Saturday, March 25, 2017

Formerly Known As

The beginning of the moving process is the sorting.  Going through everything you own and wondering why you got it in the first place, and why you kept it all these years.  Or how can you bear to part with it, even though you only vaguely remember where it came from.  And then all those things you’ve saved, papers you wrote, letters and such, all those photos from a world you barely remember.  Was that you?  Did you once look like that?  Did you once think like that?  Who was that? What happened?

That’s probably the biggest question we ask ourselves in these moments, these reflective moments, looking back to a you you used to be but barely remember.  What happened?  Life happened.  But it was more than that, wasn’t it?  It was your life.  The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that Hamlet decries in his famous soliloquy debating whether life is worth living given all that rolls over us with relentless consistency.  Granted he was having a bad day, but still.  What happened?  It’s often a question we can’t really answer, even to those who have lived as long, through as much, as we have.  But theirs is not ours and ours is not theirs and what happened is too personal, too specific, too intimate to even describe.  That happening, however, made us who we are.  New, different.  Better? Hopefully.  But different anyway.  

Our story today is about a man who walked through one of those doorways into a new life.  In some ways it is a simple thing.  A miraculous simple thing.  He met Jesus one day.

John 9:1-7 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes, 7 saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

Simple, right?  A miracle.  But in this story he is hardly a person at all.  He’s an object lesson, a theological conundrum.  Who sinned and made him like this?  Who’s to blame for his brokenness? Jesus’ impatience with this line of argument seems profound.  This is about work, God’s work. About seeing every challenge, every opportunity, every turn in the road a chance to claim the goodness of God, the glory of God.  Then he shows what he means.  Make a life better because you encountered it.  

The problem is that better is not always seen as better by those who got used to the way it was. Something isn’t right here, they said, the folks who were used to him being blind.  They almost didn’t believe it was him. 

John 9:8-12 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" 9 Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." 10 But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" 11 He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight." 12 They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know."

He couldn’t explain what happened.  You had to be there, he said.  Something happened he said.  I did this thing with mud and a voice and now here I am.  But that didn’t satisfy them.  They went for help, for authorities.

John 9:13-18 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, "He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see." 16 Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?" And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, "What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened." He said, "He is a prophet."
Dang it Jesus, get a calendar. Quit just looking at people and wanting to help.  Start paying attention to the rules, to the patterns, to the ways we have of doing things.  It’s almost like He’s trying to pick a fight every time.  Just say come back tomorrow, or wait until dark.  The man was blind since birth, what’s a few hours?

The Pharisees put on their Sherlock Holmes hats and grabbed their pipes and decided to investigate. Talk to the parents.  Something is afoot!  

John 9:18-23  18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" 20 His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself." 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."

So they did.  John 9:24-34 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, "Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner." 25 He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." 26 They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" 27 He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?" 28 Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." 30 The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." 34 They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?" And they drove him out.

Some investigators.  The facts don’t fit their way of seeing so they throw them out.  Throw him out. This thing that happened, that you can’t explain, isn’t real, they said, you’re still blind, or you were pretending all these years just so you could pull this trick.  This isn’t how things are supposed to go. Get out of here, they said.  You’re messing with our way of seeing the world.  Then they pretended nothing ever happened and they stuck their fingers in their ears and said na-na-na-na-na until the formerly blind man left, shaking his head at them as he did.  Only to run smack into Jesus who was looking for him.  

John 9:35-41 35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" 36 He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." 37 Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." 38 He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" 41 Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, 'We see,' your sin remains.

“I have come so that those who don’t see may see and those who do see may become blind.” Something has to change.  We get to choose how we deal with the change.  We get to decide if we want our eyes opened or closed.  If we want to see what happens as growth, as new and exciting and something that makes us stronger, better, more alive.  Or if it asks too much of us and all we want is to close our eyes and stumble in the dark that feels more familiar.  He lets us choose that.  Embrace the One who comes and makes us different, worship in the hope that we can become even more, know even more, claim even more, live even more.  Or cling to what was, even when it’s already gone.  Cling to the ghosts of what we used to be, hold on to an image of youth that isn’t really us any more.  All I know, the formerly blind man said, is that I was blind and now I see.  Our call is to be ready to tell who we are now, even if we can’t always explain what happened.  Yeah, that was me then, but this is me now.  Thanks be to God.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

