A moment of choice

I feel it is essential to study and spend time with the events that transpired leading up to the Resurrection of Jesus. It is a beautiful time for me, with all the pain and suffering, to see the events unfolding into joy. This year, as I was contemplating the moments before the crucifixion of Christ, the individuals who each played a role in these pivotal moments struck me. In Luke’s account of the story, these are the players I see:  

  • The chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death.
  • Judas, who after Satan entered him, went to the chief priests and officers and agreed to betray Jesus for money.  He later joins Jesus and the disciples at the Passover meal.
  • Peter and John were sent by Jesus to find and prepare a place for them to meet and eat the Passover meal together.
  • A man carrying a jar of water leads Peter and John to a home.
  • The owner of the house offers his guestroom for the gathering.
  • The apostles spend time at Jesus’ final meal disputing which one of them is the greatest.
  • Simon Peter, in fear, denies knowing Jesus three times and yet Jesus tells him he will pray for him and that Peter will turn back and strengthen others.
  • A disciple, in fear and haste, strikes the slave of a high priest and cuts off his ear.
  • Three people point Peter out and say he is one of the followers of Jesus.
  • The men who held Jesus ridicule and beat him.
  • Pilate, finding no fault in Jesus, sentences him to appease the crowd. 
  • Herod, who questioned Jesus, found no guilt, then with his soldiers mocked and treated Jesus with contempt, put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate.
  • Barabbas escaped his own death only because of the uproarious attention on Jesus.
  • Simon of Cyrene, who by happenstance was traveling in the area, was called to carry the cross behind Jesus.
  • The women were mourning and lamenting for Jesus.
  • One criminal hanging next to Jesus derided him and told him to save all of them.
  • The criminal on the other side said they deserved to die, while Jesus did not and faithfully asks Jesus to remember him in the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • The people cast lots for his clothing.
  • People stood by watching.
  • Leaders sneered at him and said, “If he is the Messiah let him save himself.”
  • The soldiers mocked him and offered him sour wine.
  • The centurion, after witnessing the events of the day, said, “Surely, this man was innocent.”
  • Joseph, a member of the council who did not support the plan, asked for Jesus’ body to see Him properly buried before the Sabbath.
  • Women prepared the spices and ointments for his body.

In Luke 22:22,Jesus says, “The Son of Man is going as it has been determined.”  

And I wonder, have all of these people been predestined for their roles all along?  Was there any other option for Judas other than to be “Judas the Betrayer?”  Did the man who offered the room to the disciples have the opportunity to say no?  Are our lives predestined and we just are who we are?

I have to believe we make choices every day.  The choices we make are based on our predisposition, our personality, and our experiences.  How do we make sure we are like the man who leads the disciples to the house and like the owner who welcomes them and offers a room?  Can we decide to be like Peter who after repeating bad behavior recovers and leads others to Christ?  Can we be like Simon who assists Jesus with his heavy burden?  Can we decide not to be like the many people in the story who were deliberately or maybe even accidentally malicious?

I believe we can.  We have the gift of the Scriptures.  When we open our hearts and minds to the truths revealed in God’s word not only do we begin to understand the truths offered to us there, but also, the love of God becomes part of our personal experiences.  I don’t think the people in this story got to the place they were by accident.  They arrived there by choice.  They chose to believe in and follow the truth, the truth of flawed humanity, and a perfect plan for redemption.  They chose Love.

​A moment for walking

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“Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” Mark 2:8-12

Why were they so amazed? People get up and walk all the time.

Many years ago I was told by someone, “You don’t reward someone for doing what they are supposed to do.”  When I heard this, I was at first taken aback, but then I somewhat bought into the idea. Recently this perspective has been brought to my attention again, and I realize how much my viewpoint has matured.  I now know, there is no love, dignity, honor, or faith, in that statement.

We are not all equally capable of everything.  We are each made up of strengths and weaknesses.  Sometimes our weaknesses get the best of us, and we become convinced that that is all we are.  Jesus, in this story of healing, first addressed the inner-weakness in the person brought to him by saying “Your sins are forgiven.”  All the things that make you feel less than worthy, all the things you have done that make you feel ashamed, all the things you are that you are not proud of.  They are gone, now get up and walk.

Letting go of our “sins” is difficult if not impossible on our own.  We often need a formal release from the guilt or punishment we inflict on ourselves or others.   We are not given an explanation of what this man’s sins were.  Jesus does not list them and then check them off.  He incontrovertibly says “the past is the past now go forward.”  What a gift to have such release!

Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Mark 2:3-5 

For a person who is mentally paralyzed by sin, shame, depression or fear, healing is complicated.   The person who needs healing must let down all the preconceived notions of self-sufficiency and allow others to lead them to the place where healing can begin.  This act in weakness is also a moment of considerable strength.  It is a moment of humility for the individual, and yet it takes courage to acknowledge the need for help and to receive it.  Those with the strength to help must treat this person and this moment with love, dignity, honor, and faith.  The barriers of judgment and pride must be removed, and openness to love and healing must take its place.  In this story, Jesus saw not only the faith of the man but also the faith of his companions.   A moment of unity in the desire to encounter Christ produced a perfect reward for everyone.

