Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Beyond the Rituals:Letting God Reign in Your Life

Laughing at God

There is a temptation is to laugh at God’s requests, “Surely, God, you don’t mean it!”

"Osaiywa!" (Pray for me). Yelled a babbling crazy man.

Two hundred Africans packed into a mud and wattle building intended for a quarter that number; every chair, bench, and spot on the dirt floor occupied. The crazy man sat near the rear of our packed crowd. His eyes, smoky windows into a hollow room, his mind, clouded by years, yet he persisted, "Osaiywa!".

"Pray for me!" An appropriate request in such an assembly, but the timing was off. We were in the midst of the sermon. Prayer requests were for later. We ignored his first interruption, stared in annoyance at his second, and finally, on his third tirade we hushed him with the promise of our prayers, later, at the appropriate time. This satisfied him, and he sat silently through the next two hours of preaching.

Then, when we were ready, prayer requests were taken. We noted each, then sang another song, prayed a general prayer, listened to a guest youth chorus, and asked for announcements. Instructions were given to visitors regarding a special lunch for them, and someone was selected to lead the closing prayer. That’s when some thinking soul interrupted and sheepishly mentioned the crazy man -- we had almost forgotten his request.

He rose with effort and crept forward with the groping gait of one moving through a dense fog. Carefully, slowly, haltingly, he navigated through an obstacle course of legs and small children who littered the path between his seat and the front. The eyes of the crowd were on him; not compassionate eyes, but sarcastic, rolling eyes that saw absurdity and humor in the old man's manner.

When he reached the front, three of our elders circled around the hunched Patriarch and placing their hands on his trembling shoulders, bowed their heads to petition in his behalf before God. Being good men, they earnestly sought Divine intervention for the old fellow.

I noticed several teenage girls exchanging glances from beneath bowed heads (Yes. I have an amazing ability to close both eyes, bow my head and still see what’s happening in the room.). They labored to hide their amusement, but the continued trade of glances and smiles brought them to the verge of uncontrolled giggles. They obviously felt that the number of "crazies" was now up to four.

Perhaps their assessment of the situation had to do with youth -- when everything serious is silly. Perhaps, it was a bit humorous -- that old man, in the throws of senility, shuffling up before our crowd. Before the prayer concluded they recomposed themselves, donned the costume of religious solemnity, and closed their eyes just ahead of the "Amen".

Laughing at God’s isn’t something new--

-- A frantic father’s daughter is dying. Before reaching home news arrives that she is dead. Catching the words before they crush him, Jesus assures, "The little girl is not dead but asleep." The Scriptures say, "But they laughed at him."

-- "Jesus! Jesus! Heal me!" Pleading words of a beggar man rose from the streets of Jericho. "It's old blind Bartimaeus," Someone snickered, "Someone shut him up!".

-- An ailing woman, weakened from blood loss and penniless from years of paying doctors, convinces herself that if only she can touch Jesus' shirt she can be healed-- though the experts tell her she is being ridiculous and should accept her situation. She tracks him down anyway. Ever so reverently, she tugs on His sleeve. Her touch stops the Healer in his tracks. "Who touched me?" Snickers sputter and embarrassed smirks crisscross the faces of the pushing, jarring crowd, betraying their thoughts; "Is he nuts? Everyone is touching him! Ha. Ha."

-- "Roll away the stone!" Jesus commands. In the rear, smiles flare. The hired mourners catch themselves sharing the crowd's amusement, but quickly recompose and regain their professional sorrow. Even Mary questions his sanity, "Why, Lord, it's been four days. I mean by now he's..."

-- "But Lord, we've fished here all night!" Peter looks back over his shoulder and under his breath cracks a joke to his angling buddies about folks who think they know all about fishing. "All right Lord, we'll try it one more time, just for you. OK fellas, let's humor the Teacher. Pitch your end on the count of three."

-- A room bursts into panic. Those seated fall backward in startled retreat. Those standing duck low. The roof collapses; and when the dust settles, a paraplegic and his blushing friends stare straight into the face of an amused crowd and an angry homeowner. "What idiots!"

Like getting the giggles at church -- inappropriate, but uncontrollable -- the roll of awkward moments continues, when Jesus, on the brink of Divine demonstration, is heckled by snickering sinners and doubting devotees. Listen to their words:

"But how far will so little go among so many?"
"Never Lord! This shall never happen to you."
"When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, 'He is out of his mind!'"

But the old adage applies that, "He who laughs last, laughs longest." Can't you imagine Bartimaeus giggling like a kid as he leapt and ran for the first time in
his life? Or can you see the little girl's flushed lips breaking into a wide grin when she opened her eyes and looked up into her Mother's face? Can't you envision a tidal wave of wrinkles rippling across the healed woman's face every time she cornered one of her former physicians and reminded him, "See, I told you so!"? Mary must have fairly soared with delight as she peeled away the linen strips from Lazarus' face, revealing that familiar lopsided grin of his. How many times do you guess Peter entertained audiences over the years with the retelling of his whale-of-a-tale fishing story? Or, in all history's laboring, can you imagine any job that may have been done with more exuberance than the re-roofing of that house by the former paraplegic?

The crowds were amazed, and we have to wonder what other rib-tickling marvels Jesus was poised to perform, but couldn't, because folks were too preoccupied giggling.

Would you laugh if someone suggested there are things, wonderful things, miraculous things, new things, world changing things God may desire to do in our own time? For the times I have laughed let me request, "Osaiywa".

"Faith is confidence -- founded upon the unfailing almighty character of God -- that the possibilities are limitless" --O. Michel

"Believe me when I say that anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these...." Jn 14:12


Chessa said...

I am speechless. All of those stories that I have grown up learning, I now see in a new light. Thank you. I will definitely be coming back to this blog.

Jim Martin said...

What a fine post! Thanks.