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?

Prayer Together

01.10.21 adapted from the prayer of Thomas à Kempis.

Grant to us, O Lord,
to know that which is worth knowing,
to love that which is worth loving,
to praise whatever pleases you most,
to esteem whatever is most precious to you,
and to dislike whatever is evil in your eyes.
Do not let us judge merely by what we see with our eyes,
nor to decide based on what we hear from ignorant men,
but to discern with true judgment between things visible and spiritual, and above all to search out and to do what is well pleasing to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Amen.

Underwater

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

Isaiah 40:1-2

The prophet Isaiah spoke to a people who had, for centuries, failed to listen to God, a people who had turned from God, a people who had continued to listen to voices that did not belong to God. In doing all of this, in passively rejecting God, they had hardened themselves to the very voice of God. They genuinely began to believe the lies and deceit they had surrendered to, and in the process they had sold their passions to the false promises of political and religious agendas – agendas that were hostile to God’s creation and the humans God had created.  Compassion and mercy were eagerly traded for promises of economic gain, national security, personal homogenous comfort, and a reality that was never real at all but instead a selfish fantasy. 

Now, however, God was telling the prophet that the people had suffered enough – enough to realize their horrible turns and the damage of of their choices. Now, the fullness of time had arrived, the people were ready to receive hope, ready to search for truth, ready to do the actual the work of comfort, willing to make the sacrifice needed for redemption.

If you really think about it you cannot help but come to the conclusion that it is an outrageous pattern, it is an absurd plan this plan of God. God, the one rejected by the people, in the end, is God, the one who makes the ultimate sacrifice for the people.

Actually it is not really that odd, it should probably be one of the most understandable things of God. After all it is what a parent does, we as humans have the natural tendency, in this one area, to act with the same automatic sacrifice as the creator.  It is our gut instinct to chase after the wayward child, to make every sacrifice possible in order to ransom back the rebellious beloved, we shed tears, we empty our bank account, we beg, we borrow, we do and do until we can do no more.  Our critics, the ‘experts’ on the outside say ‘do no more’, ‘you’ve done enough’, ‘you are just enabling them’, ‘walk away’, ‘wash your hands and live your life.’  But a response of walking away is impossible to fully do, it is a response that is doomed to failure because it is not a natural response to our very real struggles with the mercy and compassion of the breath that God breathed into us at creation. A breath that we have long disregarded but still often we find ourself longing – longing for the freshness of that air, that sense of relief as we breath it in after holding it in while we find ourself under water. 

It makes sense that the one area we naturally act like God is the one area we personally can identify with the compassionate response of God. God has shown mercy, kindness, and love towards us, it is natural with God, it is automatic.  Even though we struggle receiving it, it is our natural response as well.

God looks at his own creation, and those he created, with the same passion we look at our created.  To walk away, to wash his hands, is no more natural to God than it is to us.  God lives with limitations just as we do, God is still restricted by the choice he gave to humans. Eventually, everything we do is restricted by the choice of the one we seek to rescue.

Isaiah explains this to a people who are finally ready to hear, who are finally ready to receive, 

‘Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint, he does not grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.’

Isaiah 40:28-31

It is then, when time is ready, when time is complete, when time is full, when we are ready to see and to hear and to receive, it is in that moment that God acts.  God defeats the Babylonians and sends the exiled home, God opens the heavens, he tears them apart, so that, at this perfect time, he can send a messenger to tell us,  ‘Look, there it is! There is the Hope that you are now ready to see! Look!! Grab ahold of it! It has been there all along but now the time is here! Now your eyes and your ears are open and ready to receive.’

God opens up the heavens, he lets us see the evil around us that we have somehow not seen, he startles us awake, he shakes us to the core – 

‘look you have not seen this before – let me wash away the very things that are causing your blindness, let me wipe your eyes clean, here step into and even under this water so I can lift you up clean!’

God opens the gates of Jerusalem, he permits the Persians to defeat the Babylonians, he lets the evil shatter the windows of our sacred buildings – all to wake us up, to pull us out of our complacency, to turn us back to him.  And then the messenger says, 

‘It is time, time to admit that your eyes have been closed, it is time to see truth and to turn back to God.’

