This is not a conference, but a retreat; so slow down and relax.
In Session 1 we had a look at the historical perspective. I encourage you to read Haggai, Nehemiah and Zechariah. What I've given you is but a snap-shot.
In them are a handful of themes or principles, with universal application.
The first is the sovereignty of God.
Human beings, due to original sin, have a hard time trusting God.
Before the original sin came the original lie. We were created in perfect love, with nothing to hide, with dignity and the strength of relationship. God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening, in a relationship of intimacy. Death, suffering and sickness are not part of God's original plan.
The original lie tapped into our desire to stand on our own two feet – just in case God doesn't come through for us. Maybe the most honest prayer in scripture is 'Lord, I believe, help my unbelief'.
We all fear, worry and doubt – despite seeing God's miracles. How is that?
Every sin, big or little, has in common choosing self over God, built on the foundation of pride. It happens when we choose 'What I want' over 'What God says'. God, have mercy on us.
Why is it hard to trust God? Will He be there for me next time?
When cancer strikes, when a loved one is going through a hard time, we struggle with this on both personal and community levels. When we are afraid, and desperate to find an answer, the temptation is to set up our own power base. Giving in to this temptation leads to failure, because pride comes before the fall. In trying to bring order into the chaos of our lives – if we don't turn to God – we get ourselves into troubles.
Trusting God is counter-intuitive. It goes against our instincts to want to manage our troubles. It is actually a lot like sky diving. Sky diving instructors drill into their students, 'Don't look down at the ground, you have to look up'. If you look down at the ground, you will instinctively bunch up, bunching up leads to broken bones. Don't bunch up.
Instinctively when in trouble we tend to pull in to a tight ball. When something or someone touches a raw nerve we all pull in, it is a natural human reaction. God says, 'Look at Me instead'.
You have new laws about slowing down when passing emergency vehicles with flashing lights. In other parts of the world, you must change lanes. The laws are to reduce accidents caused by vehicles veering into emergency vehicles. Why? Because we tend to move towards what we are looking at.
What are you looking at? Your past, your brokenness, your failure, whatever grinds your teeth. Whatever that is, you are heading towards it deeper and deeper. We have to set our eyes back on the Lord. We have to look at our problems against the backdrop of God's great love. When we focus on God and worship God, therein lies our healing.
We were built to praise and worship God. More healings happen during praise and worship than at healing services.
Helen Heller, who was physically blind, said: When you look at the light, the shadows fall behind'. Even if we feel nothing, it is still the right thing to worship God. 99 out of 100 times, when we praise and worship God amazing things happen.
Let us turn our eyes back to God. God can do so much in a twinkling of an eye.
The book of 2nd Maccabees was written about a 150 years before Jesus. It was written to encourage the Jewish people not to give up against the Greeks, and to not give up on God. In chapter 1 some of that encouragement comes from celebrating the re-dedication of the temple, the anniversary of Nehemiah dedicating the altar and fire, and recalling what God did back then.
When the Babylonian deportation took place, a few of the priests took some of the sacred fire from the altar, and hid it secretly in the hollow of a dry cistern. It had been requested by God that this fire never go out. Only 2 or 3 people knew where this hiding place was.
Many years later, 70-100 years, when it pleased God – in God's time, Nehemiah began the search for the sacred fire. He got the descendants of the priests who had hidden the fire to go look for it in the ruined city. They did find the hidden cistern/well, but there is no fire. Muddy water is all there is to find. Remember, this fire symbolised the presence of God, it was a sacred fire that had burnt for hundreds of years since the time of Moses and Aaron. The 'fire' is gone. Their hearts sink.
Yet Nehemiah, who is not a priest and only a lay man, is inspired. He tells the priestly descendants, 'go get a bucket and scoop up the muddy water'. That's faith. Then he tells them to prepare the altar, and to put the sacrifice on it. So far, so good. Then he tells them to do something absurd. 'Take the muddy water and pour it over the altar and the sacrifice. Just do it'. So they have a new altar covered in mud. Then Nehemiah says, 'Let's wait. Let's wait for the Lord.' So they wait, looking at the pile of mud.
