It’s an old proverb that means:
Determination will overcome any obstacle.
You can accomplish anything with hard work.
If one really wants to do something, one can.
If there’s a motto that fits my dad, that’s the one: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” When my kids were little, we had a swing set in the backyard. Not a small metal swing set like we had when I was a kid, but a wooden structure that included a fort above a sandbox, along with wooden beams and swings and a slide. When our family decided to move across town, my mom and dad said, “That’s it, we’re cutting you off. We have helped you move enough times over the years; this time you’re on your own.” But then my dad said, “I tell you what: I’ll move the swing set for you.” Turns out, that was the best thing he could have done. Our backyard was surrounded by a fence. Prone to think 3-dimensionally, my dad was undeterred. He figured out a path by which he would cause the structure to do a summersault over the fence and onto his pickup bed. And so it was, the swing was moved and reinstalled by one person with only minimal disassembly.
When my grandpa died a few years later, the family was getting the house ready for an estate sale, and we all wondered, “How in the world will we get the player piano out of the basement?” Twice as heavy as a regular piano, it would surely take six strong guys to push it up the stairs. But not a problem for my dad. He cut sheets of plywood the width of the stairs, wrapped blankets and chains around the piano, and then kneeled at the top of the stairs and used a manual winch to lift it up the stairs on his own, inch by inch.
The piano stood in the garage waiting for a buyer. It brought all of $10 on auction. And the person who bought the house said, “Oh, I would have been happy to have had it in the basement!”
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way!” Right?
The Bible tells another story….
Moses was out tending his father-in-law’s sheep.
He happened to have gone beyond the wilderness he knew when an angel of God appeared in a bush.
From the corner of his eye, Moses noticed, and he said, “I must turn aside and see what this is!” God then notices that Moses has turned aside and God comes to him. God identified himself through story, through relationship. I’m the God of your ancestors. And now I have a job for you, a vocation for a lifetime. Go back home to Egypt, the place from which you fled for your life as a refugee, and lead the people from slavery to freedom. That’s right: Tell the Pharaoh you’re taking the slaves, and convince the people to go with you.
It’s a risky venture. God says, “Go. I’ll give you a sign. Here it is: When you’ve done it, you’ll bring the people here to this mountain to worship me. That’s right. You’ll see the sign when you’ve done it.”
Not surprisingly, Moses responds to God’s summons with a series of five really good reasons that he could have been let off the hook:
- Who am I to do this?
- People are going to ask, By whose authority do you presume to do that?
- Why would people believe me?
- I’m not good at this. I can’t even speak well.
- And, frankly, I just plain don’t want to do it.
We know these excuses well. We’ve practiced them ourselves.
And then somehow God changes Moses.
Faith is the miracle of hearing – of our noticing that God is reaching out to us, of the Spirit at work within us with the story of God’s ongoing presence in our lives. It is then trusting God with our lives because we have been changed. We have been called into God’s mission of bringing life and freedom to those who are captive by powers that oppress and make us less than human, less than God has made us to be. Once again, God’s work becomes intertwined with human activity.
In faith, we are free to love God back and act with mercy and love toward our neighbors as we use our gifts to bring about God’s vision for the world.
Human agency is a wonderful thing; we have a tremendous capacity to do things. But we don’t come to faith on our own. That’s God’s work. God comes to us and changes us, then beckons us to follow. We don’t get to watch from the sidelines. We have to get up off the couch and step out in faith.
It might be tempting to use our own freedom to create comfortable and safe lives for ourselves. But safety is not the goal of life driven by faith. There is still injustice in this world, and hopeless and hurting people continue to cry out for help. Just watch and listen. Where do you see injustice and suffering in your corner of the world?
There is a danger of becoming self-righteous in our quest for freedom, in living out the faith to which we believe God calls us. We come to think we know the mind of God. What’s given as “promise” becomes “law”. And we forget the value of multiple voices in telling a story.
It is probably true that we do a pretty good job coming to God in prayer when we need help, or we wish to say thank you. But for many of us, the noise of our lives can fool us into thinking that it’s is a one way street, that communication comes from only us. But God loves to interrupt us, choose us, and see us when we least expect it.
What if, this week, we were to welcome interruptions, even invite them? What if we got pulled into noticing and paying attention? What if we made eye contact with others while waiting in line instead of zoning out or looking down at our phones? This week, let’s thank God for the interruptions in our daily work and choose to see them as blessings. Maybe even try meditation and invite God’s voice to lead.
One of my favorite programs on the radio is StoryCorps, a weekly podcast from National Public Radio. Each week it features an unscripted interview between two people as they tell a shared story. This week, the story was called, “How an Air Traveler with Autism Found Strength in a Stranger’s Kindness.”
Earlier this summer, a flight from Reno, Nevada, to Cincinnati was delayed. One day of long lines and endless waiting grew into two. For most of us, that would likely be a disappointing and stressful situation. But for a passenger named Russell, it was excruciating. Russell is 26 years old, and he has autism. Unexpected changes like this can cause him to have panic attacks, and worse.
“I remember sitting in the same exact spot for seven hours crying,” he said, “and not one person approached me. Not one person made eye contact with me. The next day, once again, my flight was delayed, and that’s when I found an empty ticket counter. I sat behind it and I started sweating bullets, rocking back and forth, hyperventilating….(When this happens,) my brain feels like it’s on fire, with a vice grip around it, getting tighter and tighter….I feel like I’m on a planet all by myself….I hadn’t had an episode like that (since I was about 11).”
That’s when David, an airline employee, took notice. He walked over, crouched down, and asked Russell what was going on. Russell began to feel less fragile because he knew there was someone on his team.
As the plane’s departure became more imminent, David brought the captain over, hoping to give Russell a boost of confidence. And then he walked him onto the plane and helped him get settled before the other passengers boarded. When he went home that day, he logged into the airline’s computer system, and he followed Russell to make sure he got to his destination. The second leg of his journey was delayed again, but David could tell that Russell stayed on board and got through. He was relieved about that.
It was an ordinary day, and two strangers met in an airport. One was there to do his job, and the other was a passenger who found himself in crisis. The first one took notice, and that made all the difference.
God still speaks to us in this old, old story. God speaks to us in water and in bread and wine. The Spirit of God comes to us right where we are.
When we turn aside and notice, God says, “Go, speak and act on my behalf.
Bring the captives to freedom. I’m your God, and remember, I love you.”
It’s a risky venture, full of promise, full of life.
Let us go with good courage. Amen.