My Father is still working

File:Cornus florida 02 by Line1.jpgA reflection on John 5:1-9 and Revelation 21:9-10, 22-22:5 (the texts for Easter 6 C) on the occasion of my grandson’s first Sunday in worship and the first step towards his baptism.

There are a couple things I need to say about our texts before I share with you what I have written for this morning.  This passage from John is an amazing narrative.  The man has suffered for 38 years.  When asked whether he wishes to be made whole, he answers by saying he has no one to help him into the water.  The legend held that an angel would occasionally descend and stir the water and the first person into the pool would be healed.  But this man has no one.  His answer expresses brokenness and despair.  He has no hope of healing.  He has no community, no family, no friends, no one to care for him – until Jesus finds him.  And Jesus does find him. 

The leadership of the nation responds to this wondrous healing by criticizing the man for carrying his mat on the Sabbath.  We didn’t read this part.  We should have, but that would have required us to read the whole chapter.  But it is important to note this because religious people are often this way.  We respond to God’s wondrous work with nitpicking and legalism.  He’s not supposed to work on the Sabbath and carrying your mat is defined as work.

The conflict over the Sabbath is the central element of this narrative.  When Jesus, himself, is criticized for working on the Sabbath, he answers by saying, among other things, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.”  The leadership of the nation imagined God’s work of creating was over.  God had created for six days and now God was ‘resting’.  But Jesus declares that God is still at work.  God is still creating — and God’s work is a work of healing.  God is working to make us whole.  God is working to make the world whole.

Sometimes it needs to be said that God is still at work.

Our second reading was the vision of the New Jerusalem given to John of Patmos.  It is a vision of the world made healed and restored.  At the time John writes, the earthly city has been destroyed by rebellion and war.  Rome has crushed it.  But at the consummation of human history, in that day when all human rebellion is overcome and all things are made new, in that day the heavenly counterpart of the earthly city descends to earth.  And though we don’t get the measurements of the city in our portion of the reading, the city is a giant cube some 1,200 to 1,500 miles across and high. The reason it measures as a perfect cube is that the holy of holies inside the temple, where God was present, was a perfect cube.  The world is now the holy of holies where God dwells.  The consummation of human history is God coming to dwell with us.

Sometimes it needs to be said that God is still at work – and that God’s purpose is to dwell in our midst.

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As you know, my daughter and her husband are here this morning and we are doing a rite of blessing in anticipation of a baptism that will happen later where they live.

There are things I want to tell Finn, but he is not ready to hear them.  I want to tell him about the beauty and grandeur of the world around us.  I want to tell him about the Grand Canyon and the waterfalls at Yosemite in springtime.  I want to take him to the Monterey Aquarium and talk about the mysteries of the deep.  I want him to gaze into the wonder of those tiny flowers in the grass outside and the supple lines and color of a rose.  I want him to watch with wonder the flight of a swallow and the migration of the monarchs and to hear crickets in the evening.  I want him to see how seed turns to sapling turns to towering tree.  I want him to walk among redwoods and see dogwoods in the spring. 

I want him to know the beauty of the world.  I want him to know its goodness before he learns its sorrows.  I want him to play in a soft summer rain before he feels the power of a storm.  I want him to see the wonder of a bird’s nest before he learns that other animals would prey on the babies.  I want him to delight in bunnies in the yard before he worries about hawks overhead.  I want him to know human kindness before he learns of human cruelty.

I want to tell Finn this story we have received of a world conceived in love, of a creation called into being by a divine Word and that God saw and declared all things good and noble and beautiful.  I want to tell him this story that he is made of the dust of the earth and the breath of God.  I want him to know that he was made to live in God’s presence and tend God’s garden – that he was made to live in harmony with all things.

I want Finn to know the goodness before he learns what happened in that garden, how humanity broke faith with God and broke the ties that bind all things together. 

I want Finn to know the beauty of the earth before he tastes its tears.  I want him to know the goodness of family before he learns about Cain and Abel and the bitter envy that tears the human family apart.

And I want Finn to hear the voice of God speaking to Cain, telling him that we can choose kindness and faithfulness.  I want him to know we can choose to listen to the breath of God rather than the murmurings of bitterness and revenge.