‘A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’

Isaiah 40:3

In the wilderness, why does it have to be in the wilderness? Why? The wilderness is messy and it takes time to get there….you can’t sit down, you can hear very well, there is no coffee, and some of the people that do to ‘wilderness’ things are not the people we need to be rubbing elbows with! 

And why does it have to be a ‘messenger’? Messengers like Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptizer, and their ilk, their clothes are repulsive and their smell is even worse, their diet is ridiculous, and their message is intrusive and unfair. Really, for this we leave our buildings, for this we walk out of our city?

And yet, people went. They went out to the wilderness, they went out to the messenger, they went into the water, they went under.  It was filthy water before they ever stepped into it, and, after all the crowds descended into it – the water was a true health hazard.  Every possible filth from every possible filthy human being had been washed into the water, it was now just waiting to stick to the next victim.

Into this, Jesus stepped.  He didn’t just dip a toe, but he fully immersed himself, he was all in – feet, hands, face, hair, nothing was left dry, no part of his body was spared the disgusting impact of humanness and the human condition. 

And then, oh, and then, what happened revealed everything. It was a game changer, it was radical and it was revolutionary. The water liberally covered his body, it creeped onto every inch of his flesh.

And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, you are the Beloved;’ and God sighed just before saying, ‘with you I am well pleased.”

Mark 1:10-11

‘The heavens torn apart!’ God had broken through, God was set loose. Now, at the edges, there was God, now in the filth of humanity, God was there, now with us, God is here. God was no longer confined in a building, or by an institution, or a political party, or by a government,  God is here, God is there, God is present!

God was loosed.  Loosed. It was the first greek word we learned in seminary greek. loo’-o.  To deliver, to unbind, to free, to dissolve, to release.  It is a verb, is is an extreme action word, it is a ‘do’ or ‘doing’ word, it takes a deliberate effort, it takes action, it is not magical or automatic, it is not without expense or sacrifice, it comes with a steep cost. It takes something being torn apart, it takes a radical work that is beyond our human ability.  It takes stepping down into, and under, the filthy water of humanity and taking on that very filth.

And, here is the thing, when Jesus came out of the murky, filthy water,  the water was clean.  It surely still looked a mess, but now all the filth that had been floating around had now clung to Jesus. So now, those who stepped into the water after were stepping into water that could truly cleanse on all levels.  

To those of Jewish heritage, baptism held a very real, and needed purpose, to cleanse.  It was truly to clean off all that was unclean.  It was an early attempt to arrive at a level of hygienic safety removing all the contaminants that should inflict and harm. Now, this water, post Jesus, was truly able to serve in that fashion but now on a higher level. Now this water was able to remove away the contaminants of the soul.  Jesus took all of the filth on himself as he arose out of the water and would carry this filth with him to the cross.

This is why Priscilla and Aquila asked an enthusiastic believer named Apollos ‘which water were you baptized in?’ It is what Paul asked the believers ‘were you baptized in John’s water or in Jesus’ water?’ See the water made a difference – not the literal water, that water was much too shallow to hold all the filth it could not fully do the work of ultimate cleansing. It was just a water that got you ready for the true cleansing water, the water that would refine your focus so you can see. That water was much more than a physical element, it was forever.  ‘Was it the water where you left everything that would keep you from seeing Jesus, or was it the water that had been cleansed by Jesus?  It was important to differentiate – it was essential for Paul, Priscilla, Aquila, Apollos and for us to identify the water.

And we cannot miss the voice, may we never miss the voice, may we too come up out of the water and hear that voice.  A heavenly voice that has torn through and been loosed in our life. A voice that we can only hear when we go under and allow the cleansing water to wash away the gunk from our eyes and our ears, loosing us up see the presence and to hear the voice of God.  It is not a one time literal baptism but a continuous eternal Jesus water to which we can hear the ‘well pleased’ words of the Father, in which we can see the ‘step out’ guidance of the Spirit, to which we can recognize the ‘it is done’ promise from the Son. We are talking about the waters that have been created, cleansed, and offered to us by God. The waters which have ransomed and redeemed us, a work that we were, and are, unable to do for ourself.  Waters that have revealed the patience, love, mercy, compassion, hope, joy, and presence of God.

