The Journey Beyond Ourselves

Water13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 17: 1-9)

I remember when John baptized him.  Jesus, dressed in white, got into the water and John pushed his head under.  As he emerged, the heavens seemed to open as if God was pleased.  It was special, sort of an affirmation of who he was, who I had known he was all along.  In that moment, I began to understand that his role was bigger than our family, bigger than my son, even bigger than these that he had gathered around him.  I knew that but in that moment I began to understand it.  I was here to walk with him as he prepared not only to be a rabbi, a teacher, but to take on the ministry to which God called him.  And in that moment in the waters of re-creation, his ministry began.  This is the moment when God claims this child of God as the One who God calls.  This was the becoming and the beginning that he needed.  I had to begin to let go of what I knew.

I thought back to that time in Jerusalem when we found him in the temple with the rabbis.  My first reaction was relief that he was found.  I wanted to take him and hold him and never let him loose again.  My next reaction was anger that he had worried us so.  But the scene of him sitting there listening to the rabbis, understanding more than most adults will ever understand, made up for it all.  I knew then that he was beyond me, that I was here only for a time to help lead him to what he was called to do.  I knew that he was meant to be something more even than what I had thought.

So many of us get so wrapped up in those things that we can control or those that make us at least feel in control.  We want to be safe and comfortable.  So in this Christmas season, we often tend to wrap ourselves in our shopping, our plans for meals, and our family gatherings, our traditions of the way we do things and the expectations that they will be like they’ve been before.  These memories remind us all that we are continuously called beyond ourselves.  God calls us to newness, even in the midst of the familiar traditions that are so much a part of us.  That is the way God transforms us.  That is the way God moves us beyond ourselves.  That is the way God loves us.

God travels wonderful paths with human beings; God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe for God.  God’s path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove.   (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

FOR TODAY:  How is God moving you beyond yourself?  How is God bringing newness even to the traditions that you hold so closely?

Peace to you as we come closer to that holiest of nights,

Shelli

The Wilderness is Where We Changed Our Course

Change-DirectionScripture Text:  Matthew 15: 21-28

21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

 

So Jesus travels to a place that is not his, to an unfamiliar place some distance away.  It’s not the wilderness the way we normally define it with deserted pathways and dangerous hideouts and such.  But it IS a wilderness.  When we journey through unknown territory, through places that are not our home, through places that are not ours, places that we have not planned or planted, there is a certain wilderness aspect to them.  In Jesus’ defense, he has to be tired.  He has to be craving some time along to regroup and reflect on his mission (OK, maybe that’s what the introvert in me is projecting!).  But then, all of a sudden, this woman comes up and she’s shouting at him with a foreign accent—not just a loud shout but one that is incessant and wailing and very annoying.  She is begging and begging him to heal her daughter.  But what could Jesus do?  After all, his mission as he understood it was to the Jews and here was this Canaanite Gentile wanting some of his time. Truthfully, this woman had everything working against her—gender, race, religion, class, and nationalism.  In the first century, she was the “outcast of the outcasts”, an outcast even in this wilderness in which Jesus finds himself.

Put yourself in Jesus’ place.  “Perhaps if I ignore her, she will go away.” But, then, the disciples get involved.  “Good grief,” he probably thought, “if they would only be quiet.”  And the woman keeps on—shouting and wailing like some sort of banshee.  What do you do with a pushy Canaanite woman who won’t shut up? “Don’t you understand…I am not here for you…I must first attend to the Jews…the chosen ones…the children of God…the people to which I was promised…it would not be right to abandon their mission for another.”  (I will tell you, the reference to “dogs” is not a nice one.  Without offense to the dog-lovers or dogs among us, in Jewish society, dogs were looked upon as unclean, as scavengers.  To compare someone to a dog was to lower them to the bottom of society.)

But the woman responds, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters table…Even I, the Gentile, knows that you are Lord.”  All of a sudden Jesus’ tune changes.  This woman has a faith that will not quit.  This woman DOES get it!  The mission is indeed to the Jews. But this woman’s faith has brought her to Jesus as a sign of what is to come. This moment is, in effect, a sort of turning point for Jesus’ whole mission.  In fact, at the risk of overstepping, you could almost say this was a sort of “conversion point” for Jesus.  You also have to consider that this turning point is the reason we’re sitting here.  We are not the “children of Israel” but rather those to whom Jesus’ mission was broadened to include.