There are so many things I want to tell Finn.  I want to tell him of Abraham’s courage in trusting God’s promise, of Isaac’s love for Rebekah, of Jacob the cheat burning all his bridges and wrestling with God at the river Jabbok.  I want to tell him of Joseph who forgave his brothers and Moses who stood before the burning bush.  I want to tell him about Pharaoh’s hardness of heart and God’s determination to bring freedom to both the oppressors and the oppressed.  I want to tell him about Sinai and the wilderness and the radical notion that God is a god who travels with us, that God is not a god of rock and stream but a God of love and mercy.  

I want to tell him of the prophets.  I want to tell him of the psalms of joy and the cries of lament.  I want to tell him of the faithfulness of Ruth and the courage of Esther.  I want to tell him about the gifts and call of God.  And I want to tell him about the child of Nazareth, the song of the angels and the message given to shepherds.  I want to tell him about the boy Jesus in the temple and the grown man at the Jordan.  I want to tell him about the words he spoke and the things he did.  I want to tell him about Zacchaeus in the tree and the woman at the well and the banquet in the wilderness that fed five thousand families with twelve baskets left over.

I want to tell him about the empty tomb and the gift of the spirit and the dawn of God’s new creation in the world and in us.  

I want him to know about the women at the tomb and Mary, the first witness.  I want him to know about the boldness of Philip baptizing the Ethiopian Eunuch and Peter trusting the voice of heaven and baptizing a Roman centurion and family.  I want Finn to know of Lydia and the Philippian jailor bending to wash feet.  I want Finn to know the healing of the world is at hand.

I want to tell Finn about the courage and faithfulness of Perpetua and her companion, Felicity, who were martyred in the arena, and how she guided the executioner’s hand when he faltered.  I want to tell him about Francis of Assisi and Katy Luther and how Bach wrote “Soli Deo Gloria” – wholly to the Glory of God – on all his music.  I want to tell him of all the courageous men and women of faith and this wondrous mystery of the church gathered from every nation on earth to bear witness to the grace and mercy of God.

And I want to tell him about the promise of his baptism and the promise of the table.

I want to know that there is mercy in our sorrows and strength in our challenges and hope, always hope, for the grave is empty and the arms of God are open to us and to all.

I want Finn to know all this.  Even more, I want his parents to tell him these stories.  And I want all of us to tell him these stories.  I want the community of God’s people to uphold him in his journey and to uphold one another as we try to live Christ for the world.  I want us to sing and to pray and to labor side by side in hope and faithfulness, 

I want Finn to hear with us and understand with us this story of Christ and the man at the pool of Beth-zatha.  I want him to know Christ as healer and to know that this is the work of God.  I want him to know the power and promise of Jesus’ statement: “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” 

And I want Finn to hear and understand with all of us the power of this vision of the New Jerusalem, a city without fear, a city whose gates never close, a realm that gathers all that is good and noble of every culture and people, a city shaped like the most holy place – a world that has become the dwelling place of God.

Amen

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cornus_florida_02_by_Line1.jpg Liné1 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D

Do you want to be made whole?

File:Christhealingthesick.jpgWatching for the Morning of May 26, 2019

Year C

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

The imagery in the reading from Revelation this Sunday is vivid with hope – not the I-wish-it-could-happen hope, but the this-is-what’s-promised confidence. Imagery is imagery. It is a vision not a photograph. It is hope enfleshed in words drawn from human experience. It is a redemption beyond imagining towards which we point with what we can imagine: a city of light, beckoning all peoples; a city whose gates are never closed; a world without darkness or any remnant of the primordial chaos; a realm without war or threat of violence; a gathering of all that is good and noble of every land: “People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.”

We know from elsewhere in the text that the city is 12 times 1,000 stadia on a side (somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 miles wide, long, and high). The city is a perfect cube because the holy of holies was a perfect cube. The city has become the most holy place where God dwells.

The new creation is a city – not an imperial city formed by conquest and plunder, but a human community where people live in peace. From the throne of God flows the river of the water of life, and along its banks grows the tree of life whose leave “are for the healing of the nations. It is a vision of the world made whole. The human heart made whole. The human community restored.

The question Jesus poses to the man at the pool of Beth-Zatha is translated in our text as “Do you want to be made well?” The language is of infirmity and wholeness, of weakness and strength, not the modern idea of disease and healing. We would do well to translate it: “Do you want to be made whole?”

It is a question that should be posed to each of us. Do we want to be made whole or are we satisfied with this world where hearts and bones ache, where families are torn and separated, where hunger and violence stalk? Do we want to be made whole or are we satisfied with a world of tyrants and deceivers great and small? Do we want to be made whole or are we adapted to a world that devours hope?

