Lost and Found

Scripture Text: Luke 15: 4-6

4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

As we have come to know, the wilderness is treacherous. It is tiresome and mind-draining. It often seems to lengthen time even as one makes his or her way through it. We become impatient. We want it to end. We want to shorten the time that it has its hold on us. We want to take shortcuts to get to the end, so we veer off the path, away from our course, thinking that we have it all figured out. We find ourselves lost.

It is easy in times of wilderness to think that you are alone. It is tempting to assume that you have somehow ended up there of your own doing and that you and you alone are responsible for finding your way out. We’ve all been lost before. We’ve all been in situations where we just can’t seem to find our way back. We’ve all had times whether they be physical, emotional, or even spiritual when we lose our way or we feel ourselves mired in lostness and grief. We backtrack, trying to find the pathway down which we came so that we can “start again”. But everywhere we look, the choices of where to go all look the same. It becomes overwhelming. We turn and we turn and we panic and we run through this maze of choices over and over again.

When I was young, I was told that if I was lost, I should stay where I was. (Sometimes we’re smarter when we’re children, because we know to listen.) I think intellectually we all know that we should stay on the path and keep walking and yet, as adults, we somehow think we can fix it. We can wander with panic through life with no compass and no real help. We can try this way and that way and backtrack and veer off to nowhere. We can convince ourselves that we need no help, that we can do it. We can be tempted by the shortcuts that are offered along the way. And we stay lost.

Sometimes we are the lost sheep. Sometimes the wilderness seems to consume us. Sometimes the road through it seems to lengthen with each step. But where we did get the notion that solitude meant that we were alone? This wilderness journey is not one that we travel alone. God walks with us, holds us when we need to be held, and when we become the lost sheep, the one who has wandered away, God is there too. God doesn’t “fix” our way through the wilderness or speed up our wilderness time, but we are always wilderness-found.

We just have a little bit more time of this Lenten wilderness. We know that it will get harder. We know that, like many wilderness paths, it will seem to lengthen and become more treacherous as we near the end of its hold. But we do not walk it alone. Jesus, walking to the Cross, was never alone. He was in solitude; he was in prayer; he was often deserted by those who traveled with him; he often found himself mired in lostness and grief. But God has walked this way before. God knows the way. So, God will always make sure that even though the way is hard, we are always wilderness-found. And God lays us on the Divine shoulders and rejoices.

Often when the heart is torn with sorrow, spiritually we wander like a traveler lost in a deep wood.  We grow frightened, lose all sense of direction, batter ourselves against trees and rocks in our attempt to find a path.  All the while there is a path–a path of Faith–that leads straight out of the dense tangle of our difficulties into the open road we are seeking. (Helen Keller)

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

God’s Delight

Scripture Text: Psalm 119: 9-16 (Lent 5B Alternative Psalter)

9How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your word.

10With my whole heart I seek you; do not let me stray from your commandments.

11I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.

12Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes.

13With my lips I declare all the ordinances of your mouth.

14I delight in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches.

15I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways.

16I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.

Do you delight in God?  It’s a strange word, probably one we don’t use that often.  The dictionary says it means to “please someone greatly”.  I don’t know if that really works here.  I mean, I don’t really think of God as “pleasing me greatly”, as if that’s what God is trying to do—just please me, like it’s all about me. (Because I’m clear that it’s not all about me!)  No, this rather make me think of some of the wisdom passages that speak of daring to have a love for God that is deeper than you even thought possible, a love that comes from the very depths of one’s soul, (read Song of Songs or Song of Solomon when you get a chance!) from the place that you did not think it was even possible to access.  It’s a love that is so deep that you seem to become a part of what you love, a part of the very experience that IS God.  I think THAT’S what delighting in God is.

See, so many of us think of God as some sort of barely accessible character on the outskirts of our lives, watching over us, maybe even supervising us.  But I don’t get the impression that that’s what God desires.  Why in the world would God have created everything that is and then filled the earth (or, I don’t know, maybe even some other places!) with humans and other creatures just to watch them and make sure they behave.  That sounds very exhausting to me.  No, I think God created us because we are God’s delight.  We are part of what makes God delight, along with all the rest of Creation. 

