First Sunday of Lent 2018 – a poem

Walking in the woods one groggy and misty morning,
I happened upon a crossroad not seen before
I had walked this path before
Perhaps the ivy had covered the cross
Perhaps the mildewing leaves
Perhaps my preoccupied thoughts of grandeur and worry and pain and listlessness

Just the same—

It stared at me.

 

This cross
road

 

No, it beckoned me these two paths that split from my routine path
It called my name to travel to the left
The narrow path
But should I go to the right?
What should I do?
So I sat and thought and worried and reasoned.

I closed my eyes.
Held my breath.
And ran to the left.
I ran.
I sprinted.
I stumbled.
I fell.

Looking up I see a chasm.
A cave.
A dwelling in the side of the hill.
I descend to its darkness and gasp for fear

I descend. Into the darkness. Into the wonder. Into the pain. Into the mire. Into the pit.

There’s a strangeness here. A comforting strangeness.
As though this is my home and yet a place I have not visited before.
A place where no light was left on to lead me.
A place where my heart yearned to go.
Like the smell of hot chili on a cold night. Or baked apple pie on the window sill.
But I find dead men’s bones who have ventured here before.

Still.
In the stillness.
In the death.
I find a comfort.
I find the soil breaking forth with light and heat and life.
As a stalk of wheat pushing through the soil.

To this I was called.
This beckoning.
Like a Father soothing the fear and a mother wiping the tears.
I weep.
Not like an uncontrollable sobbing.
But definitely not contrived.
A deep hurt. A deep cut. To the bone.
Dividing marrow and sinew and ligament and soul.

Breaking.
In the breaking.
In the pain.
I find a healing.
I find the roots of joy spreading deep in the earth with grace and peace and resolve.

This chasm and pit and pain and remorse
For what I have done
For that I have left undone
This darkness.
This emptiness is where I find the filling.

The Spirit welling up from within and spilling without
—Without me
In spite of me

In my death, there is my life
In my pain, there is my solace
In my hurt. Darkness. Chasm.
Therein the deep wells of my Maker.

No amount of trite answers
Superficial balm
Earthly comforts
These cannot stave the pain of the hunger I have longed to fill

 

It is in the emptiness that I am full.


NOTE: For some reason WordPress doesn’t transfer the spacing of the lines. I believe this conveys my intention better. So here is a .pdf of the poem. I hope it blesses you.

First Sunday of Lent 2018

“Tearing the Veiled Mountain” – Mark 9.2-10

Yesterday was Transfiguration Sunday. This is the culmination of the season of Epiphany and in essence serves as the hinge upon which our call to follow Jesus takes a sober turn. For the last several weeks we have been focusing on Jesus’ magnificent call to follow him. Some of us heeded that call because of the excitement and our eyes being opened to the reality of eternal life–on earth as it is in heaven.

Leading up to this passage we need to keep in mind two things: (1) Jesus’ call is a reconfiguration, a re-orbiting of our small worlds so that we realize the magnitude of living in reference to God. To live the life he intended for his creatures from the beginning–to know him and love him. (2) Life with Jesus begins with death to ourselves. Mark 9.2ff comes on the heels of Jesus’ first of three foretellings of his impending death. In this way, the Transfiguration reminds us that Jesus’ glory is not in spite of his crucifixion, but it is his glorification. The mighty and Shining One on the mountain is the same as the Crucified One.

 

Why a mountain?

V.2: Jesus leads his three closest disciples up a high mountain alone. A mountain is the place where God reveals himself to his people. Abraham at Mt. Moriah. Moses sees the burning bush at Mt. Horeb and receives the tablets of God’s words on Mt. Sinai—which are the same mountain. David builds the city of Jerusalem on Mt. Zion. Elijah defies the prophets of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel.

The mountains in Scripture are the places of God revealing himself and his purposes to his people. This is no less the fact of what Jesus does. He is not doing anything new and different but follows in the train of God himself in revealing his purposes to his people. Note: It is God who leads each of these individuals to a mountain. Here we see God incarnate leading his people anew.

 

Why Elijah and Moses?

Why not Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos?

Elijah

It is important to understand Elijah’s role in the history of redemption. It is more than just that Elijah was the greatest of the prophets—for we read that Elisha had a double portion of the Spirit. Consider our passage read earlier.

There are three separate places that Elijah leads Elisha before he is taken away in a heavenly chariot.

The land of Bethel—lit., “the house of God”—where Jacob saw the angels ascending and descending on a ladder and that Jesus said he would be.

The land of Jericho where the great battle of God’s redemption by trumpet blasts took place. God’s defeat of an enemy by his initiative and power independent of military prowess.

The Jordan River he split in two. The same Jordan that Jesus was baptized in and became our New Joshua to lead us into the Land of Promise we looked at the first Sunday of Epiphany.

Moses

Moses infamously receives the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. And is the one who led Israel to the banks of the Jordan River. He is the one who brought them through the wilderness and onto the edge of God’s multi-generational promise. Both Moses and Elijah suffered because of Israel’s rebellion. They were both rejected by God’s people to lead them. But they were both vindicated by God—to be shown to be in the right.