Do we want to be made whole or are we accustomed to the failings and limitations of our own souls?

Do we want to be made whole or are there comforts enough to dull our conscience?

“Do you want to be made whole?” The man at the pool can imagine no such future. Perhaps we can imagine no such future. But then Christ speaks – and bids us take up our pallet and walk.

The Prayer for May 26, 2019

God of all healing and life,
turn our eyes to your Son Jesus,
our crucified and risen Lord,
that we may receive through him
that life which cannot perish.

The Texts for May 26, 2019

First Reading: Acts 16:6-15 (appointed: vv. 9-15)
“During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” – On his second missionary journey, the plans of Paul and his companions are blocked until they find themselves in the port city of Troas where Paul’s vision leads them across the Aegean to Philippi where they are received by Lydia.

Psalmody: Psalm 67
“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.” – A harvest song calling upon all nations to praise God

Second Reading: Revelation 21:9-10; 21:22 – 22:5 (appointed: vv. 21:10; 21:22 – 22:5)
“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.”
– In the culminating vision of the Book of Revelation, when all things are made new, the prophet sees the heavenly counterpart of the earthly city of Jerusalem descending to replace the city Rome destroyed. From the throne of God flows the river of life, and the tree of life brings healing to the nations.

Gospel: John 5:1-9
“Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids–blind, lame, and paralyzed.” The lame man waits in vain for that moment when the waters of the pool are touched by an angel and the first one in is healed. He has no family or friends to help him into the water. But Jesus finds him.

For the other appointed Gospel for this Sunday, John 14:23-29, see Easter 6 C in 2016.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christhealingthesick.jpg Carl Bloch [Public domain]

Not orphaned

9-11 memorial

Once More about Last Sunday

John 14:18-19, 23-29

18“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live…Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them…”

These words sound so esoteric and spiritual to us. We forget that they are very real to the first century. The temple was the dwelling place of God. There God lived among the people. There his Spirit was present. There God’s angels ascended and descended like Jacob’s vision at Bethel. There stood the Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place, where heaven touched earth and sins were forgiven and prayers arose like incense.

And now the temple is gone.

There is a hole in Manhattan where the twin towers stood. Two holes. They have been made into beautiful pools, water flowing down their sides, the names of all the dead etched in black stone. It is a lovely memorial.

The World Trade Center was not, for us, where God was present. Far from it. But there is still a hole there, an ache, an absence of what was and its terrible price. Imagine that one site was the White House, Arlington, Monticello, the Library of Congress, the Treasury, the Supreme Court, the Smithsonian, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the reflecting pool between. All gone. All rubble. Stomped into the earth by a ruthless army; its treasures looted, with millions dead and nearly a million sold into slavery.

“I will not leave you orphaned. I am coming to you. Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” The God who is the protector of orphans and widows will come to this orphaned people. The God who dwelt in the temple will now dwell in this small band of students dwelling in Jesus’ word.

It is as though the Declaration of Independence survived and is now in the hands of one small band.

If we had experienced all this, we would not take up the Gospel like an imperial banner under which to conquer the world. We would be a community that washes feet. That welcomes the stranger. That loves one another. We would be a community that witnesses tears turned to joy like water to wine. We would be a community where eyes are opened and lives are healed. We would be a community that breathes the Spirit of God.

 

Photocredit: dkbonde

Blessings

File:Harvest (13429504924).jpg

Saturday

Psalm 67

1May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
2that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.

We all want God to bless us. We want God to bless our homes and our children. We want God to bless our tables and our jobs. We want God to grant us prosperity and peace. We want God to protect us from all evil.

And when we are generous, we want God to bless every table – though the truth is we are more concerned with our own than those neighbors far away.

We think blessing is an end in itself, that it is good to be blessed, that it is good to have safety and security and abundance. We have a much harder time thinking of blessing as a means to an end. God intends to accomplish something through it. God is not just giving us an overflowing pantry. God is giving such a pantry that others might know God’s grace and power.

And it’s not this strange American perversion: “Look at me. I’m rich because of God. You can be rich, too.”   It’s rather, “Look at the abundance of God that there is plenty to share.”

There are two types of wealth in scripture. There is the wealth that comes from rich fields and timely rains. And there is the wealth that comes from profiting at the expense of others. The first is regarded as God’s blessing; the second as “unrighteous mammon”. But the wealth that comes from the fortune of good weather and land – wealth that is gift from God – is meant to be shared. If my fields prosper, I have the obligation to aid those whose fields did not. This is the failure of man in the parable of the rich fool. When his barns overflowed, he thought only of himself and not his obligation to his neighbors. He was at ease, but no one else. This is also the problem of the rich man with Lazarus at his gate.

