Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for February 28, 2013

God my King is from of old, working salvation in the earth. (Psalm 74:12)

Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. . . Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (John 4:19, 28-29)

We Christians like to talk about how our salvation doesn’t come as a result of doing good things. Rather, it comes by faith. And that’s a good, biblical concept.

But it appears that what is being done does matter. The psalmist tells us that God is working salvation in the earth. God is doing something for the benefit of the whole creation. And Jesus says that he only does what he sees the Father doing. These are all things of action.

And, disturbingly enough to our Reformed, evangelical minds, what we do seems to matter as well. This is spoken of throughout the Bible, including by James (“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works?”) and also by Peter when he met up with Cornelius (“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”)

Most folks I know get this. Our behaviors and actions are not irrelevant to our faith. What people do (believers or not, it seems) ultimately matters, not in the sense of points being earned but rather as responses to the God who is working salvation in the earth. I would suggest that every good act, whether a person recognizes it or not, is participation in what the Father is doing in the world.

I worry, however, about my Christian brothers and sisters who embrace judgment and insult as acts of righteousness. I worry about it in myself. When we condemn people groups who are not like us, have we joined the ranks of those who do evil? When we harshly attack (thank you, Facebook) our so-called political and religious foes as though we really know or understand them, have we convinced ourselves that our security in our faith negates the effect of our actions?

Even though Jesus admonishes his friends against it, I am in astonishment.

God help us, to match what we do with who we are.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for February 27, 2013

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.
Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. (Romans 1:28-2:1)

Let your steadfast love become my comfort according to your promise to your servant.
Let your mercy come to me, that I may live. (Psalm 119:76-77)

It’s very helpful to have those people around. You know the ones—they’re responsible for doing all the bad things that we hear about. They provide us with the opportunity to objectify evil so that we know it’s out there with those people. That way we can be secure in the knowledge that it’s not in here with us.

But it is.

The apostle Paul was writing to help Jewish and Gentile Christians figure out how to live together, to be one body in Christ. In doing so, he leveled the moral playing field by making everyone culpable in acts of wickedness. Jesus did this too:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

The mind is tethered to the hand. I may not have committed adultery, but I have shared the same mind with the adulterer. I may not have committed murder, but in my anger I have opened the possibility of such an action. We’re not so far apart, those people and me.

I take comfort in remembering that, in Jesus . . . “we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15b-16).

I can’t really think about those people without recognizing that I am kin to them. But the recognition is important. It motivates me to turn to God, who, in the person of Jesus, has entered into the entirety of human existence. In that turning he rightly judges my life and draws me into a life that is new.

Just as he desires to do for those people.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for February 26, 2013

Now there was a royal official whose son lay ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Then Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my little boy dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive. So he asked them the hour when he began to recover, and they said to him, “Yesterday at one in the afternoon the fever left him.” The father realized that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he himself believed, along with his whole household. (John 4:46b-53)

The problem with email is that you can’t hear a person’s tone in the message. Misinterpretations can take place and feelings can get hurt. That’s why emoticons were invented.

It’s too bad that ancient scribes didn’t think of emoticons. I could have used a scriptural emoticon when Jesus said, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” I’m not entirely sure, but it seems like he’s chastising the royal official, who has come in desperation to ask Jesus to heal his son. In fact, the man does indeed believe Jesus as he heads home, trusting that his son has been made well.

Was there a sad or angry face next to Jesus’ words? I don’t know. Perhaps there was an emoticon of curiosity or even of happiness. Could it be that Jesus saw, in requests for signs and wonders, a recognition that his words had been true, that indeed the kingdom of God was at hand? Weren’t such things signals of a greater reality yet to come, one that had erupted in present time? Maybe longing for signs and wonders was a good thing, and not a sign of spiritual weakness.

I confess that I need the occasional sign and wonder in order to believe. It doesn’t have to be spectacular (although spectacular now and again wouldn’t be so bad); it can be as simple as folks from a church coming together to help a family in need. It can be followers of Jesus giving of their time and money to see to it that impoverished people have clean water to drink, houses to live in, and wheelchairs so they can get around. It can be faithful people gathering each week to serve God in worship, to remember who they are, to express love to one another, and then go out in the power of the Spirit to love and serve God and the world.

Actually, I do get to see these things, and I do believe.