Elijah also heard from God at Mt. Sinai. Remember he was running away from wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel? He cried out to God: “I am the only prophet left!” God had to tell him that there were 500 other prophets that hadn’t left the faith. What is more, he had forgotten Moses’ very words in Deuteronomy 18.15: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.”

It is here that we see two of the greatest leaders in Israel’s history taking a backseat to Jesus.

This is made even more clear in the bright white shining of Jesus’ clothes. Whenever Moses would meet with God, his face would shine. Here we see the entirety of Jesus’ body in bright, other worldly white. And Elijah and Moses just fade into the background in light of Christ’s brightness.

Moses’ Veiled Ministry

Our Epistle reading today was from 2Cor 4 which follows on the heels of the Apostle Paul’s explanation of the passing glory of Moses’ ministry. Indeed, a ministry that pointed to a greater fulfillment in the One to Come.

Whenever Moses would meet with God his face would shine…and he would put a veil over his face. This veil kept the people from gazing at Moses as the substance of the promise. He was merely the one pointing to Another. He was the Bride pointing to the Groom. He was the recipient from the Gracious Giver. It was not and never was supposed to be Moses as the finalization of God’s promises.

From the beginning of Moses’ writing of Genesis all the way through Deuteronomy, we read about a coming Son of God a Coming Seed of the Woman who would right all the wrong. Seth was not him. Noah was not him. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Saul, David, Elijah, Hezekiah…all failed. All fell when temped in the wilderness. All pointed to the Shining One.

They were veils and shadows of the Reality.

This veil is lifted. Listen to Paul (2Cor 3.14-16):

For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

Don’t forget that this Transfiguration happens right after Jesus foretells his death and resurrection. Why?

Suffering is not in spite of the glory revealed on the mountain. It is the glory that is the cross. At Mt. Calvary. The Mountain of God’s suffering for us to make us new. His death to free us.

This suffering not only lifted the veil, it tore the veil on the Temple Mount to see the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.

Friends, it is not only that he died, but that he rose again. He rose not only to show his victory over our looming enemy Death. He rose again to give us victory over ourselves. Our self-serving attitudes. Our self-centeredness. In our taking up of our cross daily, we save our lives.

His Transfiguration. His being Transformed assures us that the cross—our daily taking up our crosses—is not the end. It is not defeat. It is in the dying that we find the lives we’ve been looking for.

Paul continues in 2Cor 3:

17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

The beauty of the Gospel is not only that we are forgiven of our sin—which is glorious!—it is that we ourselves are being transfigured from one degree of glory to another! The Spirit has been given to us to transform us. To transfigure us into the self-same image of the glorious Christ.

You may feel downcast or defeated or listless and bored in life. You were made for more. You were made to reflect this glory we see on the Mountain of Jesus’ Transfiguration. And there beholding his glory, we are transfigured.

And I ended my sermon by singing these familiar words:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace

Questions to Consider:

How does Jesus’ Transfiguration give us hope in the face of suffering and death and pain?

Why do you think it’s easy to forget that death is the pre-requisite to life?

Are there ways which boredom or frustration or the mundane of everyday life have crowded out the glorious life God has called you to? How might the Gospel of forgiveness and life help you lift your eyes up ? How might this same Gospel free you to serve?

Less Hype. More Humility.

Please. Embedded in our consumeristic culture, there is the assumption that newer is better than older–though I prefer aged beef and cheddar to new. There is the assumption that grand and renovated and powerful is preferable to meek and lowly and weak.

The church often adopts this form of communicating in an effort to gather people into its doors. “God is doing awesome things here at Church _______.” The fact is that God is doing awesome things everyday and everywhere. He’s sustained your life. He’s given you sight and hearing and legs. And if you have none or only one of these, he’s still given you life and a mind to engage the world around you. Truly miraculous. What is more, is God not also doing something in the old, decrepit church that meets faithfully every Sunday? Is God not at work in the mundane? Is the changing of laundry and washing of dishes and working through an argument devoid of God’s presence?

I see so many churches trying to drum up excitement about the latest outreach or project, when what our culture needs is the staying power and sobriety of faithfulness in the ho-hum drudgery of going to a job you hate or a marriage that is contentious. What we need is not more hype, but more humility. More service and less heavy-handedness. We need more gentleness and less power grabs.

If we don’t, what then becomes of the senior citizen who is tired? What becomes of the baby who is sleeping? What becomes of the unemployed and outcast and burdened? They are forgotten. They are seen as less valuable because they aren’t producing the kind of energy requisite for assumed faithfulness to the disciples’ call.

In reality, we need less loud voices and red faces and sweaty brows and more silence and calmness and a deep well of contentment.

