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Behold the Lamb

April 22, 2011 2 comments

Through this lenten pilgrimage I’ve been thinking about “pressing into this world.’ I used to think of the words “press in” as a spiritual intensity of pressing into the things of God, the things of the Spirit, the supernatural. The Scripture reveals God pressing into to His own creation. In the pain and struggle of our world, we want to escape the flesh and rest in a spiritual state. But God is often calling us into the middle of struggle, pain and brokeness. Even though we want to run away. This little meditation is a poor attempt at reflecting on the movement of God into the corruption of His beloved creation. 

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

The Word has become flesh and dwelt among us. He is here. The One in Whom and through Whom all things were created has come.

Behold Jesus in the midst of His people.

He Who Is before Abraham stands among us. The Son of God pours His Divinity into our humanity. He’s not a phantom. a spirit. a fading vision. He is God and He is Human and He is here with us.

Behold Jesus the Marvel of God become Man.

He walks our roads, eats our food, drinks our wine. He is Holiness in the middle of our earthiness. No one-not even priest or prophet– can stand in the unapproachable Holiness of Our Lord, and yet He is here. Eating, drinking, living in the midst of these less then holy ones. He Who dwells in the High and HolyPlace is living among the profane. He enters our problems, pains, and failures, abiding in the midst of broken people,

Behold Jesus pressing into the weakness of our lives.

In the middle of the day, the Light of the world penetrates our shadowed lives. Our secrets are not safe. Our darkness cannot overcome His Light.

Behold Jesus in the very midst of our shame.

His words and actions confound, confront and confuse. The powerful are threatened by this would be prophet. The Sadducees are scandalized. The Pharisees are furious.

Turn away from Jesus who challenges our tradition.

He gathers followers, incites the crowds, rejects the authority.

Turn away from Jesus who destabilizes our world and threatens our future.

He is captured in a garden in the middle of the night. Even while he’s tried for blasphemy he  disrespects the High Priest.

Turn away from Jesus who embarrasses his own disciples.

Peter cannot claim this lord but denies him, despises him, curses any connection with him.

Turn away from Jesus who is less desirable than the most despised.

Barabas is more worthy, more desired to be released than this, this blasphemer who brings shame to the nation.

Turn away from Jesus who is stripped, mocked, and hung.

Don’t look. Run away. He has no form that should make us desire him. This creature writhing, gasping, dying is the shame of all humanity.

Turn away from Jesus who darkens this creation.

The sun will not shine. He’s immersed everything on the earth, above the earth, and below the earth in darkness.

Turn away from Jesus who bears the blackness of all depravity.

God looks away as the utter corruption of all history hangs in the balance. Jesus exhales, expires, exclaims, “It is finished.”

Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.

Categories: Lent

Building Altars, Digging Wells

April 15, 2011 3 comments

Abraham lives life en route.

He lives in between.

In between the encounters with the Lord.
In between the encounters with kings.
In between the promise of the son and the arrival of the son.

Life is mostly waiting in between.

His life is a travel journal. Always moving. Looking. Searching. Longing for a city, for the place of promise.

Just around the next corner. And the next. And the next. The holy city of God is always just out of reach. Just beyond humanity’s grasp.

He wanders and waits.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy once said of his time served in World War 1 that most people don’t realize the single greatest struggle of the soldier: boredom. In the war to end all wars, Huessy says vast amounts of time waiting. Waiting for orders. Waiting to move forward. Waiting.

What to do?

Remember back to the hot August summer days of childhood when the neighbors were gone on vacation. No one to play. A long hot day of waiting.

Life sometimes feels like that long hot day.

In the soul-sucking heat of that day, Abraham does what he has to do to survive. He builds altars and digs wells.

When life is stretched so very thin and human frailty becomes so very real, Abraham builds altars. He worships the One who took him from beyond the river. Worship is like breathing.

For the good God sustains his beloved people, and all we can do is lift up hands and offer thanksgiving.

Breathe in, breathe out.

Every breath is gift.

Breath in, breathe out.

The way may be unclear. The days may seem long and hot. The promise may seem long in coming. But the simple gift of breath continues.

Breathe in, breathe out.

In the waiting, in the long pause, Abraham worships. He becomes living song unto the One God who rescued him from the world that was collapsing under its own decadent blindness.

Abraham, the friend of God, believes, trusts, awaits the coming of the faithful One. While he waits, he digs wells.

Come and drink.

Beneath the desert runs a river of life. Abraham drinks the sweet water of that river and refreshes all those who live under his care.

Come and drink.

In the soul choking dryness of stark landscapes, water is life. So the people gather at the wells. The well becomes the center of the community.

Come and drink.

Long before his three guests, Father Abraham plays host to many a thirsty wayfaring one.

Come and drink

He wanders. He worships. He waters the dry land and the dry people.

We are Abraham’s children. We’ve been caught up into Christ. And yet, we still wander across fierce landscapes.

When the heat burns deep into our soul, let us not grow faint, but fall back into Love. Let us breathe the fresh air of praise and drink the sweet cup of communion.

Abraham on the Unfamiliar Way

April 14, 2011 2 comments

Remind yourself, when you wake to a strangeness
of foreign lights through blowing trees
out the window of yet another hotel,
that home is only where you pretend you’re from.
What’s familiar sends you packing,
watching for “some lost place called home.”
You’re from wherever you go.

