I am so sure! <valley girl this up>
It sounds silly but truthfully, we are sure of so many things that, in the sober light of day, we have no control over and very little information about. Being sure is an asset in business; it makes you decisive; it makes you bold.
Well, appearing to be sure at least. Nobody is really as sure as all of the talking going on in politics and business, if they were, we’d live in peace and everyone would be healthy wealthy and wise. Nobody would watch them on television if they said, “well, we don’t know what’s going to happen, we’ll just have to see.” They have to look sure because looking sure is the same as actual authority.
But it isn’t so.
Experts are wrong about as often as they are right these days it seems, I wonder why we still call them experts at all sometimes. “The war in Iraq will be a cake walk, the real estate market will be just fine, we don’t need regulations on the investment banks, we’re smart enough to keep things from going off the rails, trust us, we’re the experts.”
The problem is, the disconnect between the assertion of expertise and actual perfection seems all the more vast because the experts never, ever admit their shortcomings, elevating themselves so far that you might be tempted to doubt your own knowledge of current affairs, after all, “the experts all said, this so how did we end up with that?” that we start to lose faith in the leadership of experts.
Suddenly, not just economists, never is the most trustworthy lot, about on a par with weathermen, but expertise in general starts to seems little less than trustworthy. If the talking heads can be this wrong, then maybe my doctor is wrong as well. I should tell her what medicines I need, after all, I’ve seen them advertised on TV commercials, who needs eight years of college?
When did that happen? Folks telling their doctors what medicines to prescribe? When did medical school become just another opinion?
If people were dropping like flies around every corner, nobody would even think of questioning vaccination, but the problem is that vaccines fixed the mortality rate in such a fantastic way that we’ve managed to forget the terror of death by pertussis, or measles, or diphtheria, which stalked the nurseries of my grandparents’ childhoods.
Now the “experts” who preach the wisdom that has saved millions of lives in the past century are easier to question, to doubt because all expertise is diminished in our estimation because they’re so sure but so was the weatherman on television last night so who knows? One opinion is the same as any other.
Worst of all is the fact that they’ve earned our distrust. How many times do they have to let us down before we stop listening to them? We point to polls and crow about our side being ahead but when that turns out to be an illusion who do we turn to for new news? The same pollsters again, just as expert as before, just as often wrong.
Here’s the thing. I don’t think that reviving or faith in experts is the answer. After all, the fact is, nobody is an out and out expert in almost anything that lies beyond the tips of their fingers so just letting the experts run things seems like it might not yield the results we’re looking for.
Plus we’d just be indulging their hubris, their pride and last time I checked pride was still on the list of the seven deadlys, the seventh to be sure but still in the top ten and where it says lead me not into temptation, well best not lead the pundits into the temptation of thinking that they know it all.
We won’t have to, that’s what they think already.
I like the fact that no matter what has changed in the world, from a rural existence eating and drinking and living almost without thought of an actual economy, the word economy comes from the Greek word for household because in the beginning, that was about as much of the economy as you had to sorry about. From that starting point to where we find ourselves now, I sent my mother a copy of my Amazon.com wish list when she asked me what I wanted for my birthday; over all that time the people haven’t changed a bit.
Aren’t the Pharisees just the television pundits of their day? Don’t they sit in spots of prominence and proclaim things to be this or that, to be holy or an abomination? Aren’t they portrayed as folks all too enamored of their power, too interested in holding on to their positions to see the truth before their eyes, too lost in the system to see it crumbling all around them?
They like the world as it is, status quo, and they speak from that perspective, word of assurance and of certainty that this is the way it is and this is the way it will always be and given the comparatively glacial pace of change in their world you can see their point.
But they were just as wrong as the pundits are all the time nowadays.
They lack the thing that so many pundits and talking heads, so many experts and authorities seem to be missing from their character. They lack the one thing that the disciples had over them in the Pentecost narrative this morning.
They lack the humility to see where the line is between what they know and what remains a mystery, between the realm of God and the realm of man. They lack, the world at large lacks the capacity to admit to not knowing, to something’s unknowability and have that be okay, have that be alright with them.
