One Heart

04.11.21

Following the arrival of the Holy Spirit, when thousands came to personal acceptance of Jesus Christ, a personal acceptance that came from a personal encounter, these new Christians, who did not even have the label of ‘Christian’ yet, began to figure out how to be what they were led to be in the midst of millions of people who didn’t want them to be anything different that what everyone else was already being. They they were in uncharted territory.

This was a group from all over the known world, a group of different races, different religious understandings, different cultures, different religious practices, different social and economic standing, and different religious personal experiences. This was a group that would have never landed in the same place, in the same anything if it were not for the same savior and for the same sacrifice.

In this same place they were out of place; a group that did not belong together yet they could not help but be together, a group of misfits who fit perfectly together, a group that was lost but would lead a world through their story of being found.  This was the beginning of the church, this was our beginning.

This group was of one heart and one soul, none of them claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. They were dedicated to learning by listening to the apostles testimony about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.

This was the tie that bound them together -Jesus, Jesus crucified, Jesus resurrected, Jesus ascended, Jesus. 

It was the Holy Spirit that empowered them, the glue that held them together, the GPS that guided them, the hunger and thirst that grew them – this was the Holy Spirit.

This story in Acts, a story of the original New Testament church, is their story, it is how they, sometimes painfully and sometimes joyfully,  figured out what it meant for them to be church.  This is their story, it is not our story, it is not our guide – the story of the New Testament Church is just that – it is Their Story.  A story of depending on Jesus and doing it alongside of others on the same journey. It is a story of finding their way together while still on their own personal journey.  It is a story of learning how to be of one heart and of one soul, even when everything about your experience is yours alone. It is a story of a journey that gives us inspiration in our journey alone together.

To understand the lesson from this passage, we have to understand the primary point that is being present – the people were of one heart and one soul.  It is not a lesson to be of one heart and one soul, but a lesson of what can happen with a group of people who, individually are of one heart and one soul.  What happened in the new testament church could only happen because of this heart and soul commonality. Understand, their story is not a story of things for us to do in the year 2021, it is not a rule book about how to govern and guide the institution of the church, it   revealed what happened with this first group that happened because that did have the same heart and soul, the author is celebrating the connectedness where there is the existence of one heart and one soul.  Note, and please grasp this note, the New Testament Church is not our How To Guide, it is a Here Is What Made Their Powerful Experience Possible.  It simply means that when we are in unity due to our heart and soul, not our agenda, our politics, our social or economic status – it is then that we can have enough respect for each other that disagreements are fine, our goal is not to eliminate disagreement, it is then that we learn to appreciate and prosper in our diversity. It is then that the Holy Spirit is freed to work among us – it is then that we begin to see Our Story. Having the same heart and same soul is our private journey our private story, however, when put together with others, and their different and distinct stories, God can do anything through us.

The New Testament Church had the story that it did because it was a group of people who shared one commonality, they each had the same heart and the same soul.  They did not connect together for any other reason that that.  They did not acquire that once were together but it was the factor that allowed them to thrive under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

So, we begin with these individuals who would later be given the label of ‘Christian’ who are learning how to be what will be come known as the ‘Church’, figuring out how to be Church alongside of each other and apart from each other.  For this first Church of first Christians, they had one heart and soul, none of them claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. They were individually dedicated to learning by listening to the apostles testimony about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold.

The foundation was their individual distinct stories that led to their same heart and soul. Grasp this, the Church is a different people with different stories, all with the same heart and same soul. [The church is ] A community of God’s created human beings, often who have little or nothing in common except for different personal holy moments that have led to having the same heart and souls as the others we are in community, in church, with.

After Mary had proclaimed that Jesus was alive, the disciples were still hesitant to completely believe.  In fact, in the gospel of Matthew reprimands this group of men who fail to believe and receive the story of this woman. Christ did appear in the midst of the disciples, affirming the message of Mary and proving his risen humanity by showing them his scars and inviting them to fully understanding his humanness by the nail prints on his hands and feet.  Thomas was not at this gathering, and being told about this, he said that he too would believe when he saw, and even touched the scars, but until then he would not be able to believe.

We give Thomas a hard time for voicing his disbelief. We judge him in the same way we often hear the stories of everyone from a perspective of our own skepticism and arrogance.  We want to be given the space but we seldom want to give others grace. 

Here is a truth – scripture and scripture stories (and all stories for that matter) are not a one dimensional, they are multi dimensional.  This is why we never finish learning and why we never are done with these stories. God calls us to pick them up and turn them around, to look at them from every direction.  With each new look we see something new, with each new perspective we are offered a new enlightened understanding of the truth. Every time we open up and turn it around, scripture reveals more truth and clarifies the things we are mistaken or fuzzy on.  

When Jesus later appears to Thomas and offers to show him the scars, inviting him to even touch the hands and feet, Jesus is meeting Thomas exactly where he is ready to be met.  Thomas sees and no longer needs to touch, he know believes. Jesus’ statement that follows is not a reprimand to Thomas because he had to see,  it is actually Jesus taking advantage of a powerful teaching moment to preparing Thomas, and the other disciples, for the next stage of their stories. They would be sharing with individuals who could not see Jesus resurrected, they would not have the opportunity to touch the nail prints. What if Jesus was telling them that they would not be able to have Jesus as their show and tell but, instead, their own live were going to be the visual, they very existence was going to be their proof. Our story is our proof.

We know one thing for sure, before Jesus 2nd appearance, Thomas was still in fellowship with the other disciples and they still considered him to be a part of their fellowship.  In the same way that Jesus made sure to include Peter when he sent Mary to proclaim, ‘Jesus is alive.’

Why is this important? Because Thomas was still of the same heart and soul as these men, as well as Mary who had already seen Jesus.  The group had not made Thomas an outcast because he did not believe the same as them at this moment.  They trusted God’s work in Thomas, they trusted his story, just like they were trusting God’s work in each other and themselves. Unity is not because of full agreement, nor does it require unanimity of thought.  Unity is what happens in a group where each participant in that group brings a same heart and a same mind to the environment and connectedness of the group. 

The church is one in Jesus and his mission to save the world, the church is about unity of heart and soul. Notice that the word MIND is not used, this sameness is different than that.  We do not have to use the same vocabulary, the same actions, the same politics, the same anything – however, we are all committed to truth, and we are accountable to seek and search for this truth at all times and in all things.  What brings us together is not those things that are seen, it is inside, it is our connection to God which enables our connection to each other.

The first church had many intense disagreements in all areas of life, the book of Acts is full of those arguments some even between the apostles, but, they had agreement in the one thing that mattered, a same heart and a same soul. 

The greatest unity is found in the greatest diversity.  When our unity is in the midst of our diversity, the things that we commonly connect with, our preferences, our achievements, our season of life, the color of our skin, the sameness of our backgrounds, and many other factors that change with time – those things cannot divide us. Unity happens when we are connected by our heart and soul, when we are all tied into the same life pumping through us, when we are all clinging to the same hope that permits us to respect instead of hate. When we have this type of unity, politicians, religious leaders, and any one else with an agenda, are unable to divide us through sound bites and subtle insinuations.

The apostle Paul depicts our faith story, our journey, our salvation, as being ‘grafted in’ to our root, to God.  Our Bible Project looked at this last Tuesday night, we talked about the art of grafting.  I grew up seeing aluminum foil wrapped wrapped around the branches of hard shell pecan tree outside my grandmother’s back door. Honestly, I don’t remember this aluminum foil ever not being there.  As I got older and began to ask questions I learned that my grandmother was not very fond of hard shell pecans however she loved paper shell pecans. So, whenever possible, she would take a branch from a paper shell pecan tree and graft it in to the hard shell pecan tree.  This resulted in branches on the tree that actually produced paper shell rather than hard shell.  These new branches remained what they were created to be yet they were all tied into the heart of the tree that provided life, and the branch held onto the tree with a grasp on the soul of the tree.  

Our sin has caused us to be removed from our life source, from the soul and heart beat of the tree, we have died in this process and Jesus call is to graft us all back into the treeThat was the purpose of the cross, which came from the tree.  As these branches with different stories and different pasts choose to be grafted in through the redeeming work of Jesus, they, we, are once again tied into the heart and the soul of the tree.  We do not cease to be the branch we were made to be but, we are now connected, each with our own story, our own mind, connected to God’s heart and God’s soul – now we have life.

This is the church, a tree with limbs grafted in all over it.  While the limbs may look different and may even act different, they are all dependent on the same roots and same life source.  We are all on the tree together yet we are all on the tree separate.

This is how we are separate yet together, this is how our faith is personal yet public, this is how we have different stories but still have the same story, this is why we are always accepting yet holding everything accountable to truth, the truth of God, a truth we are constantly seeking and searching for.  This is why Jesus said we must search, seek, discern, and never permit any one human to control and dictate to us. This is why there is only unity when there is diversity.

Eugene Petersen, author of the Message paraphrase of the Bible, is often asked ‘How do I find the right church for you?’  His response was interesting.  He said, and I paraphrase – ‘Find a church that is not so big that you can disappear, don’t find a place you can be anonymous. Also, don’t find a church that makes you feel good or important, or one that is in tune with your emotions and practices, that shares you current tastes.  Make a commitment to stay there for 6 months or even a year, however long it takes. Stay there until you are finally able to see that these people, this group, this church, has the same heart and the same mind as you do.  Be open to it along the way. They may be strange and different than you, and they may be aggravating and frustrating beyond belief, but they have the same heart and soul.  Connect in a way that is it going to painful to leave’

Heart and Soul are our individual journey, seeing the power of Heart and Soul is only possible when diverse hearts and soul believers connect together.

This is church.

My God, Your God/My Father, Your Father

Message – My God/Your God 04.04.21

Possibly two of the most holy moments that any human can experience is to watch a human life come into this world and to witness a human life leave this world.  The birth of a child is exciting but also such an exhausting moment that we miss the holiness.  Then at death, we can be  so consumed by the misery and grief that we fail to notice the holiness of the moment.  However, they are both still holy, holy does not evaporate when we miss it, it just wraps its arms around us and carries us through the exhaustion and grief.

I have come to the conclusion that we seldom grasp  these holy moment for ourself because we are exhausted, we are miserable, we are relieved, we are overwhelmed, we are fearful, we are jubilant, we are distracted – none of these are necessarily bad things, it is just our reality. I have begun intentionally noticing holy in these moments, as I have attended funerals of the parents of old friends, or in the occasions when I am conducting the memorial and being invited into the holiness as I meet with the family or accompany them to see body of the loved one just minutes before the service. I have begun to recognize the holy in the comments made at their first time to see the body since preparation, dressing, and make up.  ‘He looks so peaceful,’or, ‘She loved this dress, she really looks good in it, definitely her colors.’  I think years ago these just seemed to be hollow words meant to hide the pain of the loss, now however, I have begun to recognize the genuine place the words come from.  I get to watch as the have these holy moments, moments when they get to see this loved one as they remembered, the face that they see when they tell their stories, the face they will always keep in their heart.  It is a holy moment, it is an unprecedented moment when holiness carries them through.

