LENT The Love That Matters

9 “This is like the days of Noah to me:
as I swore that the waters of Noah
should no more go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
and will not rebuke you.
10 For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
(Isaiah 54:9-10 ESV)

The wrath of God came, in flood. And destroyed the whole world.

The wrath of God came, in armies from Babylon — and Rome — a destroyed the city. Took the nation captive, laid us low, ruined us and wrecked us and carried the best of us off into exile. Leaving little but desolation behind.

But no more. God has come to us — in the middle of it all — and said, “I am with you.”

God looked down from the cross, dying, beholding our bloody hands and our angry, frightened, confused, and disbelieving faces, and said, “It is finished.”

It is finished. This task of salvation is done. The wrath of God is spent. No more will the violence of the world, no more will the violence of men, have any meaning. No more will it tell us anything important about ourselves. No more will it contain the judgment of God. We, the people of God, have risen — as our crucified Lord has risen — from the ruin and the wreckage, from the damp and soggy earth, from the suffering and death we so willingly inflict as judgment — and no more shall we face the anger of a God holding us accountable for our sin.

We have been held accountable. We held ourselves accountable, when we killed Jesus, when we sacrificed him to our rage, our fear, our self-righteousness, our self-loathing, and our idolatrous trust in our own ways and means — and said “NO!” to God’s love. Thinking he could die so we can continue to live lives untroubled by the grace of God.

And God … loves anyway.

“Follow me,” the risen Jesus said to his disciples. To those who betrayed and abandoned and murdered him. Follow me.

This is what peace means. This is what love means. This is the never-failing compassion of God.

The flood waters have receded, the sky has cleared, the darkness which fell upon the earth has been dispersed. Death is defeated. We have judged, and been judged, and we have been found wanting. Found ourselves wanting. Our ways do not work anymore — there is no death we can deal that is bigger than life, no hate that can ever defeat love.

LENT Trusting God

9 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye is wasted from grief;
my soul and my body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my iniquity,
and my bones waste away.
11 Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach,
especially to my neighbors,
and an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have been forgotten like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
terror on every side! —
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!
16 Make your face shine on your servant;
save me in your steadfast love!
(Psalms 31:9-16 ESV)

Holy Week is coming.

I love Holy Week. A week of up — Jesus has come into Jerusalem! Our King is here! Our kingdom is come! — and down. I don’t think I have to describe the down, ending as it does with betrayal, arrest, torture, and death.

A while ago, I wrote a song, based on the anointing story and the passover supper in Matthew 26, combining the two. And as I crafted those words,

This is my body
Broken for you
Do this, remember me…

I found myself thinking — we consider what Jesus did at that table in the upper room to be a commandment. And rightly so. We gather to remember his saving life, his life-giving death, and his redeeming resurrection. But what if Jesus isn’t commanding us, he’s pleading with us? because he’s not entirely sure that we will do these things, that we will remember him, that we will take bread and wine, eat and drink, and know he is with us?

That he doesn’t know. That he has been forgotten. Like one who is already dead.

Our four Gospels give us several different views, several different ways to look about the life and death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the chosen one of God. He is both completely in control, laying down his life so he can pick it up, but he is also uncertain, frightened, even succumbing to despair. “Take this cup from me!” Is it all for nothing? He said in confidence he will rise on the third day, but will that really happen? Or is he wasting his life — and his death — for no reason?

We know the answer. The gospel writers knew the answer. Jesus seems to know the answer. And yet … he walks by faith into the darkness, not entirely certain. Trusting. Hoping. Believing.

LENT I Do Not Understand

31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. (Luke 18:31–34 ESV)

We are going to Jerusalem.

And I do not understand.

All things are possible for God, Jesus just told the rich young ruler in Luke’s gospel. All things are possible with God, even the salvation of the wealthy. The young ruler asked how to gain eternal life, and he was told to love God, love neighbor, and give away all he had to the poor and follow Jesus.

We’re called to leave everything behind, even kin, for the sake of God’s kingdom. And if we do that — really, truly do leave everything for the kingdom — we’ll get houses and kin “many times more in this time, and in the age to come.”

What does any of this have to do with going to Jerusalem, with betrayal and suffering and death?

