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.

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

IMG_4554

John 7:53-8:11

Then each of them went home, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

Wouldn’t you just love to know what Jesus wrote there, on the ground? The Pharisees are doing their thing — testing him, this time, at the expense of a woman caught in a compromising situation. They keep playing this strange game of, ‘Can You Top This?,’ trying to trip him up. He refuses to be tripped.

As only Jesus can do, he turns the tables on them, calling out their hypocrisy and their judgmental spirits. One by one, they drop their stones and leave. Until only Jesus, the woman, and the words on the ground are left.

I’ve always imagined them as footsteps in the sand — something ephemeral and fleeting, but evocative of truth, convicting in their simplicity. 

Yes, I wonder what he wrote. But more than that, I wonder at him — at his compassion, his firm conviction, his generosity toward outsiders, his suspicion of insiders, his willingness to take a risk on behalf of someone in need of healing. No, she wasn’t ‘sick,’ nor did she have a demon. Apparently, all her body parts were working just fine. But oh, she needed the Master’s compassionate words of inclusion and encouragement. I like to think she chose to walk off in a different direction, changed, gently chastened, forgiven, understood.

Lord, help me to be more generous to those on the edges, to offer compassion rather than criticism, to speak clearly but kindly about making good choices, to not let anyone be the butt of the joke or the lesson-in-the-making. Thank you for your kindness here and in so many other places – both in scripture and in my life story. Thank you.

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

IMG_2456

Isaiah 65:17-25

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.

Okay, so my idealized vision of the new heavens and the new earth will always include a beach scene! Yes, it will. And this gem of a passage from the prophet Isaiah is one of my favorite apocalyptic words ever. That’s a style, you know. A literary genre, not a scary, dystopian vision for the future, but a promise of great and glorious things to come. Too often, we use the word ‘apocalypse’ to describe something hellish and terrifying. But in reality, it is good news. Truly good news.

It’s a word that says this is not all there is. It’s a word that tells us to look forward with hope. It’s a word of promise, of beauty, even of joy. And joy is the thread that weaves its way throughout these verses, don’t you think?

Right here, at the one-third mark of our journey through Lent, we have the good gift of a passage that centers on JOY. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Read this through several times. Highlight the words or phrases that speak most strongly to you of joy, of promise, of hope. Then tuck those words into your Bible, or your notebook, or your heart and take them with you as we continue to walk together to the cross. They will be good companions on the way, I promise. The best.

Lord of Joy, thank you for Isaiah’s words today at the two-week mark. Thank you for this picture of glory, of wholeness, of fruition. Help us to cling to this picture when life today feels hard. Help us hold onto hope. Thank you.

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

IMG_2545

Numbers 21:4-9

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Remember yesterday’s reading from John 3? Yeah, well this is the story that Jesus was referring to in his midnight discussion with Nicodemus. This is the story of the lifting up in the desert. This is the story of looking up to be saved. This is the story of salvation coming in surprising ways. This is the story that defies expectations and experience. This is the story that freaks me out.

So the people are whining again. What else is new? And don’t you just love the quote we’re given from that whine? “For there is NO food and no water, and we detest this MISERABLE FOOD.” So . . . which is it? No food or miserable food? Hmmm. . . sounds like some kids I’ve raised. V – e – r – y familiar kinda whine, don’t you think?

But here’s what freaks me out — God sent a bunch of snakes to nip their way through those whiners. Yee-ouch!! I do not like the idea of God sending snakes to anybody. Nope, I do not. ESPECIALLY not poisonous snakes. 

But here’s the point of that visitation, I think: it shook those people right out of their whining, big time! You gotta wonder if these people didn’t connect some dots that aren’t actually there — just like I do sometimes. Something dreadful happens and they see the error of their ways. And then they make the leap to thinking that their behavior caused that bad thing to happen, and then they make a further leap to say that God caused that bad thing to happen because of their bad behavior. Hmmmm. . . I’m not so sure about that. But . . .

