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.

Hearing Silence

Hearing Silence 08.09.20

They should have known better, almost half of them were fishermen, for heaven’s sake.  They should have been able to glance at the sky and realize that it was not going to be safe, especially since it was going to be dark soon.  When the winds began to pick up it was like everyone had never seen a storm, everyone was yelling out instructions, most had a white knuckle grip on the sides of the boat, it was terrifying.  The waves were pounding the side of the boat, rain was hitting the disciples’ faces for the entire night.

In their defense, it is possible that the weather could have radically changed after they pushed the boat out into the deeper waters.  I asked our resident weather and climate expert this week if it was possible for a storm to come out of no where, a storm that even seasoned fishermen would not be anticipating.  Renee told me about the KAT-a-bat-ic winds that come down off the colder high mountains to the smaller mountains where the temperatures are warming and then to the shallow waters of the Sea of Galilee – stirring up the waves and wind with great veracity. 

So the scared men were mad and frustrated with each other and then at the same time  ashamed of themselves.  Truth was, they were mostly aggravated that they had jumped into the boat in the first place.  A carpenter telling a group of grown men, many who were at home on the water, a carpenter telling this group to jump in the boat, at dusk, and go on ahead. The entire situation was ludicrous!

Some would say this storm was all part of God’s plan to bring the men to a fuller recognition of who Jesus is; an orchestrated weather disaster. However, bad stuff happens –

– when people have a free choice that impacts other people and the creation –

– bad stuff is going to happen. Stuff, that often in the end, we can see how we have grown, and possibly even benefitted from the reality of bad stuff.

In many ways we have recreated God, gentrifying him, so that he is a Genie who pops out of a bottle and makes everything perfect in life – including suspending the given gift of free choice. 

That is not our reality though.  Ten years ago this month we sat in a hospital room for 11 nights with our daughter Grace who had a potentially fatal reaction to a common antibiotic, even in bringing her home we knew we weren’t out of the woods.  A couple of years later, we sat in the surgery waiting rooms four times, and then in doctor’s offices for over six procedures until the professionals were able to figure out the medical solution to a medical issue our son Isaiah had. 

We lose spouses, we watch loved ones slip away, relationships unravel, automobile accidents happen and auto parts break, brother and sister human beings are abused and oppressed, pandemics leave us living in limbo, and plumbing problems cause kitchen sinks to overflow. 

I say that because that was my struggle this week – not that it is in anyway is in the same level as the struggles mentioned before, but it is on the level of most of our struggles.  Our plumber was booked for four days.  I tried again to work the few plumbing miracles I had up my sleeve.  That is when I met Kris Reece.  Kris has a 13 minute Youtube tutorial on how to fix plumbing problems that cause sinks to overflow.  Kris’s plumbing problem was a result of putting cooked pasta in the garbage disposal, I realized that I had put cooked pasta in my garbage disposal. – it was like Kris and I were brothers.  Later, I was reprimanded by my daughter Hannah who reminded me that Duffy Musgrove had told us the dangers of pasta and disposals.  So, I watched Kris, for 13 minutes unclog his disposal, making sure that I would not get half way and realize this was out of my league.  It wasn’t, I unclogged the sink, well, with Kris’s help.  Now, I know how to unclog the kitchen sink, and I know that you don’t put cooked pasta in the disposal. Two lessons from one problem.  I was pretty proud of myself the rest of the day, consider getting a tool belt.  Plus, I learned how to use the plumber’s snake my plumber’s had insisted I purchase years before – Kris taught me how to use that as well. 

Good came out of bad.

I’m not sure Paul was thinking about plumbing problems when he said, 

‘We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.’

Romans 8:28

…but it is the same dynamic.

So the disciples had strong winds, a shallow sea, scary waves, pelting wind, and were consumed with fear  – it was a rough night.  Interestingly, the experience prior to the storm had been positively amazing, the kind of day you talk about for the rest of your life. They had just fed around 10,000 hurting and hungry people, with almost nothing to work with.  One moment the men thought it was time to send the crowd home and the next moment they were collecting baskets of leftovers!

Jesus was exhausted, and still helping the people that delayed leaving, the disciples were on an adrenaline rush, so hopping into a boat was not as outlandish as it sounds.  But still, everyone was disappointed in themselves and each other.

It must be said though, the men were a little frustrated with Jesus – although no one was going to say that. One moment he is conquering hunger and disease, oppression and misery, the next minute he abandoned the disciples sending them to their death in the middle of the sea.