Rod Jellema

One morning you wake to a world that is unfamiliar. Suddenly you’re an alien. Rod Jellema captures this sense of unfamiliarity in his poem “Travel Advisory.” He starts out in a foreign hotel, among foreign people and the sense of strangeness we feel. He ends by reminding us that when we return, we are still not home.

you’re a citizen of never was a place.

Remember not to feel too much at home.

Abraham leaves Ur and never returns home.

He is searching for a city “whose designer and builder is God.” He dies en route. Abraham’s life is a sojourn through the unfamiliar.

Being in an unfamiliar place is uncomfortable. In the “Journey of the Magi,” T.S. Eliot’s wise man returns home from the nativity and encounters an “alien people clutching their alien gods.”

In an unfamiliar place, we may hear similar sounds and see similar sights, but we know we are not at home. Maybe the language is different. Maybe the customs are different. The roads are surely different.

All the familiar markers are gone. Unfamiliar places can be the ground of adventure, but they can also be the ground of disorientation. We may get lost. We may loose our sense of direction.

We may lose control.

When we step off the plane, we may step into an alien city. Then again, we may step into an alien city in our own hometown. A job loss, a job gain, a marriage, a divorce. One change ripples through our world, and suddenly the familiar haunts grow unfamiliar. We are lost.

In the land of the unfamiliar, our sense of control slips away. We may battle loneliness, a sense of isolation, even a sense of loss. Suddenly, we realize our vulnerability. Life is tenuous. We are so very thin.

God calls Abraham into a lifelong journey across an unfamiliar way.

We walk the same path. In Christ, we know the way, the truth and the life. And yet, we see so dimly. Our Savior saves us from ourselves by calling us into the way of trust and out of the way of control.

Our methods, systems, paradigms fall before the Lord of glory.

In this place of letting go, in this place of self-abandonment, in this place of unfamiliarity, we discover.

We discover the strangeness of grace. The odd refractions of God’s love, enclosing, surrounding, sustaining us.

We gain new eyes to see the world afresh. What seemed like security was slavery. What seemed like love was control. What seemed like success was a momentary glimmer of a fading star.

In the place of unfamiliarity, we become children again.

We learn new words.

We sing new songs.

We play new games.

Unfamiliarity may become a garden of innovation and creativity.

Abraham leaves the land Ur and gives birth to a new race, a new people, a new world. Thomas Cahill suggest that Abraham is the father of the Western world. Time and space  as we know change because Abraham walks away from the never-ending cycles of Ur and enters into a world of possibility, of newness, of a real future full of surprise.

If you woke up today and suddenly everything seemed unfamiliar. Don’t panic. The Lord of surprise may have called you out of comfort into a whole new world of possibility.

to be continued.

Categories: Lent

The Call Out of Comfort

April 13, 2011 2 comments

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. (Genesis 12:1 ESV)

Abraham leaves the world he knows and steps out into the unknown. Genesis tells us that God tells Abraham to “Go!” Later, when Joshua recounts this journey we hear that God took Abraham out of the land.

And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac.
(Joshua 24:2-3 ESV)

God calls Abraham. God takes Abraham. Both happen at the same time. This suggests the call of Abraham may have been more dramatic than a simple invitation. The call of God is often cloaked in crisis, dissolution, and collapse of all our comfort places.
Sometimes our Lord stands at the door and knocks. Sometimes he comes like a thief in the night. When you hear someone say that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman never forget that this gentleman is a wind and a fire that may blow your house down and immerse you in His living flames.

We may sometimes speaks of spiritual formation as a series of disciplines like prayer, Bible study, fasting and the like. These are helpful and certainly patterns that we see in Scripture. But let us never assume spirituality is trapped within our scope or definitions. All of life bleeds into one.

Our spiritual life is our family life is our business life is our personal journey of “self discovery.” God is no respecter of the categories we create and use to control our lives. He breaks in anywhere and everywhere with His burning fury.

Consider Father Abraham.

Abraham comes from Ur, the wealthiest city-state in the world. The residents of this world seem safer than those who live at the edge of existence. These civilized people have structures of support that assure their daily bread, their security, their self image.

Abraham is called to leave this behind.

He is taken out of this land, this culture, this world. He is called to live in the land of the people who live at the edge of existence. He leaves behind the world that guards his identity, his control over life, his survival. He is sent to a land that his offspring will inherit.

Much of his life is spent waiting and waiting and waiting for the promised offspring. He never owns the promised land and dies with only a burial cave to him name.

Abraham’s journey into nowhere is way of rescue for a world that is collapsing. Ur is dying. Unlike Sodom, it’s not being bombarded by fire from heaven, but it’s dying nonetheless. Before we even learn that the Lord calls Abraham out of the land of his fathers, we find out that his wife Sarah is barren. In some ways her, barrenness represents the end of the culture. Ur still appears to be thriving, but it is fading and eventually fades away completely.

Ur is trapped by cyclical thinking. As a past-oriented culture, they believe they are re-enacting some type of drama in the heavens. Ever person simply plays the role in culture they are supposed to play just like their father and his father before him. Abraham breaks the cycle. He leaves.