So the psalm is a harvest song, calling upon all creation to recognize God’s goodness, God’s abundant generosity. The harvest is meant to bring joy to all – and give rise to praise from all. God’s blessing has a purpose: “that your way [God’s generosity and goodness and care for all] may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.”

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHarvest_(13429504924).jpg By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters (Harvest) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

All Nations

File:Victoria, BC - Christ Church Cathedral - stained glass 28 - Chapel of the New Jerusalem (20623905782).jpg

Chapel of the New Jerusalem, Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, BC

Watching for the Morning of May 1, 2016

Year C

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

It is still Easter. It will be Easter forever, but this is still the Easter season, and the empty tomb, and the New Jerusalem, and the Lamb upon the throne, and the river of life, and the gathering of all creation, continues to vibrate through our readings and song.

Paul and his companions have set out on their second missionary journey, visiting congregations they have planted and hoping to go into new regions. But the door is continually blocked until they find themselves in the port city of Troas and a vision leads them across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia and Greece and the ancient heart of Greek culture. There, across the sea, in the Roman colony of Philippi, the planted word takes root, beginning with Lydia and growing into Paul’s most beloved congregation.

The psalmist calls all nations and peoples to the ends of the earth to join the praise of God. John of Patmos sees the holy city, a light on a hill, beckoning all peoples. From the throne of God flows the river of the water of life and the tree of life brings healing to the nations. And then Jesus speaks to his followers of the gift of the Spirit, the advocate/defender who will stand with us and call to mind all that Jesus has said. The new creation dawns, and the peace of God is given.

The Prayer for May 1, 2016

God of might and tenderness,
who makes the mountain shake
but breaks not the bruised reed
and sustains the flickering flame.
Help us to dwell in your peace,
and ever to take refuge in the Holy Spirit
whom you have sent as our advocate and defender,
our teacher and guide.

The Texts for May 1, 2016

First Reading: Acts 16:6-15 (appointed: vv. 9-15)
“During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” – On his second missionary journey, the plans of Paul and his companions are blocked until they find themselves in the port city of Troas where Paul’s vision leads them across the Aegean to Philippi are received by Lydia.

Psalmody: Psalm 67
“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known upon earth, your saving power among all nations.” – A harvest song calling upon all nations to praise God

Second Reading: Revelation 21:9-10; 21:22 – 22:5 (appointed: vv. 21:10; 21:22 – 22:5)
“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.”
– In this culminating vision of the Book of Revelation of all things made new and the heavenly Jerusalem coming to dwell on earth, the prophet sees a city that is a beckoning light to all people and the tree of life brings healing to the nations.

Gospel: John 14:18-19, 23-29 (appointed: vv. 23-29)
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” – On the night of the last Supper, Jesus declares that he will not abandon his followers, but will send the Spirit to be their guide and defender.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AVictoria%2C_BC_-_Christ_Church_Cathedral_-_stained_glass_28_-_Chapel_of_the_New_Jerusalem_(20623905782).jpg  by Joe Mabel [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday Evening of May 5

So, as we read the vision of the New Jerusalem and sang the song of heaven, we had a member collapse and give us all a scare.  Here in this moment when the public action of the liturgy invites people to focus on the bread and wine, their heads and hearts are turned toward their friend.

Worship is life.  Stylized ritual to be sure, but life.  It is a family dinner with the family stories being told and our bonds to one another strengthened and renewed.  It is the wedding banquet where both friends and strangers are assembled and united in a common joy.  Sometimes, like last week, it is marked by the joy at the beginning of life: the baptism of a child.  Sometimes, as at a funeral, it is marked by the sorrow at the end of life. And sometimes, like today, it is marked by the fear in the middle of life.

She was, of course, filled with embarrassment as she lay on the floor behind the last pew by the narthex doors.  She had almost made it out before collapsing.  Maybe if she had collapsed at the grocery store among strangers she wouldn’t have felt so self conscious, but then she wouldn’t have been with people who love her, she wouldn’t have been enveloped by many private prayers, and she wouldn’t have been surrounded with the hymns and prayers of the people of God.

And for the rest of us – as we worried while the EMS techs did their work – we wouldn’t have been able to kneel at the altar rail and be reminded that God was in our midst, and in our hand, and on our side.

