"For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace."
After months of working up the necessary gumption, I finally agreed to go and visit a friend's church in the role of guest preacher. For nearly four hours, we sat up front in the seats designated for honored guests. For nearly four hours, I tried to find the magic internal trick that will allow me to just let go and enjoy the process unfolding all around me.
|View from the Honored Guest seats up front|
But I can't. The best I can seem to do is a big mixed-up bag of emotions. Why does this have to take so long? Isn't it great that we can just enjoy being here and not worry about the passing of time? My kids will never last this long. Hey, they're not doing too bad after all, and people don't seem to mind that they wander around a bit. Why wouldn't you choose a key before you started playing together? Well, I guess they don't seem to mind, so why should I? Seriously, a 15 minute prayer 3.5 hours into the service?!
I'm getting ready to preach on the Prodigal Son, and I am dogged by the suspicion that there is something terribly "elder brother" about my heart at this very moment. Why can't I turn off my judgements and my criticisms? Why do I insist that I know better how things should be running?
Finally, I stand and walk to the pulpit. The pastor's son is translating my French into Kirundi. There is a single microphone, which I argue that he should use, since most people couldn't understand my French anyway. He tells me that would be less proper, and not to worry, because his voice carries well.
So we begin. We talk about Jesus eating with the "sinners" and the tax-collectors and how it made the religious folks quite upset. We talk about the younger son and the way that his request for his inheritance is such an astonishing insult. The son leaves and lives like a fool. Then famine comes, and he is ruined and thus humbled into going back to his Father to beg forgiveness. I'm trying to point out that the story is, up until now, all too typical. Bad decisions leading to severe consequences. But now the Father will re-enter the story, and his grace will knock the story off its tracks.
It starts raining.
It has rained once in 4 months. Everything is dry and baked. The clouds have been gathering, but mostly as a tease. We're waiting for rain. But now? Now, when I'm talking into a distorted microphone, relying on an unamplified translation, in the middle of a long echoing church with a tin roof?
I pause. I look at my translator. He gives me a reassuring glance. "They can hear you. Don't worry." The rain falls harder. It's a deafening deluge. I'm shouting as loud as the distortion can handle. My translator shouts next to me. People are still looking at me. Can they even hear me? Should we just stop? The two us start taking turns with the mic. In the end, I gave the mic totally to him. I'm yelling my French into his ear, and he is yelling his Kirundi into the mic. I take the mic back to give a final "Amen" and then we sit down.
I wonder if that accomplished anything. I came to try and share the grace and love of God in his word, and I felt like I was yelling into the void.
The word of the Lord does not return void, but it accomplishes what it is sent to do. Coincidentally like the very rain that possibly hid my words. What happened there? I don't know, but in one sense or another, the word of the Lord was spoken, and that is something good.
Afterwards, they pull together a welcome meal for us. Beans, rice, chicken, peas, fried potatoes and plantains, cabbage and Fanta Citron. While we eat, speeches are made. They speak of the rain as a umugisha. Une bénédiction. A blessing. It has come to bless our gathering and the words that were spoken.
Hours later at home, the tension still rings in my heart. Appreciation and humility wrestles with self-righteousness and superiority.
I am the parched field. I crackle in response when I ought to be flexible. I don't grow. I don't produce fruit worth consuming. If a fire is lit in just the wrong place, I might be quite out of control. I am the elder brother.
The word of the Lord is like the rain. It goes forth irresistibly, bringing life, replacing thorn and brier with cypress and myrtle. "You shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace." For this my soul thirsts. Maybe I was the only one who heard those words this morning. Maybe I was the one who needed it most.