Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Twenty-Five

IMG_2545

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

I find it fascinating and quite wonderful that a piece of the birth narrative finds its way into our Lenten lectionary. Seems like a good time to be reminded how our Savior came into this world in the first place, as we walk through these days of preparation for our formal, liturgical, and deeply personal celebration of how he left it, and then re-entered in newness and magnificence. 

Some of you know that I am teaching confirmation students this year — 7 girls and 4 guys between the ages of 12 and 14. Our second year students are just about the age Mary was when the angel paid that visit. And you now what? Even with the differences in maturation across the intervening centuries, I see a couple of kids in our group who just might be mature enough and committed enough to have made the list of possible mamas-to-be. 

The young girl described in this passage is no flibberty-gibbet, not in the least off-handed or dismissive. She takes this strange visitor and his even stranger words at face value. She asks a logical question and expects to receive an answer. And when she gets it, she humbly bows and accepts the words as ones meant for her and for the son that is to come.

But here’s the sweetest piece of all — the angel slips in a little-known fact to reassure Mary that this seemingly impossible thing is not impossible. At all. No wonder, Mary packs her bag within the week and heads off to check out cousin Elizabeth for herself! 

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Twenty-Four

IMG_2596

 

Psalm 23, from The Message

God, my shepherd!
    I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
    you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
    you let me catch my breath
    and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
    right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
    my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
    every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
    for the rest of my life.

I experienced one of the worst mornings of my life last week: I had to take my aging, dementia-consumed mama to the dentist. We thought this was just a regular cleaning, but soon discovered she had broken a tooth, an important tooth — a very back molar that serves as the anchor for a large bridge she must wear to give her about 1/3 of the teeth in her mouth.

This required a great deal of work and she was not ready for it. There was no way she could be made ready — it was simply terrifying to her and she did not and could not understand. My task was to bend over her, speaking words of encouragement, holding her hands down so that she didn’t pull out any of the equipment needed to do the work of cleaning up the damage and creating a new crown.

Can I just tell you how desperately I wanted to say this psalm to her, over and over and over again? Because of her hearing loss and because too many words from me would have been impossible in the midst of all that the dentist and his assistant needed to do, I could not say it aloud. 

But I was thinking it! And a whole lotta, “Lord, have mercy!” as well. These are the words that save our lives, aren’t they? I’ve given them to you in a translation that is likely far less familiar than what you’ve heard so many times in your life. I often find it refreshing to see what Eugene Peterson has to say about familiar passages and I am always surprised and gratified by his choices.

The words that grab me in this translation are these: “True to your word, you let me catch my breath . . .” Yes, I needed an entire weekend to catch my breath after this traumatic event. I am grateful that God is, indeed, my shepherd.

Shepherding God, thank you for your continuing care and concern for us, your wayward and broken-down sheep. Thank you for loving my little mama even more than I do and for helping her (and me) to survive that difficult couple of hours. Remind me to breathe, really, truly
b r e a t h e. Thank you.

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Twenty-Three

IMG_2551

1 Samuel 15:10-21

The word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me, and has not carried out my commands.” Samuel was angry; and he cried out to the Lord all night. Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul, and Samuel was told, “Saul went to Carmel, where he set up a monument for himself, and on returning he passed on down to Gilgal.” When Samuel came to Saul, Saul said to him, “May you be blessed by the Lord; I have carried out the command of the Lord.” But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears, and the lowing of cattle that I hear?”  Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the cattle, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.” Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” He replied, “Speak.”

Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?” Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But from the spoil the people took sheep and cattle, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”

Oh, this is a tough story. No, I don’t like this part of the OT. I don’t like the whole idea of what appears to be an order, direct from God, for Saul and the burgeoning nation of Israel to commit genocide against the Amalekites. But . . . a tiny bit of research shed some interesting light on this old story, light that helps me handle it a little bit better.

This particular people group has been at serious odds with the Israelites since the time of Jacob and Esau. The Amalekites had a history of attacking Israel and trying everything in their power to wipe them off the face of the earth. That’s why they’re singled out for Saul, the new king, to take care of, once and for all. 

But Saul doesn’t do it. Even worse, he lies about it to the prophet, Samuel.

And that is the beginning of the end for our man, Saul.

I find Saul fascinating and instructive on multiple levels. We’re told he was what the people thought they wanted — tall, good-looking, strong — and willing to become their king. But surprise, surprise. The tall, good-looking one doesn’t pan out so well. It takes a smaller, ruddy-faced shepherd boy to become a true king for this young nation.

