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Medical and other experts say we are now only in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. But back in the earliest days, when suffering in China was at its worst and videos of empty interstates in Wuhan were going viral, some here were sounding warnings. They said, unless we take extreme measures like that, the United States would be utterly overwhelmed and millions would die.
I said then, “I can’t imagine not holding worship.”
And here we are, living the unimaginable. Now I can’t imagine holding worship on Easter.
Meanwhile, Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you.” These words from the Gospel of John is St. Paul’s Easter season theme. In his next breath, Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”
Can you imagine that? Take a minute. Simply abide.
God said to Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1st Kings 19)
In silence, there is a voice.
Waiting for me in silence were (and are) some of my life’s most profound questions and truths. And even though it can terrify me, I also hunger for silence. Being in control is a poor substitute for being loved. Avoiding silence only means that need for love controls me. Even when silence provokes, confuses, or feels painful, God is present. Becoming present to God’s presence in silence wakes me up to God’s presence in all other times and places—including the “storm,” “earthquake,” and “fire.”
Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
One of my teachers was born blind. He had a complicated relationship with this chapter in the Gospel of John. He loved what Jesus said and did in it and the boldness of the man born blind. He hated how so many Christians read it.
Because he was blind, Christian leaders quoting Old Testament prohibitions tried to deny his calling to become a pastor. It pained him to hear the many hymns and sermons that repeated the “blindness equals sin” metaphor.
I remember the powerful sermon he preached about “the eyes of faith.” He talked about the “lenses” we rely on, instead of trusting God. When he took off his thick, heavy glasses and invited all of us to do the same, I and many others wept. To trust that his blind and uncorrected eyes were truly “eyes of faith” was incredibly moving. God includes and loves our eyes as they are and our “uncorrected” selves!
The metaphor Jesus used here in John is “seeing equals sin.” Jesus praised humbly accepting one’s blindness and warned against what these religious people did: self-righteously claimed to see clearly, as they damned and threw people out.
But Jesus wasn’t out there criticizing anyone. Can you see love in Jesus’ interaction with everyone in this chapter? It can be an act of love to hold others to a higher standard of love...when you do it with love. But this is such an angry age, we don’t have many role models.
Look to Jesus, who would rather be stoned than thrown stones. Ask God to help you trust what you cannot see: Christ in every one and every thing. Ask for wisdom to discern what, here and now, really is love.
Being still does not come naturally to me. I built myself around this lie: What I accomplish makes me worthy. Looking successful makes me loveable. But there is no way to win at being still. Being still is not a marketable skill. It’s not even an item on my to-do list: I get no endorphin burst from checking it off! It is therefore terrifying, because being still takes me to the fear at my very core: Will I be loved and accepted for who I am, apart from my successes and achievements?
And it does more. It takes me through that fear to the healing truth that’s deeper than the lie. My truest self is belonging-in-itself. My life is hidden with God in Christ: it always has been and always will be. Practicing being still, I’m becoming more free to be, without justification. This frees to help us succeed together, instead of pursuing success all by myself.
“Jesus loves me” cannot be understood by running the numbers or by vigorous debate. Jesus’ love cannot be approached objectively, only subjectively. This love has been placed within you and only there, within you, can it be discovered as the One Saving Reality.
What if Psalm 46 is God whispering to you, “Be still and know I love you”?
The woman said to Jesus, “Sir, you have no bucket.”
This Lent, the gospel of John shows us one-on-one encounters between Jesus and another person. Last week, Nicodemus, a pious leader, the consummate insider. Now, the woman at the well, an outcast among outcasts.
(The timing says it all. In this hot, dry place, everyone went to the well for water in the cool of the morning or evening, not in midday heat, as this woman did.)
As with Nicodemus, misunderstanding and confusion fill this conversation. The woman and Jesus talked past each other.
We might say, Jesus spoke about what is unseen (living water, eternal life), and she responded about what is seen (buckets, this well, relief from hard work). She was on the practical level, and Jesus, the soul level. She was just trying to make a living; Jesus was encouraging her to come alive. The distance between them yawned.
At first. Amazingly, they find each other. The resonances of truth--her honesty, his authentic generosity--light a way through the dark. She reveals and Jesus discovers her deep thirst, her soul level desire.
This became good news for her and her whole community. They invited Jesus to stay, and he stayed--John's keyword for a true and deep connection on the soul level. Which is the very living water Jesus was talking about.
Who invites you to the soul level? Who are you inviting? Ask God to tune the resonances between us, so we can be drawn together and stay in Christ.
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