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for February 25, 2013

Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me; all day long foes oppress me;
my enemies trample on me all day long, for many fight against me. O Most High,
when I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I am not afraid; what can flesh do to me? (Psalm 56:1-4)

Fear is a powerful force. It can cause a person to seek protection, to react in anger, or to run screaming in terror. Fear is not a neutral emotion—it seeks resolution.

So, when I am afraid, I can put my trust in any number of places:

I can trust my political party to defeat all others and preserve what I hold dear.

I can trust my preferred legislators so that the things I own for the sake of protection will never be ripped from my hands (unless they are cold and dead).

I can trust my religious leaders to identify my doctrinal enemies and remind me that heresy is defined as suggesting an idea that I don’t already know.

I can trust my belief system and nail it to my door so that I can measure myself against my enemies of the faith.

I can trust my employer to care for me from the cradle to the grave.

I can trust my government to do the same.

I can trust my army to overpower all others.

I can trust my wise investment strategies to preserve the life to which I am accustomed, even when the enemies of finance rape and pillage the economy.

And then, in the midst of attackers brandishing swords, spears, and arrows, the Psalmist shatters my ill-placed trusts and calls me to a place that is vulnerable and yet free from fear:

In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I am not afraid; what can flesh do to me?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for February 23, 2013

See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn from the way that I am commanding you today, to follow other gods that you have not known. (Deuteronomy 11:26-28)

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him . . . (Hebrews 5:7-9)

Everyone knows that, when God hears your prayer, the prayer gets answered, right? As Moses declared, obedience to God results in blessing, and turning away becomes a curse. It makes sense, especially when you remember that God loves us.

Of course, God loved Jesus when he prayed. The writer of Hebrews refers to Jesus as an obedient Son, one whose prayers were heard because of his reverent submission. Jesus offered those prayers “with loud cries and tears.” Why? Because he knew he was facing horrific suffering and death. And “the one who was able to save him from death” heard those prayers.

And Jesus still suffered and died. Not the answer I would have expected.

Most of us would prefer a quid pro quo relationship with God, a kind of trade off of goods and services. In exchange for my obedience and reverence, God offers blessing and answers to prayers. Right answers to prayers, I might add. If I pray for a great job, I don’t want a mediocre job. If I pray that my car will magically start after it breaks down, I don’t want to see it hauled off by a tow truck.

And if I pray to escape suffering and death, I don’t want to suffer and die.

But Jesus accepted his suffering and death as the answer to his prayer, and then went willingly to the cross. While dying he identified his ravaged body with the people of Israel and even asked his Father to forgive the ones who had orchestrated his death. His final words were ones that continued to reflect reverent submission: “In your hands I commit my spirit.”

Jesus apparently recognized that struggling with God in prayer didn’t necessarily result in getting one’s way. My obedience isn’t rule-keeping, but instead is participation with God and his mission in the world. My prayer might be about trading participation for self-interest. In those instances it might be that the answer is an uncomfortable—even painful—realignment with what God is doing.

I think I have a lot to learn about prayer.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for February 22, 2013

So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being. Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the Lord your God, the earth with all that is in it, yet the Lord set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today. (Deuteronomy 10:12-15)

Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest . . . (Hebrews 4:11a)

Our Sunday night church services when I was young were aimed at getting people to come forward to the altar for prayer. Once there, a group of the fine old saints would gather to pray for those who were brave enough to make the journey up front, signaling to the congregation that something was amiss and needed to be fixed (I made that trip often). There was a comfort in that experience, but it was also occasionally confusing, as one would encourage the seeker to “hold on!” while another would urge, “let go!” I never quite knew which one to do, and sometimes feared I would let go when I should have held on and end up making God mad at me.

The writer of Hebrews comes close to creating that kind of confusion in admonishing the readers to “make every effort to enter that rest.” Rest is rest, isn’t it? To rest is to take a break from one’s labors. Yet we are told to exert effort in order to enter rest. Seems counter-intuitive at first.

But the rest isn’t one of disengagement, it seems. Moses speaks to the ancient Hebrews about God’s historic love for them and his choosing of them “out of all the peoples.” In that choosing they are to exert effort in service and obedience. This choosing is a bit like how we see the ordination of a priest or pastor: One is called out from among the people to lead the people in the way of the Lord. In a similar way, the Hebrew people were chosen, not to the exclusion of the world, but for the sake of the world. They were to be the light on the hill that would draw the world to God. That was their rest. And it’s ours as well.