The businesses, cultures, and systems that seem so secure and successful have no enduring quality. Our spiritual journey is often the story of stripping away of supports that seem firm but ultimate have no enduring quality.

We really are on journey, traveling across a wilderness. Look around. What seems permanent is temporary and fleeting. Whether you’re surrounded by the comforts of life or struggling to survive, remember that you are on journey. You are moving.

The struggles and the successes are temporary signposts.

God is calling you. God is taking you.

He is leading us from faith to faith. He is leading us from love to love. Though the way seems clouded and unclear at times know that He is leading, He is guiding, He is sustaining.

to be continued.

(My friend David Legg ends his writings with the subscript “to be continued.” There is always more to say but it may not be the time to say and we may not even be the persons to say it. )

Categories: Bible, Lent

Children of Abraham

April 11, 2011 3 comments

This is a teaching from Lent 5.
The Children of Abraham
John 8:46-59
Doug Floyd
April 10, 2011

James Jordan says that the Bible was written by a musician, but it’s been interpreted by lawyers for the last 500 years. Like a fugue, Scripture opens with a theme that is revisited again and again through the text. Genesis opens with a repeated rhythms of day 1, day 2, day 3 and so on. Throughout the story key songs interweave to form a multilayered composition that we are still unfolding in all its brilliance.

When reading through the Gospels, I sometimes hear a jazz ensemble in the background. Matthew lays down a steady beat with a cool tune exploring an expected birth that still comes as surprise. Luke joins the sweet sounds with a variation on a theme and adds to the surprise with another birth that comes unexpectedly. But then some minor chords from the song of Herod’s rampage break in with discordant strains that threaten the melody line.

During Epiphany, we focus on the great melody that surprises, delights, and fills with the wonder of God become man. This song seems to fully flower on Transfiguration Sunday, sending light beams of peace and love in all directions. During Lent, we pay more attention to those minor chords, playing a tune with a threat of discordance.

If you listen to those discordant sounds, the hints keep reappearing. Immediately after the baptism, the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to face the tempter. Think about that for a moment. The Spirit comes down and the Father speaks, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Right after this moment of glorious authentication of Jesus’ life and ministry, the same Holy Spirit drives him into the threat of the evil one.

Those minor key’s in Herod song resound in the “Satan.” Or rather, we discover the true singer of discordant songs, the evil one. His song works against the theme, attempting to question, challenge, unravel the glorious melody at every point. After Transfiguration, the discordance becomes more pronounced.

In fact, the stories are a bit jagged. Think of the debates between Jesus and the Pharisees in John. Instead of the sweet miracle stories, we hear fighting words back and forth, back and forth. The dialogues are almost irritating, unsettling. A certain dissonance moves toward center stage.

As Jesus and the Jews argue, we hear a clash of sounds. Disruptive. Unsettling. In the dialogues of John chapter 8, we hear this clash, this discordance all too clearly. Jesus and the Jews both seem to be arguing about their respective fathers. He speaks of His Father, and they accuse him of being a Samaritan and having a devil.

They speak of their father Abraham, and Jesus retorts that while they may be the offspring of Abraham, they look and act more like their father the devil.

It used to bother me how Jesus seems so aggressive in these stories. He’s not the kind and gentle Jesus we’ve all come to adore. C.S. Lewis has said that kindness can kill. In the “Problem of Pain” he writes, “Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object – we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.”

Jesus is not always kind but he is always loving even when his love has an edge: a double edge to be exact. His word pierces “to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 ESV).

In the confrontation with the Jews, Jesus speaks as Emmanuel, the “Lord with Us.” The Lord comes in judgment and finds these people wanting. Their blind and cannot behold the “Light of the World” who stands in their midst. His very presence is judgment on their blindness, their hardness of heart, and the dangerous containment of their enclosed world.

When God breaks into that world, he is not welcome. But Abraham welcomed the God who breaks in. Abraham obeyed. Abraham beheld. And Jesus says that Abraham would have rejoiced to see this day.

As we read this stark confrontation, let us pause and give thanks to God who has given us eyes to see Jesus and lips to proclaim “Jesus is Lord.” We cannot make this confession of faith outside the grace of His Spirit. We cannot grasp why, but in His loving grace, the Father has drawn us to Jesus and sealed us with His Holy Spirit.

In Christ, we have eyes. In and through Christ, we behold the goodness of the Lord. By the sheer overwhelming grace of God and through faith we have become the children of Abraham. As his descendants, let us pause think more deeply about Abraham’s song of faith, his life of trust, his longing to see the fullness of God’s promise that would one day be fully unveiled in Jesus.

He starts out as Abram living in the land of Ur. The land of plenty. Ancient Ur built a thriving civilization, sustained a successful and wealthy people, enjoyed the riches of the land. Ancient Ur was also a self-contained world sealed off from the voice of God.

God breaks into this world and commands Abram to “Go you forth!” The word “lech lecha” means Go! or Go forth! It only appears in Genesis 12 and Genesis 22. Both times it refers to the command of God to Abraham to “Go ye forth!”