After Jesus was confirmed to be dead, his body was taken down from the cross and carried to a tomb donated by a religious leader named Joseph.   There had been a group of female followers watching the crucifixion of Jesus along with John the disciple, they all witnessed the holy and painful moment from a safe distance. A smaller subset of that group stealthily followed the body to the grave and witnessed the stone rolled in front of the entrance to the tomb.  Then an even small subset journeyed to the grave as early as possible after the Sabbath. Among this group was Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ most faithful followers and possibly one of Jesus most dedicated devotees. Jesus had delivered Mary from seven demons who had taken up residence within her. She followed not just because she felt she had a debt, she also was a true seeker of truth.  Mary sought understanding in all the words and actions of Jesus. Mary have see the power of Jesus, she had seen the compassion and mercy of Jesus, and she had personally experience his deliverance and rescue in her own life.

Mary didn’t go to the tomb expecting to see Jesus, Mary went to the tomb because that was what needed to be done. She didn’t go seeking another Holy moment. It was so early that the sun was not yet fully above the horizon, identification as a Jesus follower was dangerous, and then there was the issue of the huge stone.  Nobody had any expectations except for the expectations they put on themselves.  All the women wanted to do was give Jesus’ body a proper and respectful anointing and burial preparation. This moment was holy as soon as she made her first step to the cemetery, as she journeyed to do what you do for a body recently buried, especially what you do for a friend that has been hurriedly  laid in the grave. Even though this was a practical and rational, action, it was a holy action, an action of respect, she went to the do the most holy, The entire endeavor was to be done without any acclaim, it was not about them. God’s holiness carried Mary and the others through their fear to the tomb which was opened, and inside as they took the steps to see Jesus. Her journey, her intended common purpose, her diligent and faithful act of respect were holy, to her though, it was just what needed to be done. But, once there, she saw Jesus, he was there, in human form, not dead but alive, a human form that she grabbed ahold of and embraced for as long as possible.  Jesus peeled her hands from his neck and arm, he told her that there was much to be done, she surely shook her head in agreement, she wiped away her tears of joy and waited for Jesus to speak. 

‘“Go and tell the disciples, and tell Peter,” Remembering Peter was huge, after his recent blatant and repeated rejection of Jesus, Peter could have easily been dismissed, but Jesus made a point to make sure everyone knew he was still included, he made an obvious notice that God was still Peter’s Father and he was still  Peter’s God. 

This was the first lesson about resurrection.  Resurrection heals and erases the scars of the pain and the hurt of rejection.  It was forgotten, Jesus had released it in death, there was no trace of it in the heart of the resurrected Jesus. 

“Go and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Jesus said.

Mary began to shiver, a tingling, she surely recognized that Jesus was back on his path, the green light his back was now to the cross and even to the empty grave, now he was continuing on his journey to save the world.  Jesus didn’t need to talk about cross, he didn’t need to explain the theological significance of his resurrection, he just needed back on his path. He didn’t need to say any of that because he knew Mary’s holy moment was going to be communicated to his disciples and followers clear and concise, and strangely, Mary did not need to ask any questions because seeing Jesus was the answer to all her questions. 

As she ripped into the room where the disciples were hiding, she could hardly wait for the door to even close. “I’ve seen him! I’ve seen him! I’ve seen the Lord, I’ve seen Jesus!”

The eyes of the disciples revealed everything, some were opened as wide as could be, some were all wrinkled together, their words expressed a myriad of perspectives.

“She has already been to the tomb? Is it wise to go to the tomb, isn’t it risky?”

“This has all been too much for her, she is being hysterical.”

Still others looked at each other with a hint of hope, “Is it possible? Wouldn’t he have told us this would happen? Wait a minute, did he tell us this would happen?”

May was bent over with her hands supporting her on her knees, she was catching her breath, shaking her head up and down, her actions were affirming this was real, she had seen the resurrected Jesus! 

“Are you sure it was him,?’ One of the disciples surely asked.

The room was abuzz with the chattering of the men gathered before Mary.  As she caught her breath, she said, “Oh, and he told me to tell you that he is ascending to God.” 

Here is the second lesson of the resurrection. A proclamation of seeing is always going to trump the message sent, even the message comes from Jesus.  All she could think to say was to testify that she had seen him, she had seen Jesus. Mary, without  even thinking about it, without any regard to the cultural expectations and restrictions on female, blurted out, “and, YES, it was him, don’t you think I, of all people, would recognize Jesus?!”

Jesus knew that she would proclaim everything in this manner, Jesus understood human nature. Months before, had told the Samaritan woman to “Go, call your husband, and come back.” But she too arrived back in the city and just proclaimed, “Come and see a man who told me everything! This man I have seen.”  Then, after all the city ran out to see Jesus, they proclaimed, “It is no longer because of what she said that we believe, for we have now seen for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” It was a holy moment that could have been missed but it was not because they had now seen.

Seeing and experiencing, changes everything, even in the most mundane of times and activities.  It is in our daily actions, taking the boring steps on our path, that we walk in holy moments.  Moments that change our life, moments that can be a part of Jesus’ path to save the world. Moment where our eyes are open, moments when we see the hand of God.

The cross and the empty grave were now behind Mary and the other followers. Death and Resurrection had been essential detours but now the victory was complete.  The followers were now living in the holy – in the midst of the most unholy.  It was a natural time of fear and chaos, but Jesus was now inviting them all to join him in the pool of peace. There was a lot ahead but it was holy, it didn’t actually seem to be holy and  peaceful, but still Mary could not help but burst into the room yelling “I’ve seen him, he is alive!”

Then there is a third lesson in the resurrection, – Jesus had scars.

This is a most intriguing aspect of Jesus in his resurrected state. This body was no longer the same body that hung on the cross, the body that had been suffocated by the pull of gravity, no  longer did his heart fail to beat nor did his lungs refuse to take a breath.  Now, Jesus embodied what he was meant to be, only now he was in a body that was impervious to the pains inflicted by an unholy world, now in a body that would never again feel the tug of death.  Now his body was perfect, however, he still had the nail prints in this hands and feet, he still bore the scar on his side from the sword that had pierced him.  

Giving Thomas a moment of holiness, Jesus held out his hands for Thomas to see and touch, Jesus carried the scars for the world to know, to know and understand Holy, that he is Holy, that this is God.  See, these scars were not just an earthly manifestation of what he had done, they were eternal scars marking the pivotal moment on the cross and the proof of the moment at the tomb. Scars to carry to be seen by those who were now freed from their own disobedience, cleansing  us of our rejection because we had chosen him, the scars continue to be a invitation to all peoples, to a world to whom were rescued by the same God, the same  Father.

Scars that call us all to recognize and to call upon the God who created all, who loves all, who reaches out to all, who desperately desires to save all. The God who bears our scars. 

Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life.

I Corinthians 15:20-22

This is Easter, this day, this life, this moment is Holy. May we all recognize this truth today, may we all remember this holiness this week, may we all chose to live in this peace forever. May we also remember the message of the scars engraved into Jesus’ skin, scars that forever remind us of the why, the pain, the release, and the full burden of the cross. 

Today we stand looking up at an empty cross today, we stand outside the empty tomb, today we run with Mary who is exhausted but canot with to tell and proclaim, we stand with Jesus, we experience the holy Jesus, the sacrificial lamb who death could not hold.  Today we stand on hope because of that which will never need to be experienced again. Today is holy, this is Holy, this is our Holy moment.

Let us pray

No Defense

03.28.21 Palm Sunday

Have you ever asked someone how they were doing and find their response ‘I’m Fine’ hard to beloved.  Whether it is due to the tone of their voice or the look on their face, it is response that is not very convincing.  You want more, you want more words to help you navigate the assumptions made from their non verbal signals.

There are some responses, or explanations that only need a word or a handful of words and you know exactly what is meant.  Sometimes a very short sentence can communicate much more than a very wordy sentence.

An example, As we see the words ‘Jesus wept’, we are given a powerful moment with God’s experience of our experience of grief, as well as an evidence that Jesus, who sits next to God, understands the impact  of our humanness.

As we see Jesus on the cross and hear his voice the three simple words ‘It is finished’ we are hit in the face with his determination to travel his path all the way through the cross. 

And then, earlier in Mark, there is the narration ‘He intended to pass them by’

For us to understand the significance of Jesus silence before his accusers we must go back to Jesus voice in the midst of human struggle. Back to the midpoint in the ministry of Jesus. Early in the evening after Jesus fed 5,000 plus people and now he was closing out the day by permitting personal moments with those in attendance.  An exhausted Jesus looked over at this disciples.  This had to be an exhausted group of men, this journey following Jesus had been challenging especially today. Jesus had told them to feed the crowds, it was an absurd request. The men were tired and as Jesus saw this he insisted they get in the boat and head ahead of him, he assured them he would be fine as he pushed their boat into the deeper waters. Jesus then went back to the crowds and eventually found  a quiet spot and began to pray.

When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and Jesus was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. 

But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”  

Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

Mark 6:47-52

Such an odd statement, ‘he intended to pass by them’ or ‘he wished to walk on by them.’ 

When Jesus saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. he wished, to pass them by.

Mark 6:48

He intended to pass them by? What stopped him? 

When they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased.

Jesus plan, or his preference, had been to walk on past them, not a word or even a wave. He stopped because they were afraid, they were struggling, they didn’t see any hope. They had just seen Jesus perform this miracle yet now, with the winds growing stronger, they quickly forgot God.  So Jesus got into the boat with the frightened disciples who had forgotten the power of God.

See Jesus was on a path, his calling, on his way to Jerusalem, on his way to the cross, on the way to saving the world.  Saving the world was his mission not calming the disciples, nor had it been the healings or feeding, or any of the other diversions. But, Jesus could not just walk by the hurting people anymore than he could walk on by his struggling disciples.  So he stopped, just like he would continue to stop whenever there was a need.  That is what he did, that is what God does, he goes off the path to bring us peace, he climbs into the boat with us.  Jesus detours off the path for us,  he hears our cries. 

Salvation of the world was Jesus’ calling, his mission, but, climbing into boats was Jesus’ character it had been carved out of compassion and mercy and powered by love.

I feel confident that I can say that we have all been in the scary boat at least sometime this past year.  Many times Jesus has claimed in the boat with us. Sometimes he even sends us to climb in a boat with mercy and compassion. 

When stepped off the path, he did not explain, he just helped, he calmed, he brought peace.  That was what he does, there was no explanation needed, there were no expectations, no defense, no conditions, no reprimands, he just did what he knew needed to be done, and then, he resumed towards his calling, he returned to his path.

The apostle Paul explains this challenging challenge to us, 

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of  a slave, being born in human likeness. 

And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.

Philippians 21-8

A determination that is willing to go through to do what God has called you to do – that was the determination of Jesus. That is the same mind of Christ, the same way of thinking, that we are called to.  A determination to follow God’s path all the while keeping our eyes open for essential detours, opportunities to reveal the same compassion and mercy displayed by Jesus.  It is only then, that Christians can heed God’s first call – to save the world. 

So let’s return to Holy Week.

Instead of focusing on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, on this Palm Sunday, we are going to go right up to the cross.  We will travel with the compassionate and merciful Jesus on his determined path, right up to the cross.

The cross was not Jesus’ destination, however, his path led through the cross, though the empty grave, through the seat waiting next to the Father, and to his calling to save the world.  The cross was an essential part of his path.

We come to the trials of Jesus following his arrest, the lies, the deceit, the holes in the contradictory statements, and the near silence of Jesus the accused.  Mark’s gospel does not detail the scrambling between Pilate and Herod, it just gives us the tone and environment of what took place, and most importantly, we see what determination looks like.