So, perhaps delighting in God is coming closer to the delight that God has for us.  And if it is something that God does, then, by my calculation, it is holy.  Perhaps, then, delighting in God is to acknowledge that holiness, to dare to come closer, to actually get out of ourselves, and experience it, to know delight.  In Hebrew thought, to “know” is not just limited to intellectual capacity.  It is not just understanding facts or that something exists.  To know God is not just to know OF God.  To “know” connotes a familiarity, an intimacy.  To know God is to delight in God.

In this wilderness season, we have encountered the unfamiliar, a strangeness that is not that to which we are accustomed.  And yet, as we travel, we have grown to know it, to know the path itself rather than the destination.  That is delight.  The whole idea of delighting in God just as God delights in us sort of, to me, loosens some of those limits that we have placed upon our relationship with God.  No longer is God that overwhelming deity that supervises me or controls me like a puppet on a string.  No longer is God something for which I’m required to clean up my act or be presentable to encounter.  No longer is God waiting until I have enough faith or enough belief or whatever else before I can approach God.  God does not wait for us to change; God waits for us to delight in God.  God is always there delighting in me, delighting in all of us.  And when we come to understand that, when we come to know God with the intimacy of our Creator, of our very source of being, then we, too, can delight. 

This season of Lent is one that reveals to us that deep and abiding relationship with God.  It is a relationship where God delights in us and we delight in God.  And rather than following the rules that we’ve laid out or acting “appropriately”, delight can almost be characterized as a type of holy play, a conversation between our soul and its Creator.  To delight in God is to know who God created us to be.  It is a oneness with God (not a BECOMING God—that will never happen.  God is God; we are not.)  Delighting is not being “godly”; delighting is knowing God in the deepest part of your being.  What a delight! 

With so much in creation, why did You bother to make this blue planet so beautiful?  Why was it worth the effort?  This blue planet is insignificant, seemingly unimportant, yet You have made it painfully beautiful.  Why?  The answer, I think, is that is the way You do everything.  Beauty—mighty and small—delights You.  This tiny planet delights You.   (Andrew Greeley)

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

The New Thing

Scripture Text: Isaiah 43: 18-19

18Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 19I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

I love old things.  They are full of stories and ripe with history. They are real, full of pits and marks from the past. My house is full of antiques (many of which carry generations of family history with them) and, for want of a better word, “repurposed” antique wanna-be’s.  I love history. I love old houses and antique shops and cemeteries. I love connecting with the past and those that came before me. I love old churches and especially those that honor and celebrate their rich histories. See, old things are not the problem; old ideas are not the problem; old notions of who God is and who we are before God are not the problem. The problem comes about when we find ourselves stuck with “the way it has always been”, not wanting to bring the past to life, wake it up, repurpose it so that it has life for us now and beyond. The problem comes when we find ourselves holding on for fear of losing our past or losing our grounding, wandering in the wilderness of former things.

I don’t think God wants us to forget the past. It is part of us. It is coursing through our DNA as we speak, making us who we are. It is what taught us to breathe, taught us to live, taught us to worship, taught us to be. We always carry with us the echoes of what God created before. They are our beginnings. But beginnings are not meant to be held onto. It is to our detriment to pad our lives with the past, to clutch at the beginnings as if they are the end-all, afraid that we might lose them, and to miss the new thing that God is doing, the repurposing of the old into the new.

Tradition is not a bad thing. It is a wonderful thing. It means to come into a conversation that began long before we got here and that will continue long after we are gone. It means realizing that there was something before we got here that is of value. It’s just not finished. We have to enter the conversation, embrace its riches, and then find what Truth is finally ready to be heard and what part of the Truth is ours to finally tell. Edna St. Vincent Millay said that “[Humanity] did not invent God but developed faith to meet a God who is already there.” But the conversation must continue so that we can see the newness that God is doing as Creation is repurposed and Truth becomes fuller.

