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Consider the lilies


What happens when we allow our striving and anxiety to keep us from being present, to see God’s movement in the here and now? Rev. LuAnn Rourke reminds us to look to the signs of springtime and have faith that change is coming.

Superintendent, Heritage District

This is the time of year when we begin to brush away the dried leaves and the fallen branches that have accumulated through the winter as we watch for those first glimpses of crocus, daffodils, and snowdrops to push through the brown dry places. Winter has been long and dark, and we are eager for the color and warmth of spring. Predicting what happens under the surface is hard as everything is covered with ice and snow. But we trust that something is happening. We know that change is coming. We’ve seen it before. We have faith!

Luke 12 tells of a time when Jesus was invited to dine with the Pharisees. They judged his behavior, and he called out their hypocrisy. A crowd began to gather outside, which is not unusual, but this time it is noted that they are trampling on one another. Jesus takes this opportunity to warn his disciples that following him will be costly. He tells them that no matter how vigilant they are at toeing the line, they may still be in danger of harsh judgment. Then mindful of the snares set by those set on proving their point, his tone shifts to comfort and assurance, inviting them to step back, notice the ravens and lilies, and remember how God cares for them.

Jesus reminds them, and us, that in the midst of our striving, anxiety, and worries, faced with hard questions without simple answers and the relational walls that separate us from one another, we are in danger of losing our ability to truly see. Jesus invites us to shift our focus. God is here, and God is for us, even in the midst of all this.

In his Lenten study Embracing the Uncertain, Magrey deVega cites a study by Ohio State researchers who determined that adults tend to screen out what they don’t want to see. Adults tend to focus on changes in the forefront without noticing what happens in the background. In other words, if we don’t think it is important, it is not worth our attention. I’d guess Jesus knew we would struggle to focus on what matters. As he said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21, NIV).

Considering the future, much of what will be remains uncertain. In fact, there isn’t too much we can be absolutely sure of. Aren’t we awfully good at creating complicated scenarios and what-if situations? Don’t we spend far too much time chewing on potentially adverse outcomes at the expense of seeing what is certain right in front of our eyes?

Like the spring bulbs pressing up out of the dusty mulch, positive, good things are starting here and now. Congregations are doing the hard work of discernment around values, mission, and identity. People are responding as God calls them to serve The United Methodist Church in new ways. And good things are happening!

It’s tempting to follow the crowds, joining in the woes and worries, declaring our rightness amid all that seems wrong. It is difficult to embrace uncertainty. As deVega writes, “[This] might mean shifting your focus away from all those foreground pressures captivating your attention and looking for the subtle activity of God in the background.”

1 Kings 18–19 tells of the prophet Elijah as he flees from the conflict generated by his decisive victory over the pagan priests of Baal. God shows up in power, and the people of Israel rise up against Jezebel’s favorites. It seems the battle has turned in Elijah’s favor. But Elijah feels the pressure of taking a stand and runs in fear for his life to the place where he trusts he will find God and experience peace.

There God tells Elijah to go and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by. God brings Elijah through a rock-splitting wind, followed by a mountain-shattering quake and an earth-scorching fire. But God was not in any of that chaos. Only when Elijah worked through the foreground pressure and settled into the sheer sound of silence behind it all did he experience the activity and presence of God.

Behold, God is doing a new thing! Sometimes we experience God in the drama of passionate worship as the Spirit moves, and sometimes in the quiet moments of contemplation. Sometimes we see God working in spectacular signs and wonders, and sometimes in the subtle moments of everyday life. It may be hard to discern, but God’s gracious activity on our behalf continues even when we are not paying attention.

So, take some time to consider the lilies, the crocus, the daffodils, and the snowdrops. I’m convinced that God delights in surprising those who do. Change is coming. Have faith!

Last Updated on March 21, 2023

The Michigan Conference