Just before his arrest, Jesus had prayed in agony in the garden of Gethsemane, he had questioned God asking if there was any other way his path could go, did it have to go through the arrest, the trials, the public humiliation, the grief piled on his loved ones, the pain and misery…..was there any other way? Jesus knew the answer, he had been a part of the decision making before the beginning of our history, he knew what had to take place, he knew, but, he was also human, with the human emotions of fear and dread, he also knew, and he knew the victorious outcome, but still, he asked ‘is there any other way to get there?’

In the midst of all of this, there was already isolation, which had already begun, even his disciples were unable to help him navigate this human experience.  He knew the isolation would be complete as even God would have to forsake him.  The weight of the sin of the world on the shoulder of one man was not a journey that could be shared, isolation and rejection were expected but not looked forward to.

As Jesus walked from the garden, Satan grabbed the opportune moment.  Satan attempted to use Jesus’ humaness against him for 30 years – now, Satan had the most opportune opportune moment, if this didn’t work, Satan had no chance of any ultimate victory. Satan manipulated and cajoled humans, the guards appeared at the entrance to the garden.  They were there to arrest Jesus in this opportune moment. As Jesus saw  the guards he responded,

‘“What is this, coming after me with swords and clubs as if I were a dangerous criminal? Day after day I’ve been sitting in the Temple teaching, and you never so much as lifted a hand against me. What you in fact have done is confirm the prophetic writings.” All the disciples bailed on him.’

Mark 14:48-50 (the Message)

It had begun, Jesus was alone, he had been deserted.

The religious leaders quickly put together a trial of Jesus.  They coached witnesses, and brought them before the leaders as they approached their  formal judgement.  Finally, the chief priest said,

‘The Chief Priest stood up and asked Jesus, “What do you have to say to the accusation?” Jesus was silent. He said nothing. The Chief Priest tried again, this time asking, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?”’

Mark 14:60-61 (the Message)

The chief priest was foaming at the mouth, Jesus remained calm which made the priest even more incensed.  Jesus didn’t look angry, scared or defensive, he had just sat there. The red faced priest glared at Jesus waiting for an answer, the other leaders and priests moved to the edge of their seats, then Jesus look directly into the eyes of the chief priest and began to speak, 

“Yes, I am, and you’ll see it yourself: The Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Mighty One, Arriving on the clouds of heaven.”

Mark 14:62 (the Message)

In their furor, the religious leaders, now a raging mob, took Jesus to the one who had the power to finish this ‘Jesus Problem’ off.  They took him to the ruler Pilot who could send Jesus to his death.  

In a room filled with the religious leaders, priests, and witnesses, Pilate asked Jesus,

“So You are the King of the Jews?” 

Jesus responded, “It is as you say.”

Mark 15:2 (NASB)

As the hate filled crowded room became even more hostile, Pilate  attempted to bring reason and rationale into the inquiry,

“Do You offer nothing in answer? See how many charges they are bringing against You!”

Mark 14: 4 (NASB)

Jesus, from this point forward was silent.  He did not need to talk, he did not need to defend himself, it was unnecessary, he had accepted his fate when he walked into the waters of John’s baptism, he had affirmed it in the garden. This was all part of this path, it was all part of the isolation, it was all essential to his purpose.  He did not need to take a detour just to prove that they were wrong, it would not advance Jesus on his path, nor would it be an opportunity for compassion and mercy.  So, from this point forward, he would offer no defense, he would give no argument, now it was time for love not words. 

In this opportune moment, Satan used screaming voices, lies, hatred, and deceit, Jesus, in this same opportune moment, used love, mercy, compassion, grace, and strangely, silence, and even hope.

That is what an opportune moment, a moment of opportunity.  We can chose to make that detour a opportunity to add to hate, or we can use that detour to let God shine through us.

Jesus at this moment chose to shine. He chose to sacrifice himself, beginning with what others thought of him, his reputation, his sacrifice was not limited to the cross.  HIs sacrifice involved his entirety.  At this point, as he chose to remain silent and give not defense, he had stepped fully into sacrifice.

I think that the good and the great are only separated by the willingness to sacrifice. 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Jesus was now on the same path he had been since his baptism, he was now just steps from the cross, it was now just steps through the cross.

Shortly before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the week of Passover, the Holy Week, Mary took not he scandalous act of anointing of Jesus with her most valuable possession, a container of expensive perfume.  Those present aghast and critical, they were not silent, they spoke, they criticized, the judged, they condemned.  In this instance, Jesus did speak, he did offer a defense, not of himself but of Mary,

“Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Mark 14:9

Later, as Jesus drew his final breath and gave up his spirit, a centurion, who had been a part of the execution, now standing there where had stood all day watching and witnessing the sacrificial act of Jesus.

‘At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing Jesus and witnessed his final moments and the manner in which Jesus breathed his last breath, this centurion said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”’

Mark 15:34, 37-39

Centuries before Isaiah had voiced our call,

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up. Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant, who walks in darkness and has no light, yet trusts in the name of the Lord and relies upon his God?”

Isaiah 50:4-10

This is our calling. This is a Holy Week.

Zeal

03.07.21 – John 2:13-23

Our focus passage today comes from the gospel of John 2:13-22, a very interesting passage placed at a very interesting moment in the ministry of Jesus.  It is shortly after he, his mother, and his newly formed family of disciples, attended the wedding of a family friend of Mary, Jesus’ mother.  This was the event where Jesus was mom-pressured to take care of the ‘wine’ situation – the wedding hosts had run out and his mom, wishing to rescue her friends from a huge social faux pas, ‘asks’ Jesus to take care of the situation.  You probably remember, this was the classic mother/son moment when the son responds to the mother’s persistent pressuring by saying the classic son statement, ‘What do you want of me. woman?”  This was not only where the disciples saw Jesus perform a miracle, but it is also where they saw the humaness of Jesus, and it seemed, I’m sure, very similar to their own experiences of family.

As we approach chapter 2, I must point out, John often uses a different chronological system than the writers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke – John details Jesus’ visit to the temple at the beginning of his ministry. Jesus ‘cleanses’ the temple by confronting the collusion of the religious institution and the political system as well as aggressively challenging the merchants and money changers, all of who are taking advantage of the people for their own gain.  While John places this significant event early in the Jesus ministry, the other three gospel writers place it near the end, during holy week. Some think it is just a choice made by the author, others believe this is two different events.

Jesus had surely been to the temple before, even before John’s early placement in the canon. We actually know he was there as an adolescent, and surely, because of his religious training, had been there at least three times a year as a young adult. It would not be odd for him to address the abuse at the beginning and close of his earthly ministry.  Placing it as bookends of his ministry also confirms his own experience among the people, seeing their pain and misery, seeing their affliction and oppression, seeing that they were barely surviving when his passion was to give them life to its fullest.

Regardless of the time, or times, of this or these, temple experiences, there is an undeniable passion in Jesus’ response to the religious officials, for his fellow Jewish worshippers, and towards his earthly and eternal purpose.  This may be early on his path through the cross, or he may already be in the shadow of the cross.

Regardless, of placement, we begin at the Temple.

Around 600 hundred years prior to Jesus’ visit to the Temple, the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, and his forces destroyed Judah, Jerusalem, and the Temple – as well as taking most of the Israelites back to Babylon to be slaves to the Babylonians. During the seven decades of this slavery, the faithful realized there was an internal void in this new reality – they were now without the temple which, to them, meant they were without the presence of God. Even though they were in this new reality because they had neglected God, they now, slowly began to recognize their mistake. As they began to identify their need for God, they also began to navigate how to ‘Do Faith.’ God provided prophets such as Jeremiah who reminded them that God had not abandoned them. So, they began a journey not dissimilar to our experience this past twelve months, they began to meet in homes and other places, making mini temples, figuring how to make sacrifices that were not animal sacrifices, a practice that was a180 degree turn from how they had sacrificed at the temple – in doing this they began to understand the true and personal meaning of sacrifice.  Over the course of the seven decades the Jews began to accept the fact of their own complicity that led to their exile and in turn, they began to turn back to God. This was a full immersion into a new, and very personal, way of observing faith, and of knowing God in a much more internal way. While they did not need masks, and of course virtual gatherings were not an option, they learned to have a new perspective, to open their eyes, they gained a willingness to sacrifice their ‘normal’ for themself as well as for others. They became a community of the faithful who were recognizing the forgotten power of community.

Take a moment to grasp this, they had no choice but to spend 7 decades on a journey of relating to the God they had rejected and having to do so in a totally new, and far less comfortable, than they had done since their birth.  This was a lot of ‘normality’ and personal agendas to lay aside in order to truly worship and gather. Although we are just now approaching a year in our loss of ‘normal’ and it has been difficult, we like the Israelites have faced the choice of resist and reject all change, to, instead accepting the reality that sometimes we needed to accept the loss of certain rights, comfort, and normality in order that we could figure out how to navigate change.

Everytime we see God ‘break through’ into our reality, we see requisite change, a change that ends up leaving us in a new place, a new perspective, a new practice, all of which have forced us to give up and to accept a new normal.  Often we attempt to return to the old normal, but the new normal is God’s gift to us for life, not just for ourself, but for others.

When the Israelites did finally returned to Judah, they were quick to return to their old ways and their very distant faith, one in which it was easy to dismiss God.  They set out to rebuild the temple even though the temple, which had always held the significance of holding the presence of God, now could not serve the same purpose. This people had learned that God’s presence was there they were, they had experienced the God could be worshipped where they were.  However, they built anyway. This was not like when God led King Solomon through the details and process of building the first temple, the building of the second temple was primarily a human endeavor. While God gave prophets to continue to guide them in their faith, this mammoth project was still a human project.  They did not have the donations and resources flowing in such as had been the case with the first temple.  Lebanon was no longer eager to give their cedars, nor were the surrounding nations willing to contribute money and laborers. As a result the temple seemed to be an ongoing and never-ending endeavor. At the time of our passage it had been almost fifty years since the Israelites had begun to build.  When this temple was near completion, people were disillusioned and disappointed because it was not as majestic as Solomon’s temple. 

This people who had figured out how to do faith without a temple had quickly returned to their pre exile existence. The result was that non-Jews began to contribute, and, began to have a say in the building of the temple.  The unholy began to have a hand in the establishment of the holy.  Even Herod the great, who order the death of the new born boys in order to solve his ‘Jesus’ problem contributed and glamorized the very simple and basic temple..

So, when the religious officials ask Jesus to prove himself and to justify his actions in the temple, his response is – “destroy this temple and it will be rebuilt in three days.’ God would prove the words of his Son by doing what he said would be done. Jesus, who along with the followers of God, was the temple,  and he would rise to life after destruction. There wold be a resurrection. Today we have 2 lessons.

First Lesson of a Cleansing. Don’t Be Stuck.

The encounter with Jesus inside the Temple is a classic example of ‘Stuck’ thinking. The religious officials, from within the Temple, could only see a structure that was not as good as the past, the project was now half a century later, it was still a process in the making and still not done, there could be no Ark of the Covenant, and there could be no glory of past days.  All they could see was what they no longer saw, which was not Solomon’s temple.