A little over a year ago I stood elbow to elbow with people who had come to understand that knowing their waters could mean life or death.  Folks that had been kidnapped and held ransomed just for the tint of their skin, their bodily features that identified their nationality, they were tortured, and threatened until they could identify someone who could ransom and redeem them, someone who had the right water.  Then, after they were loosed, after they were ransomed, they carried a ‘water identifier’. An often ten digit alphanumeric code that would say ‘they have been in the waters of deliverance, they are already freed’ to the next kidnappers who attempted to steal them away.

So we ask ourselves, which waters have I stepped into? What are the waters that I am permitting to pour over me? What are the waters that I am dependent on for my rescue? Out of which baptismal waters did I rise from?

We have just readily said goodbye to a year in which we have been confronted with the fact that there are things we, as humans, cannot change, things we can not control, things that are not only beyond our power but beyond the power of our institutions and the scope of our traditions.  We have faced the truth that we are not immune to everything, that we are not able to outrun the curse of our ancestors, that our status, wealth, power, and geography do not hold the arrogant place that we have thought was unshakeable.  We have been forced to see that we stand alongside all of humanity, not just those with whom we share a common belief, heritage, color, gender, philosophy, education, citizenship, or any other label. We do not have a baptismal privilege because the waters of our baptism were, or are, superior to the waters of others’ baptisms. We can now see the futility of waters of religious celebrities, of political parties, of worthy agendas and lofty philosophical aspirations.   Those waters are filthy, they only contain more filth that will stick to us.  Or, are our waters the waters that have been cleansed by and through the ultimate sacrifice? Are they waters that cleanse on the highest level, are they waters that give us back our sight, waters out which we can arise and hear. What waters were you baptized in?

We now stand at the start of a new year, just a couple of weeks in and we have already seen that, while there are things we cannot control, there are still things we can do, things we can search and seek, places we can stand, people for who we can stand, and things for which we can stand.   It is a year in which we, once again, have been invited to step down into, and under, the waters that will wash the gunk off our eyes and out of our ears, to let us see and hear what Jesus saw, what Jesus heard as he stepped out of the waters over 2000 years ago.

Waters that move us to authentic and genuine actions.  Actions that are out of that breath of God that leads us to act out of and with mercy and compassion.

This past Wednesday we all sat in shock as the sacred institutions of our democracy were breeched and defiled.  We saw many who had chosen to step down into the waters that only piled on hatred and filth, waters that could not cleanse, waters unable to give life, instead they were waters that multiplied the hate and chaos they were designed to multiply. For many, they came out dirtier and more hopeless than before.  There were those, those who didn’t really ever step into the waters but still, they felt the midst of the water as they stood near.  To those, those who did not leave with additional hatred but instead sensed that breath of God, for those they had to find that Comfort that God provided.

U.S. House Representative Andy Kim from New Jersey felt that need for the comfort.  In between the votes in the chamber after congress resumed the electoral process, Representative Kim had to get out into the building and view the destruction of what had taken place earlier.  It only took a few moments for his eyes to fill with tears while he surveyed the damage, he sought out a trash bag.  Soon, Kim was on his knees filling the large trash bag with cigarette butts and other refuse discarded by those who had unpatriotically trashed the sacred building.  For over an hour and a half Kim picked up these pieces of debris that powerfully said so much.  “I was cleaning up the Capitol because it was the right thing to do. That building deserves to be treated with respect, and it was desecrated,”,’ he replied when he was asked about it later.  Truth was, it was the only natural thing he could think to do as he sought God’s comfort in such a discomforting time.

As we stand at the start of this new year, this new opportunity, as yourself, into what waters are you being baptized?

