Sunday, February 1, 2009

Kingdom of Uncertainty - A Sermon

A friend recently read me a story she wrote called “Subjunctive.”  It’s about how she took some private lessons to brush up on her Spanish.  When they got to the subjunctive mood, her teacher said, “You are know entering the Kingdom of Uncertainty.”  The subjunctive mood (you might remember from school days) is the form of verb you use for things that MIGHT happen.  “I would be impressed if you were to remember subjunctive.”

In time, the lessons skated close to the edge of romantic relationship, plunging teacher and student into their own subjunctive world -- their own Kingdom of Uncertainty where they dwelt for the duration of the lessons.  The Kingdom of Uncertainty is a familiar place for  most of us -- and an uncomfortable place.

Actually, we live with uncertainty all the time.  Not just the uncertainty of our jobs or our finances these days (although Thomas Friedman in today’s New York Times wrote: “We are going to have to learn to live with a lot more uncertainty for a lot longer than our generation has ever experienced”), but our relationships, our grasp of what’s right or wrong, the meaning of life.  A good example of that is in the Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy.

In this passage, Moses is giving the people final instructions before his death.  He warns them to obey the prophets -- unless that prophet speaks a word that is not from the Lord.  Now, you may ask, how are they supposed to know if it’s a word from the Lord or just that prophet saying things like, “If you don’t pay me more, God’s going to cause a drought”?  Moses answers that in the next sentence,  which the lectionary doesn’t give you, but I will.

You may say to yourself, “How can we recognize a word that the Lord has not spoken?” If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.

Well, I would be frightened because now things are as clear as mud.   If you aren’t supposed to listen to the false prophets, and if the way to tell false from real prophets is to wait and see what happens, then you have to live with uncertainty about everything they say.  Because it could be years before a prophet’s words come to pass.  In other words, you’ll never really know if the words of a prophet are true or not,  so how can we ever trust them?

The Gospel doesn’t help us out all that much today.  Here we have a passage where finally somebody recognizes Jesus as the Son of God.  Problem is, it’s demons.  No matter how we understand demons today -- it’s often said what they called demon possession back then is really mental illness -- the fact remains that the “normal” people could not recognize Jesus.  Only those with something terribly wrong in their minds and souls.

If he were really the Son of God, wouldn’t it be obvious to US?  If he were really the Messiah, wouldn’t the religious leaders see God’s hand at work in him?  How is it that people are supposed to follow a guy that only the demons acknowledge?  How can he be the Son of God if he gets killed?

What you have to love about these passages is, they don’t tell you.  Ultimately, Jesus says, “Look at what I do, listen to what I say.”  Ultimately, that’s what Moses says of the prophets.  “You have to see and hear -- and look deep within your heart to ask, ‘Is this the work of a God who is Love?’”

This should throw you into your own Kingdom of Uncertainty for pretty much the rest of your life.  Because now you have to deal with all those questions that folks in scripture have been dealing with all along.  How can a loving God bring suffering?  How can my loved ones die?  Will God really throw me into eternal damnation if I sin?  How will I ever be able to do enough to gain eternal salvation?

How can God ever love someone like me?

We regular folks don’t seem to be able to sort it out.  We are in the Kingdom of Uncertainty.  But this is the Kingdom where Christ reigns.  In our uncertainty, in our fear, there Jesus sits with us and leads us through the dark, for he is the light of the world.

The people were amazed that Jesus taught with authority.  He didn’t merely quote others like the scribes and pharisees did.  Because the light dwells within him.  

The fact that you are alive means that you dwell in that Kingdom of Uncertainty and always will.  We have a guide and a companion who is trustworthy and true.  One who will not make all our decisions or tell us what to do but will constantly remind us:  Look, Listen, the search deep within your heart.  

It is often not a comfortable place because it is still hard to know what to do, what to trust and believe.  But the Kingdom of Uncertainty is not an impossible place.  As we make our way through it, keeping our eyes on the light, we will grow, and slowly over a lifetime, we will know more and more.  Will we ever know for sure?  If I were God, I’d know.  Amen.