Have you ever sincerely told someone that you liked their new haircut only to receive a response pointing out everything wrong with the cut.  No matter how great you think they look, all they can see is what is not there.  This is what is taking place with the religious officials, all they could see was the past, a past which was no longer visible, present, or real, so, even tough a valid statement is being made by Jesus – it is impossible for the leaders to see or grasp. All they can see is turmoil and tables overturned in the temple square which still has a wall that is unpainted and a door that is barely hanging on one hinge – all they can see is what they have to do, they see no glory, they don’t see that God has broken through, right there in their presence.

They are stuck in a nightmare building project and cannot see an ongoing abusive system that has managed to be reestablished, a system which should not have been in place ever before, even in the first temple. 

We saw this a year ago, as we were called to sacrifice for the safety of ourselves and others. Many people of faith, especially the Christian faith, began to scream out that they were being denied their freedom to practice their faith, lawsuits were filed and political recalls were instituted. At the same time, we saw other faith communities recognize the opportunities and began to formulate new ways to practice and observe their faith, to redefine worship and sacrifice, to get unstuck. Being Stuck causes us to miss the curve in our path on which God  is letting us travel to see something amazing and life transforming. 

Second Lesson of a Cleansing. Look for Glimmers of Light.

A couple of months ago I was working from home at a desk I had pushed against a window. It was an unusual winter morning, especially for this odd year, it was warm outside but a little too cool to actually work outside so I did what made the most sense, I opened the window as I worked.  Pretty soon, a small finch landed on the windowsill and began to ponder taking a step past the usual barrier of glass, a step that was going to put the finch inside the house. I sat as still as I could be, I was about to become Mary Poppins, it was really cool and I attempted to not move or even blink while watching God’s creation closer than the length of my arm.  While I sat there, my excitement moved from how cool this was to all the things that could go wrong.  Our house is not a Sam’s warehouse where a bird can fly around overhead and do so unnoticed.  I realize the door of the room was open meaning that this finch would probably wreck havoc on the rest of the house.  As I moved from wander to distraction, I moved, the finch realized that it was a human sitting there and not a post to sit to – in an instant the little creature flew away and I was left with only a story an no possibility of a finch on my finger joining me in a song. I missed a moment because I forgot to look for the glimmer of light.

Jesus stood in the open space of the temple witnessing something that few even recognized anymore.  He had surely, as an adolescent, been there as his own parents had to over pay what they did not have in the first place, he had seen the downtrodden look on his father’s face as the money changers over charged him, he saw the abuse even as the leaders walked around caught up in their ‘work of God’ missing this miserable aspect of the human existence.  So, on this day, Jesus stood in the temple again, and again, he noticed that the the pilgrims who had already sacrificed much just to be at the temple, were now asked to unjustifiably sacrifice even more.  Jesus knew the it was not a holy sacrifice, it was an act of abuse by those who saw an opportunity to abuse others in order to get for themself.  Jesus also saw that this abuse caused those who came to worship to be so distracted they forgot there was a beautiful finch sitting on the windowsill to remind them that light was right in front of them, God was reflected in his creation yet all of creation was no longer visible.  

Jesus, who adhered to the greatest commandments of God, to love God and to love others, and this same Jesus, who came to give full life, and this same Jesus, who saw the misery and oppression of the people and sought to address it wherever he went, this Jesus could not help but act there in the temple.  He confronted the situation, he overturned tables, he yelled at the abusers, he disrupted, he vandalized, he did what he could do there in that time, and at that moment, to be a glimmer of light exposing injustice and suffering.

That is one of the things we Christians do with this story, we focus on the aggressive actions and the loudness and tone of his voice.  We question, ‘could Jesus really be angry, or worse yet, could he be mad?’  We argue if it is possible to react in the most human of human ways.  Jesus actions are an essential element of this story but not for those reasons, it is not a question of ‘can Jesus be angry/“ but it must be a question of ‘WHY would Jesus be angry in this moment?’

One of the periphery glimmer of lights that God we witnessed this past year was the Black Lives Matter uprisings. We that have sat in privilege cannot genuinely attempt to imagine what it is like to be afraid to let a child go out after dark, we cannot grasp the experience of watching a spouse drive away knowing that the very act of driving on the street or walking on the sidewalk might cause their death.  We sit in our own paradigm and say that we are not racists, or that racism does not exist in our community, or in our neighborhood, or in our government. As God gave us a glimmer of light through the testimonies of so many parents and loved ones this summer, those with different pigmentation and cultural backgrounds, expressed, in a very real way, their pain. Since we can’t fathom this reality we chose to dismiss it, or even to attempt to discredit it.  We saw the riots, some even acknowledged that something needed to be done, we began to hesitantly accept the reality of the problem. However, our first response was to say ‘well, they should vandalize, they shouldn’t be so aggressive, they should’nt disrupt, destroy, they shouldn’t turn over the tables, they shouldn’t be so lourd, they shouldn’t call so much attention to themselves.’ Recent poll results publicized this past week show that the majority of Americans have forgotten their own concern and outrage from this last summer, that we have largely forgotten the still present pain and suffering that exists for many Americans.  They just remembered that tables were overturned and that someone had to clean up the mess – but went back to noticing that the temple needs another room, a nicer facade, that it needs to be like it used to be. Much like our response toward Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling stance during the national anthem, we choose to be dismayed instead of thinking if this is something we need to think and pray about, if this is a moment we need to consider the why of this action.

Jesus, in his unacceptable confrontative attitude, was a glimmer of light the day in the temple, a glimmer that was quickly dismissed, a glimmer that was  too radical, too uncomfortable, too difficult to look at.

Early 20th century philosopher George Santayana wrote

‘There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.’

We live this earthly existence in OUR interval, reconciled to knowing little of our ‘before’, and holding only to hope for our ‘ahead’. We choose to settle in and just survive when God is calling us to flourish while we nurture. We choose to navigate change or, instead, to ferociously fight it, we can try to hold our tongue in the midst of injustice, or we can add our voice to the injustice inflicted on others.  We can learn from our own past as well the history of others, or, instead we repeat those mistakes in our attempts to re-experience past successes. Sometimes our interval takes forever, and sometimes it seems to pass in a blink of an eye,. Our interval journey can be tough but nevertheless, Jesus calls us to live it to its fullest and to be a reflection of the light for others to do the same. To be a light that shines light on God’s truth, God’s mercy, God’s compassion, God’s Love, that accurately reveals God.

Jesus stood in the temple square and saw the same thing he had seen everytime he entered the holy space, only this time he could not just stand there. This time he had to do the unacceptable, he had to turn over some table, to run out those abusers and the selfish profiteers, to loudly speak truth to the authority, to be an emissary of God, telling and living truth. He chose to use this interval to make a difference.

Jesus intentionally lived out his interval, how is God calling you to live your interval?

Walk Behind Me

I had a very dear friend died this past week. Jim Barnette was diagnosed with a very rare brain disease several months ago.  It only took months for the disease to eat away at his brain and finally his body could no longer support life.  I say he was a very dear friend, but truth is that we worked and lived together for a couple of months as part of a ministerial team in 1984.  During that time I I was there when he shared with me that he was smitten with Deanna, another member of our team. I was there as he courted this young lady, now understand, he was the kind of guy who would use words like court and smitten. Since then we have hardly seen or talked with each other. I went to Louisville, to be in his wedding, and then Andrea and I stopped in  Birmingham, AL, the summer of 2010 to see him and his family. Otherwise, the descriptors of our relationship greatly changed over the 37 years. Even though the relationship changed I still, even this week feel as though I have lost a very dear friend.

Relationship are strange, they can change with the seasons of life, yet somewhere in our brain, and our heart, there will always be a small piece  remaining that defined the relationship as it once was.  

In a way, Andrea and I, like many of you, have had to navigate the changes in our relationship with our own kids.  The boundaries have changed, they are no longer under our authority, they are no longer in our house, they have grown up and taken the next steps on their paths. We are now figuring out the terms of those old, but now new, relationships.

There is a word for that in the Hebrew, it is the word ‘brit’, an agreement of relationship. While this, in our lives, is usually unspoken – sometimes developing an understanding and agreement of the relationship is a big deal.  This is the same idea as ‘treaties’ where one nation, or group, enters into an agreement and terms of coexistence.  In the English, this word is interpreted as the word ‘covenant’ but in the Hebrew language it is ‘Brit’.

Especially in the Old Testament, there are a handful of these covenants that define the relationship between God and man. Most Jewish, Christian, and even Islamic scholars say that the first covenant between God and humans was Abraham and Sarah, it was with these two individuals that God gave the promise and hope of and for all of humanity. However, these were not the first humans, nor did they have the first story about humanity. So, we are faced with the very real question, ‘why does it take 12 chapters in the book of Genesis, our origins account, for us to meet Sarah and Abraham the central characters in the development of our faiths.

Rabbi Eli Freedman explains it this way, ‘The authors and editors of the Torah were making an important point by telling a series of pre-stories before our progenitors arrive on the scene. The first four stories in the Torah all end poorly. Adam and Eve get expelled from the Garden, Cain kills his brother Abel, God destroys the entire world with a flood, and, in the Tower of Babel, God confounds our languages and scatters us across the world.’

Rabbi Freedman then refers to a Rabbi Zoob who continues this explanation by adding, ‘these first four stories of Genesis teach us that the pre-Abraham and Sarah world could not function properly because it was missing the covenantal relationship between God and people. Although God spoke to Adam and Eve, and even walked with Noah, the world was not complete because it lacked brit – covenant.’

We are created to live and survive in community, in relationship, to be together.  That community, relationship, togetherness, is an always evolving union, one with differing boundaries which are different from our other unions, and even more different than the unions that we are not a part of. Marriage, family, work, play, and all types of defining words categorize those grouping within which there is a constant give and take process of establishing and reestablishing those relationships.  We are in a constant state of defining and redefining our covenants with each other, our ‘brits’.

This initial covenant relationship of humanity, between God, Abraham, and Sarah was one that was fairly defined from the beginning but it took decades for the 2 humans parties of the covenant to understand and grasp.  

The Brit, the Covenant, that Sarah and Abraham entered into with God was one were the primary obligation on the part of the humans was faith.  A faith that led to a trust in God. A belief that God will hold to, and come through on, his Brit responsibilities.

The primary reason for the extended period of time taken to understand the Brit was the human frailty of insecurities.  While we see this in both humans, Sarah and Abraham, we have very specific moments of insecurity where we are allowed to witness their lives and faith in God. Let’s just look at Abraham, his problem, which is the fragility for most of us, was Insecurity.

  1. An insecurity that presents as Fear and Self Centeredness.  Abraham was afraid for his own safety so he detoured from a covenant of respect and loyalty to his wife to a self centered safe yourself philosophy. He threw his wife under the bus to protect his own life.
  2. An insecurity that presents as Doubt.  Abraham could only see his own failings and weaknesses, he could seldom see anything else,  therefore. seeing God’s promise of a descendant was a no starter. His doubt about self blinded him from recognizing that God’s part of the Brit had nothing to do with Abraham, or Sarah’s, abilities.
  3. An insecurity that presents as Impatience.  God seemed to be taking too long so Abraham took charge to make sure God’s part of the Brit was fulfilled. Remember, time is a element of our human existence, it is not a factor in eternity.

Fear, Self Centeredness, Doubt, and Impatience were all blockades that keep these 2 humans, and often us, from recognizing that this Brit was made with God.  God would be and was faithful. So, on the third discussion between God and Abraham regarding the Brit, God says, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.’

‘Walk before me and be blameless,’ What an interesting instruction.  Walk before me and be blameless.’