Then, in the punishing storm, just as the fear, anger and frustration were about to hit a boiling point, the disciples were distracted by something even more startling than the storm.  Between the flashes of lightening and the crushing waves, something, or someone, could be seen in the distance – on the water.  Every time the waves would crash the unidentified object or person was visible.  So, as the scared men continued to hold on to the tattered sails and the sides of the water logged boat, screaming in fear, they heard the voice.

“Take heart, it’s me, don’t be afraid.”

“Jesus?”

Then, of course, Peter, yells to Jesus,

“If it is really you, tell me to walk out to you”

Peter was audacious and, most often, annoyingly eager, however, he was the only one thought about walking out to Jesus. The storm was so loud you could only faintly hear Jesus’ response,

“Come.”

We all heard that word, ‘Come’,  everyone looked at Peter, he swallowed hard and stepped out of the boat. From the rocking boat the men watched as Peter navigated the waves.  He was knocked down a couple of times, but he would just get up.  After about three knock downs, he began to look out over the never ending waves often blocking his view of Jesus – his determination and confidence was visibly waning.  He was looking back at the boat and ahead at Jesus trying to decide which would be the most rational direction to go.  No way could he swim in this turbulence. Jesus picked up his pace to get to Peter, pulling him up out to the water.  Jesus grabbed Peter’s hand and pulled him up just as Peter’s head was going under.  As the two men made it to the boat, the waves and wind remained unforgiving – the disciples struggled to pull them in.

Jesus and Peter crashed onto the floor of the boat, Peter looking wet, scared, and humiliated. Jesus looked wet and strangely peaceful.  A few seconds later, the rain stopped, the wind calmed, and the waves disappeared. It was quiet, eerily silent.  The men all looked at each other, they looked at Peter, then all eyes turned to Jesus.  No one said anything – there was really nothing to say, but you could tell that everyone was thinking the same thing, you could see it in their eyes. Everyone released their grip and fell to their knees. No one spoke because there were no words to describe this moment.  In the silence, they all began to understand that this was not an ordinary human; it didn’t make sense but Jesus was holy.  They were in the presence of God.

Silence.

That was how the men knew that the boat had become a holy place, God was there, God was present.  How odd that it came in silence.  Everywhere Jesus went there had been thousands of loud voices screaming for his attention and now, in the boat, on the calm seas and the peaceful sky, there was silence – that is where the disciples saw God. In the middle of the chaos and fear, in the middle of dire circumstances, there was Jesus, first walking on the deadly waves in the brutal wind, then, in the boat, in the silence, there was peace. God was there.

No one expected silence to be the place where they would see God but this silence had pierced the deafening waves and the unforgiving wind.

It is interesting – the different places that people see God.  For Jacob it was in a multiple overtimes wrestling match, for Moses it was in a burning bush, for Isaiah it was at a funeral, for John, the Baptizer, it happened while he was still in the womb, for the centurion it was at the feet of the bloody cross, for Stephen it was as he was looking up, while being brutally stoned, for Paul it was in blindness on a public highway, for the disciples it was in a boat…and, for the prophet Elijah it was on the side of a mountain just outside the cave where he was scared and in hiding.

Nine hundred years earlier, Elijah was walking on eggshells rather than water, he, too, had seen a miracle in an awe inspiring act of proving God to be God, but now, he had a Jezebel problem.  A Jezebel problem was pretty much the worst problem you could face.  It was the seal of death to anyone that angered Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab.  Jezebel’s anger had no mercy, her power had no boundaries, the fear of Jezebel was the one shared fear in the hearts and minds of everyone, including her husband, the King.  

Elijah received the threatening message from Jezebel and could imagine the veins popping out on her face, he only needed to hear her name to know that she was livid.  Elijah had humiliated her false prophets, he had negated the power of her false gods, and to make matters worse, he had the audacity to do it in such a public way, – it was humiliating, Jezebel didn’t do humility or fear, instead, she was the source of everyone’s fear and humility.

Elijah had run away, he was now hiding in the back of a dark damp cave.

“What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah, in no uncertain terms, outlined his complaints to God. He was disappointed in the people, he was frustrated at the failures of his mission, he was alone and isolated, he was in danger, he was angry at God.

“Go stand outside the cave, I am going to come by.”

God said in a tone that expressed love for, and frustration with, his prophet Elijah.