Saul’s days are numbered from this point forward. And that is a hard, hard thing to read. Basically, the man unravels. His insecurities, his moods, his anger — all symptoms of his larger disobedience — lead to his eventual downfall and to the installation of David in his place. 

Sometimes getting what we think we want doesn’t turn out all that well. It surely didn’t turn out well for Saul. 

Lord, there are times when I have pity for this man. And other times when I want to shake him — hard. And I readily admit that there are pieces of Saul in me! I can too easily be led by my insecurities and fears, I can succumb to the temptation to cover up my own weaknesses. I believe that Saul could have been forgiven — even after this egregious fail — but he could never find a spirit of repentance inside. Cultivate true repentance in me during these Lenten days, O Lord. And have mercy on me, Son of David.

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Twenty-Two

IMG_2467

Psalm 81

Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
Raise a song, sound the tambourine,
the sweet lyre with the harp.
Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
at the full moon, on our festal day.
For it is a statute for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
He made it a decree in Joseph,
when he went out over the land of Egypt.

I hear a voice I had not known:
“I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I rescued you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah
Hear, O my people, while I admonish you;
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.

“But my people did not listen to my voice;
Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
to follow their own counsels.
O that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
Then I would quickly subdue their enemies,
and turn my hand against their foes.
Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him,
and their doom would last forever.
I would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

Right here, in this 3-stanza song, we have the story of the Old Testament. It begins with beautiful music, moves to a recital of God’s repeated acts of deliverance for his people, and ends with the sad news that those people responded with belligerence and disobedience.

The consequences of that disobedience are long-lasting and terrifying, yet God never wavers in choosing them and promising them safe return . . . if they would only walk in God’s ways. A song that is both beautiful and terribly sad, one that haunts us all from time to time. Our lives are marked by both the consequences of our own wrong choices and the sweetness of God’s restoration. 

Which is exactly why I love the psalms — they speak to real life in ways that nothing else quite does. These songs offer praise, repentance, warning, anger, joy, blessings, lament — the whole gamut of emotion, the truth of this thing called life. Maintaining a steady faith and learning to hold the good and the hard at the same time — these are worthy goals. And not possible to achieve outside of the goodness and grace of our God. 

Thank you, Creator, for giving us songs to sing in the key of life. Thank you, Savior, for singing our song with us as you walked on our soil. Thank you, Spirit, that you keep singing those songs in us and through us as we navigate the rough seas and the calm ones. Help us to sing them true.

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Twenty-One

IMG_2564

Genesis 29:1-14

Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the people of the east. As he looked, he saw a well in the field and three flocks of sheep lying there beside it; for out of that well the flocks were watered. The stone on the well’s mouth was large, and when all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone from the mouth of the well, and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well.

Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where do you come from?” They said, “We are from Haran.” He said to them, “Do you know Laban son of Nahor?” They said, “We do.” He said to them, “Is it well with him?” “Yes,” they replied, “and here is his daughter Rachel, coming with the sheep.” He said, “Look, it is still broad daylight; it is not time for the animals to be gathered together. Water the sheep, and go, pasture them.” But they said, “We cannot until all the flocks are gathered together, and the stone is rolled from the mouth of the well; then we water the sheep.”

While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep; for she kept them. Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s kinsman, and that he was Rebekah’s son; and she ran and told her father.

When Laban heard the news about his sister’s son Jacob, he ran to meet him; he embraced him and kissed him, and brought him to his house. Jacob told Laban all these things, and Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” And he stayed with him a month.

Again, with the well! People who live in a desert climate know exactly where to find water. And this one was an unusual one in some ways, wasn’t it? It had a stone over it — a stone so large and unwieldy that it was apparently only moved once a day and shepherds had to wait for everyone to get there before their flocks could be properly watered.

Sometimes we have to wait for others before we can be fully refreshed. Sometimes, we need to do things a little differently to make that happen. Jacob was surprised — he verbally invited them to get their flocks some water and clear out of the place. They refused.

Why? Because not every shepherd had arrived.

Rachel was on her way, you see.

And Rachel is the key to this story. She is the forward movement, the one who catches Jacob’s eye and later his heart. Rachel is the one who sets the course for everything that happens in the rest of the book of Genesis! 

Man, I love the Old Testament narratives. 

Thank you, Lord, for Rachel. For her beauty, her kindness, her willingness to step into the action of the drama you are producing, the one that eventually brings us Jesus. Thank you that we know her name, that we know how much Jacob loved her, that she brought Joseph into the world, and that Joseph provided an Old Testament picture of a future savior. Thank you for the foreshadowing that traces its way through so many of these stories, and for the magnificent way you keep on telling the same story, the story of your everlasting love for us.

