I can tell you that, since Hurricane Sandy and its immediate aftermath, I have almost never turned on an electric light, or adjusted the air conditioner thermostat, or ignited the range and the oven, or opened a faucet, or taken a shower, or drunk a glass of water, or eaten a hearty meal without being more conscious than ever before of how blessed we are to have not only all of life’s necessities but also so many of its luxuries.
This is not to suggest that a God-in-Charge has singled us out to be the fortunate ones or has favored us because we are so virtuous and deserving; it is simply to say that we are just plain lucky. The circumstances of our life, however they fell together, beginning with where and to whom we were born, just happened to be such that we – not all, but most of us — have lived in freedom and in plenty.
We live in a universe full of random forces that are governed, not by reason or will, but by the laws of physics and chemistry and astronomy. These are irrational forces that have no concern for the well-being of life, any life, including human. They collide, they intersect; they conflict — or they blend with awesome power that can give or take life. And if we happen to be in or near the intersection of such forces, we get hurt or we are killed. There is no plan at work, no design, no control by a supreme being. It all just happens by chance, by the roll of the dice, so to speak.
The only acceptable, reasonable, truly human response to our good fortune is gratitude to the Creative Spirit from whom all good things ultimately come, and the willingness, the eagerness, to share our bounty with those who are deprived, for whatever reason, of what is necessary for a safe and happy human life.
But what shall we do with that assurance of Jesus, which we heard in the closing lines of the Gospel excerpt today, that, if we join our voices on earth to pray for something, it shall be granted us by the God he called Father? Can you imagine how many people were praying for days almost two years ago that the hurricane and the tropical storm would change their course and move out harmlessly to sea? In how many churches of all denominations were there prayers of petition for this favor? And what happened? Only disaster. Storms set their course mindlessly, lethally, and there is no one, including an imaginary God above the clouds, who would or could stop them.
What is granted to us in prayer is not miracles of power over nature – subduing of storms, curing of disease, restoration of sight, awakening of the dead, etc. No, what is promised is the unfailing gift of the Spirit of God, a divine presence within and among us whose power cannot be overcome by any calamity, but who enables us to endure whatever comes and to see a bright future ahead in this world or in the next
If we listen to some of the misguided TV preachers, we will be tempted to accept their definition of faith, which I believe is wrong and totally misleading. They would have us be convinced that faith is belief in God so strong that we can ultimately control everything that threatens us: we can overcome that cancer, get rid of that addiction, prevent the death of our loved one, exchange poverty for wealth, etc. Don’t be deceived; that’s not what true faith is. Faith is a belief in God, in our case through Jesus, that is so firm and so trusting that even when things happen that are beyond our control, we are not dehumanized, we are not denied our human destiny. We still perceive the light that calls us forward.
That’s the great gift of Jesus to all who will accept it! The Spirit doesn’t change life or make everything in it a source of happiness. Rather, the Spirit enables us to see beyond the present sorrow or pain or disturbance and to anticipate the peace and the joy that await us beyond.
Are we expressing that faith when we say so often, “The Lord be with you?”