Lent is known as a season of the wilderness, a season of wandering into the unknown, of being vulnerable, of letting go. Maybe it’s not so much that we are entering wilderness, but that we are exchanging one wilderness for another, leaving the wilderness of former things behind and journeying on through the way that God has made in the wilds of the new and untamed wilderness. But if we do things the “way we’ve always done it”, we will miss the newness springing forth. I can’t help but think about this as we begin to birth our “new normal” as a society.  After this pandemic, there is no way of going “back to normal”.  It doesn’t exist.  The new normal is waiting to be, even if it is shrouded in wilderness right now.  There is no doubt that the wilderness is the place to begin but the beginning cannot be held for more than a moment or it is lost in the past.

It has been the interruptions to my everyday life that have most revealed to me the divine mystery of which I am a part. All of these interruptions presented themselves as opportunities; invited me to look in a new way at my identity before God. Each interruption took something away from me; each interruption offered something new. (Henri J.M. Nouwen)

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

Betwixt and Between

Scripture Text: John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1: 1-5)

In the 4th century, there was a sixteen year old boy named Maewyn Succat in Roman Britain who was captured by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland.  He lived there in fear for six years before escaping and returning to his family.  One day, as the story is told, he heard a voice saying “your ship is ready” and fled his master, traveled to a port two hundred miles away, found a ship, and sailed home.  He later returned to Ireland, his place of captivity, the place of his fear, as a missionary.  By the eighth century, he had become one of the patron saints of Ireland.  You probably know him as St. Patrick.

Patrick’s life, like his Celtic tradition, is based on a pilgrimage through the wilderness.  Life in this tradition is about growing and moving and change and not “pitching our tent” in one place too long.  It is about connecting to all of Creation, about honoring and revering all as sacred.  It is about treating all of life sacramentally, embracing it as a gift from God and a way to God.  Embracing the Celtic spirit means going on a journey, open to moving from one place to another, one thought to another, one way of seeing to another.  In the midst of this journey, Celtic spirituality recognizes the importance of crossing places, seeing them as thresholds of growth.  These places are truly looked upon as sacred spaces.

I love the Celtic tradition. It has fed me spiritually for some time.  It’s probably a little wilder than that to which most of us are accustomed. Rather than rejecting the pagan belief that they inherited and being fearful of it, they brought Christianity into it, letting the two traditions enter a holy conversation. So, their version of the Christian tradition was “broadened” a bit beyond the traditional claims. See, history tells us that the Roman Empire never made it to Ireland, leaving the Green Isle just beyond the control of both the emperor and the authorities of early Christianity as most of us know it. So, Ireland and the other islands that claimed this Celtic strain of belief, birthed a Christian experience somewhat removed both geographically and theologically from mainland Europe. It is Christianity mingled with, but not compromised by, the finest aspects of pagan Celtism, those that found resonance with Christian symbols and understanding. For Celtic Christians the experience of vision is a tangible way of seeing what God has done and then seeing it through God’s creative eyes, followed by seeing the life-giving possibilities God sees. The Celtic Way is instead expressed through the beauty of art and symbols, the richness of prayers and poetry, and an understanding of the sacredness of all of Creation.

What would our faith look like if we understood all Creation as sacred? What would our beliefs be if we allowed them to grow beyond what tradition has handed us? What would our lives look like if we saw everything as “of God”, as a way that God is perhaps speaking to us, maybe leading us down a different path rather than fearing it? What would our wilderness journey be if we became connected to more than what we know, more than what we see? What would it mean to live our lives in liminality (“betwixt and between”), as the Celts would have called it, on a threshold between what we know and what we don’t, between what we see and what has yet to be revealed to us, between what is true and what is Truth?

In this season of Lent, we are called to open our thoughts, open our hearts to the way that God is leading us. We are called not just to see what is obvious but to let God be our Vision, our way of seeing, to enter the Sacred with new eyes and a new heart. Maybe we will find that the way out of this wilderness is not by exiting it but by beginning to see it differently, as a way filled with sacredness and wonder, as a Way of God.  Maybe that’s how we’re called to change.  Oh, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I live my life in ever-widening circles that reach out across the world.  I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it.   (Rainer Maria Rilke)

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

From the Inside Out

Scripture Passage:  Jeremiah 31: 31-34 (Lent 5B)

31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Most of us know this passage well.  It is telling of a new covenant, a covenant that is different from any that came before.  It is not a covenant that you can see; it is a covenant that you become.  The days are surely coming when that will come to be.  When would that be that the new covenant will come to be?  We Christians like to put on our post-Resurrection lens and read this with the view of Jesus, the Cross, and the empty tomb in our mind.  Ah…we think, Jesus, Jesus is the new covenant.  Jesus is the covenant that is written on our hearts.  Jesus is the one. Isn’t he?  So are the days surely here?

