Isaiah 40:21-31

Mark 1:29-39

Today is Boy Scout Sunday, and the story I’ve been thinking about this week is from my time in Boy Scouts. I was hiking at Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, and I was having one of my first deepest encounters with God. It felt as if God had made the whole event just for me: the sunshine, the rain, the water stops, even the trail crews we encountered. It was a deep, formative experience for me. The silence and the nature helped me recognize God with my own eyes. I was seeing God from the end of this reading from Isaiah: God knows me and lifts me up. God gives me extra strength. Emphasis on the ‘me.’

This week, however, I’ve been thinking about this experience through other eyes. The late Bishop of Stockholm (and Dean of Harvard Divinity School) Krister Stendahl said in reflecting on the Bible, “It’s not primarily about me.” There’s even more to gather from that wonderful essay, but that first statement is deeply true all by itself: The Bible is not primarily about me. It’s not just that Isaiah wrote his prophecy to and for other people, although that’s true. He also wrote the beginning of this same passage, including the claim that the Lord is beyond the earth and the sky. The Lord is in the elements sending wind over the earth and lighting the stars. Yes, the Lord is the strength welling up in us when we’re weary, but She is also far beyond us and all around us. God is not all about us.

Krister Stendahl didn’t change my mind about this. Time with my neighbors did that. I learned that other people saw the truth, not just me. There were six other Scouts at Philmont, and we all walked the same trails together. That experience was about them as much as it was about me. I got to know members of other religious traditions. I heard a voice in other rituals and scriptures, and that voice sounded much like “my” God. Most of all, I got to know people who expected an attack from me simply because I was a Christian. People who couldn’t convince themselves of any supernatural faith. Gay and lesbian people who worried before I said a word that I was going to start hitting them with out-of-context scriptures that condemn the only sexual orientation they can honestly claim. People scarred by abuse, suicide, or social exclusion, who were threatened by my certainty that God was especially with me.

Christianity sure teaches that God is with me. God is the source of my deep strength. God is joyous when I see the stars and marvel. But we, and certainly I, tend to go one step too far with that teaching. We tend to see God’s gifts for all people, then claim them as special gifts just for us. I bring my needs, our church’s needs, to God as if they were more important than others’ needs. We tend to count our blessings without accounting for other people’s losses. If we’re rewarded, we think we must deserve it, but what happens to someone else is off our radar.

We trick our own instincts that way. We look for cause and effect where it isn’t. We naturally look for cause and effect all around us, but can make false connections. I worried that I was inadvertently training our cat Rhea with my home coffee grinder. Iwas worried that she’d learn to fear the kitchen in the morning, because that’s where she is when that awful noise happens. She panics less now – she still doesn’t like it, but she’s learned that the noise is all bark: it’s not actually about her.

I’ve been thinking this about the people with demons whom Jesus missed in his journey, when he went on to other towns. Did the other towns deserve a visit more? At two thousand years’ distance, we can see that no, they didn’t. Jesus was only in one place at a time. Even in his new body, the church, Jesus is only in so many places at any given time. If Jesus had put the whole world on the itinerary for his three-year ministry, he probably would never have gotten to preach in the towns he did visit. Maybe that’s a reminder that no village by itself is God’s people. The next town, the next continent need to hear good news.

God is not always about us, but God is with us. Even when the story is about and for someone else, that’s our God at work. The story is about God. God cares for others without ceasing to care for us, and when God calls us into the work of caring, that is for us!