If my effort is one of trying to curry God’s favor and rack up celestial points, then it becomes legalism. If my effort is one of posturing and power-grabbing in order to show others that I have attained sainthood, then it becomes hypocritical abuse. But if my effort is one of love, devotion, and service, then I just might find rest there.

The writer of Hebrews leaves us with a call to redemptive rest as we follow Jesus, the one who carries the ultimate ordination:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for February 21, 2013

And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, “Go up and occupy the land that I have given you,” you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God, neither trusting him nor obeying him. You have been rebellious against the Lord as long as he has known you. (Deuteronomy 9:23-24)

“Mark this, then, you who forget God . . .” (Psalm 50:22a)

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest is still open, let us take care that none of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. (Hebrews 4:1-2)

I once had a friend—a bartender, by trade—who defined sin as forgetting about God. It was a great biblical description, even though he might not have gotten it from the Bible. I’ve thought about that a lot over the years, and it is still a definition that, for me, captures the essence of sin.

It’s interesting how we tend to think of the term, good news. Good news for us is gospel (from the old English, godspel, meaning good story) and we think that it emerges right out of the New Testament and starts with Jesus. And while Jesus clearly was the ultimate proclaimer and demonstrator of that good news that the kingdom of God is at hand (Mark 1:15), the writer of Hebrews claims that such good news came first to the ancient people of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness.

The good news, of course, is that God is king, and there is no other—no Pharoah, no Ra the Sun king, no territorial gods, no Roman emperor. This news came to those ancient ex-slaves when they were dramatically rescued from Egypt. They were cared for in the wilderness and given a promise of a new identity and a land of their own.

Then they forgot about God. And so, it seems, can we.

We (certainly there is more than just me in this failure!) forget about God and get busy with things that we decide are more urgent, more important. Having tasted of the new reality of God’s kingdom we forget about him and find new gods in our political parties or national loyalties. Having loved our neighbor we begin to trust in the gods of fear and forget that God’s heart is for the world.

In a way, forgetting about God is worse than just resisting him and demanding our own way. At least in that resistance we are still oriented toward God, even in our rebellion. But once we forget him, we often don’t remember until things start crashing down on our heads.

I’d like to remember God all the time, even though I know that I don’t. I want to remember him when I suffer and also when I am comfortable. I don’t want my memory jarred by a disaster that forces me to see that God was the only true king regardless of my forgetting.

After all, I’m pretty sure that God remembers me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for February 20, 2013

Furthermore the Lord said to me, “I have seen that this people is indeed a stubborn people. Let me alone that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven; and I will make of you a nation mightier and more numerous than they.” (Deuteronomy 9:13-14)

“Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’” (John 3:7)

The ancient Hebrews angered God when they turned away from him. He had rescued them from slavery in Egypt and promised to gather them into a new land where they would be his people. This would fulfill what God had intended through the patriarch Abraham, when he told him “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). Now, just as hope was on the horizon, the people were about to be obliterated by God. God was willing to start things all over again with Moses.

Moses debated with God and God decided to give the people another chance. Yet, hundreds of years later, Jesus looked upon the people and didn’t see much improvement. They were still a fractured, divided people. They were suffering under the boot heel of Rome and fighting to keep some kind of ethnic and religious identity, and doing it well. With that in mind, Jesus talks to Nicodemus about being “born from above.”

We usually translate this text to mean that Nicodemus needs a personal “born again” experience. While that may have been so, there could be something bigger going on here. In the Greek of the New Testament, Jesus speaks to Nicodemus as an individual (“Do not be astonished that I said to you”—the you here is singular), but then moves to a statement that suggests something beyond Nicodemus (“‘You must be born from above’”—this time the you is plural). Jesus speaks to Nicodemus, but his “born from above” statement appears to refer to a plurality of people: The nation of Israel.

In God’s conversation with Moses, a complete do-over was on the table. The people needed to be destroyed and a new start needed to happen. In Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus observes the same thing, but speaks of a new birth rather than death and destruction. But once again, the people of the nation will not die in order to be reborn. Jesus will do this on their behalf through death and resurrection. A new people will be born from above, but not without a dying first. Jesus will represent all of Israel—and the world—through death and resurrection.

It is astonishing to consider that a people called out by God as people—a people who would not exist simply for themselves, but rather for God and for the world—would fail at that calling and require death and resurrection. The question inevitably comes: Could that ever be the case with us, with the ones who are called followers of Jesus? Having claimed the security of our individual new births, will we ever need to die as a people in order to be resurrected? Will I?

