Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Rush in the Mud

Yesterday, we looked at an idea that most of us wrestle with - what it takes to be the first one to take a faithful step. We looked at Israel when she came to the rushing waters, Peter when he stepped out of the boat, and the disciples when they reached the empty tomb. Most of us spend a lot of our faith life wondering if we have what it takes to be the first one to step out...and we spend a lot of our time worrying that God's going to ask us to find out.

But there's another question we should be asking ourselves when we think about these stories, one that we don't often think about:

Do we have the faith to be the last guy?

Do we have the faith to step into the dry river, knowing there is no one behind us? Do we have the faith to follow the first disciple into the tomb to see for ourselves?

These are important questions, too, and they are just as much a mark of our faith as any other. You know, it's easy for us to think very little of ourselves. We know ourselves intimately, and that means that we know our failures and our shortcomings. We know all the mistakes that we've made. We know them well because we spend a lot of our time beating ourselves up over them. So it can be easy for us to look at the walls of water held back to our left and our right, to look behind us and realize that we're the last guy in, and to think that maybe God's promise won't hold up for us. That maybe enough of the faithful have already gotten through and it doesn't matter if we make it or not. That God doesn't love us as much as He loves everyone else and that at any moment, those waters are going to come washing over us and sweep us away because, well, in the grand scheme of things, we're just so little and fallen. Does God really love - can God really love - the straggler?

Or we think about rushing into the tomb. Do you remember that the disciple who went in first was the disciple who actually arrived second? How hard does that make it to be the guy who got there first and hesitated? Does God love the guy who hesitates? Is there a place for the one who stopped short, whose faith wasn't strong enough at first?

These are real questions. These are real faith questions. It's easy, relatively, to gather the courage to be the first one to step out. You can say, sure, I believe in God. I trust that He's going to provide for me. God can give you the boldness to take that first step and you can give it all to Him. But it's a lot, lot harder to be the one who struggles. It's a lot harder to let yourself fall behind. It's a lot harder to convince yourself to keep going when it looks like things are already over, when you feel like you're the one who's not really part of anything.

It's like crossing the finish line of the marathon 27 hours later. The crowds have long dispersed. The roadblocks have been taken down. Traffic is whizzing by you in every direction. The news crews have packed up and gone home. The battery has run out on your timing chip. Your shoes are eaten through with the wear of the pavement. You can barely pick one foot up to move it in front of the other. Do you have the steadfastness to finish the race? Do you believe that the finish line is just as sweet for you as it was for everyone else?

These things happen. We've seen them on the news. And not once, not once, does the straggler say, "You know what? I wish I would have quit." Not once do we hear them say, "I thought it would be better than this." Not once do they say, "It just wasn't as satisfying as I thought it would be." No, they just smile that big, relieved, exhausted smile and say, "I made it. Look at me. I finished."

You gotta think about that last guy. When you read these stories in the Bible, the last guy is just as important as the first guy. You gotta think about that moment when Joe comes straggling across the Red Sea, the last guy to make it to the other side. You gotta think about all the hugs and high fives he gets when he sets his feet on the far shore and the people of God stop thinking, "I made it" and realize, "We made it."

I said yesterday that our story is bigger than us, that maybe we're the first but we pave the way for others to follow along behind us. That the little things that we do play a big role in the story of God that is unfolding in our communities and in our world. Well, the same thing is true whether we're the first guy or the last guy. When we're the last guy, we turn everyone's "I" into a "we." We make the story not about a person, but about a people. Every single one of a people. God's faithfulness for us.

And that matters, too.

Most of us think a lot about whether we have the faith to be the first guy. But how many of us have the faith to be the last guy? How many of us have the faith to be the straggler, the hesitant, the one dragging ourselves across the finish line? How many of us have the faith to trust that God will keep holding those waters back just for us? Just for me? Just because we aren't a people until I'm there, too?

Do you have the faith to be the last guy?

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