A Bit of a Surprise
My brother called. He asked me to look for information about a church that one of his former High School students was just assigned, to be their pastor. He said "it was a bit of a surprise" when that student went into the ministry. I said, "It was a bit of a surprise for me too." Silence. And then we talked some more.
It got me thinking. It got me looking back. "It was a bit of a surprise for me too." I was in high school. I had other things I was interested in doing. I still have some of those interests. But there was a point where everything changed and it was no longer possible to do anything else. I cannot remember the date but I remember the day. Everything since that time fits together and makes sense. But it is true. It was a surprise. It was a surprise for my friends. And it took some time for me getting used to the new path I was on.
I have heard other pastors relate their stories. One tells how: suddenly one verse in the Bible made perfect sense and his future was set. Another told how three phrases from the Nicene Creed suddenly took hold ("God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God"). Another told how he suddenly started believing Jesus' words in the Bible; and he was no longer welcome in his religious group. On and on go the stories. It seems surprises are more of a pattern than we realize.
In the Bible:
We should have expected this. God will surprise and God will do the unexpected. After all, He is the God of Grace; the God of unearned and undeserved love and mercy. Everything in our relationship with God is by Grace. It is the experience of blessings we have no way to expect or get ready for.
This is God who called Moses from a burning bush, who chose the smallest child in the family to be King David, who shut the mouth of the lion, who walked with the three young men in the middle of the fiery furnace -- And how many other ways did He surprise His people? No one saw any of that coming. And that's how God loves to come to His people; with the unexpected grace.
And then He chose to be born in a stable; call fishermen and a tax collector for disciples; eat with sinners; touch the lepers; and heal on the sabbath.
He did salvation by being arrested, abused, crucified, and killed. Paul celebrates the surprise. He says, "Jews demand signs, and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, ..." (1 Corinthians 1:22-23) and "the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18)
Easter morning comes along, and how many of His followers did Jesus surprise? Mary Magdalene, the Emmaus disciples, the ten in the upper room -- and Thomas a week later.
How many does Jesus surprise today? Countless millions all around the world: suddenly seeing that there is eternal life right there in Jesus' words; or surprised that the truth in Jesus keeps on pursuing and calling them.
But that is exactly what we should have expected of a Living Jesus who is working and acting and calling souls and gathering followers to be His kingdom, His people living forever with Him.
If you look through your life, how many ways has this living Jesus surprised you? How many ways has His hand worked behind the scenes in ways that you slowly became aware of? How many ways has He nudged, called, and reminded you of His words? And how often has that been unexpected?
Lord Jesus, You are the Shepherd and You guide me in ways that I do not expect. But You are Lord and You know how to lead me. Guide me in things that I do not expect, and help me to grow in faith, following You and learning of You -- until that day when You surprise me with Life and Glory that lasts for all eternity. Amen.
((And now to tie up a loose end from yesterday. I shared a German devotional thought: "Verzweifle nicht, Seele, Gott troestet, hoert deine Bitte, sieht deine Not. Er wird dir zur richtigen Zeit helfen und dir erhabenen Frieden gewaehren."
The translation is: "Despair not, Soul! Trust God [who] hears your prayer, [and] sees your need. He will at the right time help you and bring you sublime peace."))
Rev. Mark Willig
Pastor Willig is pastor emeritus of Friends in Christ Lutheran Church.