July 25, 2019 by Jesse Lebus
Greetings St. Luke’s, friends and family!
The truth of the matter is: I’m not a theologian. Not in any academic way, for sure. The ways I think about God, the words I use when talking about God, I didn’t really learn from books or lectures. Those things have certainly helped along the way, but my deepest understanding of who God is (and how God is) has come from experience.
Most of us, those who are seeking to know God, fall into this category: experiential theologians. We attend church, hear Bible stories, listen to sermons, occasionally read a book or follow a link concerning faith and religion, but when something really clicks it is almost always in the midst of our daily lives; epiphanies always arrive unannounced, from just around the corner.
This past Saturday, I followed my 18 month old daughter Clara around the corner from our garage to the patio just in time to see her climb onto the steel cellar doors which had been baking in the sun on the hottest day of the year. In a matter of seconds - I would learn later in the emergency room - she received second degree burns on the palms of her hands and the soles of her feet. The top layer of skin, the epidermis, blistered badly and was removed.
Even now, writing this several days later - with Clara bandaged, healing and in incredibly good spirits - I am startled at my capacity to feel for her and with her. I ache at the thought of her shock, pain, confusion, and frustration; how happy she would be just to feed herself blueberries!
I have read, and said, for years that Jesus’ presence on earth - his life, death and resurrection - was about redeeming the human condition: to show us that God the father, our divine parent, was not distant but close to us. Through Christ, God laughs and cries with us.
I even sang this idea. From the hymn In the cross of Christ I glory: Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure, by the cross are sanctified.
I sang it, I said it and I believed it, too. But this week I felt this theology. God is like a parent, who rejoices with us and suffers with us; I have - deep in the prayer of my heart - experienced this truth through my own child’s hurt. Today, I have a fuller understanding of what it means to be a child of God.
All of us living in the Rectory (that’s 6 at the moment) are still shuddering from the trauma. But we are also sharing in the joys of Clara’s resilience and recovery. We are grateful for medical care and technology and thankful to those of you who have been willing to share and relive the trauma of your own child’s accidents by sharing them for our comforts sake.
In his 1951 book Systematic Theology, Paul Tillich wrote: “Theology moves back and forth between two poles, the eternal truth of its foundations and the temporal situation in which the eternal truth must be received.”
In other words, our understanding of God reveals itself somewhere between the mystery of truth and the reality of our experience. May God’s presence in your life, regardless of what that life looks like or feels like, be known to you this day and always!
Emmanuel, God is with us!
Correction: Sam Abell reached out and let me know that he did not take the photo of the Afghan girl, as written in last week’s letter. It was Steve McCurry.
Please Note: I will be on vacation from Sunday, July 28th until Saturday, August 3rd. I will be available for pastoral emergencies.