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

Isaiah 40:1-2

Too Strong

On Christmas Eve, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, three American soldiers on foot found themselves lost in the heavy snow of the Ardennes Forest. As they desperately attempted to locate the American lines, they came across a cabin in the woods. Hungry and desperate for help, they knocked on the door. A German woman named Elisabeth Vincken, who lived there with her 12-year-old son Fritz, opened the door and was shocked to see three American soldiers. Recognizing that they were hardly older than boys and one was badly wounded, she invited them inside. The fact that they chose not to break into the cabin and threaten her for help made Elisabeth trust the American soldiers.   Elisabeth, communicating with the Americans in broken French, was cooking a chicken for the soldiers when there was another knock at the door. Opening the door, Elisabeth was shocked to find four German soldiers, one of whom was a corporal. They, also, were lost and hungry. When they asked for help, she replied that there were American soldiers inside, including a wounded one. After a long stare, the corporal replied that there will be no shooting on the Holy Night. Elisabeth collected the weapons of all the soldiers and left them outside and welcomed the German soldiers into the house. There was immense tension between the German and American soldiers, but the smell of roast chicken and potatoes kept a peace. One of the German soldiers tended the wounded American. After they ate their food, the soldiers went to sleep. The next day, the German corporal checked the map used by the Americans and told them the way to get back to their camp. He even gave them a compass. Elisabeth returned their weapons and both sets of soldiers went in opposite directions. 

The greatest hope is usually found in the places where the least hope is visible.

I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your  welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me 

Jeremiah 29:11-14a

The greatest love never fades and is never taken away

I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

Jeremiah 30:3b

These things were said to a people who were on the wrong end of 7 decades of misery and pain, over 70 years of exile and slavery ahead, now away from their promised land – which was now a land of very little observable promise to even  return to.  It was here, on the human time line at point zero, that the timeless God assured them that there was indeed hope and that they would eventually see and grasp it in time. I cannot over emphasize the importance of understanding our ‘stuckness’ in time as opposed to freedom in God’s timelessness. It was a hope designed to endure almost a century, because it would take the people almost a century to recognize it – it would take that long before the people would be ready to receive it. Jeremiah called the people to live in a timeless trust of God’s hope –  to return to living their lives, while on a higher level trusting in God’s hope that this life was not permanent. Timelessness enables us to trust God even when our humanness screams for us to focus on time. Hope waits, it waits for us, God does not hide it, because God does not hide, he waits until we are looking and then he lets us find it along with him.

Listen to the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 147, 

It’s a good thing to sing praise to our God; praise is beautiful, praise is fitting. God’s the one who rebuilds Jerusalem, who regathers Israel’s scattered exiles. He heals the heartbroken and bandages their wounds. He counts the stars and assigns each a name. Our Lord is great, with limitless strength; we’ll never comprehend what he knows and does.  

God puts the fallen on their feet again and pushes the wicked into the ditch. Sing to God a thanksgiving hymn, play music on your instruments to God, Who fills the sky with clouds, preparing rain for the earth, Then turning the mountains green with grass, feeding both cattle and crows. He’s not impressed with horsepower; the size of  our muscles means little to him. 

Those who fear God get God’s attention; they can depend on his strength. Jerusalem, worship God! Zion, praise your God! He made your city secure, he blessed your children among you. He keeps the peace at your borders, he puts the best bread on your tables. He launches his promises earthward— how swift and sure they come!  

He spreads snow like a white fleece, he scatters frost like ashes, He broadcasts hail like birdseed— who can survive his winter? Then he gives the command and it all melts; he breathes on winter—suddenly it’s spring! He speaks the same way to Jacob, speaks words that work to Israel. He never did this to the other nations; they never heard such commands.
Psalm 147

It is when we connect that there is hope when no hope can be seen; when it dawns on us that just because we are hopeless does not mean hope is not there, when we are able to live and accept that unseen hope – because we have accepted and live in Jesus, hope itself, it is then that our praise is deep, it is then that our praise is sincere, it is then that are praise is truly about who God who is strong when our world seems to be much stronger than us.  It is then that we are praising the God who is strong for us when that which comes against us is too strong for us to overcome.

Faith engulfs us in Hope, recognizing and living in that Hope lands us at the home of peace, choosing that Peace over chaos and fear creates in us a Joy that is not overcome by the darkness, and wrapped around all of this, binding it together, is Love.