We had heard something similar but with an intentional difference when the relationship between God and Noah was described, ‘Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God.’ For Noah, this was a no-brainer, it was the very core of who he was, he didn’t need to be told to do this. For some reason, he did not have to have the terms of his Brit with God negotiated – he WAS blameless.  But the logistical terms of their Brit was different, we are told that Noah walked with God. The Hebrew preposition significant in this relationship was the word ‘eth’ which meant that Noah was walking beside God.  They were not equals but when God was present Noah walked before him. This same word ‘eth’ can also connote that the two were connected, they belonged together, much like Peanut butter and Jelly, there was a very comfortable and natural relationship between the two.

With Abraham, however, the relationship does not have the same automatic natural presentation.  Whether it was the insecurities that held Abraham back, or even just his background, personality, and human make up, Abraham needed to be told his stance in the Brit.  ‘Walk before me and be blameless,’  The word here is ‘lə·ā·nay’ (lafanay), carrying the logistical designation of ‘in front of’, and a more expansive understanding of ‘in the presence of’.

I was driving in a very small car, packed with many other people, on a one lane highway from Ketchum, ID to our project in the Sawtooth mountains. We were running late and did not have time for any delays so we were singularly focused on our destination. As we drove around a curve of the road taking us deeper into the Sawtooth National Forest we were quickly confronted with an obstacle leaving us no choice but to put the car in park and remain still.  For all we could see ahead and around us was a sea of sheep walking on the road and as far to our left and right as we could see.  The sheep were headed in our direction and soon we were engulfed by these animals that are by no means as  gentle and cute looking when they are knocking against you window and were rocking our car as they squeezed through. At one point a rather ambitious large sheep got on our hood of our car with the obvious plan to walk over us instead of fighting for a position in the mob going around us. So, we just sat there looking around locked into a situation that we had never experienced before, and would probably never again.  We began to marvel at the flow of the sheep and the control of those attempting to corral them.  We could see cowboys in the distance on their horses and the dog nipping at the heals of the sheep, but as we watched these were giving very little direction, mainly they were just present. However, as we began to see the end of this sea of sheep it became obvious that this entire mob was being driven by one person, on a horse, masterfully using his presence to lead from behind.  He was in the position where he could see what his helpers and the dogs were doing and where they needed to be, but also, he had a clear eye on all the sheep.  They were directly in his presence, where he could guide and protect. It was amazing to watch even if we were now running extremely late.

Abraham needed to be in God’s presence, he needed God to see him fully and completely, nothing hidden, nothing withheld. In that place, God could guide and encourage him in regard to the command to be blameless.  Abraham had a history of acting out of impatience, fear, and doubt, as we all do. Being in front he would be in a position where God could masterfully woo him back onto the path.

Jesus was a ‘from behind’ leader, Jesus was a ‘in the ‘presence leader’. Even though his disciples were called followers, he was directing, protecting, and leading from behind often. Their presence in front of him enabled his to lead while developing them into leaders they would need to be.  Jesus sent his disciples in front of him to go into the crowd as they were tasked with feeding 5,000 people.  He watched from behind as he sent them out to heal, cure, and deliver a hopeless and suffering people. He was present as he knelt down before the woman accused of adultery and then he was present with her accusers as he stood and asked ‘Who is truly qualified to stone this woman?’ He was present at a distance as he stood on the beach and called out to his disciples in their boat.  He was present when woman touched the hem of his garment to be healed.  Jesus’ presence was alway a reality, his ability to see everything in our story, and as we timidly, or even arrogantly attempt to approach him unnoticed.  He was there, in the garden, seeing everything as Adam and Eve thought they could go unnoticed.  He is there for us, not against us, he is there to guide us, not to judge us, he is there because he loves us.

I was hiking out of the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas after a week and a half of outdoor training. Because of previous scheduled engagements, I, and one other person had to pack out early.  I had very obviously failed to become a master backpacker during the time in training so I know that our trainer was overjoyed that I would not be making the trek alone.  I would be traveling with a guy who came into the training a weathered outdoorsman, and backpacker. He would not only carry his heavy pack, but he could also identify danger, and, in this instance, he could successfully navigate a topographical map.  As we began to walk I volunteered to walk behind and have him lead, but he declined and took the back position helping to guide me on the paths and turns we needed to make to arrive timely and safely at our pick up destination.  A couple of hours into the hike I felt my pack tug abruptly and then I was silently pulled back.  As I realized that it was my hiking partner who had stopped me – he gave me the signal to be still and be quiet.  He we walked a little ways off the path and picked up a fallen branch.  Then, as he carefully walked to a position a few steps in front of me he gently took the branch and used it to scoop up a rattlesnake on the path directly in front of me. When he had moved the snake I understood the value of having him in the back, where he was able to have my back.

God stays behind because he too, has our back.

How do we stand in front so Jesus can have an all encompassing view of us.

  1. We must genuinely decide, a heart and mind positioning, that we are willing to be that visible and exposed.
  2. We must deliberately put ourself, again, in a genuine heart and mind place of being seen.  This means asking ourselves, ‘Is there anything that I am purposely keeping off limits to God?’
  3. We must accept the fact that being ‘in front’ of God means that we are also ‘in front’ of others.
  4. We must make the deliberate move to be in the front of God, to be continually in his presence.

In the end, we are not really able to hide from God, Adam and Eve, discovered this, in fact, their thoughts and weaknesses in regard to what they could not have were very visible to God. Problem was, they were not in front of God,  their deceit before God deafened them from God’s guidance from behind.

God was present in garden, in the field with Cain and Able, in the flood, at Babel, and with Abraham, Jesus was present with the disciples when he asked  them, ‘Who do people say that I am?’  And he was present when Peter boldly identified Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. And, moments later, Jesus was also there, as he said to Peter, ‘Get behind me Satan!’

God walked beside Noah. God walked behind Abraham. God told Satan to get behind Jesus. Next to, in front of, and behind. Two of these options involve being in the presence of God, the third, being behind, blocks Satan’s sight and power – God does not need to see, watch over, or even watch out for Satan.  His end has already been decided, primarily by Satan himself.  God has already dealt with Satan, now he walks next to us, behind us, and he is always present with us.

There was a very human characteristic of that huge herd of sheep. None of the sheep displayed any attempts to get out of the herd, and out of the view of the shepherd.  In fact, the only ones that were ever moved out of the flow was due to being pushed out by the crowd, not by choice.  If they did find themself out of the flow of the herd, regardless of their size or age, they began the struggle, to battle, to get back in the flow with the  herd.  None wanted to be away from the flock – they had just descended from the mountain, where, I am sure, they experienced the presence of the protection and care of the shepherd.

When Jesus left the wilderness following the time of temptation, scripture tells us that Satan left with the intention to come back to Jesus when the time was opportune.  There was an opportune time time in the temple with the man filled with a demon began to proclaim who Jesus was. This moment with Peter was another opportune moment.  Peter was not seeking to be a tool of Satan, he was only expressing a desire that Jesus be received in the same positive light that Peter himself had originally seen Jesus.  Also, Peter did not want an unhappy and hopeless end of this story.  Jesus, however, came to give life, a life for eternity that begins now, not after death, not after suffering.  Jesus came to lead us, from behind, to a full life. His mission to confront injustice, to cure disease, and to heal sickness, could not be interrupted or even sidetracked, he would not be detoured.  So, Jesus called Satan out, in the midst of this opportune moment and said ‘get behind me!’  Jesus would continue on his mission even though it would mean going through the cross.

Notice the placement of Satan, his order when relegated to being behind Jesus, Jesus who was behind the followers.  Now, Jesus was blocking the view of Satan. Sure Satan could still lure those in front of Jesus away, but it would be as much a choice of the humans as it was an effort of Satan.  Now Jesus could see the followers, and now, even more than before, he could see if Satan was engaging in an unwelcome manner that needed to be confronted.

So, what do we do with this? What does it change in our life and how does it move us in our proximity to God? Where are we standing? Where are you standing?

Becoming Famous

‘Jesus’ fame began to spread’

Actually,  we see that ‘At once Jesus’ fame began to spread.’ In fact, the greek words used by the writer are ‘euthys’ (U-uh-theme-ik), meaning ‘immediately,’ and, ‘pantachou’ (pont – uh – khugh) meaning everywhere. So, if I am to be so bold, an even more accurate transliteration is ‘Immediately, Jesus’ fame began to spread, everywhere!’ Exclamation point is mine.

This took place after Jesus said after exiting the wilderness, ‘That is enough!’ This Exclamation point is mine as well. Jesus had been in the wilderness for an extended period of time time in prayer as well as head to head temptation, he had been brow to brow with the source of evil, and then as he stepped out of the wilderness, he was nose to nose with the impact of that evil on humanity.  This was not something new, God’s son had been living on the earth, and in the flesh, for 30 years.  This however, was a stark reminder of a reality he was already fully aware of.  It was a moment when definitely, it was time, time for him to officially step out and step into his role of deliverer. 

Now, to understand the significance of this moment, we look back to another deliverer who also, after experiencing life fully, this prophet stepped into his role of deliverer. We look at Moses. Part of Moses’ experience had already involved stepping into his calling.  Moses had appeared before God and stepped into his calling ‘to’ be the agent of deliverance of the Hebrews out of slavery.  And, he had also already experienced God’s affirmation as he found himself worshipping  God alongside of those he had delivered as God had promised.  Now, as we see in Deuteronomy 18 he was to step into not just a title or a job, this step would land him into life long purpose, it would never be over, it would go with him to birth.

We have a friend who, up until a couple of years ago, had held an international position with the US government.  It was a position that required an incredibly high security clearance.  When she decided it was time to exit from that job, that position, that role, she found that it was much more difficult than just handing in a letter of resignation.  While she may have walked away from the work of that job, it was a much more involved process of exiting the essence of who she was, and who she is, due to that clearance.  Getting rid of that security clearance became an issue, even after leaving the job, it bound her to where she could live, with whom she could associate, and with where she could work.  She found that she was not alone, others had experienced the same weight restraining them from moving on.  Many have to hire lawyers who focused just on helping people rid themself of this designation.

Such was the weight of what Moses, and Jesus, were to step into.  It was a ‘for life’ thing, it would never end.

For Moses it began at Mount Sinai as the people proclaimed that they did not want to talk directly to God, nor did they want God to talk directly to them.  God rolled Moses into the role of being the ‘go between’.  Moses would speak from and to God. This was a role that would never change, it was a role that held the highest security and accountability designation, it was a role that would never go away. He was now the prophet to a people who would not talk to God as well as being a prophet for a God who still needed to communicate with that people.

So, as Jesus stepped out of the wilderness, he faced the same pivotal moment in his life that Moses faced when he descended from Mount Sinai.  Jesus had said yes to God’s perspective as he had stepped into the waters of John the Baptizer’s baptism, now he was stepping into the life long position of prophet, of deliverer, of the sacrifice for a people whom God So Loved.

‘Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. They, the religious leaders and others present, were astounded at Jesus’ teaching, for he taught them as one that held authority, and not like the scribes. As Jesus was teaching and interacting in the synagogue on that Sabbath day, a man with an unclean spirit, he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” Jesus rebuked the man, saying to the demon, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the demon, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. Everyone was amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, the demons, and they obey him.” Immediately, Jesus’ fame began to spread, everywhere!’