And The Well Is Deep

We’re breaking new ground around here these days, crossing boundaries previously uncrossed.  And it is nerve-wracking, unsettling, to say the least.  The new ground isn’t all that dramatic, really.  Many of you have crossed it before, maybe even a long time ago, and now it’s no big deal.  But the unknown is always sobering if not terrifying.  This particular new ground is that of home ownership. I have lived in parsonages all my life - except when I was in university housing.  And my wife and kids have known only this somewhat nomadic kind of life, relying, as Blanche DuBois says in “Streetcar Named Desire,” on the kindness of strangers.

But now it is all about to change.  The new church doesn’t own a parsonage, and instead provides a housing allowance.  Which means we are moving into the undiscovered country of home ownership. At this stage in our lives to be first time home buyers is a bit daunting, to say the least.  And that we were unprepared to make this leap is also something of an understatement.  But here we go, crossing a line, taking a risk.  Holding our breath, with lots of prayers, we’re stepping out.

Crossing boundaries is never easy.  There is always risk involved.  And it could go terribly wrong. Sometimes those boundaries are there for protection, sometimes they are necessary, sometimes they are helpful to us.  But other times they limit us.  Even worse they keep us from being who we are called to be, who we could be, who our hearts long to be.  And the sooner we can cross over the better.  

Our passage this week has boundaries all over the place.  You almost have to have a scorecard to keep track of them.  The reading starts with verse five of chapter four of the Gospel of John.  But to get the mood, we really need verse four.  And then it just goes on and on, crossing boundaries, stepping into the unknown.  So, hold on to your hats.

John 4:4-42 4 But he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." 11 The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?" 13 Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." 15 The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." 
16 Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back." 17 The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!" 19 The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem." 21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." 25 The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us." 26 Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you." 
27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, "What do you want?" or, "Why are you speaking with her?" 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" 30 They left the city and were on their way to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, "Rabbi, eat something." 32 But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." 33 So the disciples said to one another, "Surely no one has brought him something to eat?" 34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, 'Four months more, then comes the harvest'? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor." 
39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I have ever done." 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world."

“He had to go through Samaria.”  Actually He didn’t.  In fact most travelers of the time would have done all they could do to avoid going through Samaria.  If there is any had to, it is they had to not go. But Jesus had to.  Why?  Because it was His business to cross boundaries.  He had to so that He could do the job, so that He could live the life He came to live.  He had to.  

He had to step across social convention and speak to a woman on her own at the well in the middle of the day.  No, wait.  He had to speak to a Samaritan woman at the well in the middle of the day.  A Samaritan woman alone, possibly shunned, looked down upon, a woman who out of self-defense and shame made her trip to gather water in the heat of the day, when no one else in their right mind would venture out.  Not just speak to, but ask for a drink. A drink of water, from her personal flask, the one she drank from to quench her personal thirst.  Now this Jew, obviously lost, wandering around an unwelcome land, asks to drink from her hand, almost.  She’s shocked, the disciples when they return are shocked.  That Jesus so cavalierly steps over boundaries into the new world, a new way of living in community.  

We know the conversation, that’s usually the content of the study and the sermon.  How she stubbornly missed the point, kept Him at arms length, tried to turn a discussion about a hurting heart into a theological/worship preference conflict. But Jesus kept crossing boundaries, kept getting closer, kept getting deeper.  She knew it was deep.  She didn’t want to go there.  The well is deep she said, hoping He would give up His pursuit of her soul.  But He kept crossing the line, asking more intimate questions, wanting more of her.  Finally she waved it all off, Yeah, well, someday, she said, quoting the line everyone knew and no one really believed, someday, the Messiah will come and sort out all the brokenness, all the abuse, all the boundaries that keep us from knowing and living love. Someday. He smiled.  Today, He said.  That day is today.  

Was she sure?  Was she convinced?  Or did she just want to hope?  She ran off and spoke to those who had shunned her, tossed her aside.  Spoke to those she had come to the well in the heat of the day to avoid.  Could this be, she said breathlessly, could this be?  And something about her boldness, something about her disregard of proper behavior made them curious enough to come and see for themselves.  So, they came and saw and believed.  

