Mark 8:27-38 “Jesus asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’”
Who do we say that Jesus is?
In our finer moments, we declare the truth:
Jesus is the Messiah.
Savior of all. Shepherd and Friend.
Jesus is Lord of our whole lives.
Who do we say that Jesus is?
In our weaker moments, we utter deceptions:
Jesus is a magician who makes our problems disappear.
A superhero who rescues us from trouble.
Or, he is a nice man who lived once upon a time.
He is inoffensive, benign, sentimental, and dull.
A superstition. A wishful imagining.
A Sunday morning diversion who asks nothing from us.
Forgive us our feeble and false affirmations.
Empower us to answer the question with renewed energy and integrity:
Who do we say that Jesus is?
Love beyond love. Name beyond all names.
Hope beyond wishing. Eternal Mystery.
Word-made-flesh. Our Redeemer.
He lived and will live again.
Our sermon series at Tiny Church during Lent is called Living the Questions: Mysteries and Wonder in the Gospel of John. Here’s the description in our newsletter:
The gospels are full of questions—questions posed to Jesus and asked by him, questions answered, and many questions left hanging. In this series we will immerse ourselves in stories of Jesus from the gospel of John. Specifically we will look at the questions at the
heart of each of these stories and how they can lead us deeper into faith.
I was led to consider these questions by the texts themselves, but also by this scrap of a note I took at a church transformation training some years ago. I haven’t verified the statistics, but given Jesus’ often cryptic teachings, they seem plausible, yes?
In the gospels, Jesus was asked 183 questions. He asked 307 questions. He answered 3 questions directly. That means: 487 unanswered questions.
The final Advent reflection, sent this morning to my email list. If you’d like to subscribe and haven’t, click here. Blessings of the Season to you…
I love so-called “Freudian slips”—those mistakes in speech that often uncover an unexpected meaning or layer of humor. But I’m not sure I want to give Sigmund Freud the credit—rather, these flubs often seem the work of that holy trickster, the Spirit of God.
One of my favorites happened several years ago at a church conference. During a prayer before communion, the speaker meant to say “love is stronger than death.” Instead, whether because of a typo in the script or an error on her part, she said, “love is stranger than death.”
And I thought, Yes. That’s the heart of the Christian story, isn’t it? Love does not follow the rules as we understand them. Love has its own illogical logic, that of grace and new life. It’s truly strange, is it not, that the God who created nebulas and quarks and manatees and sequoias decided to pour into the flesh of a human being, live for a time, die without putting up a fight… and then three days later, that person’s heart starts beating again, neurons begin firing, breath pumps in and out of resurrected lungs. It makes no sense. It is strange.
And it’s here at Christmas that that strange love has its beginning—with an unmarried peasant girl, a confused fiance, a birth in a cave, and a bunch of simple shepherds, mouths gaping open at the holy surprise of the thing.
God became a human being. Amazing.
And that’s the story we participate in this Christmas.
Today James gave me another slip of the Holy Spirit. For some reason, we were talking about what time it was, and he said, It’s heaven o’clock.
Whether he meant to say seven, or eleven, or was simply making a rhyming joke by saying “heaven,” I’ll never know, because he saw my absolute delight at the phrase and repeated it again and again. That’s what time it is, in this season of Advent expectation, as the hour grows close when Christ will be born in our hearts again. It’s God’s opportune moment. It’s kairos time. It’s heaven o’clock.
I told the small crowd at our Blue Christmas service last night how perplexing it is to me, that the first day of winter would also be the day that the days start getting longer. I understand it geologically. But spiritually it seems all wrong. You’d think that (here in the northern hemisphere anyway) the coldest season of the year would also be the one with the least amount of daylight. But no—all winter long, even while many of us experience colder and colder temperatures, the light is returning, bit by little bit each day. It’s a holy disconnect, but one I find tremendously hopeful. Even when we feel discouraged or spiritually cold, even when we shiver against the darkness and pull our blankets and cloaks tight around us, the light is making its slow, relentless way back into the world.
Check your watches, folks—it’s heaven o’clock. Love makes its way toward us again. Thanks be to God for that good, strange news.
Several months ago a pastor friend gave my book to a gal who’d been visiting his church. She really liked it, and for this self-proclaimed seeker, a major point in its favor was “It’s very Buddhist!”
She has a point. I write about living Sabbathly, which means that whether we are at work or play, we strive to be fully present: neither hurried nor sluggish, but awake and alive. This kind of Sabbath mindset is connected to mindfulness and attentiveness, both of which are traditionally associated with Eastern religion and philosophy.
But Abraham Joshua Heschel, a rabbi, wrote that Sabbath is not just a date, but an atmosphere. And as I told the group last weekend at the Oasis, you don’t have to stray far from the Christian tradition to see mindfulness and attentiveness in play. In fact, Jesus strikes me as a very mindful dude.
This is the guy who told distracted but well-intentioned Martha to focus on the “one thing needful.” I’m convinced he was not telling her to drop her work in the kitchen; after all, he relied on the hospitality of his friends for his itinerant ministry. Rather he wanted her to live with intention. Jesus demonstrates and offers an abundant life, but his abundance is not about sheer copiousness. Rather it flows out of simplicity, and a sense of depth.
This all seems to be an argument against multitasking, which research tells us isn’t really possible anyway. When we are multitasking, we are really switching quickly between tasks, with a loss of effectiveness each time we make the switch.
And yet, it is possible to be in a state of flow, which we might call multitasking at its best. Sometimes people call it being “in the zone.” Those moments don’t happen often for me, but when they do, it’s such a joy, even when the work is hard or feels like “too much.”
Here’s what flow looks like: In the gospel of Mark, Jesus is on his way to heal Jairus’s daughter when he has an encounter with the so-called hemorrhaging woman. (Lord love the Baptist church of my childhood, how did I not know what the heck was the matter with her until I got to the Presbyterian Church?)
There’s a great little line, after the woman is healed of her twelve-year period, when Jesus calls her “daughter” and bids her to go in peace and healing. While he was still speaking, Mark says, Jairus’s associates come up and tell him that the little girl has died. Jesus overhears them and is able to respond. Did you catch that? He is speaking words of grace to one person even as he feels the pain of someone else.
That’s what true attentiveness looks like. Is there any doubt that Jesus was fully present with the woman? And yet his senses are so heightened that he is equally tuned in to a completely different situation.
Amazing. And such hard work.
Whether you call it mindfulness, flow, or living Sabbathly, when have you experienced this feeling? What helps create that sense in your own life?
The title of this post comes from Ray Wylie Hubbard’s song “Conversation with the Devil”:
I said, “Hotshot tell me this: which religion is the truest?”
He said, “There all about the same; Buddha was not a Christian, but Jesus woulda made a good Buddist.”
We’re continuing our journey around the world through our running, walking, biking and swimming. We have been plotting our course to Democratic Republic of Congo, where we will hear from a woman in our church who works for USAID. She will talk about her work and a ministry she interfaces with in the DRC. The service will have a special focus on that region of the world.
You may know Flat Stanley, the guy from the children’s books who shows up all over the world as people take pictures of him in various locales.
Well, First Presbyterian—and Tiny Church—are adapting this practice as Flat Jesus:
This Sunday in the UpperRoom we will have the kids decorate this image, printed on a bunch of cardstock. Following the service we will hand him out and encourage people to photograph him on their vacations and business trips. These photos will go up on our map.
Why? Because it’s fun. Because it’s summer and people are traveling.