Sunday’s sermon: The Gift of Uncertainty


Texts used – John 5:1-15 and 1 Corinthians 13:8-13

  • Last week, we entered into a summer journey together – a journey into the Dark Wood. → journey guided by book: Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and Other Wanderers) by Eric Elnes[1]
    • Last week: What is the Dark Wood? → 2 sides to it
      • Dark Wood = places of challenge, places of struggle, places of insecurity in our lives
      • ALSO Dark Wood = place of growth, place of strength, place of revelation → place where heaven and earth come closer together, place where we meet God in soul-sparking, path-altering, life-changing ways
    • But what we learned last week is that those life-changing ways are not always the ways that we would ideally choose. They’re not always easy. They’re not always smooth. They’re not always well-lit, well-paved, well-traveled paths. Sometimes they’re hard and scary and rough and uncertain. Sometimes they’re Dark Wood paths.
      • Doesn’t mean God isn’t traveling with us along the path
      • Doesn’t mean there isn’t something powerful to be learned from the journey
      • Just means that some of the blessings – in fact, some of the greatest blessings – we receive from those Dark Wood journeys are incognito blessings … blessings disguised as experiences we would rather avoid
        • Elnes’ 7 blessings in disguise: gift of …
          • Uncertainty
          • Emptiness
          • Being thunderstruck
          • Getting lost
          • Temptation
          • Disappearing
          • Misfits
        • Going to spend one Sunday on each of those blessings and wrap up with a “where we go from here” at the end
    • So today we’re going to talk about that first blessing: the gift of uncertainty. Now before we go any further, I have to share something with you. When I was in seminary, one of the things that my preaching professor told us that really stuck with me – probably what stuck with me the most – is that if you’re not preaching a sermon that you yourself need to hear, you shouldn’t be preaching it. And I’ll tell you what, friends … this is definitely a sermon that I need to hear in my own life because personally, I do not do well with uncertainty. Ask my husband! J So let’s settle into the uncomfortableness of this idea of sacred uncertainty together.
  • First need to talk about what uncertainty is/means in this context → start by figuring out how we get into the Dark Wood in the first place
    • Elnes: From the moment you realize that there is more to life than meets the eye, and that you are as much a mystery to yourself as to anyone else, and that the mystery that is you longs more than anything else to connect with the mystery of God, you have entered the Dark Wood. What keeps you in the Dark Wood is a developing sense of God’s presence in the darkness.[2] → So in a way, uncertainty is what brings us into the Dark Wood to begin with. We’re uncertain of how we should go about being in this world. Who am I? What’s my place? Where’s God calling me to go and be and do? Where do I find God in the world around me? In asking these questions, we find ourselves in the Dark Wood – a place of searching and seeking, of inquiry and investigation, a place of possibility and pursuit.
    • Uncertainty not only drags us into the Dark Wood but also follows us as we travel along – Elnes: These experiences, or “touches” of the Holy Spirit, have a way of exciting and perhaps terrifying you at the same time. The excitement comes from the sense that they are inviting you to a place, or a life, that is far more wonderful that you have imagined. The terror comes from that very realization. You haven’t imagined it. … Since you hadn’t been planning on heading in this particular direction, you feel woefully ill prepared for the journey.[3] → I cannot begin to tell you how this last part speaks to my soul: “The terror comes from that very realization. You haven’t imagined it. … Since you hadn’t been planning on heading in this particular direction, you feel woefully ill prepared for the journey.” Yeah. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned once or twice that I’m a type A, planner, list-maker, box-checker kind of person. And this is exactly why this gift of uncertainty is such a challenge for me personally. I like to know …
      • What to bring
      • What to expect
      • Where I’m going
      • How to get there: point A to point B, not point A to G to F to 7 to 3.2 to Z to B
      • But the truth is that God rarely works simply from point A to point B. From our standpoint, God is unpredictable. God is unrestrainable. God is fierce and breath-taking and wild. God is God, and I am not, so I will not always understand the way that God is moving and leading and nudging and teaching me.
        • At the beginning of 1 Cor, Paul: The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.[4]
        • See this later on in that same letter in our NT reading this morning – text: We know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. … Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known.[5]
          • Do not know fully yet
          • Do not understand fully yet
          • But that doesn’t mean that we cannot be fully known by the One who created us, and it doesn’t mean that we cannot follow fully yet. → gets to the heart of the matter: gift of uncertainty in the Dark Wood is all about learning to trust
            • Walking in that dark without hesitation or fear – all comes down to trust
