I didn’t stay for the entire sermon, too many details and tasks in the kitchen beckoning me out of the sanctuary and into the kitchen. I was chomping at the bit, a luncheon for 40 and then dinner for around 300 to prepare. I was distracted but heard some of the words my pastor was sayings something about wanting to do good but getting tripped up. Yeah, yeah, I thought, that is me as I eased out of a side door and got busy laying out trays of meats, bowls of fruit. The week only got busier and I barely gave it a thought even though I vowed to myself to go back and listen online to the entire sermon. He may have been speaking directly to me as I snuck away, a warning that I was ignoring. Still the Word of God is not be denied and my bumbling through the days with less sleep and more activity caught up with me, my walls of emotional protection slipped and 3 days late, the message hit.
Busyness of meal planning and prep and directing kitchen volunteers and serving all the families who come to dinner before leaving their children at Vacation Bible School was distracting me from missing my Plum who is gone on a 2 1/2 week vacation with mama in an area that is so remote we cannot even speak regularly by phone. We haven’t been away from each other this long in years, not since I was the one gone and then fully occupied as well. It was creeping into my heart each day more and more how sad I was that he was missing this huge life altering event at our church, how deeply he loved it last year. He sang all the songs for weeks, he truly bonded to his friends and the other adults at church. That was the week the church fully became his family, his home. Now he was missing it. While knowing this time was good for him with his family, I wanted him at church too. When they had a good signal and we could truly catch up, I didn’t hear the voice of a child begging to come home to his Gran. Instead, this boy and his mama and sister are in wonderful hands, fishing, swimming, exploring, and bonding with each other in the most meaningful ways. This time will be looked back on as sacred in life of the family, I am sure. I hung up the phone and celebrated the good that was happening and still, STILL, I longed for him to be here at church. I want to do good and then I do wrong.
Flash forward to late in the evening as the director of this years craziness at VBS finally snuck into the kitchen for her plate of food we had set aside for her. I shared with her how much I missed having Plum there and how wonderful his vacation was turning out to be for his family. She said, he is having his own sanctuary. If my huge beast had knocked me to the ground again, I couldn’t have been shocked more. Exactly, yes. That one word preached to me, reminded me that my desires were getting in the way of the God who was handling it all, who sees the whole picture and was caring for the whole life of my sweet little boy. He may not learn the message this year with the other children that God is always with you but he is living it out. I would do well to remember that message myself.
I am not even getting into the Facebook memory from years ago that popped up where I was claiming pride because my son finally owned his stuff, showed humility and gratitude and was ready to accept his consequences. My heart ached as we are so far from that reality, addiction does that, steals our loved ones and turns them into hate-filled selfish blaming monsters. Then a friend who has walked and sobbed and only with the grace of God is still standing through times worse than ours, who is helping on our kitchen crew, with a twinkle in her eye told me her son came for dinner. My tears couldn’t be controlled, I celebrated with her, this tiny achievement for anyone else, something not many would even recognize. She and I know what it means: hope. Hope for him, for my son, for all those lost and not found yet.
So I left the sermon early because I was just too busy and God found me anyway, on a Wednesday when I needed to hear that HE is bigger and I am often my own worst enemy. I skipped the offering plate as well, so I offer this now: I am a willful child who keeps doing wrong, even for what I think are the right reasons. Still, I keep showing up and God lights the way. I give all of me, sometimes and most of me more of the time. He works with that and is sorting me out All Of The Time, even when I hang out in the kitchen. I suspect this week was about schooling Gran and not my Plum. Well played, God, well played.
Romans 7:14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming: “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience?” Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.
17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. The Message.
Thank you Eugene Peterson, for making the language accessible.