How Will You Handle the Next Big Thing?

woman in mirror
Image credit: <a href="">Cornelia Kopp</a>

Luke 1:21-25

Meanwhile, the people outside were waiting for Zack, wondering what was taking so long in the sanctuary. When he finally came out, he couldn’t talk. Instead, he made gestures without saying a word, and they realized that he’d had a vision in the sanctuary. After his term of service ended, he went home, and Liz got pregnant. She kept the pregnancy secret for five months, telling herself, “God is up to something. God has blessed me, so that I am no longer an embarrassment to my family.”

When something big happens, it takes a while to adjust. But sooner or later everyone is going to know.

With Zack, everyone knew sooner. He couldn’t talk. It was pretty clear right away that something had happened. Certainly, Liz knew very soon that something had happened.

And that’s the other thing about something big happening. We may think of it as happening to us. But it’s bound to affect those around us. And then they will also have to deal with it, too. And the way they deal with it may not be the same as the way we do.

Zack’s big thing turned out to be such a major event for Liz that it took her five months to decide how to handle it. But five months is just about as long as you can hide a pregnancy. Then everyone knows. Eventually she decided it was a good thing. She wouldn’t have to put up with her mother in law riding her about when she was ever going to get grandchildren.

But it took time to figure out. She hadn’t been privy to the messenger’s revelation to Zack, and now Zack wasn’t talking. She knew God was up to something, but she was clueless what it was.

Nearly any big event, nearly any unexpected turn of events, has the capacity to be good or bad. Bane or blessing. And a lot has to do with how we respond to it. Sometimes we have a little time to mull it over. But respond we must. And quite often our response determines whether what has happened turns out to be a miracle or a curse.

What Would You Say If Your Prayers Were Answered?

girl holding globes
Image credit: <a href="">Cornelia Kopp</a>

Luke 1:8-20

It happened that when Zack was serving as God’s priest and his cohort was on duty his number came up (as was the custom of his order) to take a turn to burn incense in the sanctuary while all the people gathered to pray outside. And while he was in there, one of God’s messengers appeared to him next to the altar of incense. Zack was terrified, shaking in his shoes, when he saw the messenger. But the messenger said, “Don’t be afraid, Zack.” God has heard your prayers, and your wife Liz will have a son. When he’s born, you must name him John. You’ll be so happy! And so will many other people be glad, too, because he’s going to do great things for God. He must never drink anything alcoholic. Even before he’s born he’ll be a special spirit. He’ll bring a lot of Israel’s people back to God. He’ll go in the spirit and power of Elijah, so that parents are reconciled to their children and the wayward will return to their senses. He’ll get the people ready to meet God.”

But Zack said the the messenger, “How can I know that you’re telling me the truth? Look, I’m old and my wife is no spring chicken either.”

The messenger answered, “I’m God’s man! I know God personally, and I’ve been sent with this great news for you. But since you’re unwilling to believe me without proof, even though what I say is as good as done, your proof is that you will be mute until the day it all happens.”

What would you say if your prayers were suddenly, against all odds, answered?

Serious question.

Would you, like Zack, wonder whether it was really too good to be true? After all, we’re often told, “If something’s too good to be true it probably is.”

Would you, like Zack, be shaking in your shoes, but still, somehow, have the courage to talk back to the messenger of the good news? And what would you say?

Would you, like Zack, be so stymied by it that you couldn’t say anything at all?

Would you believe it? And would you live your life differently because of it?

Here’s my hunch. Things happen. Even a lot of wonderful but improbable things happen. All the time. People make unexpected recoveries from serious illnesses or injuries. People who haven’t been able to have children have them. People win the lottery. People land their dream jobs. People sometimes get a gift certificate or cash in the mail at a moment when they really need it. All this happens. People call them miracles.

But they’re not really miracles. They’re just improbable things that happen. They only become miracles when they change the people they happen to for the better. If they go back to living life as they always lived it, it’s just an unlikely thing that happened. If they don’t believe it enough to use what happened to make any difference, it’s just an occurrence.

That’s my hunch. But maybe you’ve experienced a miracle. What was it like? How did it change you? How will your miracle, like the announcement of John’s birth, change the world?

Do tell.

What Will You Do with What You’ve Got?

blind man
Photo credit: Rollan Budi

Mark 8:22-26

When they landed at Bethsaida, the folks there brought a blind man to Jesus and hounded Jesus about healing him. So Jesus took the blind man and led him by the hand out of town. Jesus rubbed some spit on his eyes and asked, “Can you see anything?”

The man looked around and said, “I see people. They look like walking trees.”

So Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes again, and this time when he looked again his sight was restored, and he saw clearly.

“Now, don’t go back to the village,” Jesus said, and sent him directly home.

First, the Pharisees (legalists) wanted a miracle. Then the disciples (students) wanted a miracle. Now, as they disembark, the village people want a miracle.

Unlike the first two cases, though, Jesus obliges here. Why?

In the first two cases, there was no point. Either it was an obvious setup, or it was ignorant selfishness. And, in this case, too, it’s pretty clear that all the people really want is to see a show. Bread and circuses.

In this case, there really is a point. The blind man. The villagers regard him as nothing but a nuisance on most days, and today perhaps their ticket to see something entertaining. A pawn. An expendable person. But to Jesus, there is no such thing as an expendable person.

But. Jesus takes him out away from the town to do this. He refuses to satisfy the crowd’s lust for entertainment. Just as it’s not about bread, neither is it about circuses. So, the blind man sees, but the villagers who wanted to see miss out. And, the blind man sees clearly, as opposed to Jesus’ own students who he has just chewed out for being too blind to see what Jesus was doing.

Adding to the impact of Mark’s assertion that he saw clearly, for the first time in the gospel someone who has been healed and ordered not to tell, doesn’t. He doesn’t just see. He gets it.

For the third time, it’s not about the miracles. It’s about what you do with what you’ve got.

Bread on the Water

Image credit: theilr

Mark 8:14-21

They left so quickly that his students forgot to bring the bread, and on the boat they had only one loaf. Jesus told them, “Watch out and be alert for the yeast of the legalists and bureaucrats.”

The students said to one another, “He’s upset because we forgot the bread.”

But Jesus knew what they were saying, and said, “Why are you always thinking with your stomachs! Don’t you get what just happened? Are you all that dense? Are your hearts all made of rock? Are you so blind that you can’t see this? Are you deaf? Weren’t you listening back there?

“Tell me if you can remember how many baskets of leftovers you had when I broke those five loaves and fed those five thousand people?”

“Twelve,” they said.

“And when I broke the seven loaves for those other four thousand, now many baskets of leftovers were there?”

“Seven,” they said.

“You guys just don’t get it at all.”

Those first followers didn’t get it. And 2000 years later most of the church is still trying to catch up with Jesus.

It’s not about the miracles. It’s really not. It’s not about being short on supplies to feed yourself. It’s about confronting the powers and systems (and the people who run them) that grind people down. The point of the feeding of the multitude is that when you’re doing the work, the resources will be there.

The legalists and bureaucrats wanted a miracle. Jesus could care less about the bread. Jesus has just told them to be alert against thinking like the legalists think. And now the disciples want Jesus to do one for them! Not for the cause, but as a substitute for their carelessness. Is it any wonder Jesus is a little frustrated with them?

Modern disciples are prone to the same kind of thing. Like praying on the night before a big exam instead of studying. Like the church that prays that someday enough young families will suddenly appear in their sanctuary, join the church, and tithe. Pray, sure. But don’t substitute prayer for doing the work.

Do the work. Confront the powers. The bread will come.