Monday, March 25, 2013

Holy Week through Mary's Eyes

Seeing what was to come, [David] spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear…“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”  (Acts 2:31-33, 36-39)

Mary Fifteen Years Later
[Scene: It's Holy week, 15 years after Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. Mary, Jesus' mother, is sitting quietly on a rock in an olive grove. Most of stage is dark with a spotlight on Mary. A young teenage girl walks onstage into spotlight finding Mary lost in thought]

Girl: (relieved) There you are Mary. We've all been looking for you. You had us worried.
Mary: I'm sorry dear. I've just been sitting here thinking and I guess the time got away from me.
Girl: Thinking about what?
Mary: I was just lost in the past. Let's go before worry turns to fear and wild imaginings.
Girl: You were thinking about him again. I know. Tell me about him.
Mary: What do you want to know that you haven't already heard?
Girl: What was he like as a child?
Mary: He was just like any other boy - loud and playful, often to my exasperation. But oh how I loved his laugh--the sound of his laughter always tickled my heart and made me smile.
Girl: But...wasn't he...special?
Mary: My girl, someday you will find out that every child is special in his mother's eyes. But yes, he was special as he was conceived in me by God--our promised Messiah. But really, it was so very easy to forget that when he was fussy with illness or asking a stream of endless whys until my patience was nearly gone.
Girl: My mother said that you were there the day they crucified him.
Mary: (guarded) Yes. She's right. I was.
Girl: How could you stand it Mary?
Mary: Someday you will understand, when you have children of your own. There is no greater calling for us - no bond stronger, no one more unyielding than a mother protecting her child. My son was horribly beaten and killed. How could I be any place else but there at his side?
Girl: Is that what you were thinking about when I found you?
Mary: Yes.
Girl: Please Mary, tell me.
Mary: It's a horrible, horrible thing - to watch your child suffer and die. When he was taken down from the cross, I held him in my arms. He was so disfigured, he was unrecognizable. Some tried to convince themselves it wasn't really him, but I knew better. It was his hands. A mother knows her child's hands. I sat there running my fingers through hair and sang the lullaby I used to sing to him when he was a baby. [pause] After they rolled the stone in place, the others took me back to the room where we had celebrated the Passover the day before. How very empty it seemed now... (trails off lost in thought)
Girl: But he's alive now Mary...isn't he?
Mary: (smiles and mood brightens) Yes dear. He is alive. And he sits on His throne in Heaven beside our Heavenly Father!
Girl: I wish I had known him.
Mary: But you do know him. When he opened your eyes to his Divine nature and you submitted to his Lordship in your life, he gave you his very Spirit to mark you as his own. His Holy Spirit resides within you as Teacher, Guide and Comforter. It's His Spirit in your heart that moved you to sit with an old woman today in a moment of grief. Yes, you know much more than you realize.
[Hearing voices shouting Mary's name in the distance, Mary takes the girl's hand and starts walking offstage]
Mary: (smiling) Let's head back now. We have a celebration to get ready for. 
[stage lights go dark]

Monday, March 18, 2013

I Love a Parade!

I haven’t mentioned anything yet this year about us being in the season of Lent and now it’s almost over. Easter Week begins this coming Sunday with Palm Sunday when Jesus was greeted in Jerusalem by a crowd of people waving palm branches and shouting his name and praising God. To bring a 21st century understanding to this 1st century event, I’d like to use a modern day Pittsburgh example to really bring home what was happening. On February 3, 2009, thousands of men, women, and children adorned themselves head-to-toe in black and gold and flocked to the city streets, shouting and waving their Terrible Towels as the Steelers who had just won their sixth Super Bowl ring drove through the city in a victory parade. Not only did the sea of people spill out into the streets, but hundreds hung out building windows and parking garage overhangs just to catch a glimpse of and welcome home their heroes. That’s the kind of celebration we are talking about on Palm Sunday – a victory party and Jesus was the hero everyone wanted to see. They had all heard the stories about how he had been healing the sick, the blind and the lame. He was preaching freedom for the captive and forgiveness for the sinner and most recently, they heard that he had brought a dead man back to life – called him right out of the grave!

I guess that is why the events of the rest of Holy Week are so disturbing. These same people screaming themselves hoarse “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” as Jesus rode by on a little donkey are the same ones whose voices rang out loud and clear, “Crucify Him!” just a few days later. It seems that Jesus didn’t conform to their idea of what Messiah was all about and they let him know it with loud shouts and harsh words. Really?! Were they so shallow that their allegiances where that easily swayed? Come to think of it, I know some die-hard Steeler fans who are the harshest, loudest, most animated critics when player error on or off the football field is perceived. I guess we can be just as critical and fickle now as we were then and about things far less important (forgive me Steeler nation).

On “Good Friday” we are going to hear about how Jesus’ own people (and by extension – every person who lives) betrayed him by instigating and participating in his crucifixion. It will be preached that by his own ultimate power, God turned this moment of our arrogant rebellion into the tool of his ultimate mercy and forgiveness. On Easter morning, we will celebrate Jesus rising from the dead, thereby conquering death for all time, for all people. That’s the kind of hero he is – giving up his own life for those who would betray him and then generously giving back to us the eternal communion with God that our own pride and sinfulness embezzled from us in the Garden.

