The story of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ allow for each of us to put ourselves into the Gospel narrative.
Am I the sexually impure one? the fearful one? the one doubting whether any of it is true? the liar? the swindler? the power hungry? the one pursuing selfish gain?
Are the poor the least of my thoughts? Do I find security in my job and/or my wealth? Am I the lonely one? the one without hope?
Do I need (even want perhaps) to be judged? Do I need to be loved? Do I need for the one I have wronged to look me in the eye and forgive me? Do I want to be heroically swept away? Do I want a leader with courage, strength, and virtue?
Whoever it is that I am, I find me in the Gospel story. And once I find myself there, I see that my character in the story is loved by Christ. I can no longer think “if God really knew me…”
…even if my character this month is one of the Pharisees.
+ It’s interesting that at the first few notes of our national anthem everyone stands up, men remove their hats, and everyone puts their hand over their heart. When somebody fails to do this, if somebody keeps jabbering with the dude next to them, or holds their beer up to their heart, or keeps their ball-cap on, we’re offended. We actually get very angry. I know I do.
So this is not interesting in and of itself. It’s simply respect. I get that.
What is interesting though, is that it looks so very much like the monks at the monastery rising and bowing (some making the sign of the Cross) every single time the Trinity is mentioned: “Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit…”.
That too, of course, is natural if God is our King.
What’s even more intriguing, is that it looks so very different from most of our churches where we show our respect for God somewhere up in our head alone (or maybe it’s our heart) while our bodies sit cross-legged and holding a coffee.
+ Last week my 15 year-old cousin, Austin, died in a car wreck. As many of you know, it has been less than 2 years since my cousin Stephen died the day after his 25th birthday.
My first thought when I heard the news of Austin’s death was ‘Why? We’re not even over Stephen yet.’ I had a lot of time to think on this stuff during the drive to Raleigh for Austin’s funeral. Time to think about how we can reconcile tragedies such as these with our belief that we have a loving God.
My final answer is that I don’t have a freakin’ clue.
All the answers I’ve ever heard about good and evil, the necessity for pain, God doesn’t ‘want’ this to happen, he allows it, and blah, blah, blah have never given me anything more than a desire to punch someone in the mouth.
In the evening after we buried Austin, family and friends sat on the back-porch, talking and passing a guitar around – singing songs. When it came to me, I played a song that had been on my mind the whole drive the day before: Gillian Welch, By The Mark Where The Nails Have Been.
That’s when it occurred to me:
When Jesus reappeared to his friends after he had resurrected, he still bore the evidence of his wounds. When John, in his revelation, was told ‘behold the Lion of Judah’ he looked up and saw a lamb that looked as though it had been slaughtered… and all of creation was worshiping it.
Or as Gillian says:
I will know my Savior when I come to Him,
by the mark where the nails have been.
In the Kingdom of God it seems that healing is not the elimination of our wounds. I think that’s what I must have thought before – that healing means that the wound is gone.
But perhaps our wounds uniquely identify us? Perhaps the struggle is to have our wounds drive us closer to God rather than farther from Him?
To me this is freeing for grief.
It allows us to honestly, profoundly and deeply mourn the loss of a loved one. We don’t have to give a half-hearted assent to ‘I know he’s in a better place.’ Yes, this is true. But our tears can and should come uncontrolled. For these are tears that scream out ‘all is not right, this is bad, absolutely wrong, save me, save me from this time of trial’ and that is as honest a plea for God as we may be capable of.
I suppose we don’t ever get ‘over’ the things that we truly grieve. They become part of who we are. They increase our dependence upon God. They become that thing that when someone asks you why you believe in God, you simply break down into tears once again. You show them your wounds – as Christ did for St. Thomas so many years ago. You let them put their hand into your wounds. And in doing so, they too encounter the truth of resurrection.
+ Thomas has cerebral palsy. He can’t speak like I do. He communicates by the pace of his rocking back and forth, the occasional, excited “yeahhhhh,” and by blowing forcefully through his nose (it sounds like the way we used to disperse gnats back in Georgia when I was a kid).
He’s amazingly masterful at getting his point across though.
Yesterday I picked him up for lunch. We went through the usual routine of determing a place to eat:
I start with general types of food (yes or no questions), then move to more specifics. I ask the question, wait for him to respond in one of the aforementioned ways, then we continue the process until we feel like we’ve arrived at a conclusion we’re both happy with.
