Monday, March 28, 2011

The King's Face

(This post is a copy from the Lenten Journey website.  I wrote with a number of other pastors during the season of Lent, 2011.  Each day, we reflected on one passage from the Daily Office.  It's best to read the passage before the reflection.)

March 28, 2011 - The King's Face
Jeremy D. Scott

I’m not very good at making eye contact with people.

It’s something that I’ve worked on (actually, it was a practice I challenged myself to last year during Lent). Making eye contact has various implications in different cultures. For my culture, it’s a sign of respect for the other, relationship, and a general sign of healthy communication. When we make eye contact with someone who is speaking to us, we are telling them, “I hear you” without even opening our mouths. It’s an acknowledgement of the other.

It’s said that this is in play in the second third of the high priestly prayer (Numbers 6):
The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you...

The ancient picture is of a kingdom subject, perhaps a peasant or slave, who happens to gain admittance into the throne room of the king. It’s one thing for the lowly to be present before the king. But it’s a whole other thing if the king would actually turn his face toward him, to acknowledge his presence. The notion of well-being (“shining” face!) would be the absolute best situation possible: Graciousness distributed from the king to the lowly.

Some know or remember the thrill of the lead singer at a rock concert looking and pointing at them at a specific point in a song. Or perhaps you’ve been to a professional sports event and seen the joy on a child’s face who waits by the tunnel for a high five from one of the players as they leave the arena (remember “Mean Joe Greene”?). There’s something about being noticed by those in the limelight.

This is the prayer of Psalm 80 - Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. Yet this is no rock singer or point guard, but our very creator and the one from whom all blessings flow. Inherent in the prayer is the acknowledgement that this One can save us.

We’re well into Lent now (this is the 17th day, almost halfway through!). The ashes are long gone, yet we’re hope-fully moving along with the reminder that we are in such great need of God’s restoration. The reminders of this season are not far off from the image of the king-subject relationship. A true monarchy works such that the poor peasant and indeed all the people are at the whim of the king. With all that we can “do” in today’s world, this is a good reminder this season: God is God, and we are not. So we pray:

Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see;
Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Solidarity in Christ

(This post is a copy from the Lenten Journey website.  I wrote with a number of other pastors during the season of Lent, 2011.  Each day, we reflected on one passage from the Daily Office.  It's best to read the passage before the reflection.)

March 18, 2011 - Solidarity in Christ
Jeremy D. Scott

We are walking in the path of Christ, through the cross and out of the tomb alike.

This is one of the great reminders of the season of Lent. While our hope is found in the Risen Christ - a hope that we celebrate every Sunday (even during Lent!) - the intentionality of Lent causes us to remember and own the path upon which Christ walked on his way to overcoming death.

This may be a surprise to some of us who, whether told explicitly or not, heard that Jesus would solve all our problems. In times when it is difficult to reconcile the joy of salvation in Christ with the often difficult moments or days that occur despite knowing him, we sometimes might be left wondering what we’re doing wrong. After all, if we know Christ, we should know no pain, right? And in these moments, it’s easy to question whether we’re in Christ or not. Indeed, as Hebrews purports, we might often feel left “naked and laid bare” for God and the whole world to see.

Yet this surprise can turn into relief. It’s when we find that the pain of our lives actually does identify with the pain and suffering of Christ that we can truly begin to understand what it means to be “in Christ.” The cross becomes much different than a beautifully-polished image of warm feelings, and instead a roughly-made stick of solidarity. We remember that Christ himself was left “naked and left bare,” exposed for all the world to see.

And in this solidarity...
  • ...solidarity with a Savior, who prior to rising victorious out of the tomb, was ignored, betrayed, and denied by his loved ones.
  • ...solidarity with a Son, who wrestled with the cup he was to inherit from his Father.
  • ...solidarity with a Servant, who in the deepest of pains, was left crying out loud, “God, where are you?”
...we actually find hope.

I recently saw a short video interview with popular human emotion researcher, Brene Brown*. She talked about her return to the Church. She remembers going back to church in hopes of a cure-all or epidural, as a way to cover up or even remove the pain of life. But instead, she found that this just isn’t how Christ comes to us. Faith in Christ is much different than self-help or dumbing of pain. Rather, Brown concludes that the faith of Christ’s Church is much more like a midwife than it is an epidural. We’re brought through the pain.

And knowing that Christ himself “was there” is a relief. Indeed, “we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are.” And again, indeed: “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Lord, as I walk today in the path of the cross of Christ, in your mercy, grant both the strength and the hope of victory of the One who walked it before me.

Epidural vs Midwife, Altar Video Magazine, accessed here.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Decisions & Directives

(This post is a copy from the Lenten Journey website.  I wrote with a number of other pastors during the season of Lent, 2011.  Each day, we reflected on one passage from the Daily Office.  It's best to read the passage before the reflection.)

March 9, 2011 - Decisions & Directives
Jeremy D. Scott

A friend of mine recently put some words from Dr. Eric Mason on his Facebook status: “The word ‘application’ is not in scripture. We use that so we don't have to talk about obedience.” Pastor Mason is on to something, regardless of whether or not this cover-up is intentional (most likely, it is not intentional at all).

Most followers of Christ appreciate the understanding that it is a decision (we “choose”) to follow Christ. Many of these further appreciate the understanding that with each subsequent day, we make a multitude of decisions, all of which are made in the hope that they too “follow” Christ. And thus, whether our lives follow Christ’s is up to us and the choices we make each day. At all times, the first step to following Christ comes in my decision to do so.

We often focus on Jonah’s difficulty in making the right decision in responding to God’s call, and rightfully so.  The storyline is simply illustrative (“applicable” even!): Choose not to follow God’s call, and you very well could find yourself in the dark and undesirable places. Yet, we much less often note the difficult ending of Jonah’s story found in our passage for today: Our choosing does not mandate our directive in any given situation. God is still yet God and we are still yet servant.

Christ understood this well and his life on earth exemplified it. If I were Christ, having done exactly as God had asked, I might have expected to end up in places more glorious than the dome of death that was Golgotha. And even if we jump to the victory of the empty tomb, we still must note the path that first goes through the cross (and hence, we walk together each year through this season of Lent).

As we watch Jesus walk to the cross this Lenten season, we would do well to note his resolute decision to follow the path set in front of him. He strayed not either from the call of God before him, nor the corollary events, surprises, treatments, or difficulties that arose from that call.

Jonah had certain understandings of God and what God would do. I’m not sure that we can escape these. But when we find that God’s directive is different than our own, our response - either in action or in attitude - is made up of our choice. We can pout with the worms and the dying plants, or we can conclude our prayer with “nonetheless, God, not my will but Thine.”

God, I pray this day - the beginning Lent - that as I make decisions, they be in response to your directive: following your good and perfect will.