I have been attending the virtual Festival of Homiletics this week, which has been a gift in these pandemic times. As Covid19 has swept around the world, most speakers have spent time talking about how it has impacted us. Some are reminding us that God is always here, always present even when we aren’t so sure this is true.
Otis Moss III used the imagine of God being just outside the frame. In times when it seems that God is absent, “God,” he said, “is just outside the frame.” God is there, but we may not experience God’s presence. God is near, but it doesn’t seem that way to us. God is walking along side us, but our frame is just a little too narrow to realize that God is with us.
I love that image. It calls to mind those moments in my life, when trouble spilled over and the best I did was not good enough. It reminds me of wondering where God had gone off to, because it sure didn’t seem that God was paying attention to my plight. Later, I could see God’s hand at work in my life. In the moment though, I was in distress.
Looking backward a pattern appears. We notice how certain people came into our lives when we were at a juncture. We could have taken an entirely different path. We teetered on the edge of self-destruction. But, a divine hand was at work sending a person whose wisdom, compassion and love redirected our steps. In redirecting our steps, opened our horizons and allowed us to see outside the “Frame.” We discovered limits we once thought were fixed and immovable were really only limits set by us, and the “frame” we had enclosed ourselves in.
Throughout the scripture are stories of people called by God, who saw themselves limited by the frames they drew around themselves. Moses meets God in a burning bush and his worldview explodes. Miriam will dance and sing in celebration, leading the Israelites in worship. The child Samuel hears the still small voice of God calling his name. Esther will doubt her purpose on the way to saving her people. Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law will lead her to be the grandmother of the great King David. Jeremiah will say, “I am only a boy” but God will use him to bring hope to an exiled nation.
Living in the period of Covid19, it may be difficult to see all that God is doing. This is especially true when our lives are disrupted and people we love are taken from us or hurt in the economic crisis of the pandemic. It has been painful for our cherished traditions to be swept aside, our celebrations called off and our church buildings closed. We experience dysfunctional national leadership which does not speak with a single voice. We wonder if there will be an end, or if we will live through to that end.
Isaiah speaks to us out of a different era with a reminder that God is here.
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Isaiah 43:2-3