Then at the hour of sacrifice, suddenly out of the mud….a little wisp of smoke. The fire is back! The sacrifice is being offered. They are gobsmacked, and begin to offer the prayers of petition, sacrifice and offering. Wow! We can do nothing without You! Then the priests begin to sing the hymns.
Nehemiah ordered the rest of the muddy liquid to be poured upon stones, and a flame blazed up. But the light cast from the altar was brighter, another light brighter that all these fires, not set by them but by God, a supernatural light that out-shined everything else.
God can do the miraculous in our lives. Sometimes we feel that the fire has gone out and all we have left is mud. It is never too late for God to bring light back into your life. There is still fire coming into the mud and mess and dead stuff in your life. There is still the Spirit of God bringing healing, redemption and freedom. God's plans are for our welfare and a future full of hope.
A friend of mine was driving home from his mistress's home to his wife, quite happy with his life. At some point he reached over to the glove-box, and heard on the radio station, 'My friend, you need God'. He started sobbing for 30-40 minutes, and realised that his life was actually mud. He said, 'Then my car filled with light. I knew I was in the presence of God, who loved me and who was bringing fire to my mud'. That's when God moved.
Don't ever underestimate the power of God when all you have is mud and it is too late. Stop saying 'it's too late', and don't say it anymore.
A fire is coming, of healing and mercy. You do have a future full of hope – not confidence in your mud, but confidence in God's fire. It is coming to all of us.
Maybe we have dumped our mud on the altar, several times and we are waiting. How long did Nehemiah wait? How long would you stand with Nehemiah? How willing are you to stand before Him and say, 'I'm at a complete loss of what to do, I'm at a loss'? How long? We have to ask ourselves this; how long before you write it off as a failure?
Daniel was crying out and asking God for help. The moment God heard your prayer God jumped into action. So why the delay and the anguish? Why don’t you do it right now? Why prolong my agony? Our sense of time and God's sense of time are different – we don’t see the divine perspective. God is never too quick and never too late.
'If you had been here our brother would not have died'. Are we able to get off Chronos time and get onto Kairos time? Doing that means believing that all things are working for good for those who love God. As humans, we want things and we want it now. But we are not God, so we need to choose to believe.
It feels like an eternity between pouring the mud and the time of fire. Those that wait upon the Lord renew their strength. Waiting is one of the greatest disciplines of the Christian life. Waiting says: that I know my Redeemer lives, whatever He does it will ultimately be for my benefit (through the waiting may be with clenched teeth and without feeling). It is a choice, to believe.
God is in charge. He knows our personal and communal situation, whether we see it or not. He is already on His way, according to His divine timing and His divine will. I love it the days I feel it; I proclaim it the days I don't feel it.
Your mud is part of your story, surrender it to Him who can change the ordinary bread and wine (which represents us) at Mass into the body, blood, soul and divinity of His Son Jesus.
…………………………………………………………………………When all the talks are transcribed and blogged, a printer friendly version will be provided.
It is so hard to believe in the fire when all you have is mud and ashes.
Why we have to go through these valleys of death befuddles us, but it seems to be God's pattern to have this 'dead as a dodo' stuff before resurrection.
If Jesus had come while Lazarus was still alive, his healing would have been an ordinary miracle. But Jesus let them go through the death, the burial, the morning and grief, and only then did He give them the most extraordinary miracle. If you were able to choose, which miracle path would you select? Are you glad Jesus chose the latter? Are you willing to put up with the extra pain to receive God's extra gain, and the higher and wider purposes that go with it?
The two images, of the sky diver looking up and of the muddied altar waiting for God's fire resonated strongly with everyone gathered at Pennant Hills, and many took advantage of handing over their mud to God through the sacrament of reconciliation over the 2 days of retreat.