Yesterday I decided to engage in a task that was a long time coming…cleaning out the youth supply closet. Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with a youth supply closet, I want you to picture your junk drawer in your house; and now it’s a closet. So as you can well imagine there were quiet a few things that needed to make the fifty foot trek to the dumpster. It also happened to be an incredibly rainy day. But on one of my trips to the dumpster I noticed a path being carved in the water before me. After dropping my load I came back to observe a single hornet that was carving the path in the water. He was holding on against the inevitable. Fall is coming…winter is coming…and a deluge of water was pushing against him and yet he still held on stubbornly against the inevitable. Here he was exposed to imminent danger (feet, cars, etc.) and yet he persisted. I almost wonder if he would have been safer to let the current carry him. Would he have found refuge further down the stream and then be able to live out his last few weeks in a better place; an open place?
I feel like we in the church can be guilty of hanging on to things we should let go of. Culture and the winds of change push us so aggressively that we are scared and so we hang on to that which we know/understand. The problem is that this isn’t a new problem. In the third chapter of the gospel of John we read about someone who was shook by all of the newness that was being ushered in. He was anxious about this Jesus character but could not comprehend why he should change or how he could change in order to accommodate his known identity, tradition, methods, etc. Jesus responds to him in part and eventually says to Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8 Those truly born of the Spirit know what it is to move by the Spirit’s leading. They know what it looks like to let go and allow the current of God to carry them into newness of heart and life (that’s a very loaded phrase if you dig into it).
So back to the hornet and hanging on. Sometimes what we perceive in fear may actually be the moving of God. Think about it for a minute Abraham left all he knew, Moses stood up to a god-king, Joshua faced down giants, 3 Hebrew children didn’t bow, Peter got out of the boat, Matthew left his tax booth, Saul forsook all he ever knew (it was rubbish)…they all let go of relative safety, what they knew and the tradition they had embraced in order to be carried by God’s Spirit into something unknown, foreign, scary and unpredictable…and the world would never be the same. So what are you clinging to today? What terrifies you about God’s movement amidst the winds of culture? Where is God calling you to pull up anchor and join the movement of His Spirit? May we be those born of Water and Spirit and not those who cling to dry and stagnant land amidst the current of God.
I am admittedly a creature of habit. I know that for many of you who have known me over the years this may come as a bit of a surprise. But, ask my wife and she will definitely confirm this fact. I love my routines. That doesn’t mean that I can’t break away from the norm from time to time, but just that I’d rather do things a certain way day in and day out. I guess it’s more of a framework than a schedule. I like for things to fit my general framework. So in any given week my Mondays will be reflexive of other Mondays and the list goes on. Now this week, we took a couple of days to commute to Austin for a District Education event and I find myself now on Thursday and completely out of it (this perhaps could maybe have something to do with 17+ combined hours of sitting in class or driving over the last two days, but I digress). How did I get to be so dependent on this framework? Why is it that I find myself so rattled after this change?
There is this passage towards the end of Jesus life in the gospels where the disciples find everything changing. Now I don’t want to compare my off kilter schedule to the disciples predicament in this passage, but I think there is truth to be found here. Jesus has had a final meal with the disciples, they are groggy and he asks them to pray with him. Let’s put this into perspective even further. They had come to the city to celebrate Passover. This was something they knew very well and more than likely had even done with Jesus twice before. But this time something is different. He consecrates and celebrates the meal differently. He washes their feet. And then he drags them out into the garden to pray with him. Multiple times they find themselves out of their element and even falling asleep and Jesus says this to them, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Matthew 26:41 The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Today I have been reminded of my mortality. A two day road trip combined with a compromised immune systems (you should see the stuff we are sharing in our house) along with a schedule that is off the norm and you have an Arp who is feeling very mortal. I love Jesus’ reminder to us though. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation”. When we are off kilter or when we are out of balance it is easy to fall short of God’s best for us. But He doesn’t say try harder. He doesn’t say to power through. What does He say? Watch and pray. Step back out of your situation, see what is going on around you and lean into me. May these be words of comfort for you today. Whether you are full on in your routine and schedule or you find yourself a bit off kilter today, there is always room for us to watch and pray.
It’s Maundy Thursday. This is the day in the Christian Calendar that we set aside to commemorate and remember the Last Supper. This is a beautiful part of the Passion story and I love for our focus to be on the remembrance of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. But my focus always seems to drift towards his final moments with them instead. The last moments that Jesus spent with those he shared life with in his pre-resurrection state were spent in a garden, Gethsemane to be precise. In that moment Jesus encourages his disciples to watch and pray with him. He specifically calls Peter, James and John to watch and pray more closely with Him only to find them sleeping three times. During the second of these interactions Jesus utters this phrase, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Mark 14:38. And I’ve always read this as Jesus chastising/correcting His disciples, but what if it was just as much a reflection of His own struggle?
This is one of those unique passages in scripture where we struggle with our Trinitarian theology. We, and when I say we, I am referring to those who claim Jesus as Lord, believe and affirm through our creeds that God is three in one. Yet when it comes to the passion and last moments of Jesus’ life we often struggle with reconciling God in flesh. In fact, in the garden we find Jesus praying for the cup to pass from Him while in conversation with the Divine life. What if this request, this struggle, this agony was born out of Jesus humanity versus His Divinity i.e. the Spirit is willing but the Flesh is weak? It at least could give us new eyes into Jesus struggles up until the very end. ‘Am I ready for this cup?’ ‘Have I done all I needed to do?’ ‘Will they understand what is about to take place?’
I think sometimes that those of us on our Christian journey need to gain perspective as to where we each are along the way (I don’t think it’s coincidental that our Faith is sometimes called The Way). Some of us are in the prime of our ministry. We find ourselves consumed with spreading the gospel and sharing the Kingdom in all that we do. Some of us have yet to be Baptized and our ministry has not yet begun. Some of us find ourselves in the Garden. We have given our life to the church and to God’s Kingdom and now we know what is ahead, but are we ready? I guess I say all this to say that although we may be in differing perspectives in our ministry we are all still on the same journey. And even though our perspectives may be different we are all still called to love and support each other regardless of that stage. And our perspective ultimately should never effect the way we act towards those on the journey as well as those yet to begin, because our perspective doesn’t change our calling.
So today, as you remember our Lord and Savior in His final stage, may you be cognizant of your own stage and know that God still calls us along The Way to be ambassadors of reconciliation to those around us.