Meanwhile the disciples sat in stunned amazement.  He talked about food they couldn’t see, and He ignored boundaries they could see.  But He came relentlessly closer.  Crossing into territory they had never entered. But like the villagers, they had decided to believe, which meant their lives were in His hands.  So, they followed Him.  Across the boundaries, into a new way of living.    


Friday, March 10, 2017

Speak of What We Know

Transitions are hard.  I’m leaving in a few months.  And this transition seems harder than most.  But maybe necessary.  The latest manifestation of the need for change arose in the conversation of a group of leaders of the church who are charged with finding a way forward, who truly do, I am confident, want what is best for the church as they see it.  Someone said maybe we should wait for the new pastor to come and see what vision is brought for the church and see how we can support that.  Someone else said, no, the new pastor will want to know what our vision is and then help us fulfill that.  And then the question came: Do we have a vision?  “No, we don’t” was the response.  We don’t have a vision here.

For ten years I have been pastor to this congregation.  I have taught children and youth and adults.  I have visited the sick and comforted the grieving.  I have presided over death and celebrated life.  I have performed weddings and given ritual prayers at social occasions. I have met late at night with those who are hurting, tried to mend broken hearts and broken relationships and broken hopes.  And I have preached.  For ten years, I’ve preached that we are here to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  I talked about the absurdity of that calling and yet the compelling hope and challenge of it.  For a good part of my time I tried to live into the words given by my predecessor, “Creating Contagious Christian Community” as a way to live into that vision of making disciples.  We even spent some considerable time talking about reclaiming it, a refreshing of all the time that was spent in creating that statement.  We enhanced it, added dimensions and layers.  But it never became a part of the conversation of the church, beyond a few grumbles that it made us uncomfortable, that contagious thing you know.  So I came at it from a different angle, tried to build on what was there but to grasp what was becoming the identity of Aldersgate.  I presented some words at a council meeting.  “Feeding Hungry People.”  That’s who we are and who we can be, I said.  If we choose.  If we wish to claim them.  To catch the vision.  I presented them as a possibility and invited conversation, meetings, debate, other suggestions.  I heard a few conversations, answered questions and shared ideas when asked.  But just wanted to let them lie there and see what would grasp the attention of the body.  Finally someone asked are we ever going to vote on this statement?  So we did.  And “Feeding Hungry People”, bodies, minds souls became the statement of the body by council vote.  We chose it together.  Yet, I still heard “We don’t have a vision here.”

John 3:1-17 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." 3 Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." 4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." 9 Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" 10 Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? 11 "Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Nicodemus was a leader of the people of God.  He was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the governing body of the Jews in Israel at Jesus’ time.  He comes at night, maybe because serious study takes place at night, or maybe because he was afraid to be seen associating with this questionable Rabbi from the backwoods.  He comes with social niceties, a bit of flattery to grease the wheels of conversation.  But Jesus immediately changes the subject.  Jesus immediately puts him on the defensive.  You have to be a different person to be a part of what God has in store.  “What?”  Nicodemus is reeling almost immediately.  Knocked off his feet and he spends the rest of the conversation trying to catch up. 

He makes a feeble joke, about climbing back in his mother’s womb, hoping to disarm the intensity of the Teacher.  Because the being a different person was couched in a metaphor about birth.  Born again, he said, born from above.  The word in Greek means both things, a reference to time and to direction.  Born again, as if the first time wasn’t traumatic enough, again as if the first time wasn’t as full of potential as it needed to be, again as if drawing breath like never before, filling your lungs with more than air, breathing in Spirit instead, in addition.  Spirit from above, as if you were too focused on this life, the one lived out in front of your eyes and anything invisible isn’t real.  Anything invisible, like love and hope and joy and transformation and possibility, isn’t what life was about when born from below.  It’s not a bad life, just a shallow one, just a nose to the grindstone and find your meaning in successes and failures each and every day and not in the love of a creator who stands ready to fill you with vision.