All things are possible for God. So, why are we going to Jerusalem? Why are we facing betrayal and death? Why is any of this coming? Why is this written? Why is this necessary? Why can’t Jesus stop it?

I do not understand. I still follow, all the way to the end, but I do not understand.

LENT We Are Always God’s People

7 When it was told to Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim and cried aloud and said to them, “Listen to me, you leaders of Shechem, that God may listen to you. 8 The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us. ’ 9 But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees? ’ 10 And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us. ’ 11 But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees? ’ 12 And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us. ’ 13 But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees? ’ 14 Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us. ’ 15 And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.” (Judges 9:7–15 ESV)

I spend a lot of time talking about Israel as a failure — this idea is central to my reading of the biblical story, and to my theology. But it’s important to remember what Israel has failed at. They are not a failed people of God, for God has made sure that even in their failure and their unfaithfulness, Israel is still his people.

No, what Israel has failed at is being a political entity, a nation with a flag and an army and a government and a leader. Israel cannot sustain faithfulness to God’s call, to it’s covenant with God, and remain a wealthy, powerful nation. Wealth and power, according to the account in Deuteronomy through 2 Kings, undoes Israel, opens the door for the kinds of idolatry that will forever plague the people of God — faith in other gods and faith in our own strength and riches.

Eventually, Israel is conquered, and even when its fortunes are restored and exile is ended, Israel’s sovereignty is highly circumscribed, dependent on the Persian occupation that will end — eventually — with Alexander the Great. And eventually that even circumscribed sovereignty will be extinguished by Roman armies in the great war that destroys Jerusalem.

Unlike many, I don’t find a model for government in scripture. God raises leaders — Moses, Joshua, the judges who save Israel from conquest and redeem it from the consequences of its sin — but there is no constitution in scripture, no recipe for government. No recommendation.

God leaves the puzzle of human government to ourselves. (This is also true in the Qur’an, which is why Muslims argue so violently about “proper Islamic governance.”) We are utterly on our own.

But this is not to say scripture is without something to say, without wisdom and even revelation on the matter.

Here, Israel is offered a king — Abimelech, the son of Gideon, who was himself offered the monarchy, and who refused it, saying, “the Lord will rule over you.” (Judges 8:23) Abimelech has killed his brothers, all but Jotham, in his quest to rule Israel. And Jotham warns them — you have not selected a man of good character as your ruler, and you have not acted in “good faith” while doing it.

I’m not sure what good faith means here. Perhaps the men of Schechem — who are doing the actual choosing — want a king so they may go forth and conquer, to rule and plunder others. That is what Abimelech eventually does, and this is why he eventually perishes — crushed by a stone dropped from from the walls by “a certain woman” while his army besieges Thebez.

But here, we have a parable. The kingship is offered to the olive tree, the most noble of trees, which cannot take it because to do so would rob men of the olive tree’s precious and valuable fruit. The same is true of the fig and grape vine. These plants — these trees — are too busy actually producing things to take on the miserable work of governance.

Only the bramble, which yields nothing of value, nothing but thorns, is happy to take on the task. Relax in my shade, the bramble says, which is probably a joke, because brambles don’t yield much shade. But careful what you ask for, the bramble adds. If you seek my rule for the wrong reasons — for strength, power, conquest, to “Make America Great Again” — then there will be nothing but fire. Fire which will devour even the mightiest of trees, the great cedars of Lebanon.

It’s a reminder that as we govern ourselves (because there is no choice to self-government, whether done as monarchy or democracy), the people who aspire to rule are rarely sterling men of good and decent character. They are not olive trees, or fig trees, or even grape vines. They are brambles and weeds, which choke and suffocate and crowd out all that is productive and good. They promise, not comfort and ease, but fire, suffering, and death.

Human government is a puzzle without a solution, for when you put human beings together, you create authority, hierarchy, collective resources, and the needs to sustain all three. But authority, hierarchy, and shared wealth almost always lead to violence and exploitation, almost always end — sooner or later — in fire. I was once a libertarian, thinking there was a way to square this. But no longer. Understanding and embracing the paradox — that we cannot govern ourselves even as we have no choice but to — is an important part of being human, of rejecting a modernity which thinks proper systems and structures can make government forever foolproof.

