When I was a young man, I had a conversion. I can remember the day, I can remember where, and I remember that I was stunned. Up to that point I thought I was supposed to be a good boy and I wasn’t a good boy. But what I heard and understood with my heart that day was that God loved me… right now… not some day when I was perfect which I was incapable of being anyway. Right at that moment, in my sinfulness, God loved me. That changed me. It changed me quite a bit and what I understood from that moment and have grown to understand is that having faith and being a follower of Christ has little to do with being a good. It is not about morality. It is not about following law. It is the stunning revelation that God loves me now and that changes how I act.
Forward to 1988. I was trained, I had prepared and I went to South America to save those Peruvians. I discovered when I got there that God had been there ahead of me. He was there when I got there and the Peruvians didn’t need me to save them. In fact, the opposite sometimes occurred. They ministered to me and I discovered that being a missionary means being a witness that everywhere and in all places, God’s grace and mercy are available. That, too, changed me.
Several years ago, I knelt at the bedside of my brother as he passed away. I was grieving and I was angry. Why would God take such a good man? He didn’t deserve this. I did not understand at the time, but I got a glimmer of something. In that time of doubt and darkness and grief and pain, God was already there. I wasn’t there as the priest in the family to bring God to the bedside of my dying brother. He was already there.
This is what the wonderful phrase from the Book of Acts that we hear from the mouth of Paul is about. “In Him, we live and move and have our being.” Everything is encompassed by God. He is already there, He is already here, always and everywhere. Sometimes I forget and sometimes I suffer under the delusion that my job is necessary. That somehow we’re supposed to create a holy place and come gather in that holy place, say holy words and then, God will love us or we’ll all be good boys and girls or somehow, our holy words and prayers will convince God to show up. All of that is not so….God is always and everywhere present.
The thing that is confusing is that sometimes when you and I recognize God’s presence, we are filled with joy or we are filled with peace or we find comfort and we think that a feeling of peace, or joy, or comfort indicates the presence of God. The presence of God is not just a good feeling. Sometimes the presence of God is hard. Sometimes, it’s a cry in the dark. Sometimes, it’s tears. Sometimes, it’s darkness and doubt. That, too, is the presence of God, if we were to have eyes to see and ears to hear.
This is good news. God doesn’t need our acknowledgement. He doesn’t need our words. God acts first. God always acts and does His will. We don’t change God or convince Him to act. We are here to change OUR hearts. All of our prayers, all of our actions, all of this, is about changing our hearts. We’re not her to convince God of anything. He is already convinced, He has already acted. He is here and He is there at the AA meeting and with those who come to the Soup Kitchen and He is there in the prison. He is already there and faith is to grow in understanding and recognize Him more and more and give thanks.
This lets us off the hook. There is a Latin phrase that I cling to about the sanctity of the priest and the actions at the altar. It’s ex opere operato, a Latin phrase that means regardless of the character of the priest, what happens here is true and good. In Him, we live and move and have our being. He doesn’t wait until we are perfect, He doesn’t wait until our understanding is complete, He doesn’t wait until we are completely capable. God uses US to do His will…broken, weak, confused, doubting,.. Baptist, Congregationalist, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, Unitarian, …all of us are agents of God. In Him, we live and move and have our being. His grace and His mercy and His power encompass all of us. The surprising and wonderful thing is that all of us are agents of His will, if we just let it be so. It’s a wonderful thing. I’ve seen it happen; you’ve seen it happen. Even on my bad days, when I’m just a stinker, God still uses me at times. Sometimes I resist, sometimes I want to ignore what’s going on, but God does what God does. If I just have eyes to see and ears to hear, I will recognize this and give thanks.
We worship Christ who died and is risen. This tells us something… that it’s not just the good feelings of comfort and grace and mercy and joy that we believe in. We also believe that in death and in suffering and in weakness and in doubt and in violence and in confusion and in powerlessness, all things everywhere are encompassed by God. We are not here to convince God to do our will. We are here to give thanks that we participate in God’s will. We give thanks to God, we praise Him and we bless Him, because in Him we live and move and have our being.
Rev. Ray Bonin