OK, be honest, have you looked around?  Have you listened to the news today?  BUT, “the days are surely coming!”  But I’m not sure they’re here yet.  I think we’re still wandering a little in the wilderness.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I DO believe that Jesus is an embodiment of the New Covenant, the embodiment of God’s Promise, the embodiment of The Way.  And yet, the idea of this being “written on our hearts”, of this New Covenant becoming not just something to which we aspire, not just something by which we try to abide, but something that is part of us just downright eludes most of us.  If it is written on our hearts, then this covenant is something that should be part of our body, our soul, our heart, our mind, our very being.  The promise is certain, but it doesn’t end there and we have to be open to seeing beyond ourselves to embrace it.

In his book, The Naked Now:  Learning to See as the Mystics See, Catholic priest and writer Fr. Richard Rohr tells of the experiences of three men who stand at the edge of the ocean, looking at the same sunset.  One man saw the immense physical beauty and enjoyed the event in itself.  This man…deals with what he can see, feel, touch, move, and fix.  This was enough reality for him, for he had little interest in larger ideas, intuitions, or the grand scheme of things.

A second man saw the sunset.  He enjoyed all the beauty that the first man did.  Like all lovers of coherent thought, technology, and science, he also enjoyed his power to make sense of the universe and explain what he discovered.  He thought about the cyclical rotations of planets and stars.  Through imagination, intuition, and reason, he saw…even [more].

The third man saw the sunset, knowing and enjoying all that the first and the second men did.  But in his ability to progress from seeing to explaining to “tasting,” he also remained in awe before an underlying mystery, coherence, and spaciousness that connected him with everything else.  He [saw] the full goal of all seeing and all knowing.  This was the best.  It was seeing with full understanding.  It was seeing beyond the obvious.  It was seeing not just with his eyes, but with all that he was.  It was seeing beyond himself and beyond what he was capable of seeing, beyond even what he was capable of understanding.  In essence, he was open not to just the sunset but what it meant to embrace it as part of who he was.

So, then, what does it mean for a covenant to be “written on our hearts”?  That means it’s part of who we are.  No longer are we looking at rainbows or holding tablets.  God’s vision is written on our hearts, permanently tattooed into our very being.  For us followers of Christ, the new covenant, then, is not just a vision of Christ; it is rather a vision of us as we live through Christ, as we FINALLY see Jesus in the light of who Jesus is.  What that tells us is that, yes, we are to be change agents, being a part of bringing God’s Kingdom into being.  But more than that, we are to BE the change.  The change happens in us as well as through us.

It is as if God is remaking us from the inside out.  The vision of that new covenant that God has is a vision of a new us.  That’s what Jesus was trying to show us, trying to lead us toward understanding.  That’s what following Jesus through life’s wilderness means.  But in order to do that, we need to become willing to let go—to let go of our lives, to let go of our things, to let go even of the images that we have God that get in the way of our following and being this Way of Christ.  We have to clear our lenses of those things that are clouding the vision that God has for us.

Think about it.  Read the words.  This is not about God just tossing some words out there in the hopes that someone will be curious enough or scared enough or ready enough to pick them up.  God is much more nuanced than that.  Rather, God’s vision is that they are written on our hearts, permanently tattooed, part of our very being.  It is as if God is remaking us from the inside out.  Maybe that’s our whole problem.  Maybe we’re trying to make ourselves and maybe, just maybe, we’re doing it backwards.  Maybe we’re trying to do the right things and say the right things and fast and pray and live our lives with the hopes that our hearts will be made right.  Maybe we’re trying so desperately to find our way out of the wilderness that we have missed what is happening to our very heart.  Because while we’re wandering, while we’re trying desperately to make everything right, God is inside, with heart-wrenching fervor, remaking us from the inside out and waiting patiently for us to stop and notice.  Amazingly, our hearts do not need to be made right; rather, we need to listen to what God has already written into them.

