Posted in Different Scriptures, Uncategorized

the waters…

Matthew 14:22-33 doesn’t seem like a “Baptism Passage”. But as it involves Jesus, water, and our relationship to them, it spoke to me recently. The disciples are out on the water, in the middle of the night, being tossed in some waves. I know there are many of us who love being out on the water. Many of these men were fishermen, who were very comfortable on the water – and they were used to being out there all hours of day and night.

Yet as comfortable as they were on the water, as we read of Peter’s fear in verse 30, we realize there is still a sense of fear involved in the uncontrollable forces of nature. Throughout scripture, there is something important that happens to water from Genesis to Revelation…and this moment is just one of those transformational moments.

In Genesis 1:2, we read “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

There wasn’t much yet, except what God had brought into being. The Spirit of God hovered over the waters of chaos and formless-ness. We see water being symbolic of mysteries, even death, and sources of fear and unknown. We see this in the stories of Noah and the floods, or as the parted waters return to vanquish the armies of Pharaoh in the story of Exodus.

But listen to what happens to our relationship with water by the time our story with God reaches Revelation 22, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life* with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Let that reality sink in for a moment. How wonderful and hope-filling does that sound? But here in today’s scripture, and here in today’s broken world of 2022, we are not there yet. We live as a community in a way that proclaims the incoming of that future reality. In moments of Baptism, we join with Peter and Jesus, transforming our relationship to the waters.

First – Jesus enters the scene as someone who is able to walk on the waters.

Think about the sources of chaos, fear, mystery, and all the things you can’t control. The things in your life that you wish you could overcome, and “walk over” in ways that they have no power over you. We look to Jesus, walking on the water, and we are filled with hope. We join Peter in calling out – “Let me join you.” Jesus extends a hand to us, and says “Come.”

But as we look at Jesus, we see not only His Lordship, but also His sacrificial Love. We realize that even though Jesus could have “walked on water” his entire life, he didn’t. He purposefully dove under the surface of our human experience, allowing the waters to overtake him with everything they could.

The Second thing I see – Jesus, who could walk on the waters – chose to enter into them. Literally, he was baptized by John. But also figuratively – in the compassion of God, he chose to “suffer with” us, as one who felt the pain and brokenness of living within a world impacted by sin. He experienced the worst of what this world offers, and was even put to death in one of the most shameful ways that existed…and then rose again, victorious over all of these forces.

The Third thing I want to point out – is that this Jesus who walked on water, yet chose to enter the waters – is the same Jesus who says “follow me”. He doesn’t say it to you individually – he says it to each of us together as a body also. “Church – follow me.”

There is so much symbolism in baptism, but it’s important for us to know these moments were always about community, and becoming part of the body of Jesus. It’s the path toward entering into the local community of the body of Christ in a tangible way. We enter through the waters of “dying to our self”, and “coming alive in Jesus”. We give up our identities, and the claims we had to becoming whatever it was we previously wanted for our own sake. We often do this for our children also, when we have them baptized at younger ages, saying “This is the identity of our family.

We become literally “The people who have passed through the water.” We enter into that which used to symbolize mysterious forces of death, chaos, and formlessness…trusting that we will emerge as New Creations on the other side. The waters of death have become the waters of cleansing & New Life. We lay down our lives, relinquishing all things, for the sake of coming alive as God’s Flesh. When we take our first breath after coming up for air, we are like newborn babies gasping for breath for the first time. No longer our own, we are now part of this community of those who have died to self.

Some of this sounds so desirable, even those of us who were baptized long ago may think to ourselves, “Man, it’s been a while and I’ve sinned since then – I want to go through it again.” To those of us having these thoughts, I want to encourage you – there’s no need.

When you come alive as those “New Creations” who have entered the community of believers, we have joined with Jesus who has conquered and brought freedom from all sin. Just like welcoming someone to a “Surprise Party”, it’s fun to watch them enter and yell “Surprise!”, but the point is the banquet and celebration itself. We are now a community where forgiveness reigns. Where reconciliation and redemption are our native language. Where shame has no power, because we are all in need of God’s grace.

Here among us, the waters no longer represent death because death has no power.

(Let the Church be a living “Amen”.)

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Posted in Different Moments, Different Scriptures, Uncategorized

the dirt…

Whether you’re a young person who’s just returned from a summer “Youth Camp/Retreat/Conference” experience, or you’re a little older and still reminiscing on those days, there’s a draw to a particular response. It’s natural. The response we often have is “Oh my goodness, that was a great experience in the presence of God, I wish we could recreate these conditions for all of my future experiences!” It’s good for us to know – we’re not the first ones to feel this way. We shouldn’t feel shame for having such a response. When God meets with us in a particular way, the temptation is to connect strongly to that “way”.