While it is good to remember our sinfulness and the sacrifice of Jesus that redeemed us, let us never forget that at no time was God out of control of what was happening. Sometimes God allows us to commit the most unthinkable atrocities from which nothing humanly good can come from and then he shows us his love and power by restoring and growing his kingdom stronger and more glorious from the ashes we leave behind. While I may question his methods in my own moments of weakness, I never question his wisdom or his desire for me to be in relationship with him. This is the God we serve – the One who seeks us to redeem us and gave everything to bring us back into glorious relationship with Himself. That is what we celebrate during Holy Week!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Celebrating My Insecurities

I've been sick all week, but didn't want to leave you without something to consider this week, so I am bringing back from October 2010 this little piece on self-value. Enjoy!

This young girl's heart is filled with pain and despair, feeling completely and utterly rejected by a whole world of people. She sees herself as useless, stupid, undeserving and unwanted. She has been deeply hurt by those who love and are supposed to protect her as well as those who openly hate and despise her. All she wants is for one person to love her – to think she is worth the space she takes up on this earth. This girl doesn’t know that God is there lamenting with her. “If only she would see me, hear me,” God is crying. “She would know my love and I would heal her brokenness and her pain. This girl’s insecurities are the root of her fear, her actions, her thoughts and sadness and it is her insecurities that lead her into many unhealthy relationships and deeper into depression over the next twenty years. This girl is me as a teenager.

A few years ago, I made an incredible discovery – Everyone has insecurities! I used to look at the people around me and think, “I’m the only one who is insignificant in the group. Everyone else adds something of value, but me, I have nothing worth offering.” Everyone else seemed so confident and competent when compared with the distorted image I had of myself. But now I know that everyone else is just as insecure and unsure as I am sometimes. Insecurity is a human trait and we can’t escape it surfacing in us from time to time.

However, here is the good news: Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don't see many of "the brightest and the best" among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"? (1 Corinthians 1:26-28, The Message) No matter how insecure we are, how little we feel we have to offer, God loves us and wants to work out his plan in and through us. If you look in the Bible, you will find that God often used the insecure nobodies, people who felt that they didn’t have much to offer because they weren’t rich, intelligent, charismatic, "first born" celebrities. Saul, the first king of Israel, hid from Samuel who was sent to anoint him king. David was just a young cocky shepherd boy when God called him to one day replace Saul. Jeremiah the prophet was a child, Amos was just an uneducated shepherd and the apostles were just fishermen and a tax collector. God called Jacob instead of Esau in fulfilling his promise to Abraham and Joseph instead of Rueben to rescue God’s chosen during the famine. Moses stuttered terribly and Esther was a poor orphan girl. When I think of these people whom God has chosen to work miracles through, I find myself smiling – I’m in good company.

So what if I don't think I have much to offer. That's no reason not to offer it all to God anyway and then to watch what he can and will do with it. It's not what I offer that enables God to do miracles - it's God's power and love that enables my small offering to become a miraculous gift to those I serve in his Name.

Monday, March 4, 2013

How Good Is Good Enough?

I am studying the book of James right now and came across these verses:  For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. (James 2:10-11) As I was pondering this, a memory surfaced.

There was at one time in my life an authority figure whose approval and acceptance I desperately wanted to obtain but whose standards were no less than perfection. As a student I worked really hard on one particular math test and got a 97%, an A. I was so happy that day thinking that maybe now this person would be proud of me and see value in me. I was so excited to show him my test with that big fat A on the front. His voice still rings crystal clear in my ears, as clear as it was thirty years ago: “97% is okay, I guess, but that means that you didn’t learn 3% of the material presented in class. If you try harder, maybe next time you can get 100%. That would be something!” Once again, I was crushed. I was found unacceptable by the one whose approval mattered most.

His attitude about my test is a good picture for these verses. While we may think 97% is good, for one who minimun standard is perfection, it falls short of the mark. We as humans like to think that we can be good enough for God, if we try really hard. But God’s law isn’t a sliding scale – we won’t be judged on a curve. God’s law is pass or fail and not one of us can pass. One mistake, one sin, one selfish moment, one inch astray, and we have broken God’s law. If we keep 97% of God’s law, that means we break the other 3%. We’ve failed because 97% isn’t 100%. Now that may seem harsh, but God is a holy God and even the tiniest speck of sin cannot dwell in his presence. What are we to do?

God knows we are sinful, that not one of us can be perfect and therefore deserving of being in his presence so he took the test himself, so to speak, in the person of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. He came into this world to live as a man a perfect sinless life, the one we couldn’t live. Then on the cross and in his resurrection, he traded his sinless life for our sinful one, taking the rejection, the punishment that we earned in our sinfulness, upon himself - he offers to trade test papers with us. He wants to give us his 100%, his pass in exchange for our fail, our sinfulness, to present to our Heavenly Father for which we will receive the approval and acceptance we so desperately desire, for a perfect paper, for a holiness we didn’t earn but receive as a gift when we ask Christ into our lives as Lord and Savior.

It doesn’t seem fair, does it? God did all the work and we get all the benefits. That’s how much God loves us. That’s grace. It’s not fair. Thank the Lord because if God operated on a fair system, not one of us would be able to stand in his presence ever. That is the Good News of Jesus Christ! Thanks be to God.