Stuck in the Mud
As much as we love and appreciate this Jesus— the one who walked the cobblestone streets of Phoenicia and slept in a simple mud and stone house in Nazareth, the one who preached from the high places in Galilee and spent most of his time with fisherman and other common, broken folk; to be sure there are images of this Jesus that are a bit too human for our comfort or taste.
An exalted Christ, we can adore, we can venerate, we can honor. A deified Lord we can praise, worship, and look to in troubled times. If we are honest, we spend very little time contemplating this Jewish man of the Scriptures who cried out and sweat blood and wielded a whip in the temple and spat onto the ground to form clay. We don’t have a lot of time for the man who struggled in the wilderness and faced the brutal assault of the enemy. Come to think of it, we don’t have a lot of time for our own struggles these days either, such that it makes perfect sense then that we have turned from this Jesus who walked the earth to focus more on the Christos Victor.
Only the discipline of Lent catches us here, it invites us into the wilderness with him and it asks us to struggle through and if we aren’t very careful, something difficult and wonderful will happen out there in the barrenness of the rubble and dirt. We watch Jesus, spit onto the ground, form clay between his strong rugged fingers and apply the fresh, wet earth to our eyes. We wash and emerge from the wilderness of Lent as persons who have gained new sight, able to see things differently than we did before, aware that he is there, with us, through it all and that by his hands even the most unpleasant, unsavory, miserable matters can, become miracles of healing and refreshment.
“Open my eyes that I might see visions of love Thou hast for me…” Amen.
The Lenten season is a time of pause and reflection. It is a time to join with the worldwide church; it is a time to commune with Jesus in the wilderness. The season begins with Ash Wednesday, February 22nd. This is the day when believers across the globe gather to receive ashes on their foreheads to remind us that we are all dust.
Anderson University: Reardon Auditorium, 5:30 p.m.
St. Mary's Church - 6:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 6:00 p.m.
Park Place Church of God - 6:00 p.m.
Each year for Lent I decide to give up something and take in something, both are in effort to walk closer with Jesus. This year I am abandoning worry and I am adding the book "Enduring Grace-Seven Women Mystics" to my daily reading. The women mystics of the 13th century led the way in spiritual fervor and wrote of their journey with Christ in terms of love. Join me here to read the lives and Jesus love stories of these incredible women.
It is 4:53 in the morning and I have an appointment with grief. I stumble down the stairs in the darkness, the morning lit only by the moon reflecting off the new fallen snow. I dreamt of her again. This time she is rallying and coming home from the hospital to find my fruit salad to “hit the spot.” She calls me and we laugh. We talk of remodeling her kitchen, of refinishing the cabinets in the soft green of sycamore. We make plans for dinner and I feel myself begin to relax a bit, as if it might all be okay. I awake and I know I have been dreaming, I remember instantly that she is gone, all the scenes from the untold hours in the hospital as March turned into May flood my mind, those hours when we waited and prayed and hoped counting any sign of progress as praise.
Her pain is what keeps me up at night. We are never prepared to see those we love cry out in pain while we stand helpless and weak, holding hands, feeding ice chips, singing songs. I remember her pain, I remember that I could not make it stop. I remember that I screamed for God to take her pain away, and so, God did, in God’s way, in God’s time.
It is with this—this God’s way, God’s time— that, if I’m honest, I struggle. The truth is somewhere down deep in this theologian’s heart there is a hidden belief that God exists to protect us from pain, to relieve us from heartache and to keep us from the broken, hurtful places of this life such that when I face soul wrenching pain I believe God has failed me, that God is not on time. Not a pretty confession for a professor of Bible, but the unspoken truth of a girl who lost her sister and now her mama far too soon.
In this struggle I am drawn down to the pages of the Gospel of John and another story of our sisters, Martha and Mary who know something about waiting on the Lord. Followers, friends and believers of the power of God in Jesus, yet they too cried out to him, “Where have you been?” It seemed to Martha and Mary that Jesus showed up too late since their brother Lazarus had passed four days prior—their struggle is not belief but acceptance, they question God’s timing, God’s ways.