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for February 19, 2013

By your hand save me from such people, Lord, from those of this world whose reward is in this life. May what you have stored up for the wicked fill their bellies; may their children gorge themselves on it, and may there be leftovers for their little ones.

As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness. (Psalm 17:14-15)

I once created for myself a vision of what I considered to be my deepest values. I imagined standing out on the sidewalk in front of my house, watching it burn to the ground. In it were all the earthly things that I thought had sustained me: Insurance policies, savings, property, and so on. In my vision the fire took all these things away forever.

Next to me were my wife, my daughters, and our dog. I had my arms around them all and satisfied myself in knowing that this was enough for me. Everything could burn, as long as I had my loved ones with me. I was very satisfied with my vision, and I congratulated myself for my values.

A few days later the image I had self-created popped into my head, but this time it was involuntary. It was the same scene, but this time I was standing on the sidewalk alone. I sensed God saying to me: What if you lose it all? Am I enough for you?

I wasn’t sure I could answer the question. At least, I didn’t want to.

The psalmist is happy to leave his enemies to their appetites. Let them have it all, no matter the bitter taste it will leave in the mouth of generations to come. For the psalmist, seeing the likeness of God is satisfaction enough.

I know people who have lost a great deal—spouses, children, businesses, life savings—and have somehow moved on, even giving testimony to God’s faithfulness to them during their time of trouble and in the aftermath of loss and grief. I have not suffered such losses. I don’t know how I would respond under the circumstances of tragedy. I don’t know what it would be like, in the midst of such deep anguish, to be content in God and his love.

I hope that I would find satisfaction in seeing his likeness, leaving all other forms of contentment to those who would have them.

I hope that I would do that. God help me.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for February 18

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked. (1 John 2:1-6)

We Christians often have a hard time with the word universal. We resist the idea that, in the end, salvation with be universal—that all, including all the worst humans of history, will be welcomed into God’s presence. We call that notion universalism, and a lot of battles are waged over it.

In 1 John, however, something universal is described: Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for sins. Not just for yours and mine. Not just for people who call themselves Christian. This sacrifice, we are told, is for the whole world.

For the whole world. That’s a universal claim.

But there’s a particular claim as well. John says that the ones who know Jesus, the ones who have embraced this new reality of forgiveness, will give evidence of their knowing by the way they live. He says that any claims to knowing Jesus that are not accompanied by followership are lies. Not misstatements, not slip ups, not misinterpretations, not just one valid religious opinion in a sea of others. Lies. Big, fat, lies.

It’s like the story in Luke 17 about Jesus healing the ten lepers. It was a universal healing—all ten cried out, all ten were healed. But only one in particular came back to thank Jesus and give praise to God (and he was a Samaritan!). He was the only one of the ten who could really claim to know Jesus, at least to the degree that he could. The others never came back. If they said they did, then they would be liars.

The problem, however, with the whole issue of claiming to know Jesus but not walking as he walked isn’t about all the people “out there.” The problem is with me. And maybe with you. I can claim all day long that I know Jesus, that I’m a follower of Jesus, and then shut my eyes and ears to the people around me, or continue my lousy behavior because I know that God is in the forgiveness business.

And when I close myself off to the hurting, the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the lost, I shut myself off to Jesus, because he is there with them. And when I quit walking with Jesus, no longer tracking his steps or trusting the path he’s on, then I become a liar.

God, forgive me. God, forgive us.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for February 16, 2013

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. (John 12:27-36)

This is the part of the story where Jesus starts focusing on the death he fully expects to die. He knows that it is coming, that it will be horrible, and the life he has known among humans is about to crash and burn.

Jesus asks the question, “And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’?” Well, if it were me, I would probably say a big YES to that question. I would explain to myself that my grisly death might satisfy the local religious big shots, but it really wouldn’t do anyone any good. They’d bury me when it was over, forget about me, and move on. Surely my heavenly father wouldn’t care if I slipped out of town and just behaved myself until I died quietly in my bed fifty years later.

But this wasn’t my question. I hear the question as one who considers illness to be an inconvenience easily resolved by medication, and death something to be managed, sanitized, and put off as long as possible. The question belonged to Jesus, and for him it was apparently rhetorical. He would not beg to be spared the suffering and death that came with his prophetic territory, suffering and death that would allow the people of God to be reborn as people inhabited by the Holy Spirit, participating in God’s mission in the world.