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Twenty

IMG_2506

Genesis 24:1-17

Now Abraham was old, well advanced in years; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things. Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his house, who had charge of all that he had, “Put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but will go to my country and to my kindred and get a wife for my son Isaac.” The servant said to him, “Perhaps the woman may not be willing to follow me to this land; must I then take your son back to the land from which you came?” Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. The Lord, the God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and who spoke to me and swore to me, ‘To your offspring I will give this land,’ he will send his angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be free from this oath of mine; only you must not take my son back there.” So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter.

Then the servant took ten of his master’s camels and departed, taking all kinds of choice gifts from his master; and he set out and went to Aram-naharaim, to the city of Nahor. He made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water; it was toward evening, the time when women go out to draw water. And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. I am standing here by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. Let the girl to whom I shall say, ‘Please offer your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”

Before he had finished speaking, there was Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, coming out with her water jar on her shoulder. The girl was very fair to look upon, a virgin, whom no man had known. She went down to the spring, filled her jar, and came up. Then the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me sip a little water from your jar.” “Drink, my lord,” she said, and quickly lowered her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.” So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels. The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful.

When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold nose-ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, and said, “Tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?” She said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.” She added, “We have plenty of straw and fodder and a place to spend the night.” The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord and said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the way to the house of my master’s kin.”

Okay, this is a favorite, favorite story of mine. Wanna know why? Because of these words right here:

“Before he had finished speaking, there was Rebekah . . .”

This faithful servant of Abraham — the very one who would have become his heir if Abe’s sons had never been born — does exactly what his master has asked him to do. And I so love the way he chooses to do it: he takes gifts — lots and lots of gifts — and he prays. He prays earnest, heartfelt words — very specific words.

And then he steps forward in faith.

Once again we’re at a watering hole, aren’t we? Like the New Testament story we looked at yesterday, something pretty dramatic happens at this one. A man’s prayers are answered, a patriarch’s hopes are fulfilled, and the ‘line’ that will eventually become the nation of Israel is established.

This is a beautiful picture of how God so often chooses to partner with us to bring about our good. Abraham had to think and pray and discern what might be best for his son’s future. He made plans, he set them in motion with his trusty servant, and then . . . “there was Rebekah.”

Thank you, Lord God, that you invite us into the dance of life with you as the leading partner. Thank you that we are not puppets, but are encouraged to take an active part in determining the future for ourselves and for those whom we love. But thank you most of all, that before we can even finish formulating the words to ask you for something . . . the answer is here, right in front of us!

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Nineteen

IMG_2627

John 4:5-42

So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.”

The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”

The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”

Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?”

Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?”

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

 Oh, how I love this story. So many layers, so many mysteries. The details are rich, evocative and tell the story with shading and nuance, don’t they? Neither the woman nor the disciples get the message at first. They both move immediately to the literal, while Jesus is using figurative language and examples. They look at the water, the food, and see only what their hands can touch, their bellies can digest. Jesus looks at both and sees the mystery of life! There is water, there is food, that we cannot comprehend — water and food that give LIFE, real life.

This isolated, marked woman — a reviled Samaritan — becomes the first true evangelist. She carries the good news back to the village, the very village that had ostracized her into showing up at the town watering hole at high noon rather than early morning or evening when everyone else came to draw water. This woman-with-many-partners, this sparring partner for Jesus’s metaphorical jabs and pokes.

Here are some small details that I love:

  1. she leaves the jar behind — this news is so compelling that she completely forgets what she came to do and hurries off to share her news;
  2. Jesus shares a theologically freighted piece of info that he has not shared with anyone else: “God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth;”
  3. the disciples are shocked at Jesus’s behavior (that he would talk to a woman, alone, in public — saints preserve us!!) yet they don’t say a word;
  4. somehow this interchange with the reviled Samaritan woman (reviled on two counts — her gender and her ethnicity) has left Jesus on such a spiritual high that he has no interest in physical food for a while;
  5. he gives the disciples some HUGE hints about what is coming down the road;
  6. that whole returning to Galilee thing takes a definite backseat to what the Spirit is doing in the midst of that Samaritan village — so they all hang around for an extra two days and drink it in;
  7. the village people make it clear that they are listening to and believing in Jesus because of what their eyes have seen and their ears have heard directly from him.

The Samaritan woman has become the town crier —
                                                                        but only Jesus can transform a life.

I’d say this is one rock-em, sock-em tale right here, wouldn’t you?