Let go, Nicodemus, let go of the need to control, your need to have everything your way. Let go of the belief that you can build a better world, a more vibrant community by shaping it along the lines of your own preferences and understandings.  Grab hold of the Spirit, and be blown about, from one world to the next, from one joy to the next, from one soul to the next.  Be born into a new way of seeing, let go of what was, no matter how satisfying it may have been.  Grab hold of where God is calling you to go, who God is calling you to be.  

I’m not telling you anything new, Nicodemus.  I’ve been saying these things since I got here, since the beginning of time.  This is all I have to say, this is all I know, this God thing, this vision of the people of God, the community of faith.  I have not stopped saying this.  And you are a leader of people and somehow don’t get it.  How can this be, Nicodemus?  What did you miss?  Get ready, it’s about to get even more intense.

Jesus gave Nicodemus a whole lot of stuff to think about, to process.  We don’t know how it all impacted him, what he went away with that night.  But a few chapters later, when the rest of the leadership is complaining that the police didn’t arrest Jesus for speaking of the kingdom of God, Nicodemus speaks up and says, don’t we have due process?  Not an affirmation of faith, by any means, but at least he attempts to stand on the side of right.  They sneered at him and accused him of being a hick from the sticks like Jesus.  Then Nicodemus shrinks from sight completely.  

Well, not completely.  He doesn’t speak again.  But he shows up in the darkness again, the afternoon darkness of a weeping world, and gathers up the body from a horrible death, and wraps it up with about a hundred pounds of spices and puts it in the tomb of another Pharisee named Joseph.  A hundred pounds of spices?  Was that really necessary?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  Or maybe it was overkill.  Overboard.  Maybe it was apology spice, maybe he finally understood what he had missed that night in the darkness and wanted to make up for it by bringing so much that he could barely carry it, a penance of spice poured out over a dead body that wasn’t going to stay dead, though he didn’t know that yet. 

Summing up this story is a verse we all know.  Know by heart.  Or maybe know by rote, not yet by heart.  For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him may have eternal life.  Believes as in puts their life in, surrenders everything to, joins completely.  Shares the vision.  Having a vision means more than a slogan we can recite, though that can be helpful.  It means grabbing hold of the wind, it means leaning into the Spirit, even when it blows you out of your comfortable spot.  So, I’m leaning into the Spirit and will go where I’m sent.  I pray you will too.


Saturday, March 4, 2017

If You Will Fall Down

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  Thank you Lao Tzu.  Whatever that means.  I mean we think we know.  It sounds great.  Something powerful, something that sounds impossible, has humble beginnings.  Actually, supposedly the original quote said a thousand li journey.  A li was an ancient Chinese measurement that equaled three hundred and sixty miles.  So, he actually said a journey of 360,000 miles begins with a single step.  Wow.  How far do you have to go today?  More than a quarter of a million, but just short of a half a million miles!  Yikes, better sit down.  You realize that is more than a hundred thousand miles past the moon?  OK, now I’m tired. Thanks Lao Tzu.

We’re on a journey.  That’s how we describe the season of Lent.  It’s our Lenten Journey.  The devotional we are using is titled “Moving Toward the Cross.”  It is a daily reflection based on the writings of Frederick Buechner, one of my long time favorite writer/preachers.  

The Lenten Journey. The very concept implies at least two things.  One that we are moving.  This isn’t a static, sit and contemplate event.  I know we often think of Lent as a time of consideration, self-reflection, introspection.  And certainly there is an element of that inherent in the design of the season.  But movement is built into the pattern of the season.  We are walking with Christ.  And Christ is on his way somewhere.

That’s the second implication of the season: we have a destination.  This journey isn’t just random wandering in the wilderness, even though it often feels like it.  We are on a path, and I’ve already given it away in the devotional title.  Moving Toward the Cross.  That’s our destination.  The culmination of our Lenten journey is not Easter sunrise, as much as we wish it was.  No, Easter is something completely different.  We can no more journey to Easter than we could travel a hundred thousand miles past the moon.  Easter is another dimension of time and of space.  No, actually it is beyond time and space.  It is completely out of reach.  More on that to come ... really.