(She was released from emergency later in the afternoon.  A special thank you to those who attended her during worship, to those who accompanied her to the hospital, and to all for your prayers.)

Peace I leave with you

Saturday

“Those who love me will keep my word,
and my Father will love them,
and we will come to them
and make our home with them.

24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;

and the word that you hear is not mine,
but is from the Father who sent me.

25“I have said these things to you while I am still with you.
26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything,
and remind you of all that I have said to you.

27Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled,
and do not let them be afraid.

Reading John is like reading poetry: rich imagery, repeating phrases, overlapping ideas, simple words, and a simple but hard to explain message.  John was not an engineer; if he had been, it would be laid out: point 1, point 2, point 3.  So it helps, sometimes, to lay out John’s words like poetry.

It is the night of the last supper.  Judas has gone out to his task.  The days of heartache and confusion are about to begin for his followers.  And Jesus says: stay in my word; the Spirit will come (and help you stay in my word); stay in my peace.

Stay in my word; stay in my peace.

Stay in my word.  Abide in my message.  Keep my teachings.  Practice what I have told you.  Do what I have commanded you: love one another.

Stay in my peace.  Abide in my spirit.  Dwell in my life.  Live in my wholeness.  Live in my love.  Live in me.  Love one another.

Stay in my word; stay in my peace.

Simple words, but O so full of meaning.

The River of Life

Friday

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. (Revelation 21:10)

On Sunday morning we will be reading again from John’s vision of the day when all things are made new, when the new Jerusalem dawns upon the earth.

Empires in the ancient world were not empires of nations but of cities: cities that rise in wealth and power and become cities of expansion and conquest, growing ever richer and stronger by the booty of the cities they conquer, and the “tribute” of the cities that surrender.  The treasures of the first temple were carried off by the Empire of Babylon.  Rome plundered the second temple and with its treasures built the great Coliseum where they entertained the crowds with the wars of enslaved gladiators and the feeding of Rome’s enemies to wild beasts and tortures.

Jesus announced God’s kingdom, God’s empire, God’s city.  In his healing of the sick, feeding of the hungry, and heralding of good news to the poor, he brought that reign of Grace.  His death seemed to belie the promise – but Easter declared it anew, and Jesus sent his followers into the world as heralds of God’s new and everlasting “empire”.

In our text the prophet is granted a vision of that new Jerusalem dawning in its fullness, radiant and shining like a bride adorned, a city that does not feed on its enemies but is a source of life for the world.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  (Revelation 22:1-2)

We come on Sunday to hear again this promise and drink deeply of the water of life.

Lydia the unexpected

Thursday

A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:14, from the first reading on May 5)

God leads us to the unexpected.  And what is unexpected is Lydia.  Maybe it’s a nickname, since she’s from the region of Lydia, but it is how she will be always remembered.  She would have been an outsider among the Roman elites living in Philippi – yet serving that elite clientele as a dealer in purple cloth.  Such cloth from Thyatira was very expensive – and at times restricted by law as to who could wear it.

Paul was looking for a synagogue but found a place of prayer.  Does this mean there were not 10 men to make an official synagogue?  Or did Paul never make it to the synagogue?  Did Paul assume, when he found these women, that this is where the Spirit led him?  Perhaps he only stopped to ask for directions and suddenly their polite conversation leads to a deep discussion of Jesus and then it is revealed that in this unexpected place the Spirit was at work, for God opened her heart to Paul’s message.

It is a tricky thing following the Spirit.  It requires that we be always open.  But it bears fruit: Lydia becomes the patron of the church in Philippi.

And clearly God felt no compunction because she was a woman.

Always the unexpected.

God and the unexpected

Wednesday

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (Acts 16:9)

In the verses just before this Paul and his companions had been met by one closed door after another.  They had not set out for Macedonia; it had not even crossed their minds.  But the attempt to go to west into Asia (what is now western Turkey) had failed, and the choice then to go into  Bythinia (northern Turkey) had been blocked.  They keep walking and end up in the port city of Troas near what is now Istanbul.  There the unexpected happens.

God is a god of the unexpected.  Moses was tending sheep when he stumbled across the burning bush.  Jacob grabbed any old rock for a pillow only to find it lay where heaven touched earth.  No one expected Joseph to show up again once he had been sold into slavery.  Peter was locked securely in prison when an angel set him free.  And then there was Mary…

We need to get used to the fact that God will lead us to the unexpected.  It can be both courage and comfort when all the doors seem closed.