Let’s take a look back at the message of Jeremiah to a people who have now been conquered, exiled, and enslaved, after they had witnessed the completed destruction of their land, their city, and the temple, a destruction that honestly had begun with them as they disregarded how to care of the land. Now Jeremiah is telling them of hope that they would experience in 7 decades, and he addresses the elephant in the room, the fact that they are powerless, and their oppressors are powerful – too powerful, too strong for them to overcome.

We land at Jeremiah 31:11 where God wraps the ‘how can it be possible’ and ‘how will we see that strength?’ in a mere 15 words. 

‘For Yahweh has ransomed and redeemed Jacob from one who is too strong for him.’

15 words, in which we will pull out the 6 words that explain, affirm, and assure our faith and our hope. 

HAS – notice the tense of this word, it is something that has  already happened, it is not a ‘will’ happen, or even a more formal ‘shall’ happen, it is a ‘HAS’ happened.  God is assuring the people that necessary actions are already in motion, their rescue is already a reality – now it is up to them to grasp it – which will take 72 years. Remember, we are shackled by time while God is timeless – to us, 72 years is hopeless, to our timeless God it is just enough [time] to do the work of transformation that must be done.

RANSOMED AND REDEEMED – Two words that both appear as verbs in the midst of these 15 words.  Both are actions taken by God on our behalf.  Ransom is to pay a debt for the release of the person in bondage. It is an exchange of some kind involving something of equal or greater value.  Ransom is Deliverance.  Redeemed is to recover something that belongs to you.  To take back something that originally belonged to you.  Ransomed is deliverance that has already been secured, Redemption is a recovering and return of that which belongs to God.

JACOB – God says that he ‘has redeemed’ and that he ‘has ransomed’ Jacob.  Jacob, is the son of Abraham, who originally received the promise, Jacob, not only had the promise past to him but he also was the physical mechanism, he moved the promise from ‘a person’ to ‘a people’, meaning he had a lot of sons.  As we saw in Galatians last week, and in Ephesians this week, we, through Christ, as adopted sons of God, are a part of that ‘people’. Meaning, that Jeremiah spoke to the descendants of Jacob, their blood ancestor, our adopted ancestor, and, in using the person Jacob, he was addressing the descendants.  This people – ultimately including us – are ‘the Jacob’ that Jeremiah names. 

TOO STRONG – this is self explanatory but seldom self realized and accepted.  We humans can, and will, come against someone or something, that is too strong for us to overcome, to defeat.  There will always be a darkness that we are too weak to navigate.  The depiction of the man, Jacob, is replete with his weaknesses, as are his descendants, as are we.  That is the role of the Spirit, to ‘come along side’ of us, especially when we facing that which is too strong for us.  As God says that he will deal with that which is too strong for them, they are in a time when their oppressors, the Babylonians, are physically too strong for anyone or any nation.  However, at this point, seven decades before, God is raising up that which will be strong enough to confront the Babylonians – the Persians.  The Persians will be conquers of the Babylonians, and their King will be the strong power that allows them to return home.  God is our power when we are against that which is ‘too strong’.

Oddly, it was the German colonel who made the decision that it would be a night of peace, and a German single mother who chose to enforce that decision by removing the weapons from the equation.  It was a decision, made and enforced by those who represented a country and military that had committed the brutal genocide killing over 6 million Jews and almost a million ‘unacceptable’ people from groups such as Disabled, Romas, Homosexuals, and anyone who disagreed with Hitler.  The ironic thing in that house where enemies were sleeping was that the decision for peace was attributed it to being Christmas Eve – ‘The Holiest night of the year.’ It was an officer, who was part of the regime that was intentionally seeking to wipe out complete people groups that said the world ‘Holy’. The irony is outrageous, but it is also gives a glimmer of hope.  There, in that cabin with 9 people crammed in together, the majority who considered others in the cabin as extreme enemies – because of an attribute of God, HOLINESS, that one man said there will be peace.  On that night, somehow, truth broke through, on that night a German officer took the risk to recognize ‘Holy’. On that one night, at least one person remembered his path and the hope he had forgotten – this remembering led him to peace and peace is difficult to not share.  It was surely one of the many sparks that ended the war less than 9 months later.  That night, God rounded up all that he had done in the officer’s life since childhood and on that night, that perfect night, it came to fruition, in the fullness of time, the timeless God said ‘now’ and a man changed history at least for the 9 people in that cabin on Christmas Eve night.

