done many times before. Somehow we got off the trail. We weren’t lost; we knew where Lake Michigan was but it added much time to our journey. The walk through the hardwood forest with well-marked and well used trails is fairly easy going, but climbing the sand dunes is another matter. With the hot sun blazing down it is fun to climb the first sand dune, the sand slipping and sliding under your feet, the crunch and even lyrical singing of the sand as you step through the sand, the warm sand flowing through your sandals and filling your running shoes. By the third or fourth dune it is not so much fun; you are hot and thirsty and tired of the drag of sand on your every step. You reach the top of the dune and see the inviting waters of Lake Michigan, but also see the great blow out that lies before you, meaning another hike around and another climb. Marsha was sure I was out to kill her!
Life can be like a hike through the sand dunes. We can see the lake with the promise of the cool, refreshing waters. We might be able to even smell the water or hear the gentle rattle of the beach pebbles as they rock in the ebb and flow of the water, but we get distracted and waylaid by the ups and downs of life; illness, divorce, the birth and death of loved ones, the stress of leaving a well-loved home to move to a strange city for a new job and new opportunities.
Can you imagine what it was like for the Hebrew people to be invaded and told to pack up and move to another country with their children and their elderly? To have to walk through rough terrain that made a 500 mile journey closer to 1500 miles with your belongings on your back and those of your family, a five month journey, leaving behind your home, your land and your place of worship. The author of Isaiah gives the people the promise that even in this foreign land God is with them; he is not a god of the land, but the God of His people who journeys with them into the unknown. Isaiah holds out the hope that someday they will return to their homes. The people are comforted by the thought that God will straighten out the hills and the valleys of the wilderness and prepare a straight highway through the desert back to their homeland; that God is with them even in Babylon.
The Gospel according to Mark does not begin with genealogies and birth narratives as do Matthew and Luke. Mark does not begin with the beginning of time as does the Gospel according to John. Mark begins with the comforting words of Isaiah and the assurance that John the Baptist is like the great prophet Elijah and comes to prepare the way for the Messiah.
God is not slow in fulfilling his promises, but God travels with his people through the deserts of life waiting patiently for them to turn to him and to love him. The Bible is full of stories of God and his people; of war with the Israelite people as the aggressor and as the invaded; of sibling rivalry, rape, adultery, illness, murder; of hospitality, weddings, births and funerals; of floods, fierce storms, earthquakes, volcanoes and fire; and through it all God is with his people.
God is also with us in the deserts of our lives. We may not always be aware of his presence. We may even doubt he exists, but the good news is that God loves us and walks with us in the deserts of our lives. I cannot prove that God exists, but we can see God in the cosmic regeneration of the universe; in volcanoes and earthquakes; in the collision of heavenly objects and atoms. Talk to Kevin sometime about how chemists and physicists see God and the world. It is fascinating! Things that can’t and shouldn’t happen do happen. God is a fascinating mystery.
I cannot see the future, but in looking back over my life and back in history, I can see God at work. God leads us in paths that we would never have chosen. Trust that God is with us. Trust that even when we cannot see the path forward, God will lead us down the path to the future. Trust God to be with us when we take detours and fall off the trail. Believe that God is with us in the journey through the wilderness of life. Know that God walks with his people even today. Look for God as you go about your business. See God active in our lives. God is with us and loves us yesterday, today and tomorrow. God is in our midst. Amen!
O God where are you? When will your kingdom come? Can you not hear the cries of your people torn by sickness, violence and greed! Do you not feel the anguish of those whose limbs and minds shrivel with the ravages of advancing age, cancer, muscular dystrophy, dementia, stroke, heart disease, COPD and organ failure! Can you not hear the cries of the child starving for food and love? Can you not see the families torn apart by domestic violence, anger and hate? Do you not care that lives and property are lost in hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and fire? Can you not hear the nuclear missiles, bombs, gunshots and cries of those who are killed around the world; Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Korea, Iraq and here in the United States of America!