As we have said many times, wandering in this wilderness is hard.  It’s full of change.  But this passage points not to changes around us but changes within us.  Change comes at us usually unexpectedly.  Change comes when we’re not prepared for it at all.  But change is indeed part of the wilderness.  Change is indeed part of life.  Change is the way we grow.  Change softens us, like sandpaper on a piece of rough-hewed wood, making us touchable and real.  Change reminds us that we need to look beyond where we’re accustomed to looking.  Change makes us who God envisions we can be.  Look in your heart.  It’s written right there.

Deep within us all there is an amazing sanctuary of the soul,, a holy place…to which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us…calling us home unto Itself. Yielding to these persuasions…utterly and completely, to the Light within, is the beginning of true life. (Thomas R. Kelly)

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

Gather Us In

Scripture Passage:  Psalm 107: 1-3, 17-12 (Lent 4B Psalter)

1O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. 2Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble 3and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south…

17Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction;18they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. 19Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress;20he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction. 21Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. 22And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

This psalter is one of thanksgiving, thanking God for the promise of deliverance and for deliverance and redemption itself.  We left out some of the other trouble (in the verses that were skipped) but these words deal with illness and distress.  It also reminds us of the reading about the snakes in Numbers and God’s deliverance and healing.

I love verse 2 and the image of God gathering in the redeemed from all the lands, from east and west and north and south.  It reminds us that though there are many ways that we are separated from God—illness, desperation, our own transgressions—there are even more ways TO God.  And maybe the words of this Psalm are meant to remind us of that.  After all, we are human.  We tend to get mired in where we are.  When things are going well, we forget to reach for God.  And often when the darkness descends upon us, we often deem ourselves “not ready” to do the reaching, as if we need to “clean our lives up a bit” before we let God back into them. 

Whichever applies to us at any given time, we somehow identify with “some who were sick”.  Other translations read “some were fools and took rebellious paths.”  In some ways, that’s even more uncomfortable for us.  After all, we can blame “sickness” on something else.  But when we play the fool, it somehow is laid completely on us.  But, regardless, God redeems.  God ALWAYS redeems.  We don’t have to wait until we’re better, or cleaned up, or “prepared” to let God in.  God is just there, always ready to either deliver, redeem, or just walk us home.

But the Psalm continues.  The Lord sees and knows our pain, our distress.  God delivers us, sometimes picking us up and setting us on our feet headed toward the way that God calls us to go.  And then we give thanks.  We give thanks individually and corporately.  The whole community rejoices with thanksgiving and retells what God has done with great joy.  (That sounds like the Communion liturgy, doesn’t it?)

Worshipping together…that used to be so easy.  You just got up early (and once a year even an hour earlier!!!)  and went to church and planted yourself in a fairly comfortable pew (probably the very same pew each Sunday) and you did your thing.  But the last year that has changed.  We have been forced as a community to revisit what worship is.  I think (and, I have to say, I even hope) that it will change the way we do “church”, the way we look at “church” forever.  For most of my life, church has probably been somewhat inconvenient.  There’s been a wrestling with the surrounding culture for “Sunday” and “church” has had to increasingly share its day with professional sports events and, increasingly, other activities. (Like we forgot that our Jewish brothers and sisters have ALWAYS shared a day!) So, churches have entered the realm of competing for an audience.  (Ugh…THAT’S not good!  That’s getting a little too close to that merchandising God thing again!)

Maybe the pandemic has finally made us realize that we have been asking focusing on the wrong thing.  Corporate worship is not about attendance; it is not about measuring success on how many “butts are in the pews”, so to speak; it is, as the Psalm says, about gathering, gathering in from all directions, gathering in those that are hurting, those that have given up, and those that think they have everything figured out.  And gathering involves opening—opening up the doors, opening up the streaming services, opening through Zoom connections. 

This Lenten season as we wander in the wilderness of not only a journey to the cross, but also a journey through a pandemic, a journey that is sometimes a lonely one, let us focus on gathering.  Let us focus on ways to gather, ways to worship, ways to be together, and then find the myriad of ways that we can tell people what God has done and is doing in our lives.  Maybe if we shift our focus to “keeping Sabbath” rather than “going to church”, we will discover a God who has been there all along—wherever we are present.      

