Look for God Beyond the Borders

woman standing on a cliff in the wind
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/squeakywheel/2255524253/">squacco</a>

Acts 1:6-8

When his disciples reassembled, they asked Jesus, “Master, are you going to restore Israel’s independence now?”

“First, God only knows when that will happen, and you’re not in on that decision,” Jesus said. “But when you get God’s spirit you’ll have the power to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and everywhere.”

Even after the resurrection, the disciples haven’t figured out that this whole Jesus thing isn’t about Israeli independence. Jesus’ response, “Only God knows… and you’re not in on that” is as much as to say, “forget about it.”

Instead Jesus tells them when they do realize where God’s spirit is taking this, it will lead them from where they are (just outside Jerusalem), beyond their own national borders (Judea) into a worldwide phenomenon (everywhere).

Against our tendency to reduce God’s activity to our own private bubble of concerns and issues, Jesus was always pushing us – and is still pushing – to realize that it’s not about us. At least, not just about us. If the spirit of God is really upon us, our circle of concern (and involvement) will always be widening.

[Bonus: This passage, if you’re looking for one, is the reason why Christian nationalism (doesn’t matter what nation) is bunk.]

Going Home Isn’t Always Easy

pedestrian and traffic through a rainy window
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sbh/552164278/">Stephen Heron</a>

Mark 6:1-6

Leaving there, he went to his hometown. His students went with him. On the holy day he began teaching in church. Many who heard him were surprised. They said, “Where’d he pick up all this? Where’s this wisdom we heard about? And where are all the big miracles we heard he could do? Isn’t this Mary’s son, the handyman, Jim’s and Joses’ and Judas’ and Simon’s brother? And here are his sisters, too!” They were totally offended.

So Jesus told them, “People who tell the truth are honored, except when they’re in their hometown, with their family in their own home.” Except for restoring a few sick folk, he couldn’t do anything significant with them. He was exasperated with their disbelief.

Sometimes the people who are the hardest to deal with are the people you know the best. It doesn’t mean you love them any less. It just means that doing what you’re called to do when they’re around is exponentially harder. Even exasperating.

Because they know you, or think they know you, they’re more invested in your being who they are used to. Changing their perception of who you are or what you’re about can be threatening to them. Either they have a vested interest in the way you were, or they know if you’ve changed then perhaps they will have to change too.

Then there is the matter of credentials. Sure, you may have gone off to that college and picked up a fancy degree or two. But they knew you when you were a high school goof-off. No matter how famous Jesus becomes, with the home crowd he’s still just “the handyman” and always will be.

When you find yourself in that kind of tough home crowd situation, here’s the good news.

In spite of the home crowd’s opinion, you can still be who you are called to be. You can still do significant work. It’s harder. But it can be done. Even in the face of their offense, Mark reports that Jesus was able to restore a few sick folk. It’s not as much as he would have liked. But it was something. They may think they know you. But they don’t. And their opinion about you is only binding if you let it be. Jesus knew who he had become, and he stuck with it. If he could do it, so can you.

You’ll Know It When It Happens

girl swinging through hydrant mist
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/senor_codo/1512627595/in/photostream/">Señor Codo</a>

Mark 1:4-11

So John showed up in the middle of nowhere, dunking people in a river telling people to straighten up because it’s time to break free. People came from everywhere, even from Washington DC, to renounce their misdeeds and get cleaned up in the river.

John dressed in ratty coveralls and leather suspenders. He kept to a strict vegan diet. And his message: “Get ready for someone so cool I’m unworthy to even tie his shoes! I just got you wet. He’ll set your life on fire!”

That was when Jesus came. He arrived from Nazareth and John dunked him in the Jordan River. As he emerged from the water he saw the universe as it really is, and he felt it resonate to his core: that he was God’s precious child, and God was joy.

[See also previous comments: let Jesus set you on fire (Nov 28, 2011), walk away from what keeps you down (Oct 6, 2011), and redefining baptism (Oct 7, 2011).]

Baptism might just get you wet. Or it might just change your life.

In itself, there’s nothing magical about a dip in the water. Even if it’s a religiously motivated one, with a formal liturgy, specially blessed water, godparents, and the whole works. What makes it special is what you do with it after you get out of the water.

Talk about baptism almost inevitably leads to arguments about what the proper way to do it is (immersion, sprinkling, pouring) and when is the proper time (infancy, childhood, teenagers, or full-grown adults), and whose name is invoked and how (see this week’s discussion of Acts). But really, baptism doesn’t have to follow any formula or time or semantics at all.

Whether or not there was any water involved at the moment it happened, your baptism is when you realized who you are at your very core and you accepted that realization with joy. So much joy, that as difficult as it may have been (and still be), it’s impossible not to live the rest of your life out of that moment.

Jesus Will Set You on Fire

on fire
Photo credit: Eva Garmendia

Mark 1:1-8

It all started with Jesus, the child of God.

Isaiah the truth-teller wrote:

Watch! I’m sending it out on the early warning system so you will be ready –
A clear signal breaking through the noise:

“Get the road home ready.
Straighten up!”

So John showed up in the middle of nowhere, dunking people in a river telling people to straighten up because it’s time to break free. People came from everywhere, even from Washington DC, to renounce their misdeeds and get cleaned up in the river.

John dressed in ratty coveralls and leather suspenders. He kept to a strict vegan diet. And his message: “Get ready for someone so cool I’m unworthy to even tie his shoes! I just got you wet. He’ll set your life on fire!”

(See also, previous comments on this passage, October 6, 2011.)

The clear sign of Jesus being in the house is when people’s lives catch on fire. Not the kind of fire that gets people all hyped up for an hour on Sunday morning and then they can go back to whatever they were doing before. Not the flash-in-the-pan kind of fire, like your Uncle Max who always has a new thing that he’s really excited about, and everybody knows that nothing’s ever going to come of it.

When your life is on fire the way Jesus sets it on fire is when your inspired to do something great and stick with it for the long haul. Something that really will change people’s lives. Maybe even change the world. It could just as easily be teaching kindergartners at the school down the street as it could be digging wells somewhere in Africa. It could be feeding people dinner every night as easily as launching the next iPad. It could be getting on a bus to Washington for a demonstration, or it could be running for town board at home.

Like John, you show up. Maybe in the middle of nowhere. And you start helping people put their lives back together, or maybe build them for the first time. Wherever they come from. Whatever their patchy past may have been. Whatever your patchy past may have been.

And when that happens. It’s really cool.