“Hearing & Healing” – Mark 1.29-39

Mark’s gospel is notorious for narrating with urgency. Throughout he uses the word “immediately.” In doing so, there is a direct movement (a bee line, if you will) to the cross. He is at pains to show Jesus’ authority in preaching and teaching and healing. This authority is paramount in understanding why Jesus’ crucifixion matters. These happened all the time, but what is it about this particular “criminal’s” actions that merit his death at a different qualitative level than those that were on his right and his left?

There is an inextricable link between the proclamation of the Gospel and the actions of the Gospel. Preaching without the actions of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is merely a fiction. The Gospel is Good News about a reality…the Kingdom of God among us. Yet, action without the interpretation of those action (i.e., preaching) is short-sighted and passing away.

The Hearing of the Gospel

Why such movement in Mark’s gospel? In 1.38, Jesus gives his rationale for moving from town to town: “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” It ought not get lost on us the layers of reason Jesus gives:

Let us go on to the next towns
in order that I may preach
for that is why I came out

Of particular note, we see that Jesus came out to do this. Where was he coming from? From within the synagogue (v.29) and from his private communion with his Father (v.35). It is clear that communion with God must give way to communion with people. The place of learning must give way to action.

We can often content ourselves, and fool ourselves, into thinking that cognitive knowing is equal to true knowing. This way is easier, and we see it all the time. Those that are overly careful in parsing the details of their theology, are oftentimes lax in doing what it says. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey me” (John 14.15). Doctrine must always compel us to go into the highways and byways to love and proclaim the Good News that God offers forgiveness to all those who repent and believe. But we mustn’t stay in the places of learning and parsing for knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Christianity has always been a public faith. Not in an “I told you so” sort of way, but in a disposition of service to others. Instead we say, “God has given me forgiveness and life, and he offers the same for all people.”

The Healing of the Gospel

This integral nature of the proclamation of the Gospel and healing of the Gospel can be seen at the juxtaposition of Jesus’ comment in v.38 and what Mark tells us in v.39: Jesus went out and preached and healed.

These healings are both confirmation of Jesus’ authority as well as a demonstration of who Jesus is: God incarnate. In the Lectionary we read from Psalm 147 and Isaiah 40 that reminds us that God is the Creator of all. He calms the storms and he stoops to give strength to the infirm. What does it look like with God arrives? Freedom for the oppressed. Wholeness to the disintegrated. Strength to the weak.

But from Jesus’ very example we see that the healing of the Gospel is the very manifestation of the Kingdom of God. God’s original Creation had been marred ad broken. When he comes to his creatures, he restores. Freedom and justice and health are freely given.

Two Implications

The purpose of the miracles is to show that in Jesus all Creation obeys its Makers and his original intention for Creation. To be a place free from suffering and oppression. To be a place where humans can reflect the image of God and flourish in the cultivation of the earth and others. The miracles point to the good, original intention of God’s good creation. They lift our eyes up to what it looks like for God’s Kingdom come, his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Our Call to Righteousness

As his representatives on earth, who have been freed from sin and death, he calls us to cultivate his Creation. To be the image bearers we are.

Each of us have gifts and passions. Could it be that God has placed these loves in our hearts so that we can be his representatives of compassion and change on earth? Could it be that your love of finance could be used in service for others to help them balance their checkbook? Could it be that your love for dressing wounds could be used to bring wholeness to others? This service is inherent to who God is as the One who slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

 

We oftentimes look like the preacher who came upon a car wreck. The victim is bleeding and in pain. We share the Gospel of salvation by grace and call them to submit their lives to Christ. The ambulance shows up on the scene and the person dies. We celebrate and are thankful for the opportunity to share this Great News with this person before they died. And then the EMT turns to us and said, “This young lady would have lived if you had just applied pressure to the wound.”

Our Call to Pray for Healing

Too often we put a premium on the spiritual over the physical. We denigrate the very bodies God has given us. We forget that we are redeemed people in spirit and in body. The resurrection of the body. We will be flesh and blood for eternity with our souls.

We cannot get around the fact that Jesus healed people. He heals people. Too often faith healers lay emphasis on the faith, or lack of faith, as to why people are not healed. This misses the point. The healing comes from God’s good pleasure and good purposes. And so, God calls us as his ministers to pray for healing and to expect it. Yes, we have doctors and nurses and surgeons and MRIs and medicine. And God uses these means for healing. We also believe that God can heal without these. We pray and we go to the doctor. But…we still pray and ask for healing.

There is no guilt here. This is a plea for us to expand and experience an even greater joy in giving our lives away. In using these gifts and passions in the service of others. To see God at work in the service. By serving others in God’s strength, our hearts are expanded as we are expended. Laying our lives down for others. As Christ has done for us. This does not earn our salvation, but confirms, demonstrates, and is inherent to our being saved. We obey as a natural overflow of love for God.

To Consider

Where can I speak the truths and beauties of the Gospel to others?

What avenues has God given me to serve others as a demonstration of God’s love for others?

What passions and loves do I have that could meet the needs of others?

Who might I pray for right now who needs physical healing?

Subscribe to the Podcast.