In Genesis 12 we read,
Yhwh said to Avram:
Go-you-forth
from your land,
from your kindred,
from your father’s house,
to the land that I will let you see.
I will make a great nation of you
and will give-you-blessing
and will make your name great.
Be a blessing!
I will bless those who bless you,
he who curses you, I will damn.
All the clans of the soil will find blessing through you!1

The Lord breaks into this self-contained world and calls Abraham to leave. In Joshua 24:3, we read that God “took Abraham from beyond the River.” The command of God seems to have come with force. Again and again in Scripture, we behold a God who comes and calls His people with dramatic force.

Abraham must leave behind his identity, his comfort, his people, his civilization. He is called to an uncivilized world of barbarians, and he is promised land and descendants. Not simply descendants but a great nation that will impact all nations. Yet as we read the story, we discover a problem. Abraham never gets the land. When he dies he own one tiny plot of land, the tomb where he is buried.

There is also a second problem. Sarah is barren. In some ways, the barrenness of Sarah and Abraham may image the world they are leaving. While Ur wealthy and strong, it is in decline. It is barren. It has no power of the future. It will eventually cease to exist.

Abraham and Sarah are called to future promise with visible signs of the promise. They spend their lives as nomads, trusting the call of God. Their needs are met. The Lord prospers them with great wealth and cattle and servants but the promise of land and descendants is slow in coming.

Finally after many years of wandering, the Lord gives them the child of promise, Isaac. Through Isaac the Lord will fulfill His promise to Abraham of making him a great nation. God breaks in yet again with His command to “Go you forth!”

In Genesis 22 we read,

Now after these events it was
that God tested Avraham
and said to him:
Avraham!
He said:
Here I am.
He said:
Pray take your son,
your only-one,
whom you love,
Yitzhak,
and go-you-forth to the land of Moriyya/Seeing,
and offer him up there as an offering-up
upon one of the mountains
that I will tell you of.2

Before Abraham was called to leave his past behind. Now Abraham is called to leave His future behind. Isaac is spared, but the story reveals God’s demand upon Abraham: he must live in naked trust before the Lord. He lives as a friend of God and in relation with God. His hope is not in past identities and future dreams but in the Creator who sustains him moment by moment.

If we follow the story in Genesis 22, we’ll notice an emphasis upon seeing. By God’s grace Abraham has moved from hearing to seeing. As a man of faith, who has learned to trust in faithfulness of God, Abraham has learned to see, and he does rejoice in to see the day of the Lord’s appearing.

Now if we view Abraham’s whole story, we’ll notice several dramatic encounters with the Lord. We’ll notice several adventures that Abraham lives through. But if we think of the long period this story covers, we may come to see that Abraham had a few encounters with Lord but was called to walk out in obedience to the command with long stretches of no words, no encounters, only promise: a tentative promise of land that Abraham never fully realizes and a slow in coming promise of descendants.

In one sense, much of Abraham’s story is a story of waiting. Waiting. Waiting. What did he while he waited?

In the beginning of his story, we notice that he built altars wherever he went. In Isaac’s story, we see the same pattern. So this pattern of building altars was still going on as he raised Isaac. So Abraham builds altars while he waits. Isaac’s story also tells of unplugging wells that Abraham dug.
So Abraham wanders through the wilderness following the call of God. All the while, he is building altars and digging wells. The altar is the place of worship. The place of acknowledging his dependence on God. The place of offering thanksgiving.

The well is place of sustenance. In a wilderness area, a well can mean the difference between survival and extinction. This place of provision also becomes a gathering place. If we follow the image of wells through Scripture, we discover people gathering in community at the wells. Several people meet their spouses at a well.

As Abraham follows the call and waits on the promise, he worship God and sustains community. As the children of Abraham in Christ, we should hear and see the Lord calling us even in the life of our father Abraham.

For we also live in the land of Ur. Like the ancient Jews and the people of Ur, we live in a self-contained world that has little room for God. When writing our current culture, Louis Dupre exclaims, “Culture itself has become the real religion of our time, and it has absorbed all other religion as a subordinate part of itself. It even offers some of the emotional benefits of religion, without exacting the high price faith demands. We have all become atheists, not in the hostile, antireligious sense of an earlier age, but in the sense that God no longer matters absolutely in our closed world, if God matters at all.”

We live in a world of practical atheism that has no room for God. It is in this world where God breaks into our lives with his command to “Go you forth!” In following our Savior, he may lead us away from comfort, security, old identities. He may call us a land of promise that we cannot see.

Much of the life of faith may be spent following a call that seems as though we are gazing through a glass darkly. We may not understand the story we are in or even the part we are really playing in God’s grand design. And much of our lives may be spent waiting. Waiting upon the Lord. Waiting for His promise. Waiting for His guidance. Waiting for His grace.

In this place of waiting, let us heed the simple discipline of our father Abraham. Let us build altars and dig wells. Let us cultivate a life of thanksgiving and worship to God in all things. When we eat and drink and work and play, let us lift up praise unto the Lord. Let us worship in the assembly of God’s people. Let us heed the words of Scripture. Let us draw near to the table of the Lord.

At the same time, may we also dig wells. Let us live in and sustain communities of faith. We need one another. We need to hear one another, face one another, love one another. Let us offer our bodies as living sacrifices unto the Lord and serve one another humbly in the grace of our Lord.