“Do you want Mexican food?” (slows down his rocking and looks away, nope)
“Do you want hamburgers?” (rocking speeds up, he looks at me, yes)
“Do you want fast food hamburgers?” (faster rocking, hands clasp, yes)
“Do you want Sonic? (faster rocking still, blows through his nose, he says “yeah”, big yes)
Of course, it wasn’t that direct. There were a lot of “No’s” as well before we got to the Sonic conclusion. We must have gone through six or seven different fast food burger joints. What’s the difference right? There’s like 50 places with burgers that are basically the same as Sonic.
But all the same, we went to Sonic.
Once we got there, we went through a similar procedure of figuring out what he wanted to eat. All the hamburgers were clearly a (no).
I thought you said you wanted a hamburger.
Alright then, what about chicken? (getting closer). So I followed that path for a while.
We ended up with popcorn chicken and chili cheese fries (both Sonic specific specials). I laugh. There’s no way in the world he could have gotten me to “popcorn chicken and chili cheese fries” back when we left his house. It’s a great meal, sure, it just isn’t something that would ever come to my mind when choosing.
He’s learned well that he’s got to tell us what we need to hear in order to get us where he wants us to go.
+ At what point was Noah saved from the flood?
When he obeyed God and built the ark? When the flood waters subsided? When he was born in accordance with God’s plan? When was it?
At what point was the world saved from total annihilation? When Noah built the ark? When the animals were loaded? When the waters subsided? On day 26 at 2:00 in the morning?
Or did Noah’s obedience even matter at all… because God is sovereign and His sovereign plan cannot be thwarted (groan, of course He is, but that doesn’t address the question).
The only answer given to us is that it was both God’s sovereignty and Noah’s obedience that saved the world, 100% each. Not both, 50% each; not one 100%. There’s a difference. The first is impossible. The other two are just stupid.
So what’s the point? Yeah, good question. Answer: I’m not sure.
But I think it’ll probably have something to do with this – the discussion of God’s sovereignty and man’s choice is always a pastoral one and not a philosophical one. Because it deals with issues of chronology (first this, then this), as soon as the eternal God is brought up as part of the discussion, the discussion itself can no longer make sense.
We need so badly to understand our own salvation in this way. It’s both a point and a process. It’s not a forgone conclusion once we enter into the community by way of the water. But neither must we fear every evil wave until we step out onto the dry land of the resurrected life. It’s God’s action working itself out in our life and in our actions.
However, from a pastoral perspective, sometimes we need to emphasize one part of the truth over and above the other. If we’re running our lives in accordance with our own wills and ambitions, perhaps we need to hear the one side. If we live in constant fear and anxiety, then maybe we need the other side?
+ I feel certain that for those of us who have fully functioning physical capabilities the most difficult motion we ever make is a distance of about 3 feet: moving our head from the pillow to the sitting position. It’s a battle for me every morning at 5:30 and I’ve been getting up at this same time for over 5 years now.
But what’s got me writing this morning is not so much waking-up habits as time itself, history, eternity.
I’ll try to give you you the Cliff Notes of my thought process. So, I got up at 5:30 this morning. I could have gotten up at a different time… but I didn’t. I got up at 5:30. To imagine a world where I did not wake up at 5:30 on this morning may be possible, but it is only an effort of fantasy. That world does not exist. That world will not exist. Ever.
OK, so we got that. Fine. But what has my wheels spinning is this: from a point of view outside of time (i.e. God’s view), a world where I did not get up at 5:30 on this morning never might have existed. In other words, I just created an eternal fact.
By the choices we make, we become creators of history. But wouldn’t this be the same as being creators of fate, destiny, or eternity. That is to say, that as soon as an action is taken it has always been taken at that precise point in time and precisely in that fashion.
As soon as I strike my hand against my desk here, swallow this sip of coffee, or cry out ‘Son of David, have mercy on me,’ that action exists eternally. Which is to say that the only world that ever was going to be, the only world that is, the only world ever created is the world when I did that action at that time.
Of course, I may have chosen to wake up at a different time, and of course, that would have affected the world differently. But the truth of history and eternity is that I did not wake up later or earlier, but precisely at that time.
We are constantly becoming what we already are. If we are to be perfected in Christ someday, then we are already perfected in him eternally speaking. In fact, we have been perfected in Him from the day of creation. But of course, we exist inside of time and are therefore not yet perfected. We must live through each of the points along the way to that perfection. But they do not exist until we have lived them, until we have created them.
I’m not sure what this means. But I think it’s probably important… it probably has something to do with questions of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.
Either that, or something else.