“they were all amazed and glorified God”

When was the last time you were amazed?

Take a moment today to celebrate the simple acts of others.  It might be more difficult for them than you know.

 

A moment/A gift

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Jacob said, “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor. Please accept my gift that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have everything I want.” So he urged him, and he took it.  Genesis 33:10-12 (NRSV)

I celebrated my 50th birthday this month.   I don’t like making a big deal of my birthdays.  And, though this was a decade birthday and I passed the half-century mark, I thought it would be no different.  But, somehow in spite of my determination to minimize it, this birthday, even as it approached was actually a big deal to me. My mom passed away at 50 from cancer.  I don’t think of myself as a person who worries or frets about things,  but it is interesting how our minds don’t always cooperate with our wills. As I approached my 49th year, I became fearful.  I was afraid for my health and started imagining illnesses. I was worried about my children if they were to lose me too soon, as I lost my mother.  Then, as time went on, I began to accept my vulnerability, and my heart opened to it. I thought of how difficult it must have been for my mother to tell her children goodbye and trust that we would be okay.  I thought of many other relatives who have loved me in my life and are now gone.  I began to ask myself some big questions.  What have I done with my life?  What do I want to do differently, better, or not at all in the minutes, days, weeks, months, or years to come. My 49th year was a bit selfish as I asked myself these questions, but my boundaries became much better defined.

As a result of the past year, the day I actually turned 50, I was overwhelmed by how much I still felt the love of those who have come and gone from my life; grandmothers, aunts, family friends.  In the days around my birthday, I decided to spend time cultivating love within myself and sharing it with everyone I encountered.  Imperfectly, of course, we cannot always be at our best.  But as my intention to love was increased, the love I felt increased.

One of my favorite things to do is taking a hike in the mountains.  With a dear friend and the gift of good weather, I embarked on a walk that took my breath away.  We were surrounded by God’s presence and the beautiful gift of His creation.  It was a perfect day!  Every bend in the path revealed a new breathtaking view.  The longer we walked, the smaller I felt in the vastness of the mountains.  And yet, God’s love for me and all His creation to the most minor detail was more evident than it had been in a long time.

All this is the backdrop for the gift I was given two days later.  My husband, knowing how much I don’t like too much attention, wanted to do something special for my 50th.  A sweet friend shared an idea, and my husband pulled it off.

At lunch with family and friends, he presented a wrapped shoe box.  If you have ever tried to gift wrap a shoebox you know this in itself is impressive!  When I lifted the lid and lifted the layers of tissue, I was overwhelmed.  The box was full of cards, notes, and emails.  The first was a copy of the email he sent to many of our friends and family explaining why I wasn’t having a big party, and requesting that they share a birthday note to me.  I couldn’t even finish the email request without tears, and in a restaurant by the way.  My husband kindly took a handful of the funny ones, and we passed them around the table with laughter.  Thank you to all my friends who understand and appreciate my humor and who in turn share theirs!  It has been two weeks, and I have not yet made it through the whole box.  I read one at a time allowing a moment for the tears of joy and for the love of friends and family to soak in.

I share all this as an expression of gratitude to my dear friends and family.  I would be lost without you!  Thank you for your gift to me!  Also, because I know it is not easy, I share this to encourage those who are afraid.

Love.

You are beloved.

Be vulnerable.

Allow love to soak in deeply.

Love heals the past, enriches the present and is our greatest gift to the future.

Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart,
and the pleasantness of a friend
springs from their heartfelt advice.  Proverbs 27:8-10 (NIV)

 

​A moment for questions

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So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”   John 20:25-27 (NRSV)

As many of us do, I live with a heart like Thomas, asking “show me.”  What specifically am I asking for?  In the Bible, there are many stories where the proof is shown.  Am I asking to see the wounds of Christ? Am I seeking a burning bush, a rainbow or to be swallowed by a whale until I have an understanding?  Maybe really I am just asking for some clarity.  How important is it that I believe in God and Satan or burning bushes and rainbow promises.  It doesn’t seem likely that we will ever have the privilege of the certainty that Thomas received.  So, what can we be sure of?

Perhaps more important than certainty is being able to recognize love and hate and to know that good and evil do exist.  We may never see a burning bush, hear the audible voice of God, or be swallowed by a whale.  But we can recognize the power of love, the peace that comes after a storm, and the push of our conscience to follow our gut.  Sometimes the stories in scripture frustrate me because the literal interpretation makes them implausible.  The intended message, however, is not.

When I see the sadness in the world, I think “There can’t be a God,” and the despair I feel brings me back to the story of Thomas. The disciples gathered in a house after his death.  They were full of the desperation they must have felt for the loss of Jesus and the leadership they had come to rely on.   Jesus entered and in the act of love and understanding showed Thomas his wounds and offered comfort.

The absence of God leaves despair, and the presence of God brings peace.  That is clear enough for me.  God is Love.  Jesus shows us what love looks like.  By our loving each other and bringing comfort and peace and we remove doubt and despair.