This morning I’d like to focus on the providence of God. Providence is a very old-fashioned word. I looked it up in the dictionary just to make sure I was using it right Providence means “the protective care of God or nature as a spiritual power.” It comes from the Latin word providentia, meaning “to foresee” or “to attend to.” In other words, God’s providence means God is watching out for us. God is aware of our needs even before we know what they are.
The concept of the providence of God is something we affirm every Sunday at Abiding Savior whether we’re aware of it or not. It happens at the end of our prayers when, together, we say “The Light of God surrounds us; the Love of God enfolds us; the Power of God protects us; the Presence of God watches over us; wherever we are, God is. All is well.” This affirmation reminds us that God’s protective care is with us, whether we believe it or not! Some weeks, we can pray this with absolutely certainty. Other weeks we need others to affirm this truth for us! Amen?
These words are echoed in Psalm 139 which asks “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, your right hand shall hold me fast.” [Ps 139:8-10] These words affirm that God is with us no matter where we go. God’s providence is above us, beside us, below us, ahead of us, and behind us!
As we explore this concept today, it’s important to note that providence DOES NOT mean that God has a perfect plan for our lives. I know there are people who believe this and find it comforting, but I am not one of them! To believe that God has a perfect plan means God has a purpose for hurricanes, earthquakes, car accidents, cancer, gun violence, genocide and the like. If that’s the case then it’s time for me to stop being a pastor because that is NOT a God I can worship. It makes God look like a schoolyard bully at best, or a sadistic crazy person at worst!
To say that God has a perfect plan means everything happens for a reason. I personally can’t get behind that kind of theology. I find it impossible to believe that God intentionally causes bad things to happen to us so that we can learn something from them. This is not God’s providence, so don’t confuse the two!
God’s providence means that God cares for us in good times and in bad. God walks with us every hour of every day. It means that God is working in our lives and in our world in ways we cannot always see. The light, love, power and presence of God surrounds us, enfolds us, protects us, and watches over us whether we are aware of it or not. This is what God’s providence looks like.
The truth of it is boldly proclaimed in our first and gospel lessons for today. Our first lesson is a continuation of last week’s reading where God addresses the question of human suffering, and, more specifically, Job’s suffering. But instead of giving Job a long sermon or share profound theological insights with him, God asks Job a series of questions. These questions are designed to awaken Job’s sense of awe and wonder. The Eternal One is reminding him that the true nature of God is creation and rebirth. God does not have time to sit in heaven and think up ways to punish us. Instead God is the Master Architect who drew up the complex and detailed design of the universe. God is the Master Builder who keeps our world in good working order. These questions remind Job that the God who holds the Universe together knows every intimate detail of his suffering and is very much on his side.
Today’s questions are a little bit different from last weeks questions. I would argue that they center on the theme of God’s providence as Caretaker of the animal kingdom. God speaks of wild goats, donkeys, and oxen, hawks and eagles. The point of these questions is that God provides for all these animals in ways we don’t often think about. If God cares for animals in this way, Job can be reassured that God cares for him as well. Sometimes this nurturing care comes in forms that Job fails to notice as he focuses on his suffering.
Many of you know that I’m currently enrolled in an Herbal Medicine Making Course through the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine. One of the reasons why I took this course, is to establish a more intimate connection with nature, especially the plants which grow all around us. As I’ve learn how to make tinctures, teas, salves and syrups, I’m amazed at the bounty of health benefits that come from plants that most of us consider to be weeds or simply pretty flowers in our yard.
For example, did you know that dandelions, plantain and chickweed, contain more vitamins and minerals than kale does? They grow in our yards in abundance. We try to kill them, when we should be eating them! The flowers and leaves of Bee Balm taste a bit like oregano and can be used as a spice in many dishes. The flowers also impart a beautiful red color to infused vinegars and oils. Yarrow leaves can be made into a poultice to help stop bleeding and heal bruises. Lavender does amazing things for our skin and even parts of day lilies can be eaten!
I could go on, but I think you get the point! All of these things are growing in our yards. We hardly pay them any attention. Yet, they are all sign’s of God’s providence. God created these plants with wonderful healing powers and health benefits. Every time I work with a particular plant to extract it’s hidden treasures, I am reminded that God often provides for us in ways we don’t always see or fully appreciate. When I’m having a bad day, and I wonder if God is paying attention to me, all I have to do is start working with these wonderful plants and flowers, and my confidence in God’s providence is restored.
Turning our attention to our gospel lesson, I believe Jesus is trying to do the same thing with his disciples, as God was trying to do with Job. “Look at the ravens,” he says. “They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to God than any birds! Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, God will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?” [NLT]
Jesus is asking his disciples to trust in God’s providence. He encourages them to look at nature and see the many ways that God cares for the plants and animals that are all around us. If God cares so beautifully and tenderly for them, how much more will God beautifully and tenderly care for us?
Jesus ends his teaching by saying “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and God will give you everything you need.” In other words, we should not be obsessed with all the everyday worries and cares of life. God is watching out for us, and is providing for us in ways we don’t always see nor comprehend. The way to diminish worry is to focus on what God is doing in our lives and in our world. There are signs of the kingdom all around us. These signs remind us of God’s providence.
As I bring my thoughts to a close, I’d like to give you some homework. Each day this week, say the words of the Protection Prayer: “The Light of God surrounds us; The Love of God enfolds us; The Power of God protects us; The Presence of God watches over us; Wherever we are, God is. All is well.”
After you finish this prayer, notice how it makes you feel. Are you praying it with certainly and confidence? Or do you feel like you need someone to pray it for you because you’re not 100% sure it’s true? If you’re not 100% sure it’s true spend some time in nature. Take a long, contemplative look at the ravens and the lilies, the squirrels and the trees. Think about the bees that help to pollinate the flowers as well as some of the food we eat. If you find something you’re particularly drawn to, do a Google search on it when you get home. Learn something new about that particular plant or animal.
May creation awaken a sense of awe and wonder in all of us. May it remind us of God’s providence, in our lives and in our world. Amen.
Copyright ©2016 by David Eck