Human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish—separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from world.  But we should not be surprised when God does not recognize the distinctions we make between the two.  Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars. (Barbara Brown Taylor)

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli

Belove

Lectionary Passage:  John 3: 14-21 (Lent 4B)

14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

This is it: THE verse.  So what we do with THE verse?  It’s on street corners and billboards and T-Shirts and tattoos and faces and signs at sporting events.  I think it is often read as some sort of great reward for doing the right things.  You know, if you do everything you’re supposed to do, you’ll be rewarded when it’s all said and done.  And if you don’t, well you’re just out of luck.  So, look at me…do what I do, go to church where I go, be what I am, look like I look.  I’m saved; are you?  (Define that!  Do we really understand what that means?)

But I think we’ve read it wrong.  For God so loved the world—not the ones in the right church or the right country or the right side of the line—but the WORLD.  God loved the world, everything about the world, everyone in the world, so much, so very, very, VERY much, that God came and walked among us, sending One who was the Godself in every way, to lead us home, to actually BRING us home, to lead us to God.  Are you saved?  Yes…every day, every hour, over and over and over and over again.  I’m being saved with every step and move and breath I take.  I think that’s what God does.  God loves us SO much that that is what God does.  God is saving us.  God came into the world to save the world.  So why would we interpret this to mean that God somehow has quit loving some of us or that we have to somehow bargain with God to begin loving us or that “being saved” is a badge of honor?  See, God loves us so much that God is saving us from ourselves. 

The reference to the snake refers to the Old Testament lectionary reading for this week (Numbers 21:4-9 if you need to be reminded of it)  It is the account of the Lord sending poisonous serpents into the wilderness that can be countered by making a serpent and putting it on a pole so that everyone who looks at it will live even though they were bit by a poisonous snake.  (OK….whatever!)  So, essentially, it’s like this:  You think your main problem is snakes?  Alright, here it is.  Look at it hanging there on the tree.  Quash your fear, let your preconceptions go.  There…no more snakes.  You don’t have to fear snakes. 

So, this time?  You have let the world order run your life.  You have become someone that you are not.  You have allowed yourself to be driven by fear and preconceptions and greed.  You have opted for security over freedom, held on to what is not yours, and settled for vengeance rather than compassion and love.   I created you for more than this.  I love you too much for this to go on.  Look up.  Look there, hanging on the tree, there on the cross.  Stare at the Cross.  Enter the Cross.  See how much I love you.  In this moment, I take all your sin, all your misgivings, all your inhumanity and let it die with me.  All is well.  All is well with your soul.  There…no more death.  You don’t have to fear death.

In this season of Lent, we inch closer and closer to the cross.  We shy away.  It’s hard to look at.  But perhaps it’s not the gory details, but the realization that we are the culprits.  Lent provides a mirror into which we look and find ourselves standing in the wilderness of ourselves, sometimes fearful of what we might find.  But the Cross is our way out (not our way “in” to God, but our way “out” of ourselves).  Because God loves us so much that God cannot fathom leaving us behind.  The Cross is the place where we finally know that. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 

Thomas Long, the well-known professor of preaching at Candler School of Theology once said it like this:  In Christian language, to be truly human is to shape our lives into an offering to God. But we are lost children who have wandered away from home, forgotten what a truly human life might be. When Jesus, our older brother, presented himself in the sanctuary of God, his humanity fully intact, he did not cower as though he were in a place of “blazing fire and darkness and gloom.” Instead, he called out, “I’m home, and I have the children with me.”

In this wilderness season, it is easy to feel lost.  It is easy to feel alone.  It is easy to wonder where to turn next.  But this passage is a reminder that we are not alone.  God is always there and has given us a promise.  You…you are my beloved child.  Believe.  Belove.  Know that I am always with you, always carrying you home.

Salvation is not only a goal for the afterlife; it is a reality of everyday that we can taste here and now. (Henri J.M. Nouwen)

Grace and Peace,

 Shelli