Even as we struggle and wander and wonder when the Word of the Lord will be made sight, let us rest in His faithful love. He is making us into signs. As living witnesses before a dissonant world, we are echoing the harmony of His love, His grace, His goodness. We are truly caught up in a song of praise, and He is assembling into a vast symphony of praise unto our God and Creator. Blessed be His name.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 Fox, E. (1995). Vol. 1: The five books of Moses : Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy ; a new translation with introductions, commentary, and notes. The Schocken Bible (Ge 12:1–3). New York: Schocken Books.
2 Fox, E. (1995). Vol. 1: The five books of Moses : Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy ; a new translation with introductions, commentary, and notes. The Schocken Bible (Ge 22:1–2). New York: Schocken Books.

Categories: Bible, Lent

Jazz Gospel

April 4, 2011 1 comment

Jazz Ensemble (Photo used by permission viz Creative Commons by JanetandPhil)

When reading through the Gospels, I sometimes hear a jazz ensemble in the background. Matthew lays down a steady beat with a cool tune exploring an expected birth that still comes as surprise. Luke joins the sweet sounds with a variation on a theme and adds to the surprise with another birth that comes unexpectedly. But then some minor chords from the song of Herod’s rampage break in with discordant strains that threaten the melody line.

During Epiphany, we focus on the great melody that surprises, delights, and fills with the wonder of God become man. This song seems to fully flower on Transfiguration Sunday, sending light beams of peace and love in all directions. During Lent, we pay more attention to those minor chords, playing a tune with a threat of discordance.

If you listen to those discordant sounds, the hints keep reappearing. Immediately after the baptism, the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to face the tempter. Think about that for a moment. The Spirit comes down and the Father speaks, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Right after this moment of glorious authentication of Jesus’ life and ministry, the same Holy Spirit drives him into the threat of the evil one.

Those minor key’s in Herod song resound in the Satan. Or rather, we discover the true singer of discordant songs, the evil one. His song works against the theme, attempting to question, challenge, unravel the glorious melody at every point. After Transfiguration, the discordance becomes more pronounced.

In fact, the stories have a bit of an edge. Think of the debates between Jesus and the Pharisees in John. Instead of the sweet miracle stories, we hear fighting words back and forth, back and forth. The dialogues are almost irritating, unsettling.

As the music moves toward Golgotha, the melody is virtually lost in the dissonance. The sounds sound more like noise. Voices shout. Mobs growl. Fists raise. The form falls. The song dies. Discord rules.

But then, suddenly the major chord kicks ups in full brilliance and the melody overwhelms with complete resolve. All we can do is cheer.

As we focus on the minor scales of Lent, life may seem to be playing the same troubling song. Discordant sounds encircle. Our world may reverberate like the chaos of crisis resounding from the evil one.

People hurting. The world in confusion. Problems with no answers.

Stop a moment and listen.

Listen.

Beneath the roaring cacophonies, a sweet melody still plays. It keeps playing and playing, steady unyielding, upholding, moving toward complete resolution.

If you’ll listen, you’ll hear echoes of a Choir surrounding the Risen One.

We’re waiting in hope for the great resolution. Though tarries, we don’t fear. We don’t lose heart.

We wait and listen.

Really listen.

This tune’s got a great beat and you can dance to it.

Categories: Lent, Music

Jesus Opens Blind Eyes, Deaf Ears and Mute Lips

March 28, 2011 3 comments

Jesus Opens Blind Eyes, Deaf Ears and Mute Lips
Lent 3, 2010 – Luke 11:14-28, Ephesians 5:1-14
Doug Floyd

This is a teaching from Lent 3.

In our Ephesians reading today, Paul exhorts us to “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Christ loved us. Gave Himself up for us. Gave us His Spirit to make us lovers in His Image.

We are images of God, and we are on a journey toward the fullness of love.

We are on festal journey. We travel toward a great feast, in fact, the greatest feast of all. But first, we pass through the desert. In some ways, Lent may likened to the journey through the valley of the shadow of death on the way to the feast of feasts. We follow in the steps of Christ Jesus, who for the joy before him endured the cross.

He calls us. “Take up your cross and follow me.”

During Lent, we pay particular attention to this command that always resounds before and within us. We meditate upon the desert places. We reflect upon the wilderness temptation, and the fight with the evil one. The Spirit led our sweet Lord into the wilderness to be tested. He leads us into wilderness places to test us, to teach us, to perfect us, and to glorify us. Today, some of us are truly immersed in a wilderness passages and times of great struggle. Others in our company are enjoying fullness of soul and times of great victory.

We enter the Lenten journey from different places. Some know first hand a barrenness of soul, the ache of God’s refining fire. Others know first hand the sweet bliss of God’s renewing love.

From our different places, we come together on Lenten journey. Paying heed to the rhythm of descent and ascent. There is a time to break down, a time to weep, a time to mourn, there is a time to die. During Lent, we pay heed to these times and to our weakness and desperate need for a Savior.

Like the Children of Israel, we are learning that “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the Lord.” We are all catechumens. We all stand before the Lord, waiting, listening, trusting His Spirit to “sound down” His Word into our hearts.

Today as we wait and watch and listen, we meet Jesus casting out a demon. Verse 14 of Luke 11 reads, “Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled.”

This verse captures the heart of our story.

Jesus speaks, the demon flees, the mute talks, the crowd marvels.

