Now that You’re Here, What Will You Do?

road in desert
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/traitlinburke/2883054464/">Chalky Lives</a>

Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort.
“Comfort my people,” says God.
“Speak softly to Jerusalem.
And sing to her that she is free,
Her debt paid in full,
And she has received twice as much from God as she deserved.”

So a voice shouts:
“Make a road for God through the wasteland,
Make a highway for God run straight through the desert.
Fill in every valley.
Bring down every mountain and hill.
Level off he uneven ground.
Flatten the bumps.

“When it’s ready, the greatness of God will be obvious,
And everyone will recognize it in that instant,
Because God said so.”

A voice shouts:
“Shout it out!”

And I said,
“Shout what out?”

People are like grass,
They’re as flimsy as wildflowers.
The stalks dry up and the flowers wilt
When the wind of God blows on them.
Surely, people are grass.
The stalks dry up and the flowers wilt,
But what God says is permanent.

Go to the mountaintop,
Messenger of Zion’s good news,
And there shout out,
Messenger of Jerusalem’s good news.
Don’t be afraid to say it loud
To the cities of Judah:
“Here is God!
Here is God coming with power,
Arm upraised in victory,
Bringing the victor’s trophy,
God’s prize is God’s vanguard.

God will tend the flock like a shepherd.
God will gather the lambs in an embrace,
And hug them close,
And God will gently lead the ewes.

In spite of impermanence there is hope.

All we, like the wildflowers are here today and gone tomorrow. All we, like sheep, are just another dot on the landscape. And yet this poem has the audacity to claim that there is hope. Somehow, we are significant to someone somewhere. Someone cares. Cares enough to take up our cause, to make a way to us, and to lead us home again.

It’s an even more audacious claim now than it was then. Now we know that our existence is as one among the 7 billion inhabitants on the planet, and one planet among the billions scattered across the universe. Could it be true that some divine element or being “out there” has marked us, personally, for some kind of special significance? Or is the prophet merely hearing voices in his head?

Consider, though, that the occasion for this poem was the emancipation of a captive people. After being held in exile for a generation, they were being told they could finally go home. And that was, historically, something that happened that nobody had any reason to expect. It was an overwhelmingly fortunate turn of events. The kind of event that happens (or we hear about it happening to others) and we say, “Someone must have been looking out for us.”

A near miss of a traffic collision. A lucky break at work. No fatalities when a plane goes down in the Hudson River. Even the Goldilocks conditions of the universe that makes life possible on this planet seem to collude in a way that appears to replicate intelligence and care. (And this is the basis for the argument of intelligent design.) It’s the dream of hitting the lottery made all the more addicting because someone somewhere does hit the lottery every week with statistical certainty.

But for all the poem’s majesty and exaltation, the most compelling words are the question implicit in what’s sung tenderly to Jerusalem: Now that you’ve hit the lottery, and (however it happened) you’ve showed up on the planet with twice as much as you deserve, what are you going to do with it? How will you exercise your freedom, now that you are free?

Will you pay it forward, and make a road for someone else to get to freedom so they can sing too?

Who Do You Say that You Are?

superman
Photo credit: KlobeTime

Mark 8:27-30

Jesus took his students with him to Caesarea Philippi. As they were traveling, he asked them, “Who are people saying I am?”

They said, “Some say you’re John the dunker. Others say you’re Elijah. Others say you’re another truth-teller.”

He asked them, “What do you have to say about me?”

Peter said, “You are the anointed one.”

And so Jesus told them not to tell anyone about him.

It’s natural to want to know what people are saying about you. But, when you ask them, you might not like the answers they give you. Chances are, they won’t match what you think of yourself and, deep down, hope they see in you, too. And what “they” will say will likely reveal more about who they are than who you are.