A modernity that believe we can create a world where character and the caprice of God do not matter.

We want a thing we are not supposed to have, and God has grudgingly given it to us — dominion over each other. Sometimes it goes well, but frequently, it does not. However it goes, and whatever part of history we find ourselves living in (it always better to live in the reign of Solomon, but sometimes we find ourselves living under Manasseh, or Josiah, or at end, where it hardly matters who leads because the Babylonians are at the gates, or even in exile far away from the land of promise), we don’t get to pick our age, or the conditions under which we live.

But none of this means we are less God’s people, that we have lost God’s favor, or that some kind of instant magic will bring it all back. We always have God’s promise and God’s presence, however well or poorly we rule ourselves.

We are always God’s people.

LENT Bent and Crooked and Glorious

1 May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary
and give you support from Zion!
3 May he remember all your offerings
and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices!
Selah
4 May he grant you your heart’s desire
and fulfill all your plans!
5 May we shout for joy over your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions
(Psalms 20:1-5 ESV)

What do you do when you know no one wants you? When you know no one loves you?

In my book, The Love That Matters: Meeting Jesus in the Midst of Terror and Death (which you should all buy and read if you haven’t yet), I talked a little about what it felt like to be almost completely abandoned and unwanted in the world:

At seventeen, I had three great questions of the world. Would anyone ever want me? Would anyone ever love me? Would I belong anywhere? I had no idea what the answers to those questions would be. I had the vague hope, thanks to that voice I had heard in the fifth grade, that there was a “yes” out there. somewhere. But really, I had no idea where I was going. Or how to get there.

It would be fair to say that over 30 years later, I still feel some of this. I’ve been rejected — twice — for ordination by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which didn’t quite toss me out the door and then scream, “and stay out!”, but came pretty close. I’ve not managed to find work I can, in good conscience, do for any great length of time. (My sojourn in corporate America is teaching me things I’d rather not know.) The fact that I don’t seem fit for life in the modern world is only ameliorated by the fact that my marriage to Jennifer is as a solid a rock as I can ever stand on — we love each other without condition — and that there are churches out there, where I’ve preached and presided and simply been, that would call me if they could, if they had the money or if they were allowed to.

And there are these kids, these beautiful kids broken and wounded by violence and neglect and unlove. To hear their despair is to live mine again, but knowing now what I wish I could have known at 17 — there is love, and belonging, and purpose, and even meaning. Less than I wanted, but far more than I imagined.

It’s not much. I’m almost 50, and I’ve not really found a place of my own. The world only sort of works for me. But I have found some people. And they have found me. And we belong to each other.

So, is this what it means for the Lord to answer me in the day of trouble? To reach out from his resting place in his shattered and broken house and help me? Is the sacrifice that is my life — sometimes a simple offering and sometimes set alight on the altar — acceptable?

And my heart’s desire? And my plans? I wanted to be famous. To be well-off. I wanted people to listen to me, to regard me, to respect me, to appreciate me. I wanted to play songs for adoring crowds and speak words of wisdom to rapt audiences.

I have had a little of that.

But my heart’s desire is still … to be wanted, to be loved, to find a place of belonging. And I have. In Jennifer. In my kids. It is not what I wanted or imagined or hoped or prayed for. But there is adoration, regard, and rapt attention. There is love — more than I could ever imagine.

Prayers unspoken, yet answered. Desires and plans fulfilled. After a fashion. After a bent and crooked and glorious fashion.

So, I shall shout for joy that the Lord has been good. He has given me all I have asked for and more. That there is love without end in a world so good and skilled at being brutal and indifferent. I ask now for these things for those I care for, the young people who have come to me not knowing, as I didn’t know, what would come. Seeing in me something of hope, and love, and acceptance, yet still wondering if sorrow and suffering would be all there is. Fearing it would be. And wanting no more of it.

SERMON Dead Man Walking

I did’t preach today, but if I had, it would have looked something like this.