When the Spirit comes upon the disciples they are fascinated, they are nonplussed, they speak and hear in tongues and none of them runs screaming for the hills. This unexplained phenomenon is not met with fear, for once they listen to Christ’s admonition against fear and they simply marvel at the power of God to alter what they had thought of as reality.
What the pundits lack, what the Pharisees lacked is the faith, the trust in God’s will for them, that God has a handle on things and they needn’t sweat the details quite so much, needn’t rely on their own power quite so much.
This impossible trust, this ability to let God have mastery over even a tiny sliver of our lives is the shining trophy at the end of the race for us, it is perfect faith and it is well-nigh impossible to achieve. After all, faith doesn’t pay my mortgage and the grocery store will not accept my pledge of fealty before God in exchange for my food and so we must abide by the rules of the world of man as well in order to do the things of this world.
I think that it is in knowing where the line is that we tend to get tripped up. When we conflate mastery of Man’s world and word as a qualification for mastery of that which ought to remain God’s sole provenance; it is when we trust our own word too much and God’s word too little that we fall into error, that we drift from the path and find ourselves proclaiming on behalf of God, yet speaking only from our pride.
When people tell you what is in the heart of another person, when they say that the bible has the clear answer to complicated questions of the modern world, when you hear the voices of those who seek to divide humanity into sheep and goats, with them doing the dividing of course, you will see the trust in God fading into the background and the pride of man rising to the surface.
We cannot count the grace of God, we cannot hoard the grace of God and we cannot deposit the grace of God into an account somewhere and so we do what we can, which is to try and stand in the way of the grace of God, try to meter out who is in and who is out in various ways, trying to, contrary to God’s desires, apply man’s rules to God’s realm and not the other way around.
When the Holy Spirit comes, where the Holy Spirit comes, how the Spirit approaches each of us is truly not for anyone else to say and how God is at work in the world all around us is likely not something we can exert any control over, any mastery, but we will try.
We will divide the world amongst ourselves, each faction saying that they are the ones with the truth, they are the ones who know the ways of the world and that all others are apostate, wrong, sinful, damned
Is it any wonder we live in a constant state of war on this earth, or that the church has managed to split itself in the brief time that has passed from Christ’s incarnation into thousands upon thousands of fragments, each shouting about the truth and their exclusive understanding of it?
The Holy Spirit of God is not coming give you answers, especially if the questions never get past, is it okay to have in vitro fertilization, what about abortion, who should I vote for? None of those, no matter what some of the more <ahem> forceful, florid, wild-eyed of my brethren might tell you, none of those questions have anything to do with your relationship with God and so they are inconsequential, not counted among the interests of God.
The Spirit comes to abide with you, to be the presence of God, the reminders of what God does care about for you.
That we trust God to sort things out in the end so we can stop trying to do it here. That we trust that at the margins of our understanding, at the point where we will, on the last day, to admit our shortcomings, then God will be there, the advocate, the creator, the savior and we can stop asking questions and rest.
This is foundational to what it means to be a Lutheran. It is to acknowledge that human mastery is fleeting and illusory and only really applies to the things of the flesh, but that all of it, even the flesh, is within God’s purview and that God has a good handle on it and that any attempt to impose humanity’s weakness upon the actions of the Holy Spirit will fail.
Answer: I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith. In the same way, the Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church day after day the Holy Spirit fully forgives my sins and the sins of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and give me and all believers in Christ eternal life.
That is the confession of this church in Luther’s own words. Maybe when we stop the pointing of the finger and the casting of aspersions and all of the judging we will hear the Spirit’s call and live in peace, all the Christian church on earth, united like Luther says.
It cannot happen so long as our own voices drown out those of God, so long as we are so sure that we do not make room for God’s work to be beyond us, outside of our understanding, grander and yet simpler at the same time and that God’s judgment is truth.
But if we do come to a place of humility and faith, allowing the Spirit to enter in and replying with nothing more or less than the disciples’ reactions this morning, which pretty much amount to cries of “wow, this is neat!” then we will know what it is to be guided, called, enlightened and sanctified.
We’ve spent so much time, heart, treasure and hope on the so called experts, why not let God, whose word we confess to be truth because God’s word causes things to be and this is truth, take up where our own mastery falters? Only blessings can follow such a faith. This is most certainly true. I am so sure.