In this short exchange, there are four answers to the question. Each of them reflects an understanding filtered through the different needs folks have for Jesus to fill. Some want a firebrand preacher. Others want a return to the good old days. Others want someone who will be the new charismatic guru. Peter (and the other students) have staked their fortunes on someone they think is the new King David, on his way to restoring the glorious theocracy of a thousand years before.

Each of these answers says more about those who give them than they say about Jesus. None of them, apparently, is what Jesus wanted to be said about him, because he tells them, “Just don’t tell anyone about me.” Jesus is the only one who really knows who he is. And that self knowledge was given to him one day back at the Jordan River. Any answer other than that one is a misrepresentation. And Jesus, like any of us, would rather not be misrepresented.

The problem for us when people tell us who they say that we are, is that we tend to believe them. And we end up trying to be who they tell us we are instead of being who we know we are. Or we give up pursuing what, deep down, we know is our calling. What we often fail to recognize is that when we give up our self-determination (because “it’s easier to just get along” with what others think we ought to be or think or do), we misrepresent ourselves.

Who do you say that you are?

Live Up to Your Calling

encouragement1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

You remember, friends, how hard we worked, how much effort we put in. We worked around the clock while we were telling you about Jesus to avoid being a burden on a single one of you. You know, and God knows, how upright, fair and innocent we were with you who believed. You know we treated you like a father treats his own children: urging you, cheering you on, begging you to live up to your calling from God, a glorious kingdom calling.

And we thank God all the time that when you accepted the divine message you took it in, not just as any old story, but as the divine calling alive within you that it truly is.

Sometimes we all need a little encouragement to do our best. Sometimes we don’t even know how much potential we have until someone points it out. And, if we look back to see where we came from, we can probably find at least one occasion when someone put a lot of effort into us, to tell us a new story about ourselves, that made us believe.

And sometimes, when we see the potential in someone else, it becomes our turn. To put some effort in. To tell a story that will make someone believe that there is more to them than meets their own eye. To urge, to cheer, to implore someone to live up to their calling. After all, it’s not just any old story. It’s the reason you’re alive.

[Bonus: Blessed is the congregation who has a Pastor whose calling is to do this. Blessed is the child whose parents and teachers do this.]

[Double-bonus: You might want to follow Paul’s example and say thank you.]

Be True

"to thine own self be true" tattoo1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

As you yourselves know, friends, our visit was no exercise in futility. In spite of having already suffered and of having endured the Philippians’ mistreatment, and in the face of stiff opposition, you know we were still brave enough to tell you the story of Jesus. So it’s clear that we’re not being deceptive, or underhanded, or trying to trick you.

But, upon examination, we have God’s seal of approval to share this message, and we do it regardless of whether people approve; we do it to be true to what God has put in our hearts. You know, and God knows, that we never used flattery, we never used the message to our own advantage, and we never asked for your praise or anyone else’s. We could have used our apostolic titles to demand special treatment, but we treated you like a nursing mother with her baby: tenderly. We cherish you so much that we’re determined to share not just the message but everything we’ve got with you.

You can agree or disagree with Paul, but the conviction with which he carried out his mission is out of the question. Paul will tell the story of Jesus:

  • No matter what anyone else thinks
  • No matter if he’s accused of doing it for his own advantage
  • No matter if people insult him for it
  • No matter if he is mistreated for it
  • No matter whether people receive it or not

You can disagree with his theology. You can take exception to his eschatology. You can berate him for his words that will someday be used to subjugate women, defend slavery, and condemn homosexuals.

But he does what he does “to be true to what God has put in our hearts.” And his example in that is worth repeating.

Consider: What is in your heart. What is it about you, that without that you wouldn’t be you. What is it that is yours alone in the world to do. And do that.

Be true to that:

  • No matter what anyone else thinks
  • No matter if you’re accused of doing it for your own advantage
  • No matter if people insult you for it
  • No matter if you are mistreated for it
  • No matter whether people receive it or not

In the end, you are responsible to God alone for being that expression of God in the world – for being the piece of the world that would be lacking without your being true.