Fifth Sunday of Lent (Year C)

  • Isaiah 43:16–21
  • Psalm 126
  • Philippians 3:4b–14
  • John 12:1–8

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. 3 Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. 8 For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:1–8 ESV)

Jesus talks like a dead man in today’s Gospel reading.

Which makes sense. Because he is basically a dead man walking. The chief priests and the pharisees have just contrived the plot to kill Jesus, because to the way Caiaphas the high priest thinks, it is better “that one man should die for the people” then that “the whole nation” should perish. Because Jesus has gotten popular, everyone believes in him, and maybe — just maybe his popularity will change Israel’s fortunes, compelling the Romans to come “and take away both our placed our nation.”

Caiaphas never explains what he means by this, or how it would work. We know … because we know what is coming next. Not just in the week or so that follows, but in the generation to come.

Jesus dies. And not just for Israel, as John writes in his gospel, but “also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” But the nation dies too, a generation later, when Roman legions show up, lay siege to Jerusalem, and destroy the place.

If Jesus is a sacrifice to prevent this, then the sacrifice fails. The Judeans lose their even highly circumscribed sovereignty, and the house of God so carefully and loving restored. Their place and their nation … gone. And scattered.

And all of this concern — all this fear — because Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. In fact, the situation had gotten such that John tells us, “Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews,” staying with his disciples in a small town in the middle of nowhere and leaving all Jerusalem wondering whether or not Jesus was going to show up in the temple for the passover.

And what might happen if he did.

Instead, we find Jesus today sitting at table with the not-so-dead Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. In an act of deep appreciation, and tremendous gratitude, Mary takes nard — a costly and very precious oil used in temple sacrifices — and anoints his feet. With her hair. And the whole room is filled with the pungent aroma of this spice.

The disciples are probably stunned. John tells us Judas is outraged. Cynically so. That cost a lot of money … Think of all the good we could have done with it! Think of the poor, who would have benefitted so!

It doesn’t say how the other disciples acted. Assuming they were with Jesus, and they may not have been. Perhaps they were are stunned, and maybe as scandalized, as Judas.

Jesus defends Mary. Defends her extravagance. And he quotes the words of God to Moses, after a fashion, when in Deuteronomy 15 Moses tells Israel

For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’

There will always be poor, and so let that become a reason not to ignore them, or forget them, or dismiss their poverty but to show concern for them, to share with them, to care for them, to provide for them.

Don’t argue with me about that. Argue with Moses. Argue with God.

More importantly here, I think, is the fact that Jesus understands something the rest of us don’t quite yet get — that he’s already dead, a dead man walking.

Jesus is going to his death, and there is nothing he nor anyone else can do to stop it. He has told us earlier in John’s gospel that he lays down his life of his own free will, that he has been given the authority to lay down his life, and he does knowing he will take it up again.

In fact, he lays down his life in order to take it up again.

And we follow him. This is what Lent is all about, a journey with Jesus into death. It may be a raucous show along the way, good fun had by all, as we watch the master raise the dead and feed thousands, as we help and even do a little bit of it ourselves. But we are headed with him to cross, to that terrible way of death the Romans reserved for rebels and traitors.

We too are dead men walking. We just don’t know it.

But Jesus does. The poor will always be with us, he reminds us, and thus we will always have an opportunity to give, to share, to provide for them. But Jesus is doomed. He knows it. In John’s gospel, he heads toward the place of the skull with eyes wide open.

He knows he is going to die. And he knows he is going to rise.

We walk not knowing. We walk still thinking it might end with Jesus as our king, Rome and its armies shattered and broken, and the promise of God to “Make Judea Great Again!”

But we too are dead men walking. We too walk with Jesus. And i’m glad he lays down his life and picks it up again because I can’t do that. I don’t want to lay down my life at all. I’d rather not lose it, because everything I know about the world tells me once I lay it down, my life is gone and it is never coming back again.

But Jesus … he picks his up again. He rises from that tomb and visits the disciples and challenges them to touch his wounds.

And so, I walk with Jesus, afraid as I am that I will, someday, sooner or later, have my life taken from me. Forced to lay it down. But I know he lays it down for me. For us. And picks it back up again. And in doing that, picks our lives up as well.

We are all dead people walking. We are all risen ones walking too.