Oh, Lord — help me to remember this story every time I find myself slipping into questioning the way you so often choose to do things in this world! You work in surprising, sometimes upsetting ways, to breathe the Good News into this world and too often, those of us who say we are your followers get smack dab in the middle of the way. Help me not to be in the way of what you are doing in the world in my own corner of Samaria!

Heading Home: Walking to the Cross with Jesus — Day Eighteen

IMG_2577

John 4:1-6

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John”  —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

Gotta admit — this selection puzzled me when I read it. Then I saw that tomorrow’s choice is the whole rest of this story and immediately felt a whole lot better. We’ll look at that in 24 hours, but for today, this is it.

I looked back at chapter 3 to see where we were — Jesus met with Nicodemus early in that chapter and then the scene switches abruptly to John the Baptist and his band of followers. Those followers are concerned about this new guy, Jesus of Nazareth, and that he and his friends are also doing baptism. This is the famous place where John tells his band that, ‘he must increase and I must decrease.’

John the Baptist knew what was up, what was real, what was true, and he wasn’t afraid to say it out loud, even while he continued with his own ministry of preparing the way.

At the end of chapter 3, John the gospel writer writes a magnificent paragraph about who this Jesus is, clearly identifying him as one sent from God with a special message of salvation for the world. And woe to those who do not heed that message, too.

Next thing you know, chapter 4 makes this odd jump, both narratively and geographically. One thing this switch does is get Jesus back to Galilee — the primary place for his ministry life. So there is a thread here, though it is convoluted. And that thread is the Baptizer. Does Jesus choose to get out of John’s way for a while? The language makes it seem like the Pharisees were trying to whip up some competition between the two men — dueling waterfalls, if you will. Maybe that was part of it. But you wanna know what I think?

I think Jesus had an appointment in Samaria that he could not miss, that’s what I think. So he heads back home the long way, so he can be at that well, right in the middle of the day . . .

. . .to be continued.

Oh, Lord, I do love a good cliffhanger. And this one is grand! Thank you for our Bible, for the beauty of it, the powerful narrative arc of it, the magnificent small vignettes like this that are just sort of tossed in to teach us all kinds of important lessons. Help us not to let the competitive urges of this world infect the church, will you please? Remind us that you went out of your way to walk deliberately away from any kind of competition with your cousin, John. That you chose instead to go into the back country, the enemy country, in order to keep on telling your story, to keep on inviting people in. Especially those who are on the outside. 

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Seventeen

 

DSC04173

Ephesians 2:11-22

So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

IMG_5030

I will tell you what: I love this passage in Ephesians almost as much as I loved the one yesterday in Colossians. That Paul could turn a phrase — and sometimes, just keep on turning and turning until the reader is left to wonder how to untangle all those turns!

Not this one, though — it’s crystal clear, seems to me. If you substitute “all those who disagree with me on fine points of doctrine” for the whole idea of circumcision/uncircumcision, it becomes uncomfortably clear, doesn’t it?

All of us who were far off have been brought near; all of us who were strangers have been made into family; all of us who were without a home have been built into a brand new one, whose foundation is none other than Jesus Christ himself. And he is our peace.

Now, if only we really believed that. If only we really lived that. If only. Far too often, we (read “I”) tend to think of the ‘household of God’ as the shell, the building itself, the beautiful space in which we gather to worship and for which we mortgaged ourselves to the hilt at some point in our history. But in reality, that household looks like the bottom picture, not the top one. The bottom one.

All those folks that you love — and the ones you don’t so much. All those folks who agree with you right down the line — and all the ones who most decidedly do not. All the ones who look just like you and your family and all the ones who don’t at all. All the ones who love the same kind of music and all the ones who like to mix it up more than you might be comfortable with.

All of us. Got that?

Really, Lord? That whole motley crew up there? Actually — yes. All those and then a whole heckuva lot more, right? O Dear God, help me to keep my heart open, my arms open, my doors open, my table open. Help me to be at peace with all those who love you. And help them to be at peace with me. Amen.

Heading Home: Walking with Jesus to the Cross — Day Sixteen

IMG_1913

Colossians 1:15-23

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.

Perhaps one of the most elegant and soaring passages in all of our scripture — Colossians one is a magnificent hymn to the mystery of our faith, our incarnate Savior and Friend, Jesus Christ. You need to be ‘seeing’ some magnificent view of something to truly savor these words, don’t you think? Hence the late sunset picture posted above.

These are words that make me gasp a little, every single time I read them. I have nothing to add today, friends. Just read these words. Then read them again. And again. That is all.

Magnificent God, All-Powerful Savior, Most Holy Spirit — we adore you and humbly thank you for loving us so very well. May Christ have first place in everything. Everything.