Jesus speaks,
the demon flees,
the mute talks,
the crowd marvels.

Even as the crowd marvels, there are voices of dissent. Some people cry out, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul!” Others cry out, “Show us a sign that you are truly from heaven.”

Even as the people behold Jesus casting out the mute demon, they do not see. They cannot see. They are blind. Blind to the Sign in their midst. Jesus Himself is all the Sign needed. Jesus Himself is YHWH in the midst. But they are blind.

So very blind. They call the Lord of Glory, the servant of Beelzebul. The intoxication of sin has blinded them, and they cannot see.

They cannot hear. The Word of God is fully enfleshed in their midst. But they cannot hear him.

He declares, “The kingdom of heaven has come upon you.”

For centuries, their people waited and watched and longed for the coming of the kingdom. For centuries, they cried aloud, they called out, they looked for the Messiah. Now the one and only King has come, but they cannot see, will not see. They cannot hear, will not hear.

They even fail to speak. For as Jesus casts out the mute demon, they do not open their lips and offer praise to the Most High. Instead, they curse and challenge. Their words fall like dead letters to the ground.

Jesus, the strong man, has come to drive out the demons and take his spoil. Jesus, the strong man has come to gather His people unto Himself, but these people want to scatter.

He warns them of their own perilous condition. Their houses, their lives, their souls may appear to be swept clean, may appear to be righteous, may appear to be holy and true, but in fact, they are in utter peril. Without the strong man to protect, deliver, restore and heal them, their law-keeping cannot protect them from the evil one who comes to ravage their souls.

Earlier Jesus exhorted His listeners to ask, seek, knock. Earlier Jesus encouraged His listeners to ask the Father to send the Spirit. But these people choose to heed the serpent instead. They’ve waged a war of words with the only Lover of their souls.

Even those who are sympathetic to the work of Christ, fail to see. A woman cries out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!”

Jesus replies, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!”

The Word of God is true meat, true drink, and true life for the soul. But the blind cannot see this bounty. The deaf cannot hear of this treasure. The mute fail to ask and fail offer thanks for these good gifts of God.

Like their ancient ancestors, many in this crowd will die wandering at the border of God’s Promised Land.

Lord Jesus, have mercy, come and save us your sinners as we trod these dry and dusty paths. Have mercy as we ourselves fail to see, fail to hear, fail to speak. Have mercy and save us from dying of thirst before the fountain of life. For You alone have the words of eternal life.

When Jesus speaks all creation stands in rapt attention. His Word cannot, will not return void. For all things are created in and through Him. And in Him alone we live and move and have our being. His Word is the water that springs from the Rock, quenching our thirsty hearts. His Word is the sweet milk and honey fattening our souls. His Word is the wine of comfort and wisdom in our hour of need.

When Jesus speaks, the demon flees. The church has often understood desert wastelands as places where the demons inhabit. These are the places outside of God’s promised land. Again and again, God’s people cross these fierce landscapes on their way to the holy city.

In these wild places, they face temptation. They face struggle. They face trial. In these forsaken haunts, they find solace and strength only in the True Bread and True Wine flowing out from the Word of the Lord. In these desert valleys, they also discover their own blindness, deafness, muteness.

Jesus meets his people in these desert valleys and opens blind eyes, deaf ears and mute lips.

Jesus gave Pearl Fryar eyes to see. He gave him eyes to see the wonder of the world all around him. Mr. Fryar lives in Bishopville, NC. He’s a simple man. He worked at a soda can factory for most of his life. One day in the 1980s, he began to see. As he passed the local nursery, he saw a pile a dying plants being thrown away.

He saw something else. He saw that these plants could live. The nursery allowed him to take home the plants they threw away. Mr. Fryar wasn’t trained in Horticulture, but he could see. He could what these plants could be, might be, would be. With his loving care, over many years, these plants would not only live but thrive and become glorious.

This man saw the goodness of our Lord’s creation and planted a garden of Love, Peace and Goodness. He literally planted these words at the heart of his garden. He created shapes out of plants like hearts and squares and circles and swirls. He created a garden of wonder, of playfulness, of joy.

His vision changed his lawn, his city, his state and has even impacted his nation. Newspapers and television stations from across the country came to behold this wonder. Art museums, schools, churches and families came to walk through his garden of love.

Mr. Pearl began see and now many people travel from around the world to come and see a simple garden through his loving, worshipful eyes.

Jesus gave St Anthony ears to hear. Walking past the open door of a church, he heard the voice of the preacher repeating the words of Jesus to the rich young ruler, “Sell all you have, give to the poor, and come follow me.”

So he did.

He walked away from the comforts of the city and followed Jesus into the dangers of the desert. He was not running away, but running to. He was running to the voice of the Lord. And the Lord called him into the wastelands of the world.

So Anthony went into to the heart of darkness, feasting only upon the Word of the Lord.

If you’ve read the tales, you know the story. He faced all sorts of evil spirits and torments. But our Lord was faithful. Our Lord sustained Him, strengthened and gave him the victory.

Anthony heard the Lord and followed. Generations of men and women continue to follow Anthony into the wilderness, planting communities of faith in the wasteland.