LENT Sending to Babylon

11 I, I am the Lord,
and besides me there is no savior.
12 I declared and saved and proclaimed,
when there was no strange god among you;
and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God.
13 Also henceforth I am he;
there is none who can deliver from my hand;
I work, and who can turn it back?”
14 Thus says the Lord,
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“For your sake I send to Babylon
and bring them all down as fugitives,
even the Chaldeans, in the ships in which they rejoice.
15 I am the Lord, your Holy One,
the Creator of Israel, your King.
(Isaiah 43:11-15 ESV)

What goes around, comes around. And as you sow, so shall you reap. My mother told me once she believes these things — that those who do evil in the world are eventually repaid their evil. A kind-of karma, if you will, that evens the world out, and make the world morally comprehensible.

I don’t believe these things. I haven’t since I was in the Army in Panama, where all sorts of shady and illegal and dangerous things were done by people in power, things that put a lot of people — a lot of soldiers — at risk. Of course, I was primed not to believe in anything resembling karma or just desserts or the coming around of things that go because too many people who have hurt me, who took joy in it and for whom it seemed their purpose, prospered, and probably slept happily, their dreams untroubled by my sorrow and my nightmares.

The same is true, sadly, today. People can hurt me, and they do, and nothing comes of it. They pay no price, suffer no consequences, feel no pangs of sorrow or conscience, lose no sleep. They are not caught and lectured or reprimanded or punished. Indeed, they are probably given medals and told, “Keep up the good work!” Dealing with me is probably akin to a burp or a sneeze, a minor inconvenience to be forgotten as soon as the moment passes.

No, what goes around most definitely does not come around.

God here is delivering Israel from exile. Raising Israel up from the living death that is their sorrow and mourning along the banks of the Tigris. God used Babylon to bring Israel low, the means of God’s wrath upon his faithless and idolatrous people. In the armies of Nebuchadnezzar is all the wrath and rage of God at a people who long before stopped being the grateful and humble recipients of God’s grace.

This is, however, only a temporary privilege, and Babylon too will pay the price for the destruction it has wrought, for carrying Israel into an exile where it could taunt and demand the Israelites sing them songs. Babylon itself faces conquest. And exile. Babylon faces judgment at the hands of the very instruments it once gloried in — armies, strength, power.

But is this what goes around comes around?

There are days I wish God would bring low some of those who have so harshly judged me. Who have cast me out, who have taunted and tormented and abused me. I’m not sure I want their suffering — I am too tenderhearted and kind for that — but I do want to know that somehow I matter enough to God that some kind of vengeance, some kind of price, is paid by a people willing to cast me out, to treat me as someone of no value. I don’t know if I would take joy in seeing that. But I want to know that I matter enough to God, to be worth the kind of recompense that looks like what goes around comes around.

Mostly I just want the casting out undone, though I know it can’t be and it won’t be. I am in exile. On the banks of the river. With a song of sorrow in my heart. Waiting for God’s deliverance. Waiting…

Yet Forty Days!

This is an expanded blog entry from a Facebook post.

My job comes to an end in 40 days. Forty days. Forty blessed days. The length of time God took to flood the earth. The number of days Moses was up the mountain and the Israelites were left to fend for their frightened and idolatrous selves. The number of days Israel’s spies wandered the land of Canaan — the land of promise — seeking to see what kind of land it was the Lord their God was giving to them. The number of days Israel was stymied by the Philistines before David felled their champion Goliath.

For forty days, Elijah fled from Jezebel on the strength of food and drink the Lord gave him. For forty days, Ezekiel was commanded to lie on his right side and “bear the punishment of the house of Judah.”

Forty days. The number of days between Jonah’s warning to Ninevah and that great city’s impending doom. The amount of time Jesus was in the wilderness, hungry and thirsty and alone with the devil and the angels and the animals. The number of days the risen Jesus appeared to the disciples after his crucifixion, speaking to them about the kingdom of God.

Forty days. And then I’m done.

LENT Living in the Promise of God

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!
5 Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
6 He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
(Psalms 126:1-6 ESV)

Oh, to live in the fulfillment of the promises of God!