No, our destination is much more earthy.  Much more real.  And, unfortunately, more painful. Requiring more sacrifice, more surrender.  The journey to the cross is a journey laden with struggle, with a wrestling match with our greatest foe.  Ourselves.  I know, you were hoping for an enemy to conquer.  A stranger who’s a threat.  The bad guy.  Them.  You know those people, that type, the evil empire, all that stuff.  Yeah, no, sorry.  It’s you.  Old Pogo had it right.  We have met the enemy and he is us.  And because he is us, because this journey is an inner journey at least in part, we’d just as soon not.  We’d give it a pass, and most of the time we do.  No thanks, I’m fine.  Our usual social response.  No thanks, I’m fine.  All on my own, I’m good.  It’s everyone else that is the problem.  If it weren’t for them, all would be peachy.  

Which means that our philosophical aphorism ought to be “a journey of a thousand (or three hundred sixty thousand) miles begins with a single stumble.  We fall down a lot.  That’s kind of our story.  We start out that way.  I remember when the kids were learning to walk all those years ago.  Falling down seemed to be the way of it.  Hardly any attempt was made without crashing down on their thankfully well padded existential ground of being.  Sometimes there was tears.  Sometimes frustration. Sometimes the ground seemed a safer place and the attempt was put off until another day.  We fall down.  Any journey that gets us anywhere important is going to include a few stumbles.  A stubbed toe, a cracked shin, a bloody nose, a teary moment, an unplanned detour, a lack of resources, a mechanical failure, a ... well, point taken.  We fall down.

Which leads us to continually ask why bother?  If the journey is too great, why take it?  If I’m likely to fall down, why set out?  Especially to heading someplace that is “good for me”?  God save us from what is good for us.  That just seems to scream painful, exhausting, humiliating, and ultimately asking for me to change.  

Who does that?  Who seeks that strenuous, wrestling with self that leads to surrender and sacrifice and then transformation?  Who does that?

Matthew 4:1-11  Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." 4 But he answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'" 7 Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." 10 Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'" 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Yeah, ok.  Him.  He would go for that.  But then He’s ... Him.  Well, take another look.  Matthew (and Luke) says that He was led up.  He didn’t go looking for it.  He didn’t run to meet it.  He shuffled forward in the line at Ash Wednesday with the same slumped shoulders as the rest of us.  Mark even goes further and says the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.  Kicking and screaming perhaps.  I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna.  Or maybe not, maybe He knew that this journey was one worth taking.  Even though it ended at what seemed like a dead end.  Even though it ended with a painful betrayal and an agonizing night and lonely and broken surrender of life on a hill that looked like a skull, under a blazing sun that didn’t weep until it was too late for Him to feel it.

But that was His journey, not ours, surely.  We don’t spend forty hungry days in a desert hallucinating conversations around impossibilities and sleight of hand.  Do we?  No, of course not.  We can’t turn stones into bread, that wouldn’t enter our minds.  But we can turn every hunger into a physical one and satisfy spiritual needs by stuffing our faces or filling our closets.  We can’t leap from the pinnacle of the temple and be caught by angels.  But we can leap into self destructive habits that lead to death more often than not in the misguided belief that we are immortal as long as we don’t think about it. We aren’t shown the kingdoms of the world in their splendor and given the keys to these kingdoms if we just fall down again.  Yet we believe we deserve everything, anything our hearts desire, in an odd confusion about rights and freedoms.

We fall down.  Over and over.  The painful realization is that our journey is not just the forty days of Lent, but the whole of our lives.  Every day we are given opportunities to claim the gift of life that we’ve been given in Christ, and we fall down.  We surrender to our own temptations, to our own selfishness, me time.  Instead of surrendering to the cross.  Upon which we can nail all our falling down, all our brokenness.  Instead of journeying to the death of self and of sin.  We wrestle with the adversary inside of us, our own willfulness.  And we fall down.  

We seem to think Lent is about falling down.  About collapsing in tears and remorse and regret and this overwhelming sense of sinfulness.  That’s the only way to move forward, we seem to think.  But maybe, like the One we follow, our Lenten opportunity is to not fall down.  For once.  We stand in the arms of the One who stood for us.  We stand and we walk with Him all the way to the cross.  

So, old Lao Tzu was right.  It’s not about falling down, not about stumbling.  It’s about standing and stepping.  It’s about taking the first step.  Putting our hands in His hand and taking that first step on the road to the cross.  It’s a long painful journey, but one worth taking.  Walk with me.