Pastor Scott Hannon
St. John Lutheran Church, Amherst, NY
They didn’t teach me this in seminary, was the only thing I could think while standing in a flooded kitchen at church with water pouring in from the drains in the floor. (Yes, you read that correctly. Water was pouring IN from the drains that are supposed to let water OUT.) I was overwhelmed, at a loss, and quite literally up a particular creek without a paddle. I didn’t know what to do or where to start. I felt inadequate and resented the world around me.
I’ve thought that a lot lately: they didn’t teach me this in seminary. I’m nine years into my call at the church I serve and by now I expected to have things figured out. Unfortunately, with every passing day, week, and year I have found myself confronted more and more with situations that are beyond my control and questions for which I do not have the answer.
And I know a lot of people who are not in professional ministry who feel that way too.
There are many times in life when we find ourselves feeling like we missed the course or class that applied to the situations we find ourselves in. Parents struggle with rebellious children. Children struggle with stubborn parents. The spouse of the hospice patient doesn’t know where to start. The friend of the terminally ill isn’t sure what to say. We turn on the TV and find ourselves scratching our heads. We go to the ballot box and have no idea what to do. We find ourselves up a creek without paddles thinking: why didn’t they teach me this in high school!
The hard truth is that there aren’t classes for many of the situations we find ourselves in in life. (And, I believe, even if there were courses we would still be no less prepared to handle the complexities that surround life/death, love, sin, and relationships.) Quite simply, there are times in life when we merely must endure, persevere, and carry on. There are times when it is enough to take it one breath at a time, one minute at a time, or one hour at a time. Rather, than insisting we take things one day at a time or by stride.
There are occasions that call for honesty regarding our own limitations, skills, insights, and ideas. There are instances in which we must admit we’re lost, have been wrong, and don’t know what to do. To not embrace such occasions will inevitably lead to bitterness, resentment, and a life spent wading (or striding) in dirty water feeling sorry for oneself.
In scripture we are continuously reminded of our limitations and human frailty. Adam and Eve were given paradise with one simple rule. They struggled with any sort of limitation (and we know what happened there). The prophets endlessly call to God’s people reminding them of their depravity and need. The Psalmist encourages a spirit of humility and praise of God (not self). Jesus clashes with the rich, powerful, and put-together by pointing to the weak, vulnerable, and outcast as model citizens for the Kingdom. St. Paul just flat out writes: God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong (I Cor. 1:27). Scripture, like life, has a way of humbling us… remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return (Gen. 3:19).
All of that pressure the world puts on us to have all the answers, know what to do, and rely on our own wisdom is undone by the teachings of scripture. In the Bible God says: I know you. I see your limitations and I love you nevertheless. Stop trying so hard; let me take over from here.
You are invited today to confess your worry and fear. You are encouraged to name your limitations and declare you don’t have it all figured out. Simultaneously, God invites you to place your trust in his strength and not your own. If you find yourself standing in a literal or figurative creek “without a paddle” or if you feel as though you missed the class, let your worry go and your faith rise. God is with you. God has brought you this far and God will be with you every step of the way home. As the worry ebbs, may your hope flow.
There are no classes that can teach faith. Rather, it grows through experience – by standing up that creek rejoicing in the marvelous things that God can do. There is no degree or trade school that can make life simple. Nor is there a path we can take that won’t involve frustration and struggle. However, this much is sure: You can do all things through Christ. Through Christ you can do all things. Keep the faith, my brothers and sisters, you are not alone.