I’m actually grateful that the writer that we know as Matthew didn’t try to clean up the story.  This is a powerful statement on Jesus’ humanness, his searching, his exploring, his changing.  In this moment, there, in the wilderness, in the place that was not his, Jesus saw a broader vision of God than even he had had before.

I think that’s why Lent tends to be this sort of wilderness journey.  Traversing through places with which we are unfamiliar, places that perhaps do not feel like home, perhaps will never feel like home, gives us a new perspective.  Maybe we’re not called to make ourselves at home at all.  Maybe we’re rather called to continuously journey through newness, continuously open our minds and our hearts just a little bit more with each turn of the pathway.  I don’t believe that God calls us to stay planted where we are; otherwise, there wouldn’t be so many of these pesky wildernesses in the stories of faith and in our own lives.  You see, the wilderness is where we change our course, where the road turns if only one small degree and unsettled though we are, we turn with it and continue our journey.

But whether small or great, and no matter what the stage or grade of  life, the call brings up the curtain, always, on a miracle of transfiguration-a rite, or moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth.  The familiar life horizon has been outgrown, the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand. (Joseph Campbell)

 

FOR TODAY:  Look at your lives as if you were visiting.  What is out of place?  What doesn’t fit?  And what is calling you to change your course, to walk in a new way toward a new place?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Sometimes the Wilderness Blooms

Crocus in the desertScripture Text: Isaiah 35: 1-2

 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

 

Our walk in the wilderness has grown tiresome already. As far as we can look, there is desolation, drought, and despair. When is this going to end already? (Sorry…not even a third of the way there!)  But this passage is almost an interruption. We thought had it in our minds what the wilderness was. For us, the wilderness is a place to get through, to complete, to endure, a pathway to somewhere else. But maybe we’re not giving the wilderness the credit that it is due. After all, would God have created a complete wasteland with no redeeming qualities, no chance for hope? That’s not really God’s style. Maybe we’ve missed something. Maybe we’re trying so hard to overcome the wilderness and run through it, we’ve missed its beauty.

 

God does not wait until everything in order and the time is right to spring beauty into action. Every inch of creation, every wasteland we endure, has God’s fingerprints all over it. Every single piece is awash in God’s grace, even those whose beauty we cannot yet see either because our eyes have not adjusted to the light or because we have been clouded over with the old way of seeing. Can you see it? Or are we too busy rushing through it hoping that it will end? God’s voice is often out of place with what we see and know about the world. And yet, the desert wasteland is rejoicing in bloom. The passage says that the crocuses (maybe it’s croci) are blossoming abundantly, rejoicing with joy and singing. They abound with the glory of the Lord. We just have to give the wilderness a chance.

 

Maybe our problem is that we don’t trust first appearances. We want something that is tried and true, that perhaps has been around awhile and weathered all the tests. We want something that makes sense.  But this crocus pops up first. It is a first creation. And we’re not sure what to do. Is it a weed? Is it a flower? What do I do with it? It is God’s newness that at first glance seems to look a little out of place until it begins to gather its flock. (You know, I think that happened before for us. And, again, the world did not know quite what to do with something so out of place, something that so interrupted the way we think and the way we live.) So before we crucify any notion of beauty in the wilderness, let us stop and breathe and see it in bloom. Let us open our eyes and begin, even now while we’re wandering in the darkness, to see our resurrection (that’s right, not only THE Resurrection, but OUR resurrection) that is beginning to be.  Because, SOMETIMES even the wilderness blooms.

 

Our God is the One who comes to us in a burning bush, in an angel’s song, in a newborn child. Our God is the One who cannot be found locked in the church, not even in the sanctuary. Our God will be where God will be with no constraints, no predictability. Our God lives where our God lives, and destruction has no power and even death cannot stop the living. Our God will be born where God will be born, but there is no place to look for the One who comes to us. When God is ready God will come even to a godforsaken place like a stable in Bethlehem. Watch…for you know not when God comes. Watch, that you might be found whenever, wherever God comes. (Ann Weems, Kneeling in Bethlehem)

 

FOR TODAY: Stop and look for the blooms in the wilderness. What beauty do you see?