Mark 1:21-28

So, let’s recap this first official public appearance. Jesus entered the holiest building in the community of Capernaum, on the holiest day of the week, and there found himself nose to nose with a demon. In the synagogue Jesus had captured the attention of the religious leaders for the confident and knowledgable manner in which he taught and carried himself. He had also caught the attention of the demon who left the man whom he had possessed, in turn, news of what happed on that Sabbath day, in that insignificant community, traveled throughout the community and across the countryside. Jesus was instantly famous a good thing, and a troublesome thing.

He now had Gravitas. An ancient Roman virtues that denoted “seriousness”. Gravitas means to carry an influential weight, to walk with an identifiable dignity, to effortlessly present an air of importance wile acting with restraint and moral rigor. It also come with a heavy responsibility and commitment to the calling.

Jesus, now on this first official public appearance, was noticed and acclaimed. Jesus, the one who noticed everyone – began this public ministry by serendipitously being noticed by everyone.

Being famous is a multifaceted beast.  It can be good, for some, it provides attention that brings in work and money to be used for good, however, it can also be equally beneficial for someone who is doing works of selfishness. 

Think about the current work of our government and health experts as they attempt to gain trust in their expertise of preventing the spread of Covid as well as the acceptability of the vaccines.  They have had to overcome conspiracies and lies, the more fame they have achieved, the more they have been able to counter the lies and convince people to take the vaccine, however, the fame has also made them all bigger targets from those who are determined to stop them.

I find Jesus’ introduction to fame a very interesting moment.  He went to a holy building, on a holy day, he read from and taught holy truth, and in the midst of that, he encountered evil.  It was all behind the closed doors of the synagogue but the news and impact of it all burst out of a building, grew beyond that 24 hour period, it held a truth that had existed since before time; Jesus again confronted evil nose to nose. Jesus calling was to proclaim and act out of truth, it is not easy to rise above, and lead people to live above the lies and deceit of the world.

Before Jesus exited the wilderness, scripture tells us that Satan left Jesus until another opportune moment – this was one of those moments – it was far less showy than the wilderness experience, it was probably easily missed by many witnesses. On this opportune times’ – Satan attempt to turn Jesus away from God, am unseen Satan altered his strategy.  This, was not a temptation for Jesus to act out of, but this was to plant a seed that would grow a beast that had proven successful to Satan throughout history.

Fame – power, recognition, public affirmation and acceptance, a sense of worth, an enticing acclaim, a following; a potential to be loved, to be a force for good however, it could also be a force for an ultimate destruction.

We could probably make a very long list right now if we were to try to account for all the famous people who have found fame to be destructive in their lives.  Our list would include movie, television, and stage stars, it would include politicians, authors, speakers, and the powerful, it would include those that are famous through their own efforts just to be famous, there would be those who would be famous through their infamy, and there would be a bunch of preachers and other religious leaders.

But fame can also be good, it can spread the news, it can call an entire city such as Ninevah to repentance, everyone in the city and beyond, in just a day’s time.  Jesus was now becoming famous, people had heard and were now paying attention, they would listen to the good news and respond.  He now had Gravitas!

The powerful thing in this moment on the Sabbath was that the demon wasn’t even using deceit or lies, he told truth, he accurately proclaimed who Jesus was as he said, ‘I know who you are, you are the Holy One of God!’

However, Jesus response was revealing, he spoke directly to the demon saying, ‘Be silent!”.  Jesus responded to this being who was accurately proclaiming the truth about Jesus by telling him to ‘shut up’.  Before he even ordered the demon to leave this man he first tells him to quit talking.

This was actually the hidden seed that was meant to provide the same result as Satan’s 3rd temptation in the wilderness had attempted, the temptation of fame and worship. I think rather lazily, Satan took Jesus to the top of a mountain and offered him the power over everything Jesus could see. That had been an effort to change Jesus perspective immediately, it was a failed attempt to quickly eliminate this ‘Jesus problem’ but it didn’t work, Jesus recognized what was going on as he recounted God’s truth in his resistance.  Now, Satan was taking a much more subtle route, he was attempting to plant a seed – he was subtly giving Jesus quick fame so Jesus could effectively communicate the good news with a greater efficacy.  It could have seemed to be a win-win. However, Jesus noticed what was going on. just as he was on that mountain in the wilderness.

‘Be Silent!’  It was a forceful order we will hear him say often as he heals and delivers countless people over the course of his ministry.  ‘Do not tell anyone’ he says after a healing, ‘Go and sin no more’ he orders after a deliverance. This was a full on example that our lives are not lived just to get to a destination, but they are to live to lives in a manner which is remembered and honored at the destination.  A calling to run the race of life so that our focus throughout the race is honorable and honoring.

As the apostle Paul later exclaimed to the believers in the city of Corinth focusing on the race they were running. He implored them to always focus on truth in their own choices, actions, and circumstances –  but to also recognize what is seen along the way – to remember in the race that others are running as well. ‘If an action is not a sin, but those around me are stuck in a former religiosity and think the action is, then don’t do the action,’ Paul tells the believers, ‘Make a sacrifice for others! It will help them get to the destination.’

The  Vendée Globe, a nonstop, round-the-world 24,000 miles single person sailing race which begins in France one every four years. This year, 22 days into the race, Kevin Escoffier’s boat was overwhelmed by a 15-foot wave, his boat was folded in half, and he was adrift in his rapidly sinking boat nearly a thousand miles off the tip of South Africa. It only took seconds for his 60  foot boat to fill with seawater. He managed to get out a ‘Mayday’ text, before all of his communications and cries for help were cut off.  He understandably went from focusing on a race to grasping for survival. After a brutal 16 hours of waiting, competitor Jean Le Cam turned up.  Le Cam, in his less advanced boat as surprising race officials by his third place position, Le Cam detoured from the race, and his position, and was later joined by other competitors who sacrificed their competitive positions to help a Escoffier who recounted his first interaction with Le Cam at the rescue, ‘We hugged each other and I said, I have spoiled your race. You were doing so well.’ Le Cam’s response later was ‘It’s part of the job of a sailor to go to the aid of another. Above and beyond — it’s human nature to go to people in need and help them. It’s part of life, physically or psychologically, to help another human. I am just part of that.’  Later the racers that detoured the race sacrificing their spots for the rescue were awarded a time allowance.

‘It’s part of the job, to go to the aid of another. It’s human nature to go to people in need and help them.  It’s part of life, physically or psychologically, to help another human.  I am just a part of that.’

‘I am just a part of that.’  What a proclamation, what a realization!

That was Jesus’ calling, ‘to be a part of a humanity, teaching that very principal through his life.  ‘To help another human being.’  It is a calling of mercy, compassion, and sacrifice.  It was the manner in which Jesus lived, it was the reason he eschewed the fame, it was the purpose of his encounters and relationships.  It was what he did, it was his part.

As I have performed funerals, and as I have visited the terminally ill, the one thing that loved ones have had in common is their unstoppable pursuit to make sure the ill or passed loved one is known, that the fame in their inner circles of this person is recognized.  Through tears and laughter, stories are told and the impact is proclaimed.  There is a human need to ‘not be silent’ but to proclaim the impact that this person had on them personally. It is not because of distant stories of others but of personal things that had meant so much.  I will always remember those stories because the impact on those people is always so pronounce.  One such occasion occurred outside after I had met with a family, a very quiet and demure inlaw, approached me as I opened my car door to make sure that I heard her story. It was a story of acceptance and inclusion for this young lady, an acceptance and inclusion that could have easily and justifiably been denied due to the scandalous reason for her entrance into the family. Whereas she could have easily been rejected by this person, instead, she was welcomed, loved, and instantly a part of this family.  For this individual, the passed family member would always be the most famous person in her life – not because of how many knew her but because she had known this individual that could have been unnoticed.

Jesus knew the gain of fame but also knew the price of fame, therefore he watched it and did not permit him to forget the why of his race rather than the destination of his race.

What are you doing with your fame? The fame of your presence among those God has blessed you with.  Are you seeing this as ‘your part’ to help them along in the race? Are you sacrificing what you can do, and have a right to do, in order to assist them to the destination?  What is your part in your moment of celebrity?

Prayer Together

prayer together penned by St. Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me a channel of your peace, that
where there is hatred, I may bring love;
where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness
where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
where there is error, I may bring truth;
where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
where there is despair, I may bring hope;
where there are shadows, I may bring light;
where there is sadness, I may bring joy.

Lord, grant that I may seek rather
to comfort than to be comforted;
to understand than to be understood;
to love than to be loved;

For it is by forgetting self that one finds;
it is by forgiving that one is forgiven;
it is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

Amen.

Hardly Heart, Hardy Heart

It is interesting, and amazing, the manner in which Jesus steps into our prejudices and hatred to paint a picture for us of God’s mercy, his compassion, and his love. How he takes us in our imperfect place and walks us toward light and away from our darkness. Jesus takes those things we attempt to hide as secular, or sinful, and instead uses them to define his holiness.  He reaches into the dark places of our hearts and pulls out those things that keep us from following him with a genuine and a full gait. Whether it is him being seen in the bright light of the day speaking to an individual doubly maligned for her gender and her hated cultural identification, or as he notices an invisible woman bent over dismissed woman in the temple, or even as he publicly dined at the home of a despised tax collector, Jesus never permitted human divisions to hide his love, to stop his mercy, or to limit the scope of his compassion. That was exactly what Jesus genuinely presented in the flesh because that is exactly what God is. It is what God desires that we strive to be.

we are far from polished, far from pristine, but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect, we are striving to forge a union with purpose. To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man. And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us but what stands before us. We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside. We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another. We seek harm to none and harmony for all. Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped. That even as we tired, we tried. That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious, not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division. Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid. If we’re to live up to our own time. Then victory won’t lie in the blade but in all the bridges we’ve made. That is the promise to glade. The hill we climb if only we dare.

Amanda Gorman, The Hill We Climb

I was struck by the poem, especially the reference to the scripture, a phrase found in three different places in the Old Testament, everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.’ A passage used almost 50 times in the writings of President George Washington.  In one of those OT passages, the prophet Micah speaks to a people who have have rejected God but have not been rejected by God.  A people who have laid aside their heart for God and exchanged it for a heart that can hardly listen or follow God.  A people who are destined to be bullied and buried under their own ruble and taken into slavery by those who have pronounced judgement against them.  A people who God is promising an ultimate rescue, and refuge, and safety from those who seek to destroy them, a time of mercy, acceptance, shelter, and peace for all who have weathered the same fate of suffering discrimination, prejudice, and destruction.  A people hated by others but always loved by God. A people who God leads back to a hardy heart able to fully follow Him.

It is not surprising that George Washington would be drawn to this biblical phrase.  Our imperfect founding fathers, while personally struggling with it, were  at least in theory, supporters of this concept – as evidenced in their writing of the  the Declaration of Independence,

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ 

Declaration of Independence

They, as we are today, were plagued with the question, ‘is our calling to protect our unalienable rights, or is our calling to promote the unalienable rights of all peoples?’  It is a difficult balance, one that we still struggle with today.  Ironically, this was the calling which prompted Jesus to send out his disciples in Mark 6.