O God where are you? Your presence is not seen and your love is not felt and so people fall into hopelessness and despair, turning to drugs and alcohol, sex and gambling and the sanctity of life is denied.
O God we are taught to respect our elders and those in authority that our leaders work under your authority, but how can we respect governments that prefer spending on nuclear testing and weapons of mass destruction rather than food and water, shelter, education and health care for their own people. How can we believe that a government that engages in the holocaust, ethnic cleansing and genocide works under your authority and yet we hear a quote from Genghis Khan in the 13th century, “I am the punishment of God…If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”
O God where are you? When will Jesus Christ return to set things right? Let your kingdom come!
We hear stories of your greatness down through the centuries. Your people settled in Egypt during a time of famine and found food, water and pasture for their flocks. Over time your people thrived and were perceived as a threat to their neighbors and your people were enslaved and sentenced to hard labor. The cries of your people were heard and you sent Moses to lead your people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
O God your people struggled with internal conflict and disunity and split into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah and forgot you. The country was invaded and Israel was totally destroyed and the people scattered. The people of Judah were taken as prisoners of war and exiled to Babylon. And yet O God you had compassion for your people and under the rule of the Persian king Cyrus the Israelites were allowed to return home to Jerusalem to rebuild their homes and their temple.
O God we are a people that say we will love and worship you alone and yet we continue to turn away to worship idols of our own making. When your people were conquered by the Romans your people called for a savior. In your love and mercy you sent your own son Jesus Christ to be born of a woman and to live as one of us, whose birth we will celebrate with great enthusiasm later this month. We hoped for a great warrior who would seek revenge and destroy our enemies, but instead he was a man of humility who gave us an example of grace and love, who healed the sick and had compassion for the poor and marginalized. In our anger we demanded his arrest and crucifixion. To our surprise you raised Jesus to new life; where we expected anger and vengeance we found love, forgiveness and the promise of eternal life.
O God, Jesus said that he was going to prepare a place for us in your home and that he would return for us. Why has Jesus not come for us? We understood that Jesus would return and implement the kingdom of heaven where there would be no more sickness or death or sorrow; where there would be no more killing and hate and violence. O God when will Jesus return and set things right? O God let your kingdom come!
O God you have turned away from us and so many deny your existence or relevance to our lives. O God we fear you do not exist or are no longer interested in our wellbeing and so we grasp for as much money and material wealth as we can in the fear that there will not be enough for everyone. How can we care for your creation or our neighbor when we fear there will not be enough for me and my family?
Some predicted the end of the world with the solar eclipse in September and yet, here we are. Some try to force your return with manipulation of political affairs in the Middle East but we are no more successful than Judas and others of Jesus’ disciples who tried to force Jesus’ hand. O God we are an impatient people; we like to be in control; how can we force you to do our bidding? We do not want to wait! We do not want to hear Jesus’ words to his disciples that no one knows the timing of the Kingdom of Heaven, that no one knows when the end times will arrive, that no one knows when they will die or when Jesus will return. We do not want to hear that we should be prepared for Jesus’ return this afternoon or tonight or tomorrow. We do not want to hear that we should be about our work of loving God with our whole being and that we love YOU by loving our neighbor as our self. O God we do not want to hear that we can help bring the Kingdom of Heaven by feeding the hungry and giving water to those who thirst. We do not want to hear that it is our responsibility to advocate for a living wage so that a family can afford rent, food, clothing and medicine. O God we do not want to hear that caring for the poor and healing the sick might mean providing affordable health care with access to doctors, dentists and mental health specialists for all. Why do I need to visit the sick and the shut-in, the institutionalized and those in prison? If you love us so much, why don’t you heal the sick and calm the mind of the mentally ill and cast out the evil spirits of violence and hate. O God why don’t you intervene so we don’t have to think about what our world would look like if the poor and the sick and the mentally ill were cared for; so that we do not have to consider the root cause for violence and mass shootings; so that we do not have to worry about whether global warming is real or whether our actions can disrupt the balance of nature.
O God where are you? You are our hope. Let your kingdom come. Amen.
Mother Darlene Kuhn
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