            • Elnes points out that, counter to what we may instinctually think, this is the reason uncertainty is so important to a strong and healthy faith: Religion does a disservice when it seeks to remove uncertainty from life. … The fact of the matter is that life is messy, and no amount of doctrine or dogma changes this. Faith built upon certainty is a house of cards that falls apart when the “unshakable foundation” shifts even slightly.[6] → It’s like trying to hold sand in your hands. The tighter you hold your hands and squeeze, the more sand will escape between your fingers. But the looser and more open your hands are, the more sand you can hold. When it comes to faith and belief, the tighter and more certain we try to be about everything, the more we lose a hold of. But the more flexible and vulnerable we are, the more we are open to receiving from God because in that openness is an acknowledgment that God’s love and grace are enough to cover even our deepest and most troubling uncertainties.
              • Elnes: Paul understood that love thrives in uncertainty – not the kind of uncertainty that increases chaos, but the kind that develops trust.[7]
  • Get an interesting illustration of this in our Gospel story this morning
    • Breakdown:
      • Jesus and the disciples are at the festival in Jerusalem
      • In the city = healing pool called Bethsaida
        • Description: giant shallow pool surrounded by amphitheater of sorts → belief was that, when the water was stirred up, the first person to enter the water received miraculous healing
      • Jesus encounters man “who had been sick for 38 years[8]
      • Jesus heals the man
      • Pharisees become incensed when the see the man healed because it is the Sabbath and, of course, healing on the Sabbath is work and work on the Sabbath is against the law
      • Man eventually points Jesus out to the Pharisees as the man who healed him
    • The basic outline of this short story is frankly not all that that different from most of the other healing stories scattered throughout all four gospels. However, there is something completed and critically unique about this story. Let me read part of it again, and maybe you’ll catch it. – text: A certain man was there [at the pool] who had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying here, knowing that he had already been there a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I don’t have anyone who can put me in the water when it is stirred up. When I’m trying to get to it, someone else has gotten in ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Immediately the man was well, and he picked up his mat and walked.[9] → Every other time throughout the gospels, when Jesus asks someone, “Do you want to get well?”, they respond with some form of “Yes!” But this man in our reading today does not. He is the only man in all the healing stories in all the gospels that doesn’t actually want to be healed!
      • Elnes: No, this man has no interest in being healed. After all, he’s making a good living. He’s got the respect of his peers. His social, religious, and economic world revolves around the pool. His life is defined by his limitations. To heal this man would be to disrupt everything he knows and has become accustomed to in this world. It would take away his certainty.[10] → If this man truly wanted to get into the pool – if he had been desperately crying out and pleading those around to help him – someone would have gotten him into that water sometime in those 38 years. Acts of kindness and charity like that are spiritually cherished in the Jewish tradition. They’re called mitzvahs – good deeds done from religious duty. Someone in those 38 years would have acted with mercy and made sure that this man made it into the healing, restorative water. Unless, of course, he didn’t actually want to get in. You see, it was easier for this man to trust in his own ability to provide and in others’ generosity than it was so trust in the uncertain miracle of God’s healing. And yet Jesus found him there. Jesus spoke to him there. Jesus broke through his uncertainty and provided undeniable healing. Because God wants us to be able to find the best version of ourselves, no matter what’s in the way … even if what’s in the way is, in fact, ourselves.
        • Elnes: Why does Jesus bother healing this man who doesn’t want to be healed in the first place? Probably for the same reason the Holy Spirit keeps pushing all of us “into places we wouldn’t necessarily go ourselves.” Jesus knows that the human soul is terrifically buoyant. Its yearning is for the freedom that comes from answering the Spirit’s call. Shackled by our fears and excuses for very long, the soul inevitably revolts and seeks to break free. When it wins the revolt, we may find ourselves in places we wouldn’t necessarily go ourselves, but we also find that we are terrifically OK with that.[11] → The gift of uncertainty in the Dark Wood is all about a gentle, necessary, and persistent shove from the Holy Spirit. All we have to do … and all that we have to do … is trust. Amen.

[1] Eric Elnes. Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and Other Wanderers). (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press), 2015.

[2] Elnes, 24.

[3] Elnes, 24.

[4] 1 Cor 1:25.

[5] 1 Cor 13:9-10, 12.

[6] Elnes, 25.

[7] Elnes, 28.

[8] Jn 5:5 (emphasis added).

[9] Jn 5:5-9.

[10] Elnes, 33.

[11] Elnes, 34.

6 responses to “Sunday’s sermon: The Gift of Uncertainty

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: The Gift of Emptiness | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  2. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: The Gift of Being Thunderstruck | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  3. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: The Gift of Getting Lost | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  4. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: The Gift of Temptation | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  5. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: The Gift of Disappearing | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  6. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: The Gift of Misfits | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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