The question so often for me is, ‘Can God set a table in the wilderness?’ It’s an interesting line to stumble over in the scriptures, as you’re trudging along through what occasionally feels like the mire–the mounting piles of rebellious human sin met by God’s persistent exasperation. So many times I pause to think, this would have been a good point to end it all. Although, of course, not for me. I don’t want to be the one that gets the axe, the moment in history where God finally has enough and decides it’s time for the promised fire that destroys it all. Leave it for…well, this weekend there seems plenty of fodder for the wrath of God. I was distracted waiting for increasing violence to break out in the aftermath of Kenya’s elections, as most assuredly there would be, as rain and snow fall to the earth, and so was missing the home grown American ethnic hatred that seems to be prospering like a green bay tree. Why leave it to the rest of the world. Why not get in on the action.
Americans have no idea what kind of horror they court, by dancing with violence. It’s not just that there’s no sense of history, it’s that there’s no idea what’s happening elsewhere. Violence isn’t a good answer. For many, it isn’t an answer at all because they’re dead and their blood is crying out from the ground. Dissatisfied with the way things are? Put that stick down and go home and learn how to use language. Although, of course, I know you’re not reading this, all you who think you are God to wield the sword, the gun, the Dodge Charger. You think Other People are the problem, people of the wrong color. But you are the problem.
And, I suppose, sometimes am I. I feel in my bones that I am a trouble to God, and he is a trouble to me. It might be better if we didn’t speak sometimes, or if he gave me some space to work out my issues before he entangled himself in my already too disordered life.
The thing about God is that I’d like him to be the tidying person who comes in and sorts everything, or really, everyone into neat, color coded boxes with a perfectly applied bow indicating resolution if not eschatological perfection. But the more God deals with us, yea even with me, the messier it gets, the more unresolved, the more tragic.
I mean, look at the church–in its largest, ugliest, most expansive self. We chatter along about the pure bride of Christ, but that’s not really what she looks like. Parts of her look like they have gangrene, there are diabetic and sugar issues, one portion is hovering in a corner sharpening her toenails. She needs a make over and an exercise plan and looks like maybe she has completely forgotten how to read. Of course, I’m not talking about my own church, nor probably even yours. I mean whatever you think of when you consider the worldwide state of Christianity, and then shudder to yourself because the vision is sort of miserable.
And then, there it is, in the middle of the Bible, ‘Can God set a table in the wilderness?’ Sure he can, but why would he want to? Except that while we’re all criticizing each other, and sinning against each other, and getting angry over the wrong issues, and making room for hatred and evil, and doing the easy thing every time instead of the necessary hard one, and preferring to keep sucking on the sugar of biblical illiteracy, we’re also getting tired and hungry because nobody brought a bottle of water or anything to eat. The business of constantly averting the gaze from the glory of the Most High is exhausting.
And God isn’t like us. So having pulled the pathetic christian out of the mire and muck of sin, even though it’s not the eschaton, and the christian still looks uninspiring, and the world looks even worse, he sets a table, and feeds the hungry with himself, even if eye contact is not really…on the table…cough. The answer this morning isn’t a quick resolution to decades of sinful hate that has its roots deep in the human soul. The answer is to get up and shuffle off to church, to crack open the text, to try to look at the One who has the food, out of whose side flows streams of living water.
And to eat food that he gives–mercy, grace, repentance, hope, forgiveness, truth, love, and more so, himself. He gives himself, which is not the easy solution to life’s persistent questions. It’s the most devastating answer, the hardest to swallow down. But if you don’t swallow, if you don’t take him for who he is, the wilderness will eventually overtake you, the bitterness of sin and hatred will win you over in the end. It’s a mess either way, but the way of Jesus will eventually, someday, be better than you can possibly hope for now–perfection, love rather than hate, truth rather than the ugliness of falsehood, life rather than death. Whereas, if you can’t face it, and you decide he’s not for you, the resolution will never come.
So go to church. It will feel like a wilderness, but God set a table in the wilderness, because he could.