This brings us to another prophet, a prophet who was a big supporter of Micah’s vine and fig tree proclamations – until he wasn’t. The prophet Jonah, a prophet for whom God also provided a vine, or a plant, to give refuge. This refuge, for Jonah, was a place to pout, a place to withdraw from those he hated, those for whom he had decided deserved no mercy or compassion.  Jonah was a prophet, used by God, to call people back to God.  And Jonah was an effective prophet, and he did it well, until God instructed him to go to a people who he could not stomach, a people who Jonah had already condemned, a people for whom he held no hope and even less concern. God told Jonah to go east but Jonah went west.  God told Jonah to go to Ninevah, but Jonah headed to Tarshish. The folks at Tarshish were tolerable, the people at Ninevah were beyond reprehensible. There was hope for God’s message at Tarshish, there was no hope for the people at Ninevah.  They were a waste of time, they were a waste of Jonah’s time. To be honest, Jonah didn’t want them to have the option of hope, such were the feelings of this ‘man of God.’

The crazy thing is that Jonah was incredibly successful even in his rebellion.  All the crew of the ship he attempted to flee on ended up praising the one true God because of his Jonah’s life witness.  Jonah, however, ended up in the belly of a big fish who was traveling east, and soon Jonah was in Ninevah, exactly where God had called him to go originally. So Jonah begins resentfully communicating the message from God. He half hearted proclaimed ‘Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!’ Ninevah, a city of such size that would take Jonah three days to walk the distance, so he began that first day. It was the worst sermon ever, it didn’t even mention God.  His posture communicated a complete indifference towards the people, if not a full on disgust.  Jonah began that first day acting as a ‘mistreated’ adolescent who has been asked to take out the trash by an ‘unreasonable’ parent.  Shoulders shrugged, head looking down, ambivalence in his voice, and a heart that was hardly present. Not only did he not care, he actually hoped no one would listen.  But they did listen, by the end of the first day they had heard, the entire city, they had not just heard but they had taken the message to heart. Logistically this means that Jonah covered a three day journey dismissively telling God’s message as he had to run though the city, or, that the people were so impacted that the word spread fast, accomplishing a three day endeavor in a day’s time. The people responded immediately, the impact was so intense and blatant that the King even joined in, his heart was genuine in its hardy acceptance. The people and their leaders had all responded to God’s message – lives had been changed, hearts had been turned, a miracle beyond miracles had happened, and God’s prophet had totally missed it. With shoulders shrugged, head down, and feet furiously shuffling to get out of the city, Jonah found his vine, a plant that had grown up just to shield him from the heat of the day.  A plant to give him shelter.  It was the place where he retreated to pout and complain.

‘This is why I wanted to go west,’ Jonah complained to God.  ‘I knew that you are merciful and full of compassion and that you would do just this, that you would forgive these horrible, horrible, people. You said you would destroy them but now you are giving them mercy.  You let this horrid group of humans change  your mind and move your heart!’

This experience of Jonah reveals to us that it is impossible to be whole hearted on board with God’s plan if you are not first fully trusting God’s love and his timing.  

If you are unable to be a conduit of God’s love then you are unable to see the miracle of God’s mercy and compassion. The tragic thing is that Jonah was the avenue for one of the greatest miracles of God. An entire people grabbed ahold of a revolutionary movement in just the limited time it took for the sun to rise and set – the lowliest of society to the heights of royalty and ultimately to the King had turned to God. It was a huge miracle and a huge act of God’s transforming power, a miracle that Jonah was invited to witness, instead, Jonah pouted because these people did not deserve God’s mercy, but he did. His hatred and prejudice got in the way.

By the time that Jesus walks out of the wilderness he had seen and experienced it all.  He had experienced human connection, rejection, adoption, and affection.  He had been a part of family, a part of religion, a part of the oppressed, a part of the people.  He had been recognized by God and head on attacked by Satan.  He had resisted, accepted, rejected, embraced, loved, and even left – all difficult and often painful actions. He had been in the midst of holy and at the door of hell; he had stepped into the waters that said ‘yes’ to the Father and had stepped back from the edge of the steeple saying ‘no’ to self; he had been tempted by evil and had instead stuck with truth. As he walked out of the wilderness, reality hit, immediately he was confronted with the oppression of a political system which was compounded by the collusion with a religious system.  The stage was set, it was time for Jesus to step out of the shadows and onto stage center.

Up to this point, Mark has acquainted us with Jesus just through the actions of  Jesus, ‘he stepped into the water,’ ‘he stepped into the wilderness’, ‘He came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.’ But now we hear the words and witness of Jesus as he says, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’  It was a statement of undeniable definitiveness said with a confidence and authority that could not be silenced. Quite frankly, we could spend the rest of our time just deconstructing each of these words and phrases, for they all add to this frank proclamation from Jesus.  Instead, we will look at two:

‘The time if fulfilled.’  

A statement of ‘it is time’ 

or an even more frank message that ‘it’s time,’ probably said  with an exclamation point.  

However, it can also be interpreted as ‘that’s enough’, as in a parent deciding that the dinner table conversation has gone too far, too out of control, that it is time to reel it in.  Jesus has not only spent 3 decades in the flesh, seeing the human experience from the inside, he has also seen the unseen, the evil that permeates under the surface, and then he saw the attack on ‘right’ as he learns that John the baptizer has been arrested.  “That is enough’ he yells, it is time to turn this around, to look back to the holy God, it is time for change! This was not a passive moment for Jesus, nor was it a delicate entrance into the public eye, it was a bold, it was unapologetic, it was time.

Repent.’ This was covered in our insight portion of our Take  5 this week but it warrants voicing it again.  Jesus, and John the Baptizer, both spoke of this essential act of repentance.  It was the symbolic waters of John’s baptism and it is the purpose of what Jesus is about to start doing.  Typically, the  word that the Israelites would have expected to be used to say ‘Repent’ would be the hebrew word ‘Teshuvah’ – which means what we still automatically think of when we hear the challenge to ‘repent’ – a focus on our actions, our sin, our disobedience.  We expect the listeners to hear this call as to point out their transgressions against God and their  transgressions against each other.  However, Jesus, and John, both use a different Hebrew word, their choice is the word, ‘metanoia’ which is much bigger and further reaching than just talking about the sin of an individual.  In using the word ‘metanoia’ both of these men are calling the people to not only turn from their evil ways but to instead let God change their heart, to change their inner being, to have an entirely new perspective on life.  This is a call not just to the individual but also a call to be a community of change, a force for good.

Jesus was calling a people to change, bigger than just a personal recognition of one’s own sin but to the way we see life, others, and God. This was the beginning of moving a people forward, forward from an externally monitored law, forward to truth written on our hearts.

As Jesus began to build this community he started by looking for those that were looking for this change of perspective, a change of heart.  They probably could not define their quest in this manner but it was surely the reason they had been unable to find it up to this point.  The tradition was that a rabbi would select disciples from those who had found the rabbi, however, Jesus went looking for those who were unknowingly looking for him.

Jesus walked among men who were in the midst of life.  Individuals who were living life in their own community, working in their reality. They were the beginning of this new community Jesus was forming.  Jesus called first to Simon and his brother Andrew, then James and his brother John.  All four men dropped what held them to that place and turned to follow Jesus. They willingly left jobs and family, those left behind knew these men had been looking for. They had been searching and keeping their ears and eyes open, ready to follow, they had been whole hearted in their search and now they were following with  hardy hearts, ready to see, ready to be used by God.

This is what it comes down to, 

A hardy heart.   

A heart that is ready and ‘robust; capable of enduring difficult conditions.’ It is an adjective that is often used to describe a plant that is able to withstand the cold of winter or the heat of summer.  This year we planted some pansies around our house.  Pansies are not anywhere near pansies, they are hardy, the extreme cold and the elements of winter only seem to strengthen their resolve to survive and look beautiful. These delicate flowers have a strong, hardy, constitution.  There is nothing holding them back, they seem to have an inner determination to succeed.  They are the definition of Hardy. In the same way a Hardy Heart is one that is determined in the search and resolved in the finding.  Jesus was looking for followers who had Hardy Hearts, hearts that would have the resolve to survive rejection, grief, doubt, devastation, and even exhilaration.  Hearts that were ready to take on a new perspective, hearts that were resolved to support the new person that God was creating, hearts determined to be community with other Hardy Hearts through the thick and the thin.  

A vivd example of this occurred this past Wednesday a a good portion of Americans watched the inauguration sensing the hope they had not felt for 4 years, there was another portions of Americans who, at the same time, had broken hearts, they were now hopeless after 4 years of feeling hopeful.  Both of these groups of people’s state of hope was based on a person, a politician, a political agenda, an external change – a change which can change again in 4 years.  The hope and the hopelessness of that day were legitimate reactions, however, they were also a lesson for us all – our hope is not in a human being, not in a philosophy, not in an agenda, not in an institution, not in anything earthly, our hope is in God, it is in God alone. It is the singular determining factor of a hardy heart, it is an assurance of a lasting and persevering hope.  

Viktor E. Frankl who survived 4 WWII Nazi concentration camps while losing his parents, brother, and his pregnant wife, wrote in his classic Man’s Search for  Meaning that while in the camps he was struck by

‘the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’ After liberation Frankl went on to study what made some survive for a future outside the camp and others who were never able to regain any sense of hope even after liberation.  He came to the conclusion that it all comes down to a future hope, something to look forward which is only possible when we are able to fill the ‘existential vacuum’ in our lives with that which cannot be destroyed by the actions of evil men. He concluded that there is a necessity within all humans for ‘meaning’.

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

This is what the Psalmist is alluding to in chapter 62. 

‘For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah. Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.’

Psalm 62:5-12

Jonah allowed his those things external to cause him to forget the source of his hope, he allowed his heart to fail. The disciples waited and searched for the source of their hope – they did not miss their hope when it called out to them, they followed with hardy hearts. Our hope is our meaning, it is our purpose, it is our deliverer, it is our God.

Prayer Together 01.17.21

Prayer together penned by Cardinal John Henry Newman

Dear Jesus, help us to spread Your fragrance everywhere we go.

Flood our souls with Your Spirit and Life.

Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly that our lives may only be a radiance of Yours.

Shine through us and be so in us that every soul we come in contact with may feel Your presence in our souls.

Let them look up, and see no longer us, but only Jesus!

Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine as You shine, so to shine as to be a light to others.

The light, O Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be ours. It will be You, shining on others through us.

Let us thus praise You in the way You love best, by shining on those around us.

Let us preach You without preaching, not by words but by example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do, the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear for You.

Amen.

Come and See

When God told Noah to build a boat, to board a boat, and to wait out the flood in the boat, we see no expression of doubt or skepticism on Noah’s part, he just obeys, we hear no questions, nor do we hear of any argument.  His faith was affirmed and verified as events of destruction & deliverance occurred, and then, God’s promise was proven when Noah saw an olive branch in the mouth of the bird.

When God told Abraham to pack up and ‘get out’, we don’t hear Abraham asking for some sort of verification – instead we see God providing affirmation through the words, ‘I will show you.’

When Moses asked God for some form of proof that this actually was God speaking to him, God said, ‘When you come back here with the rescued Hebrews, after you have done as I’ve instructed, then you will see.’

When the widow at Zarephath experienced the death of her son as well as the death of her faith, Elijah carried the revived son down the stairs and said, ‘See, your son is alive.’

When John the baptizer pointed his own followers to Jesus, John explains the direction by saying ‘I’m telling you, I saw the Spirit land on Jesus, seriously,  I’m just telling you what I saw.’

When those followers of John the baptizer asked Jesus ‘where are you staying?’ Jesus simply said, “come and see.’