To rejoice and know my exile has ended! That I home, in the place of promise, in the land of milk and honey, my land. Where the wadis — the dream streams and rivers that flow only when the seasonal rains come — flow clear and cool and fresh every day! To come back, knowing God has rescued me, redeemed me, given me a full harvest and done great things for me!

So that my sorrow is joy, my grief is celebration, and my nightmares become dreams. So that I can leave behind Springtime Hill (Tel Aviv), my exile home along the rivers of Babylon, and come back to the land — the place, the home — that I was given. That it is well and truly mine again.

Oh, to live in the fulfillment of the promise of God!

I don’t, though. I wake every morning in this אֶרֶץ נוֹד Eretz Nod, this land of wandering, knowing it isn’t my home, knowing I am not going anywhere soon, that the rivers may not flow and the grain may not grow this year because the rains may not come. My mouth may be dry and full of dust. All I have are seeds and sorrow. I weep, still, because I do not have the fulfillment of the promises of God, just the promises. So much warm, still, dry air.

I still have nightmares. And dreams … that are simply dreams.

And yet, I do hold something of the promise of God. I do live something akin to the resurrected life of Christ. Because I share in his life. He shares in mine. I am in him and he is in me. And so, this promise of God is not so empty a promise. It is already fulfilled. In the life of Christ, in his teaching, his healing, his feeding, his casting out of demons, in his proclamation of Good News to Israel and the world, in his life-giving death and in his death-destroying resurrection, I have the promise of God fulfilled.

Wherever I may be, I am home from Springtime Hill, from my mourning along side the rivers of Babylon, from my tireless roaming in the Land of Wandering. Whatever the climate, living waters drench the desert. Grain ripens in the fields, full stalks, golden underneath the late summer sun. There is no drought or famine or war here. The harvest is bountiful. My seeds have grown, and my sorrow is joy.

In Christ, I have a home. I am a blessing. I have descendants more than the stars in the sky. I have an abundance, more to share with all who come. The Lord has done great things for me.

In Christ, the Lord has done great things for me.

LENT More Than Enough

1 Now the wife of one of the sons of the prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.” 2 And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” 3 Then he said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. 4 Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.” 5 So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her. 6 When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another.” Then the oil stopped flowing. 7 She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on the rest.” (2 Kings 4:1–7 ESV)

Loaves and fishes. Vessels of olive oil. An abundance, coming from a little, From almost nothing. This is the mercy of God.

There’s so much here. Elisha is following in the footsteps of his master, the ascended Elijah, who preserved the widow of Zarephath and her son from dying by telling her that her oil and her flour would not run out as long as drought and famine were in the land. After asking she use the last of her food not for herself and her son, but for Elijah. Trust me, and trust God, enough to give the last of what you have to God.

Here, Elisha tells the widow to borrow empty vessels — a lot of them — from her neighbors. What they must have though of this strange woman, begging empty jars from them. She is crazy. Misfortune nipping at her feet. A terrible thing, that her creditors want to take and sell her children. Poor woman, someone should do something.

But they didn’t. Neither did the “sons of the prophets,” her late husbands former companions and partners in work/ministry. If they felt compassion for her, they didn’t help her. If they had an obligation to help, they completely disregarded it. They were not there for her. Not in her distress. Not in her poverty. Not enough to prevent the looming enslavement of her children.

They stood, at a distance, and maybe shook their heads at her misfortune and maybe clucked their tongues at her strange request.

Shut the door behind yourself, Elisha tells her. I’m reminded of Jesus’ command to his disciples to pray in private, to do alone what the self-righteous do so very publicly. To be by yourself, with your heart, your fears, and your hopes, and know that God alone knows. Trust alone in God’s forgiveness, God’s provision for the day. She pours the oil, and fills all of these borrowed jars. Jars that are not hers, given to her because empty jars have no value, carry nothing but air and hopes and dreams. They are junk. She fills them. Perhaps she sells them back to her neighbors, who wonder — “where did this abundance come from?”

God has not abandoned her. Elisha speaks powerful words, and oil flows, enough to fill “not too few” borrowed jars. Enough to pay her debts, to care for her family.

Enough. And more than enough. An abundance, coming from almost nothing. It is everywhere in our world. This is the very real mercy of God.