I was twelve when my sister was born. I have distinct memories of her early life, which, unfortunately, was marked by serious illness. In her first year, my sister began suffering from the effects of an illness that nobody seemed to be able to diagnose. I remember the pain and suffering she underwent as each new symptom emerged. I remember the painful treatments she endured on a weekly basis.
When we, or people we love, confront such things in their lives, we often turn to God and ask, “Why?” Why would God allow an innocent child to suffer such pain and anguish? Why allow her family to go through that? We wrestle with this question when we face unspeakable illnesses like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. We ask it when we lose loved ones, friends, and jobs. We ask it when absolutely nothing is going right in our lives.
The prophet Jeremiah seems to believe that God punishes people for a reason. In the particular case of Judah, the people had turned away from God, worshiping false gods and paying allegiance to foreign powers in order to ensure their continued safety and security. According to Jeremiah, Judah’s destruction was a consequence of not turning back to God.
We must be careful, though, to make sure that we do not apply this theology to matters of personal illness or tragedy. God does not make people sick to punish them. God does not make people suffer loss to teach them a lesson. In this case, Judah turned away from God of their own volition, made horrendous choices about where to place their political allegiance, and faced the natural consequences of their choice. This vision has led many to the false belief that God is punitive and vindictive, harshly punishing sin in cruel ways. The important point of Jeremiah’s oracle is that God, the potter, is in control and we, the clay, are not. Nothing my family, or my sister, did, caused her to suffer from an unknown and painful illness.
This is essentially the same message that we hear from the psalmist this morning. In Psalm 139, we come to realize that God is not only sovereign over the nations; God is sovereign over us as well. God knows us completely, to the extent that God knows the words we are about to speak before they are even formed with our mouth. God is with us always, a divine sleeping bag zipped up all the way. We cannot go anywhere to get away from God. In my view, this is a much more comforting vision of God than the one presented in Jeremiah, even though they convey the same truth about God – God is in total and complete control.
In the midst of this meditation on God’s sovereignty and omnipresence, we hear the truth that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Another distinct memory I have of my sister is that she loved to eat bacon and ham. She would eat bacon almost every morning and she could tear through a pound of ham every couple of days. She couldn’t get enough of it. What we came to realize, when, at the age of 12, she was finally diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, was that her body was craving sodium. She was self-medicating with pork products. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Taken together, Jeremiah’s oracle and the psalmist’s meditation, reveal that God created us and we are wholly dependent on God. Like my sister, who needed sodium in order to thrive, we all need something. That is an easy concept for us to comprehend: we all need something. However, because of the way God created us, all of us need the same thing. That is slightly more challenging to understand. When we look around, we are prone to think that each person needs something different and unique. The truth of the matter, though, is that God created each of us to need the same thing – rest. We all need to recharge.
If you are anything like me, one of the last things you do before you go to bed each night is plug in your cell phone. My cell phone has become an integral part of my daily life. I use it to communicate with people over the phone, as well as via text and email. I keep my calendar on it. I use it as a reference library. I use it to track my movements and guide my trips to unknown places. By the end of the day, my phone’s battery is nearing empty; it even tells me when it needs to be recharged. Something I’ve learned over my years of using cell phones is that not all chargers are created equal. Some will charge your battery slowly. Some aren’t compatible and won’t give your battery any charge at all. Others can actually destroy your battery. That is why manufacturers always recommend that you use the charger that came with your device, the charger that was specifically engineered to go with it and charge it properly.
In some sense, we are God’s cell phones. The sovereign God, on whom we are completely dependent, uses us to communicate the message of the Good News. God enacts the daily unfolding of divine plans through the events on our calendars. God even uses us to expand the borders of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. The Holy Spirit performs all of those activities through us, and at the end of the day, our spiritual batteries are running low. Most of us realize this, and we do try to recharge them. Some of us try to charge our batteries by spending time with family. Others use our work to try to charge our batteries. Some of us may plug into relationships, whether good or bad, to fill the need, while others turn to things like sports, food, or alcohol. However, like our cell phones, God has designed us to be exclusively compatible with one source that is capable of recharging our spiritual batteries. That source is God. We are dependent on God to charge our batteries. Our ideal charge comes when we plug into God.
This is what Jesus is talking about when he preaches about the cost of discipleship. Jesus teaches his followers that they are God’s holy dependents, and that they must be wholly dependent on God. The relationship goes both ways: God takes care of us, but we, in turn, must humble ourselves to be dependent on God. The cost of discipleship is first acknowledging that our batteries run out of juice and need to be recharged. This may seem simple, but it is hard to claim our limitations, especially when our society is driving us to accomplish more and more in the same amount of time. It is a humbling experience to accept that we cannot accomplish everything by our own steam and that we need help, even divine help. Secondly, the cost of discipleship is being willing to forsake all the false power sources available to us so that we can plug in to God and God alone.
Our hope for our program year, which begins next Sunday, is that this church can be a place where you can come to connect with God and recharge your spiritual batteries. We understand that for many people, the demands of life are too great to find time for even the simplest acts of faithful devotion. Because we know how important those acts are, we are offering classes and special events throughout the year that will provide you with opportunities and tools to help you recharge. While I believe the church should be a place to come to get your batteries charged, I know that it can also be a place that sucks them dry. So my challenge to you as we kick off this program year is to find a class, a study, or a small group of other Christians, and use that as an opportunity to connect with God. Worship is essential, to be sure, but we each need something else to help charge our spiritual batteries. It’s like Jesus said in Matthew, and I am paraphrasing here: Plug into me, all you whose batteries are nearing empty, and I will recharge your souls. Our creator made us, fearfully and wonderfully, to be dependent on God. Let’s plug in.