We should go easy on them, as this is a struggle as old as creation itself, as old as the relationship between the human and the Divine. Abraham and Joseph and Job writhed against understanding God’s ways, God’s time, and so do we all, descendants of the Garden as are we.
Jesus will reveal to our sisters that God’s timing has a purpose, “To demonstrate the glory of God,” and as the story continues Jesus calls Lazarus back from the grave—glorious to be sure. For my part, I am caught earlier in the story, before all is well, before anything makes sense, when Jesus weeps with those he loves who are hurting and confused, his tears are glorious. Divine beauty and love poured out in those salty tears shimmering down his lovely face.
It is the sacred tears, the holy love, the “I’m in this with you,” Jesus who holds us up in hospital rooms, who props us up in our homes filled with dreams foreclosed and sustains us in our bodies that cannot carry babies to term. It is this Jesus who weeps with us and holds us close in the midst of our pain, when we cannot understand the ways or the timing of God. It is this Jesus who knows our pain, who keeps us, who stands with us, who never will leave or forsake us who reminds us that God’s ways and God’s timing are perfect, so that we lift our heads in hope, we lift our lives in surrender and we spend our days leaning hard into the love that will see us through to the glorious end of it all.
Jesus and Women: Anxious Cares
It is February in the Midwest and today the ground is sprinkled with a fresh powder of new fallen snow; it is as if God the great confectioner decided to sift sugar to cover the trees and grass. Cold, snowy days are days when sofas should become altars and the world should be viewed from the warmth of our homes. There should be some sort of moratorium on days like this so that we could just opt out of the whole “get up and go” that is the signature of our culture. These should be the days to enjoy a second cup of coffee and read a good book, to snuggle with your children or hold your cat in your lap.
It would be lovely to slow down, to lean into the rest, the lullaby creation softly carols that is winter. Instead, we wrap and bundle and rush about as if we could defy the cold temperatures and hazardous roads not to mention the ill tempers and still no cure for the common cold.
I am reminded of the homily my dear friend and colleague gave yesterday in which he urged us to give thanks that our God is slow; slow to anger, abounding in love, proved most profound and true in the revelation of Jesus. As best we can glean from scripture, Jesus’ public ministry lasted only about three years yet he never rushed about or ran anywhere. Though he had important work, an eternal agenda, he rose with the sun and slept by the moon, he enjoyed long, deep conversations and reclining to share food and drink with friends. When the crowds became too much, he rowed away to a quiet place on the other side of the Sea to pray and wait so that when he encountered every needy soul he was fully present and devoted to the moment before him.
I am recalling the encounter Jesus had with Martha (the one I take after) and Mary (the one I want to be when I grow up, though her piety does grate on the nerves!) Martha, all busy and preoccupied with the wine and the bread and the salted fish and the one thousand other things she needed to do before Jesus’ and his friends arrived, was such a frantic mess that she almost missed the blessing of the divine presence in her midst. When Martha asked Jesus to insist that Mary help her in the kitchen, Jesus rebuffed Martha and said, “You have so many merimnao—anxious cares…only one thing matters and Mary has chosen well.”
Anxious cares—all those matters we believe we must address, appointments we have to keep, responsibilities we must bear, words that must be spoken, worries that we cannot let go, concerns that consume us and rob our joy until life is a whirl of regret and ingratitude. Mary, for her part, had excused herself from the women’s work of the kitchen, had decided that it would all keep and situated herself in the male space of the living room, perched and expectant leaning forward that her soul might be refreshed by just a drop of wisdom offered by her Rabbi and Lord. Jesus said it was Mary’s posture that was right, that it is in kneeling before and hearing Jesus that we find our power.
Praying that we all find Mary moments to know this slowness of God in Christ Jesus and even in the bleak mid-winter we would find rest and renewal and rebirth.
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