In the lesson from 1 Samuel (10:17-27), a king is chosen despite Samuel’s prophetic message from God, “But this day you have rejected your God…and [instead] you have said, ‘No! but set a king over us.’” In the lesson from Acts (7:44-8:1a), the crowd stones Stephen for revealing that he saw “the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.” In the reading from Luke (22:52-62), Peter, having heard his master’s predictive warning—“You will deny me three times”—still renounces his association with Jesus, “Man, I do not know what you are saying.”
I wonder whether we could comb back through the scriptures and identify every impediment to the divine-human relationship that stems from our inability to hear, see, or understand what God is attempting to communicate. So often, as is the case of these three lessons, God is trying to tell us something good, but our self-dependence gets in the way, obscuring our ability to hear that message. God wants to take care of us—we’d rather trust a king. God wants to show us his redemptive power in Jesus—we’d rather trust ourselves. God wants to offer us a relationship with him—we’d rather stand alone. Why is it that we prefer to do things ourselves and not accept God’s help?
I have a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, who insists on doing everything by herself. That suggests to me that part of what it means to be human is to attempt independence. Even from that early age, we want to show others (and ourselves) that we can do it—that nothing is impossible for us. No matter how carefully, calmly, and invitingly I try to explain to my daughter that I’d love to help her, she responds to each of my offers with increasing frustration. The more I want to help means the more she wants to do it alone. Am I still three-and-a-half?
As I’ve written before, I recently spent some time in Sawyerville, and one of the songs that is often sung at a diocesan youth gathering is “Lean on Me.” I don’t know all of the words, and, because of that, I keep singing the song over and over in my head as if somehow I’ll figure them out. As that song has been on repeat in my mind, I’ve heard the poet frequently saying to me, “It won’t be long ‘til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.” In that way, it’s a song that’s trying to teach me something. Eventually (i.e., every single day), I’m going to need some help. And unless I realize that—unless I start from a place of accepting my own need—I can’t receive the help that’s being offered.
God reaches out to us every single day with an offer of assistance. The stories of scripture are repeated expressions of God’s offer to take care of us and our refusal to accept that offer. That pattern hasn’t stopped just because the bible is finished being written. God is still offering me his sustenance. And I’m still trying to prove to him and to myself and to anyone else who may be watching that I can do this on my own. Perhaps I’m supposed to let that rather annoying song repeat in my head over and over and over until I finally get that I need God to lean on.