Jesus gave the ancient Celts lips to praise God. They trained their tongues to praise the Lord, using the Psalms of God’s people. When they wrote a poem, they began by writing a psalm of praise unto the Lord.

Then they praised the birds of the air, the water below, and the tree before. All the time, the praise of God echoed through every poem. They praised the king, the warrior, the farmer and the mother.

In every word of praise, a double sound went forth: praise to the creation and the creatures as well as praise to the Lord Most High. They are still singing.

Bobi Jones, a 20th century poet, began to praise every person and place around him. He looked at a dreary bus conductor and wondered how can I praise this almost lifeless man? And then he did. Bobi writes,

A Bus Conductor

There’s no mystery in him: I put my hand
In his heart,—knock: I saw how sickly
Living was. Black-framed glasses, jaunty, shallow,
As grey-faced as a shop’s passion.
……………………………………………….
He knows nothing but a bus. “Tickets please.”
To death, to sweetheart, to agony.
A person’s a shilling, and two pence change.
“Tickets please” to the springtime, to autumn—
Stop. Oh Christ-where-there’s-no-field-without-scar,
Red-without-blood, trees-without-roots! Nothing but a bus!

Under slate-coloured brows, his eyes are dust
Lacking the explosion of seeing, lacking the taste of looking,
lacking.
Is God to be found in them?
……………………………………………….
Oh God: bus, pools, food, pint, boys, cash, grave.
What shall we love in him? Unless love the lack.
The lack that anchors everyone. Since we all give loaves
And fishes to Christ, and He turns them into an immense creation.

Pearl Fryar had eyes to see the glory of the Lord in the plants around Him. St Anthony had ears to hear the call of Christ in the desert places. Bobi Jones had a song to sing to world around him.

Oh that we might see, might hear, might speak.

During this Lenten journey, we focus on the Lord’s calling into the wilderness. The Spirit is leading, guiding us through the perils of the desert. He leads us through the valley of the shadow of death.

This deadly valley saps our strength. The deserts and struggles of our lives humble us, expose us, defeat us.

We grow weary. We lose heart. He is not faithless. He will not forsake.

The desert reveals our blind eyes. We no longer see the wonder of the Lord all round us. We fail to see his goodness and see only our losses, our needs, our disappointments.

The desert reveals our deaf ears. We no longer hear the vital life of His Word. We think it has grown dull. It is we who have grown dull and fail to hear the Power of God that booms out from His Word.

The desert reveals our mute tongues. We have no praise to bring Him. Instead of new songs, we sing old songs of complaint and despair.

In the midst of our struggles, Jesus speaks. He speaks to you. He speaks to me. He frees us from the power of the evil one.

He calls out,

“Awake, O sleeper
Arise from the dead
Christ will shine on you!”

In our weariness, He comes. In our struggle, He comes. In our lack, He comes. In our faithlessness, He comes.

He comes with healing in His wings.

Come Lord Jesus open eyes to behold you, to behold your glory in all creation, to behold your Image in the people around us.

Come Lord Jesus open our ears to hear. To hear your voice in the Word, in liturgy, and in the path you’ve called us to walk.

Come Lord Jesus open our lips to praise.

O for a thousand tongues to sing our Great Redeemer’s praise!
O come let us worship God our King.
O come let us worship and fall down before Christ our King and God.
O come let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself, our King and God.

In the name of Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Categories: Lent

Bearing the Name in Babylon Pt 3

March 11, 2011 1 comment

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
(Numbers 6:22-27 ESV)

Becoming the Blessed Peace
In this blessed assurance we rest in the midst of wild animals encircling the wasteland, then we hear yet another blessing, “the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Even as God’s people stand face to face with the enemies of God, they are enveloped in the favor and peace of God.

Daniel faces the cold, cruelty of Babylonian rule as he falls into a den of Lions. But he can Sabbath while surrounded by vicious animals. They are at peace for the Shalom of God is in their midst.

Daniel reminds of us of yet one more mystery concerning those who bear the Name. The Name Bearers, the Children of God, the Favored Ones, bear the Name on behalf of the enemies of God. Just as Jesus fully bears the Name before the enemies of God, thus removing the enmity between God and man, Daniel bears the Name before those who oppose the Holy One and removes the enmity between them and God. Nebuchadnezzar repents. Darius calls out to Daniel and then to the Lord Most High.

When the faithful fall into Babylon, the Glory of the Lord does not depart from them. Instead, they bear the Glory as Shining Lights in the midst of a dark land. When God’s people are dispersed and driven into the desert places, they build a city of refuge. The Lord sends them out to bear His Name in dark places, and they become peacemakers, joymakers, lovemakers.

Think of the woman Jesus meets at the well. He speaks the word of life, convicting her while restoring her. She immediately runs to her village “bearing” good news. She becomes a joymaker, a peacemaker, a true lovemaker, revealing the Good, Good News of Jesus Christ.

Like this blessed woman, like the faithful shining out in Babylon, we realize that we shine out in place where we are standing. In Christ, we bear the weight of the Holy Name, we behold the Shining Face, we become the Blessed Peace. Living in and through His blessing, we become His blessing in the midst of wasted and warring places.

