Angry moms…

Standard

Luke 2:41–51 (NRSV): 41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

I realize that Luke told his story in a particular way for particular reasons. That said, I can’t help but read this story through modern cultural lenses.

OJesus was 12 years old – not a little child. In other words, he knew full well what was expected of him in this scenario. The parents would likely have taken an inventory of their children upon leaving Jerusalem and trusted they would stay with the group. Leaving the group, even to study with the rabbis, would not have been okay. The fact his parents had to leave the group, walk for a full day back to Jerusalem, then search for three days would have compounded Jesus’ guilt. He did not honor his father and mother in this story, in my opinion. One could make the case Jesus sinned here.

48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”

We’re this my mother, this would have gone down much differently. There may have been words involved, but there would have been some corporal punishment included between each word. “Child! (whack) why! (whack) have! (whack) you! (whack)…” You get the idea. I think it’s possible this kind of thing happened to Jesus too, but was not included for posterity. 😉

49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

In my day, this sort of statement would have been considered back talk. Not only would it have failed to satisfy my mother, she likely would elevated the vigor of her response at that point.

51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.

This, however, sounds more like it. Jesus was chastened and got his act together. He was probably grounded for a month to boot. No video games or cell phone!

Lord, passages like today’s remind that you really are human as well as divine. Amen.

A sword pierced Mary’s soul…

Standard

nativity-mary-mother-of-jesus-baby-jesus-1301892-high-res-print

Luke 2:25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah…34 Then Simeon blessed (Mary and Joseph) and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

I find v.34-35 really interesting. Reading the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life it’s clear that people were often conflicted about him. Some believed him to be the promised Messiah, especially the poor, afflicted, and dispossessed. The privileged often dismissed him as a simple radical trouble-maker, particularly the religious authorities of his day.

“and a sword will pierce your own soul too”

This verse reminds me of Matthew 10:34  when Jesus said, “I come not to bring peace, but a sword”. I expect the sword is a metaphor for the moment of decision confronting everyone who encountered Jesus. Who was he and how should one respond? Some people followed him, some didn’t. There was conflict within and often conflict without.

I’m inclined to think Simeon was predicting a conflicted experience for Mary as well, though perhaps a different kind of conflict than others. She well knew Jesus was the Son of God given the manner of his conception. But I’m guessing she expected Jesus to be a Messiah in the conventional sense – a military/political leader who would restore Israel to Jewish rule and dominion.

At some point I expect she realized this was not at all what was in store for Jesus. He would suffer and die on a cross like a common criminal. The sword of truth would have cut Mary’s soul (her inner being) creating a sense of fear, confusion, even doubt. Can’t he just run away and save himself?! Must my boy die in this gruesome manner? Is this all necessary? I can only imagine her pain and grief as events unfolded. Yet, despite all of this, Mary never fell away. She was with him to the end and was part of the early Christian church after Jesus ascended to heaven. She was an incredible woman of faith.

I am confronted with fear and doubt all the time. What am I doing? How should I respond? Is this pain really necessary? Isn’t there an easier way? The calling of Christ invites me to the cross. Again and again. It’s the invitation to let go of my own agenda, wants, and needs and conform to what the Lord has in store for me – especially when those two things are very different. Sometimes I follow, sometimes I don’t. Jesus the sword pierces my soul. Over and over.

Gracious God, have mercy on me for all the ways I fall short of your expectations for me. My sin and brokenness get in the way all the time. Give me grace that I might be more like Mary, that I might embrace the crosses required of me rather than run away from them. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

My hand is stretched out without wearying…

Standard

open-hand

Psalm 77:1 I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me. 2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying…

The psalmist is struggling here. What’s new? The part that caught my attention was “in the night my hand in stretched out without wearying…” The outstretched hand reflects a posture of humility, of need. Even desperation. If there were somewhere else to turn, the psalmist would do so. But there is no hope apart from the Lord.

In a strange way, this is the place I want to be. As I’m thinking about the church I lead, having just celebrated 25 years as a church, I ponder what’s next for us. Whatever it is, I hope it involves going after something so significant for the sake of the gospel, so beyond our natural capacity, that if God isn’t in it – it will surely fail. I want to see power made perfect in weakness. I want to see the cross so that I might see resurrection.

I realize this is a very dangerous thing to wish for. Kyrie eleison…

Genocide… at God’s command…

Standard

rwanda-genocide-skulls

Numbers 31:13 Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the congregation went to meet them outside the camp. 14 Moses became angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. 15 Moses said to them, “Have you allowed all the women to live? 16 These women here, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the LORD in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the LORD. 17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. 18 But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.

One of the last acts of Moses as leader of the Israelites was to direct battle against the people of Midian who were enemies of God. We’re talking about an entire nation of people, and by “nation” we mean a mid-sized city by today’s standards. Hundreds of thousands of people. And, as was common practice in ancient times, the conquering peoples took EVERYTHING of value as plunder: silver/gold, livestock, people.

God was generally cautious in giving the Israelites permission to keep people from other ethnic groups/cultures as plunder, despite their great potential value as slaves/servants, because they brought with them pagan religious practices. God feared the Israelites would be tempted to adopt these pagan practices, which is what happened in many cases. So, God commanded that all males (men and children) and all sexually active females be put to death. The only human survivors were to be virgin girls. That’s it. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of people put to death. An entire nation wiped out. At God’s command.

This is nothing short of GENOCIDE.