There is something disturbing, however, in Jesus’ words about his impending death. In the text preceding this one, he says something that doesn’t allow me (or you) to stand at a distance, appreciating and admiring Jesus’ courage and willingness to die on our behalf. His words haunt me:

“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.”

In this Lenten season, I remember that following Jesus means more than working up the discipline to act like he did and reflecting abstractly about his sacrifice. It means really following him. And it means that suffering and death remains a possibility for us within that followership. This is serious discipleship.

God help us.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for February 15, 2013

“It was this Moses whom they rejected when they said, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ and whom God now sent as both ruler and liberator through the angel who appeared to him in the bush. He led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years. This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up a prophet for you from your own people as he raised me up.’ He is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living oracles to give to us. Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him; instead, they pushed him aside, and in their hearts they turned back to Egypt, saying to Aaron, ‘Make gods for us who will lead the way for us; as for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.’ At that time they made a calf, offered a sacrifice to the idol, and reveled in the works of their hands.
But God turned away from them and handed them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: ‘Did you offer to me slain victims and sacrifices forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?” (Acts 7:35-42)

When the ancient Hebrew people grew frustrated with their wanderings in the wilderness, they decided that following after the mysterious God who had rescued them from their slavery in Egypt was just too uncertain. They wanted gods more tangible and predictable than this One who Moses claimed to obey. It felt more familiar and comfortable to turn their worship to the “host of heaven”—most likely the astral bodies of stars, planets, moon, and sun. They even threw in a golden calf, which would reflect the light of the sun. After all, the sun was the top level divinity in Egypt—why not out there in the middle of nowhere?

Worshipping the heavenly bodies wouldn’t be so bad, would it? This rescuing, redeeming God of Moses was up there and out there, and the lights in the sky we also up there and out there. So worshipping them was close enough, right?

Our worship can also be “close enough” to suit us. There are all kinds of respectable things that seem to be in close proximity to God: Dynamic churches, charismatic speakers, favorite writers and books or preferences for music. We can even turn our worship to our well-constructed systems of faith (“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.” James 2:19) or to the Bible itself (“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.” John 5:39). Worshipping the God who is simultaneously unchanging and mysterious can be too unpredictable at times. It is much easier to have certainty in what is tangible or quantifiable than to have confidence in the God who redeems and rescues on his terms rather than on ours.

Forgive me, Lord, when I turn my worship to my own heavenly hosts.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Lenten Reflection for February 14

“Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight; and as he approached to look, there came the voice of the Lord: ‘I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses began to tremble and did not dare to look. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have surely seen the mistreatment of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their groaning, and I have come down to rescue them. Come now, I will send you to Egypt.’” (Acts 7:30-34)

Lent is a time when we intentionally put on the brakes. We’re mostly a people in motion, a people in a rush to get here or do that, a people in a blur like it’s eternally 5:00pm at Union Station. Lent slows us down and causes us to look around us, inside us, and beside us. It’s a time to become re-attuned to the voice of God.

Moses ran from his destiny as the one who would lead the Hebrew people out of their slavery in Egypt. He had killed an Egyptian slave driver and then took off to start a new life, one hidden from the drama of Egypt, one that would drop him into anonymity and safety. But in the course of his daily and predictable routine, he encountered the burning bush, through which God spoke to him. Moses had turned away from the suffering of the Hebrew people in Egypt, but God had not. Nor had God forgotten about Moses.

It is interesting to note that God did not point Moses toward the spot designated as “holy ground.” He didn’t say, “Look, Moses—take four steps left and two steps back, jump over that rock and then you’ll find my holy ground.” Instead, Moses was already there without knowing it. When God summoned Moses into his presence, that which moments earlier was mundane and predictable became holy and purposeful. It was only after Moses’ immersion in God’s holiness that he removed his sandals.

Are we who follow Jesus already standing on holy ground? Has God summoned us by his burning-bush voice and yet we seek only the safety of our perceived anonymity? Where are the ones who suffer, the ones who have not escaped God’s notice, but have missed mine? Has God called me to respond to the cries of the wounded and marginalized, and yet I have excused myself to chase after an errant goat?

God forgive me. God forgive us. Let us remove our sandals. The ground beneath our feet is already holy.