Categories: Lent

Bearing the Name in Babylon Pt 2

March 10, 2011 3 comments

Beholding the Shining Face
The Lord also promises to “make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” Even as the faithful fall into Babylon, the promise of His Shining Face remains. Ezekiel beholds this Shining Glory on the banks of the Chebar canal. Standing alongside the captives, in the midst of the dark land, Ezekiel beholds the glory of the Lord.

This is the glory of the holy mountain coming down into the valley of the shadow of death. Moses is called up the mountain to behold the glory. It is from this place of beholding the Lord that Moses speaks the Law and proclaims the Word of the Lord to the Children of Israel.

In obedience to the Lord, Israel builds a Tabernacle and later a Temple where the glory of the Lord will dwell among His people. This glory is His favor, His intimacy, His presence. The Tabernacle and later the Temple serve as Mountains of the Lord. In fact, the Temple is built on Mt Zion. For the mountain is the place where man ascends between heaven and earth to behold the glory of the Lord.

This is the Aaronic blessing that the LORD “make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” Long after the Temple burns and the mountain is far, far away, Ezekiel beholds the Shining Face. The blessing of the Name,the burden of the Name is the promise of God’s faithful presence even in the place of judgment. His people may enter into judgment of captivity, but He will join them in the land of the alien gods.

His Ever-Shining Face glorifies His people even as they suffer in the land of darkness. Paul knows the glory of the Shining Face in persecution, in suffering, in prison and even in despair. In 2 Corinthians, he expounds the depths of his suffering and wasting away while at the same exalting in the glory of the Shining Face that grows ever brighter even as Paul is growing ever weaker.

The desert, the prison, the dark places cannot extinguish the promise of His Shining Face, his gracious love that covers us, sustains us, renews us, and glorifies us. Though we face death all the day long nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

Categories: Lent

Bearing the Name in Babylon, Part 1

March 9, 2011 2 comments

Deserted (used by permission via Flickr)

When Jerusalem falls, the faithful fall alongside her. Their homes are burned, their treasures are lost, their families are taken into captivity. Those who heeded the words of the prophets stumble alongside those who ignored the words of the prophets. They bear the judgment together.

They bear the Name of the Lord on the banks in Babylon. They carry the weight of His Glory even as while stumbling into the wilderness. The Name of the Lord is not a magic talisman to ward off suffering and pain. It is the gift of Covenant with the Most High even in the midst of the desert waste places. Over 1,000 years earlier, as the Children of Israel crossed the wilderness into the Land of Future Promise, the sons of Aaron were instructed to put the Name of the Lord upon the people.

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
(Numbers 6:22-27 ESV)

A dark day comes when the faithful few must leave the Land of Future Promise behind. They walk by way of the wilderness into captivity. Jesus also walks by way of the wilderness into captivity. The Spirit leads Him into the wasteland to be tempted. The Spirit leads Him into the captivity of the tomb.

When Jesus invites His disciples to “follow Me,” He invites them and us to follow Him to the cross. He calls us to follow even when the sky darkens, the land trembles and the future promise fades.

He calls us to follow where we do not want to go. I think back the faithful few walking into the jaws of Babylon. They carry the weight of God’s three-fold blessing:

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Bearing the Holy Name
The Hebrew word for bless carries the idea of the kneeling. The blessing is much like the giving of a name. The people kneel and receive a blessing, a naming. The good parent names their child with the hopes of seeing the child grow into that name. The name is a word of praise, a word of goodness, a call.

In one sense, our names call us forward into the future. My parents called me, Douglas. When I hear the name called, I respond. The name calls me. And in the end of my life, the name will be filled with the content of my life.

At the same time, my father also recognized me as his son, and gave me his family name Floyd. Thus I am part of a family that reaches across time. Douglas Floyd bears both the particularity of my own life and the connection to a greater whole, a people who preceded me and will live after me.

In much the same way, the Children of Israel bear a particular name as well as the Name of the Lord.

In Egypt, the ancient Hebrews are slaves. Nameless ones. Fatherless children. The Lord names them, “Children of Israel.” His naming is a blessing. His blessing is a calling. His calling is so effectual that no power can resist, not even the god Pharaoh can stand in the way. In fact, those who try to stop the call or prevent the call (including Pharaoh) are destroyed in the process.

This is the power of the Name. The Lord “calls out” His people, Israel. Over the centuries, they will fill out this Name and give it content.

At the same, the Lord gives this people His Covenant Name. They are part of a greater whole, the “called out” family of faith across time and space called to bear His Name. They have no image of the Lord. Only the Name. They bear the Name as His children.

When Jesus comes, He bears the Name completely. He fulfills the name of Israel and the Name of the LORD in His life, death and resurrection. This royal name of Israel can finally be understood in light of Jesus.

Jesus also calls out a nameless people. These people are not slaves in Egypt, but they are slaves to evil and corruption. He calls them out from every tribe and nation. They are the “ekklesia,” the called out ones. He names them as his own, as his friends, as his chosen ones:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
(John 15:16 ESV)

His disciples then and now are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. They are named as His own and He will keep them–even through the baptism of fire. Those who bear the Name of the Lord bear it into the midst of a world that is out of order, bear into the heart of struggle and suffering, bear in the face of the enemies of God. But the ever faithful Lord promises to keep them. He will guard them, seal them, protect them and lead them into glory.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
(Jude 1:24-25 ESV)

Categories: Lent
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