December 10, 2013

Yesterday, I contemplated the collateral damage that accompanies treatment for cancer, those negative consequences of an action meant to do good. Today, to look on the bright side, we are invited to think about serendipity: the finding of valuable or agreeable things not sought for. A very famous case of serendipity was when the 3M Company, formulating a new adhesive and encountering one failure after another, discovered the compound that became the temporary glue behind the Post-It Note. That discovery was a serendipity!

Chemotherapy has had some surprising side-benefits: the steroid given to amp up the anti-nausea medicine has relieved the pain of my March shoulder injury, so I now have full range of motion. My limited stamina has necessitated the companionship of a parade of friends who sit with me each afternoon for quality faith-building conversation. The cough that originally got me to the doctor is almost gone. For some reason, my metabolism is accelerated, and I can eat anything I want anytime, without gaining weight. [It’s been decades since I have had that pleasure!] And certainly one must consider it a benefit to have hours of quiet time each day in which to listen to God, write, and sew.

The concept of serendipity is embedded in the biblical story, perhaps most prominent in the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis. The narrative begins in chapter 37 and weaves in and out through the rest of the book. As a young whippersnapper, Joseph had a pride problem and his eleven brothers were sick of it. Joseph was a favored son and had received a special gift of a multi-colored coat. He flaunted his status before his brothers, who decided one day to give him his come-uppance. They disrobed him, threw him into a cistern to die, smeared some animal blood on the coat, and took it to their father as evidence that Joseph was dead. A terrible thing to do to a brother and a father!

Unbeknownst to them, an Egyptian caravan passed by, heard Joseph’s calls for help, and rescued him. They took him to Egypt and made him a slave; several chapters cover his growing maturity, the emergence of his gifts, and the remarkable transformation that put him in a position of incredible power in that country. Near the end of the story, his brothers, suffering through a famine in Israel, came to Egypt for foreign aid. They did not recognize Joseph, who staged a dramatic “reveal” and provided the whole Jacob clan safe haven for the duration.

In that great scene, after Jacob had died and the brothers feared Joseph’s revenge, Joseph declared to them: Look, you perpetrated a great evil upon me and meant to harm me. But God meant it for good, so that his people could be preserved (Genesis 50:20). That is serendipity of the highest order: “You intended evil, but God meant it for good.”

One way of looking at my illness (and whatever trial you are going through) is to recognize that Satan intends destruction, but God is working his redemptive Kingdom purposes through it. This very powerful reality helps one to see the bright side, to count the blessings, to recognize open doors that would have remained closed if one had remained healthy, to see ministry potential in suffering, and to give God glory and praise. The balm this is to one’s spirit cannot be measured.

The idea also applies in our corporate life together as a church. There are elements of incredible disorder at work in the PC(USA) and other mainlines. Some of those who desire a new order based on a different gospel have even stated publicly that the destruction of the PC(USA) would be an acceptable outcome if in the process LGBTQs could gain and enjoy “equal rights.” [A sermon was delivered in my presbytery a couple years ago with this message included.] The inherent contradiction of this declaration demonstrates the spiritual confusion and destructive intent of some extremists wishing to make their agenda the new order of the PC(USA). However, it helps us process this trend better if we remember that while people can intend evil, God can and does work good. It may take some time (in Israel’s case, 440 years), but I believe that what is immoral and wrong-headed in the PC(USA) ultimately will implode upon itself and the church built upon the authentic gospel of Jesus Christ will prevail. Then we will be able to say, “You intended evil, but God meant it for good.” Our only obligation, as that process plays out, is to keep our eyes on what God is really doing, hold onto the hope of his Spirit, and remain steadfast and courageous in the waiting period. This posture sets us up to receive what God intends to give: blessing, hope, peace, vindication, and a plan forward in which God receives the glory and honor.


One Response to “Serendipity”

  1. emd5542 Says:

    BRAVO! Revmary, I take redemptive and remnant stories deep into my spirit and listen for the discipline. I am with you 100% in every word you write, treasuring your sharing with us how God is taking you into parts heretofore unknown to use to his glory and how you continue to bring the Word to life right from Holy Scripture to our theologically hungry hearts. Serendipity, indeed.

    And I’m adding a prayer that restoration of your range of motion is permanent–no PT and no surgery in your future (except that once a PT patient returning to the exercises when the body cries out is plain old wisdom). Amazing return on chemo. Thanks be to God.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s