What is our hope, what keeps us on the path and living according to the God who does not work on our time?  John explains it best,

Even before our beginning there was the Word, the Truth, the Son, there was Jesus.  He was with God and he was, in fact, God.  Jesus existed at our beginning with God. Everything that was created – God created it.  There was nothing that was created by any god other than The God.  He gave life to everything that was created, and his very existence brought light to everyone.  The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot extinguish the light. Jesus came into the very world he had created but a world that did not recognize him.  He came to his own people but they actually rejected him.  But, those who believed were given the right to be, and refer to themselves as, children of God. Don’t be confused –  this was a hugely diverse group! Masters and Slaves, Jews and Gentiles, Men and Women, and every possible label you could imagine – of course God does not see those labels so it is not surprising that such diversity was drawn to Jesus. See, we were adopted by God, we are, therefore, children of God due to the fact that God put on flesh. God became a human and lived birth to death just like all humans.  Those around connected the dots that the life of Jesus was a reflection of God, they saw love that had no boundaries or end, and they saw God’s glory – they saw the Father’s sacrifice.

That is our hope.  A hope that has already been accomplish and completed.  We, while living in a world bound by time, are able to rise above that and enjoy the freedom of God’s timelessness.

That is our hope.  A hope that has already been accomplish and completed.  We, while living in a world bound by time, are able to rise above that and enjoy the freedom of God’s timelessness.

Prayer Together

01.03.21 – prayer adapted from Ephesians 1:3-14

Blessed be you, O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, in him you have blessed us with every spiritual blessing. You chose him to be holy and blameless before you in love, and therefore, since you have chosen Jesus, you have chosen us, for we are in him.

It pleased you, through Christ, to adopt us, it was your will. God praise you, praise your glorious grace which you showered on us as you showered it on Jesus. It is unfathomable that through the blood of Jesus we are redeemed, we are forgiven, all because you have lavished your riches on us, riches we do not grasp or even begin to understand.

God, we recognize that our wisdom and insight is limited, and that sometimes we fail to follow what we do not see, even worse, we often fail to follow even as we do see.  We also know, however that you are wisdom and you are insight allowing us to understand that Jesus was always your plan.  

We are impatient but you are timeless and your patience is limitless, therefore when it was right according to the fullness of our time you set Jesus on our paths. We usually don’t see your plan, if ever at all, but you have given us hope, peace, joy, and love to know that it is there even when we focus on hopeless, chaos, unsettledness, and hatred instead of your promised plan.  

We fail to see that we have already been given our inheritance as your adopted children.  We know that our path is according to your plan, your will, your purpose – purpose for us and purpose for all of humanity and eternity. On our path you engulf us with your hope.

God, we hear truth, which is all truth, we hear your salvation, you adopted us and marked us with the promised Spirit – this is what we know about the inheritance you have given.  This is what permits us to live in your redemption, as your people, and to praise you as we exist in your glory.

Amen.

Prayer Together – 12.27.20

We praise you Lord!  We praise you Lord from the heavens and we praise you in the heights!

We praise you Lord, we praise you along with all your angels, the sun and the moon, and all of your shining stars! The highest heavens and even the waters above the heavens join in the praise!

God, you commanded and they were created. God, you established them forever and ever; you fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

Praise you Lord from the earth in the midst of the sea monsters and the depths, surrounded by fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind which you have commanded!

On the mountains and hills, amongst the fruit trees and cedars, we praise you God!  The wild animals and cattle, the creeping things and flying birds acknowledge that you are their creator.

Kings and peoples, princes and rulers of the earth, young men and women alike, old and young together shouting your praise!

Let us, today praise your name O Lord, for your name alone is exalted; your glory is above earth and heaven.

You have raised up a horn for us – your creation and your created are the monument to your glory and radiance.
Praise you Lord!

Amen.