Elijah was still standing with his arms crossed, and his brow squinted tight, his disappointment and aggravation were on full display. He stood up defiantly, like a child who is angrily and resentifully obeying his parents, positioned half way to the entrance of the cave and not a step closer, Elijah stood his ground. 

A strong wind

began to blow outside of the cave, it even whipped around inside the cave, Elijah took a few small steps back as he began to hear and feel the force of the wind that was actually moving and cracking the mountain.  God was not in the wind.  

Then the ground began to shake,

the walls of the cave began to vibrate, the sound of the earth moving beneath his feet was deafening. Elijah didn’t know if he should retreat further into the cave or if it would be wiser to run outside.  God was not in the earthquake. 

Then, Elijah recognized a burning smell,

the heat began to be unbearable, the flames began to approach the entrance of the cave.  God was not in the fire.

Here, on the mountain where God had appeared in a burning bush to Moses – God, on this day, was not in the fire, the earthquake, or even the wind.  Now, however, there was a new phenomena, there was silence

Not just silence but a ‘sheer silence.’

The kind of silence that demands your attention much like the still silence on the calmed waters of the sea, a silence that drowns out the sound of the water slapping against the sides of the boat, a silence that you actually hear.

There was God, in the silence, it was deafening.

“What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Again, Elijah outlined his complaints. He was disappointed in the people, he was frustrated at the failures of his mission, he was alone and isolated, he was in danger, he was angry at God.

God didn’t reprimand, he didn’t correct, he didn’t try to comfort or encourage, he didn’t walk away, he didn’t forget that he had been the one that called Elijah to be a prophet, he just remained there, in the sheer silence.  

God was present, he was there.

Elijah went outside of the cave and stood in the silence, he stood before God.  Elijah remembered God’s calling, he was reminded of God’s mission, he returned to God’s leading, he rested in God’s loud silent presence. 

The silence was all that Elijah could hear. The silence cleared up Elijah’s vision and strengthened his hearing.

Then, God began to speak. In a very ‘matter of fact’ manner God returned to Elijah’s calling.  God never wavered from the selection of Elijah, he never turned from his confidence in Elijah the prophet.  As Elijah stood in God’s presence, he was ready to return to God’s mission.

As God began to speak, Elijah realized that his previous Jezebel problem was nothing compared to the Jezebel problem he was about to have.  Even here, enveloped in God’s presence, he could see reality, and it was frightening.

Bad stuff was definitely going to happen.

Now, however, he remembered that he wasn’t alone, in fact God reminded him of those who had not turned from God, those he was to continue to encourage and lead.

Oh, bad stuff was bound to happen, Jezebel was going to be angry, she had no idea how audacious Elijah could be.  God told Elijah to anoint new Kings and to begin training his own replacement. Elijah could already see the bulging veins popping on Jezebel’s face, she was going to be livid.  There would be no silence in the palace.

Metaphorically, Elijah was now in the boat with Jesus. He, along with the disciples, would all face other frightening storms, there was sure to be other Jezebels, but now there was peace, there was calm, there was silence.

What is your storm, who is your Jezebel?

Are you gripping the sides of the boat holding on, sure that you will not survive, are you cowering at the thought of a livid Jezebel?  Or, do you realize that Jesus is in the boat, God is outside your hiding place?  What is your focus? How are you listening?

It is all about our vision – what are we looking at? It’s all about hearing – what are we listening for.  Are you looking at the rocking boat and the crashing waves? Are you looking at a furious Jezebel? Or, are you listening for the reminders that Jesus sat in the boat earlier, when he calmed the waters? Are you focused on Jesus’ pulling you up out of the rough waters?

Our hope is an eternal hope – the ways it takes action in the midst of an unpredictable reality are not always what we image or expect.  Hope is the catalyst of faith, it is the affirmation of assurance, it is our power in our struggles, it is the tie that binds, it is Jesus in the boat, it is God outside the cave. 

God is there, when words do not need to be said, God is there.

God is there, when reality unnerves & unsettles us, God is there.

God is there, when we are sinking & the boat is too far, God is there.

God is there, when the rain, & the winds are blinding us, God is there.

God is there, when furor & vengeance waits at our door, God is there.

God is there, when we are exhausted & isolated, God is there.

God is there, when grief & mourning are all we can see, God is there.

God is there, when chaos & turmoil seem in control, God is there.

God is there, when we can no longer see him, God is there.

God is there.