When Sarah and I first started dating, she wore a uniquely fuzzy coat. I remember walking her to her dorm on one of our first dates ever, and giving her a hug “goodnight”, wrapping my arms around the fuzziness of that coat. Just a few weeks later, as I was home on Christmas break, I saw a men’s winter jacket that had the same “fuzziness”, and you know I just had to get it. Even far from her, when I wrapped my arms around myself, I was reminded of that hug and looked forward to seeing her again. It’s part of how God has wired us. The neurochemical responses that form long-lasting memories (especially involving music/singing) connected to our “bonding/attachment” experiences can be a blessing.

Today’s lectionary reading from scripture gives us a similar story. Namaan was a commander in the army of Aram, who’d just been miraculously healed by obeying Elisha’s instructions to bathe 7 times in the waters of the Jordan river. He was saturated in these waters of a particular experience and found himself having a renewal and healing as never before. God was faithful, and released Namaan from the chains of disease. Namaan was grateful, and wanted to make sure he had access to this same experience as he went home. In his culture, gods were often tied to particular areas geographically, so it made sense for him to make this request:

“Then Namaan said… ‘please let two mule-loads of earth be given to your servant; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord.” (2 Kings 5:17)

He wanted to bring some of this holy ground home so that any time he desired an experience of this God who met him in the waters of the Jordan, he could. We don’t have the response of Elisha recorded, but I wonder if he looked with compassion on Namaan as he helped him load up some dirt.

Imagine if I returned to campus after Christmas break, so thankful for my new fuzzy coat. Whenever I missed Sarah, I could wrap my arms around myself and be thankful for the warmness of such memories. But how sad it would be, if I was so contented/taken by feeling that coat around me, that I never pursued building a relationship or creating new memories of love together with her. It’s a silly illustration, but I hope you’re seeing the connection. How pitiful it would be if we came home, and tried really hard to replicate the transformational moments, missing out on the God who wants us to be aware of His presence in every moment and every location. God desires that we would not seek special moments with him alone, but abide with Him as He transforms every moment with Kingdom purposes (John 15:5).

We can be thankful for the experiences we have had of God, and even have moments where we wrap our arms around such experiences in the future. We should definitely remember these moments, and testify about them to others as we share what God has done. But let us not pursue the ground we stood on. Let us pursue the God who we met on that ground. The good news is – this is the same God who has promised to meet with us wherever we seek Him. (Proverbs 8:17) In fact, scripture says that God rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

May we seek Jesus and His Kingdom today, taking each step in the knowledge that we are entering a space He desires to make holy…

Posted in Different Scriptures

are we willing to be unnamed?

In one of this weeks’ lectionary passages, we find the story of the prophet Elisha being used by God to anoint Jehu the next King over Israel (2 Kings 9). But he doesn’t go anoint Jehu himself. He calls one of the prophets who serve with him, and sends him to do it. He tells him to hurry, and communicates the urgency of the situation. Once Jehu has been anointed, he tells the prophet, he must run away quickly as well. Which makes sense – if you’re anointing a new king while another king still seems to be on the throne – you should get a safe distance away, quickly.

This is an important moment in the history of God’s people, as He begins to bring judgment on them for straying so far. There are difficult moments of restoration ahead. But here in these passages, we hear the foreshadowing of Jesus being welcomed as the new king in Jerusalem, even while other powers still seem to reign (Matthew 21:8). 2 Kings 9:13 pictures Jehu’s fellow officers throwing their cloaks under his feet as he walked, proclaiming & welcoming him as the new king.

It was such an important moment. It was included in the stories we have, that were passed down for generations. We tell the story of the prophet still today, as he obeyed Elisha for what he had been called to do. No big fuss was apparently made, even though this would have been a dangerous mission. If caught, he would likely face accusations of treason, if he survived long enough to do so. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the name of the prophet wasn’t passed on in the story.

Today, God continues to invite us to speak and live according to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We are empowered by His Holy Spirit in ways that bear fruit (Galatians 5) that is useful for doing so. This is not as we strive to “discover what is already within us”, as popular as that may sound today. This happens as we abide in Jesus, who is the vine from which the fruit of the Spirit arrives (John 15:5). We may be the branches who bear fruit – but the life of that fruit did not, and could never originate within us. Bearing such fruit is often subversive, as the ways of the Jesus’ Lordship are so often at odds with the ways of this world. Sometimes that means we should do our part, and get out of the way quickly as God continues His work.

There are times God calls individuals to be named in ways that reveal His glory within their particular story. When Jesus healed the man who’d been possessed by demons in Mark 5, he told him to go and share his story. Because of their relationships and knowledge of the man – “everyone marveled” at what Jesus had done.

But sometimes, as in today’s passage, we only know what is necessary. Someone was obedient. Someone responded to what they were called to do and because of it, the purposes of God were advanced in important ways.

Are we willing to be that “someone” today, who lives in response to the Love and Lordship of Jesus, even if they don’t get credit? Will we bear fruit for the kingdom, offering what grows – even if those who consume will only offer credit to the vine – not the branch?

May we live today in ways that proclaim the name of the King, no matter what that means for our own name…