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Bigger Hands

Yesterday I had the opportunity of concluding our popular Wednesday Evenings at Lent Program. Over the past couple of weeks, Fr. Mullins and Fr. Kubicek led sessions in New Brick. However, due to the ongoing pandemic - our life in exile - Bishop Ilhoff, Fr. Ginnever, and myself had to offer our presentation online. That was new and a big thing for us, but I am glad we were able to offer this important piece of our spiritual life to you and the wider world. A few days ago, I received an email from a parishioner who asked if I had read an article he sent me some days prior. I had not by then read the article because I got distracted and totally forgot about it. I made it a point to read the article, and I read it again. It was very insightful. I was fascinated with the idea of learning and re-learning old and new things as a result of our life in exile. In a very real way, there’s been a seismic shift in our individual and communal lives and, for that reason, we cannot look at the world the same way or continue to do things the same way we’ve been used to doing them.  The idea of learning and re-learning both new and old things in a different way immediately took me to the period of the Babylonian exile. That exile, itself, was a huge shift in the life and consciousness of the people of Israel for whom God delivered from slavery in Egypt. They were God’s elect. They were favored by God. They were the light to the nations. Well, if that was what they were, how were they to explain the reality of being in exile? In response to this experience, they had to re-calibrate. They had to learn and re-learn both new and old ways of building a sustainable relationship with God - a relationship which was informed by the mistakes of the past and shaped by a new appreciation of the Law - the very mistakes that took them into exile. The prophet Ezra, from whose book our theme Arise for the task is yours…take courage and do it was adopted, was who led the reforms by reconstituting the spiritual lives of the people, read the entire book of the Law at one sitting, and instituted the Law as the center of Jewish life. For Ezra, the question wasn’t about the exile, but rather what they learned from it, just so they wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of their past. I noted in my remarks yesterday that as a community we find ourselves in exile; we, too, are in exile, or at least our present experience feels like being in such a state. We cannot sing the Lord’s song, not because we don’t want to but instead because we are still trying to figure out if there’s still enough reason for us to sing. For if we thought we were invincible, this virus has opened our eyes to how vulnerable we actually are, and to how helpless we can be. Unlike the Jews who walked over a long distance to a far, distant country, we also find ourselves in exile but, by contrast, in our own homes. We are stuck with being home, watching TV, learning and re-learning how to live with each other. As harrowing as the exile experience was, it affirmed for the Israelites that God was faithful and trustworthy. More than that, God was gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. God is good and relents off his anger. As disorienting as this experience of exile has been for us, I have also come to appreciate and trust the Man with the bigger hands. This brings me to the story of a little boy and his father who visited a country store, and upon leaving the store, the owner of the store offered the little boy some free sweets... “Get a hand full of sweets," the merchant said to the boy. The boy just stood there looking up at his father. The owner repeated himself: “Son, get a hand full of sweets. They’re free.” Again, the boy did not move, continuing to look up to the face of his father. Finally, the father reached into the candy jar and got a hand full of sweets to give to his son. As they walked back home together, the father stopped and asked his son why he did not grab a handful of the free candy. The boy, with a big smile on his face, looked into the face of his father, and said, “Because I know that your HAND is BIGGER than mine.” And indeed, the Father’s hand is bigger than yours. I concluded yesterday’s remarks with these words: we are also in exile, but before long this shall pass. What have we learned from being in exile? For me, I am assured that God’s gracious favor has been upon us, and will continue to be upon us. We all have learned some lessons about ourselves, and about others, while in exile. So - whatever your needs, concerns, and fears have been while in exile, please place them in the Father in heaven’s hand, because HIS HAND is BIGGER THAN YOURS. The virus has taken so much from us, but let it not take away who you are… a loving child of the God who delivers us from exile with His Bigger Hands. ~Manny


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