One of the things that makes Western culture different than some other parts of the world is the high value we place on human life. This Judeo-Christian ethic was instrumental in ending slavery in much of the world, radically reducing the practice of capital punishment, even giving voice to the idea that “all men are created equal”. God has, and does, place great value on the human life he creates, even lives of those opposed to God. Jesus revealed the nature of the Father when he said to his disciples, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

And then there’s this.

As a pastor I’m conditioned to defend God when contradictions like this arise, to help explain away the stories in scripture that do not square with the “God is love” narrative. The tribal God revealed in this passage, the God who directs the Israelites to commit genocide, is not consistent with the God who gave his son Jesus for our sins. I don’t understand it and I doubt I ever will.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Conceived with God’s purpose in mind…

Standard

hqdefault

Luke 1: 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;  for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. 78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel. 

This passage records Zechariah prophesying about his son John, who would ultimately become known to history as John the Baptist. He was the forerunner of Jesus, a spiritual mentor and partner in ministry. I love the clarity of this vision for John’s life. There is promise and power in this description. John would be called, “the prophet of the Most High”.

The promise of scripture is that God creates people with a dream for their lives. For your life. For my life. We are created with purpose, to give glory to God and to serve his purposes. Each of us will live this out differently, but the purpose remains consistent.

I’m wondering how I’m doing living into God’s dream for me. My temptation is to see all the places where I’m coming up short, where I’m failing to live up to God’s standard. But there are good things too. No one will call me “the prophet of the Most High”, but that’s okay. I don’t need recognition from people, but from God. And I want to do better.

Heavenly Father, you are a marvelous God full of power and might. You create people with purpose, with “plans” as is written in Jeremiah 29:11. Give us grace to live into the dream you had for us when we were conceived. Help us to remove the obstacles that get in our way. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Mary’s soul “magnifies the Lord”…

Standard

hqdefault

Luke 1:46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed…”

Mary, the teenage girl who is engaged to be married to Joseph, finds out she is pregnant by God himself and sings this beautiful song that runs through v.55. I’m drawn to the words of v.46 “My soul magnifies the Lord…”.

As one might expect, Mary was a bit freaked out by the news she would become pregnant despite being an unmarried virgin. The angel Gabriel explained things to her and Mary submitted herself to God’s designs – an incredible act of faith. There were any number of things that could have gone wrong with this scenario, all of which would have been bad news for Mary. She could have been ostracized by her family, rejected by her fiancee, or even stoned to death by the community at large. But instead, Mary accepts this news as a blessing and then sings a song,

“My soul magnifies the Lord…” 

Her soul is her innermost being. It is the eternal part of her that will live on once the physical body has died. It is her soul that “magnifies” the Lord, increases God’s size and scope in such a way that other considerations fall to the wayside. As a result her spirit “rejoices” in God, delights in him, submits to God her very life to do with as he pleases. Rather than view this as a curse, she will be called “blessed” forever.

In the midst of life’s questions without answers, struggles with no known solutions, journeys with no reliable maps – all of which can understandably produce anxiety in the bravest of souls – there is our God.

Today I’m taking a cue from Mary. Lord, by your grace, empower my weary soul to magnify you. Trust you. Enlarge you so that other considerations fall by the wayside. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Me, the brute beast…

Standard

3895821502_5969d87198_b

Psalm 73: 21 When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, 22 I was stupid and ignorant; I was like a brute beast toward you. 23 Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor.

This is such a powerful passage for me this morning. First, the psalmist writes, “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart…” For much of this psalm the writer has been documenting his observation that the world around him, the world where God rules, is unjust and unfair. Good people suffer injustice and oppression. Evil people succeed, prosper, thrive. This is not the way it’s supposed to be!

In v.21 the writer describes himself as “embittered”, meaning bitter/cynical. In fact, it is his “soul” which is embittered. He’s twisted up in the deepest part of his being. But then he writes “I was pricked in heart”. What’s at the root of this bitterness/cynicism of soul? His heart is broken. He’s suffered a deep emotional wound and is manifesting his pain as anger – lashing out at others and at God.

Man, do I resonate with this psalm. I know what it is to be deeply hurt and to respond in unhealthy ways. To lash out at people and even at God. My pain can also manifest as indifference as I shut down emotionally, raise the drawbridge of spirit, and retreat into my own dark thoughts. Then the enemy has a field day filling my mind and heart with lies that feed the dysfunction.

“I was like a brute beast toward you”.

The thing about a brute beast is its stubbornness and violent nature. It cannot be controlled. Rather than doing meaningful work and being fruitful, the brute beast wreaks havoc and destruction. It strays from its master. Rebellious. Obstinate. A brute beast is of no use at all to his master. That’s me sometimes. Yet, how does God respond?

v.23 “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.”

Wow. Despite the psalmist acting out, wreaking havoc, rebelling against God and man – God the Father never leaves him. God is present throughout, holding his “right hand”. The right hand is the one which guides, leads. “You guide me with your counsel”. While the psalmist is acting out, God the Father is gently calling him back. Soothing him. Holding onto him. Leading him back to the fold of God’s flock. Never does God reject him. Never is his place as one of God’s own in jeopardy.

“Afterward, you will receive me with honor.”

After what? After his rebellion. After the storm raging in his soul passes. When the psalmist finally comes to his senses, when the venom of his pain is finally exhausted, God is there. And not just ready to receive him, but to receive him “with honor”. Not as one under probation. Not as one who sits in the corner with his dunce hat on. Not as one who returns under a cloud of suspicion, but “with honor”. He will be fully restored and given his rightful place as God’s own child.

What amazing grace this is. Thank you God for the mercy you pour out when we are at our worst. Restore us unto you that we might have life eternal. Amen.