That’s how the story has come down to us, and God has allowed it to come down in this way. So clearly, there is something for us to learn from it, exactly as it is told to us. Here’s one thing it tells me: it’s a good idea to be aware of God’s active presence in our lives, come hell or high water. For good or for ill, God doesn’t pack up and leave us. God cares enough to get our attention and then to set us on the path of healing. And here’s another thing — we have to stop and look at our behavior, say we’re sorry for it, and then ask for restoration, healing and a re-start.

Okay, maybe I’m not quite so freaked out about it all.

Lord God of snakes and people, teach me through your word, even through the parts that shock and puzzle me. Help me to search for lessons/answers/help/understanding. And help me to balance the questionable stuff against all the unbelievably beautiful and life-giving stuff and somehow, learn from all of it. Thank you.

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

IMG_2622

John 3:1-17

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

“No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

We’re at the 2nd Sunday in Lent, already, can you believe it?? And the readings for this Sunday include this wonderful narrative from the 3rd chapter of John’s gospel, one of my very favorite encounters in all of the gospel stories.

I preached on this passage once and called it, “Nick at Night,” just to be ‘cute,’ but also apt. This guy comes out to see Jesus only under the cover of darkness. He is cautious, careful, but intrigued. And I’ve always kind of admired his willingness to engage with Jesus one-on-one. He surely didn’t need to do this, he didn’t have to do it. He was already a mucky-muck, right? “A leader of the Jews?” 

But he comes. And Jesus meets him right where he is, cutting to the quick in an instant — and royally confusing the man with one swift blow. Like we so often do, Nicodemus wants to take every word that comes out of the mouth of Jesus literally. Yet Jesus very seldom speaks literally! Jesus chooses word pictures, parables, metaphors, mystery when he is teaching. How else can he possibly find words for the incredible truth he brings, the truth he is? Nick can’t hear it, he can’t comprehend the spiritual nature of re-birth at all.

I wonder, do we? The evangelical wing of the church has used this very language to the point of exhaustion . . . and confusion. What do we really mean by, ‘being born again?’ What did Jesus mean? I think he is talking about newness, about starting fresh, about moving into the mystery.

There is more to this life than dust, he seems to be saying. There is incarnation, indwelling, there is a lifting up that leads to life. There is once again, as we noted in that Romans passage a few days back, inclusion. EVERYONE who believes is granted a new start, a new life, a safe or saved life. 

We have spent so much time writing, speaking, saying, believing John 3:16 (which is a good, good thing to do, don’t get me wrong), but what about John 3:17? What about that promise, that promise of no condemnation? Jaw-dropping, don’t you think?

Jesus did not come to condemn this world, but to save it, to make it safe. And that is the best news ever, ever, EVER.

Lord, grant that I might cling to the truth of this story with all that is in me. Help me to delve into the mystery with you, no hesitation, no fear, no regrets.

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

IMG_2611

Luke 7:1-10

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death.When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

They were on the way, just walking into town, the town that was kind of headquarters for this traveling band of teacher and learners. Just another day, you know? All of a sudden, the Jewish leaders approach Jesus. Uh-oh, you might think — and you’d have reason to think that, wouldn’t you??

But this particular crowd of Jewish people is very different from so many we read about in the gospels. They are friendly, not adversarial; they bring a request that is legit, not a ‘test’ of some kind. And . . . here is the kicker . . . they speak kindly and positively about a Roman, a Roman soldier, even.

Think about that for a moment. By and large, the relationship between conquered and conquerers has been iffy at best; downright hostile, at worst. Yet here we have the very unique situation of Jewish leaders coming to Jewish Jesus and asking him to consider the request of a Roman centurion.

That is wild and wooly fact number one. Here is number two: this particular Roman centurion is a stellar person, one who has faith in Jesus that goes beyond — well beyond — any faith yet exhibited by a Jewish citizen anywhere. And Jesus recognizes it — you can almost hear the awe in his voice, can’t you?

And almost like a toss-off remark, we are told that the servant in question . . . has been healed.

I think that Roman centurion is gonna be high on the list of folks I’d like to see when I get to heaven. How about you?

Lord, help us to welcome surprise. You took delight in this whole experience, didn’t you? Every detail confounded expectations — and that is a good, good thing. Help us to welcome such confounding, will you, please?