When Jesus found Philip and then Philip found Nathaniel and Nathaniel expressed his doubts at the possibility that someone as significant as the Messiah could come out of such an insignificant place as Nazareth, Philip simply challenged him to, ‘come and see.’

When Nathaniel quickly believed after Jesus said, “I saw you.’ Jesus expressed surprise, saying, ‘you believe because I said I saw you?, WOW, just wait for everything else you are going to see!’

And he saw! Along with the other disciples, Nathaniel saw Jesus turn water into wine, not just wine, but really, really, good wine. He saw Jesus unapologetically  and confidently confront the powerful religious establishment with authority and confidence, he saw important religious leaders as well as important political officials come and see and believe.  Nathaniel saw Jesus intentionally see a Samaritan woman, who responded by running back to her community and proclaiming ‘come see what I just saw! Come see the one who saw me!’ Nathaniel saw Jesus engage crowds of thousands with his words and presence and then, when Jesus saw that the crowd was hungry, he miraculously feed them with nothing but a food pantry filled with compassion. Oh, Nathaniel, and the others, saw, they saw that which they never expected to see, they saw that which they would not have believed could be seen, they saw that which they never even imagined was even there to be seen, they saw that which sometimes had to leave them wondering, ‘Did I really see that?’

Come and see. It is an odd order of an effective affirmation strategy. Think about it – to believe what God is saying, you have to commit enough to follow.  Seeing is the only way to to believe and believing enough to follow is the only way to see. It is a promise that called for a purposeful commitment, and a commitment that requires a surrender, and a surrender that requires 100 percent from the beginning even before you actually see.

I have always found God’s pattern of providing affirmation a bit suspect. He gives the instructions, sometimes just a smidgen of the instructions & sometimes a lot of instructions, and then, to provide some form of affirmation or proof, he says, ‘you will believe when it is over and you have successfully completed what I have told you to do – then, you will believe because you will see.’

Imagine that I tell you to walk across a rope that I have managed to stretch across the grand canyon. You would quickly inform me that I am crazy.  As I attempt to convince you that you are able to do this, you would finally ask for some proof that you can do this and that I can be trusted – being a doubting human is very helpful in instances such as this.

Imagine your response if I would attempt to assure you by naively saying, ‘you will know that you can do this after you see that you have done it.’ – You would think me a delusional lunatic. You would laugh and walk away at my guarantee that you will believe after you made it across. My offer of proof on the other side will do little to convince you to step up on the rope.  The challenge to ‘go and see’ will have no persuasive pull on your deciding whether or not to ‘trust and obey’.

This, however, is the proof that God gives, it is the affirmation we need, because, it is actually the only way to see, it is the only way to believe.  The call of God is not just a challenge we decide to give a chance. The call of God is an offer to be a part of what God is doing, it is an invitation to join God on your own path.  Our participation is the key element to our success in following. Belief does not precede our accepting the call to ‘come and see’ nor does following develop the belief that enables us to ‘come and see.’ These are 2 mutually independent factors that are, at the same time, mutually dependent on each other.

You see, the one undeniable factor in my challenge, given at the edge of the Grand Canyon, is that I am not God and you have not been seeking me.  It is not me that the Holy Spirit has led you to, it is not God calling you to a task that can only be done by faith – no matter how convincing, how charismatic, how articulate, how bombastic I may be – I lack one thing – I am not God.  I am not the one you have been searching for, I am not the destination to which your path leads, I am not God.

For a 600 year old Noah, there was nothing absurd in God’s extremely intricate boat building plans, there was nothing crazy about the collection of animals, there was not even a justified rational question asked like, ‘what is a flood?’  Noah had already been following God as best as he could, he had been seeking the God that was not even on the radar of any other human on earth, including his family.  His entire life had been about knowing the God that no one else cared to know.

Abraham was called by God to ‘get out’ of his father’s house, to get off of his family lands and to go to a place that God would show him, he would get out and head in the direction of a place that he had not ever seen. No one else received such a call, even those who eventually joined Abraham did not receive such a promise to see.  But like Noah, Abraham had also been seeking God his entire life, as he watched his dad build idols to the false Gods, however, Abraham knew that there was a real God out there.  The very God he had been seeking and searching.

Moses, who had lived a textbook life of dysfunction, who had left the family that had adopted and raised him to join the biological family who had set him afloat in a mighty river, returning to a people who were quick to see his flaws and to question his dubious past. And flawed he was, as his flaws would continue to be seen even after he packed up to get out while refocusing on his path to see the place that God was promising to show him.

The widow at Zarephath hesitantly sacrificed all that she had, seeing nothing but death for her and her son in her choice to follow God, still she did follow, and she did see, and then, she saw more.

John the baptizer said yes to God’s ‘come and see’ challenge, in return his followers left him, leaving him unprotected and vulnerable prey to a the brutal queen, and in the earthly end, he literally lost his head.

And then there was Nathaniel, who in accepting the ‘come and see’ challenge, became a part of the 120 person crowd of Jesus followers who, with each step in following, would see, they would see God in human form, they would see God revealing how to do this earth thing, they would see God’s compassion and mercy flow unhindered, they would effortlessly wait to feel the wind of the Holy Spirit, they would see thousands join their ranks, they would see because they had each, individually, accepted the call to follow, the call to ‘come and see.’ In doing so, the seeking that proceeded their calls came to a fruition, they saw and their lives were never the same.

A young male child named Samuel, from birth, had heard the stories from his mother, stories of begging God for the son that would be Samuel, crying before God for the honor of seeing God provide, stories that told of heartache, ridicule, pain, isolation, condescension, and even rejection, yet these same stories included this all encompassing factor of seeking and searching for God, of trusting that God was present even though there was no viable proof that he even existed, of a life committed to coming to God, a life convinced that she would see the hand of God.  And she did see, and her son Samuel saw, the call to ‘come and see’ was an assumed reality due to the lifetime of hearing, trusting, and eventually seeing as had been testified through the life of Hannah his mother. And so, when, as a young boy, he came to live in the temple to fulfill the promise made by his mother, he laid in his bed and heard his name called out. At this point he only knew OF God, thanks to the seen example of his mother, still his experience had only been third person, his mother had followed, his mother had seen, his mother knew God – Samuel did not, but he had witnessed someone who had indeed seen.  So when he heard God’s voice he began to seek and search, he began to ask questions of Eli the priest, questions like, ‘was it your voice I heard?’ Eventually his quest led him to ask God directly, ‘What?’ And to respond, ‘Here I am.’  Samuel then heard God’s ‘come and see’ call, a call that would lead him to step out on a rope across a canyon much larger and a call much more absurd than he could ever image, but he stepped out, because he knew this was God. Yes, he was too young to be living in the temple, yes he may have been too young to ask God, ‘what do you want?’ Yes, he was definitely too young to be given a calling that would scare even the most secure and confident adult, yes, it was outrageous, he should have been outside the temple kicking a soccer ball, or annoyingly running around and through the people gathered outside.  But he was not in the places that made sense, he was there, in the temple, a young boy, thrust onto the path to be the instrument of God, a path of appointing Kings even before there were any Kings in the promised land, a path of confronting the powerful and foretelling of God’s coming judgement.  He was called to ‘come and see’ and saw he did.

Understanding God’s bizarre motivational plan of providing affirmation after we have endured the path, after we have followed the unknown, after we have said ‘yes’ to his call to ‘come and see’ – understanding is difficult if not excruciating. To understand this we must accept 2 foundational truths about God, about us, and about the path of ‘coming and seeing.’

First, we must constantly remind ourself of our disconnect with the concept of time and timelessness.  We live in realm where we are governed by time.  The element of time, which was created specifically for us humans, conforms us to life on earth, it adjusts us to our reality.  It is the element of time that informs us when to eat, when to sleep, when to give up and when to forge on. For us, time restricts, for God time provides.  We never have enough time, time always goes too slow or too fast – but for God, in the midst of his timelessness, there is always exactly enough time to provide the space we need, the essential space to give us closure on what is past and to prepare us for what is next.  We allow time be an impediment, but, God uses our time to grow and strengthen us.  It only makes sense in the universe of enough time that time itself is a primary factor in our development as humans and as followers.  God uses time to let us see what we could not otherwise see – we see because God has allowed us to see, we trust because time has given us the experience of trust. While we view waiting as a waste of perfectly good time, God sees it as a productive opportunity of faith growth and personal epiphany as we recognize the value of the the process through which we better understand God and our self.

Think about this one additional element of time…For God every time is the first time, every time is unique and different than anytime before.  The first creation, the first flood, the first people, the first Savior, the first church, the first return.  All of these are guaranteed by the success of the first time.  So, it makes sense that this is how God would make the guarantee to us. Every time is ether proof that God is God or that God is not God.

The second factor we must remember is that we are fearfully, lovingly, intricately, and thoughtfully made.  We were woven and knitted together, we were created by the creator with life in his creation on his mind. The reality of God’s creation was heavy on his mind during the engineering process.  God loves us more than our paths, more than our destinations, more than our successes, even more than our obedience.  He created us so that our paths, and even our destinations, would strengthen and develop us.  He has formed us out of his love, not out of his need, he loved us even while we were sinners having already provided the sacrifice permitting us to know God.  

It is an interesting allegorical visual through which the Psalmist describes our own creation.  Through the art of weaving and knitting, our own formation is described in a way we can understand from all perspectives. Over the days of lockdown this past year, there have been many projects begun inside the quarantined walls across the country.  My sister Beth took up making Banana and Sourdough bread, both of which benefitted us all.  In our house there were frightening organization projects that sprung up in areas we had no idea needed organizing.  We almost constantly had a tray of Chocolate Chip cookies on the stove top and then there were the projects including yarn and thread – knitting, crocheting, needlepointing, all took on a life of their own throughout the house.  Had you taken the risk of entering our home during this time you would have found yourself automatically picking up small pieces of yarn and thread throughout the house. What began as a spool of thread or a wad of yarn, was transformed into a picture of birds, a scarf, or even a cap. This yarn and thread, which was not very strong by itself, when woven together took on a purpose and a strength that was unexpected.  The truly amazing thing about these elements however, was the ability for them to be darned back together should there be a break or gap.

Blogger LAURA TRIMBLE  writes of mending her child’s favorite pair of soccer shorts, a pair of shorts worn thread bare by the constant wear and tear of a three year old boy who wants to wear nothing else but these shorts every day.

‘For ten dollars and free two-day shipping, I could replace my son’s shorts. Or at the cost of two days’ worth of spare time, I can show my son he is loved so much that whatever he loves becomes worthy of my attention, too. God could have just replaced us and all of His world at far less of a cost than the cost of redemption. But He would rather have us, broken bits and all, with the marks of mending all over us, to show that it was worth any cost to Him not to throw us away. And that story makes us beautiful. I wouldn’t be mending these shorts otherwise.’

Laura Trimble

We can confidently step out to God’s invitation to ‘come and see’ not because we want to keep him happy and pleased, but instead, we can say yes because we know of his love for us, the love of the everlasting father.  We can sincerely agree to an invitation to ‘come and see’ even though our humanity screams that we must instead, see and then follow, that we cannot come until we first see.  Knowing the riches of God’s love, as seen in his creation, and in us his created, we are reminded and assured that God calls us to follow because in following we will see – oh, we will see and we will know!

God still calls us to ‘come and see’, what is your response his call?