levelling: a winter ponder

We have been studying Isaiah. Talk about scanning the height and breadth of the heavens. Into that expanse creeps an Advent message:

A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord;

make straight in the desert

a highway for our God.

every valley shall be raised up,

every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.

And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

and all people will see it together.

For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” (1)

There is some aspect of levelling that occurs in getting ready for Jesus. In Luke 3, as John the Baptist goes about preaching a baptism of repentance and forgiveness, this prophecy is quoted as ‘and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’

Last time I checked, I was still part of ‘all flesh;’ woefully, the part that is STILL in need of repentance and forgiveness and salvation. Levelled. Having been a Christian for over three quarters of my life, I feel like I should have it figured out by now: plumb, level, straight. Some piece of my soul plummets when I trip over the uneven, gnarly roots of sin STILL in my life. It is winter: cold, dark, and lonely. No party here.

RW pic level

RW pic level3

Into this melancholic place, though, shines a light. One of the recurrent themes of Isaiah has been God’s undeterred mission for justice and righteousness; the lifting of oppressions. We see Jesus answering the religious establishment, when he is asked why he hangs out with sinners:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (2)

Jesus seems to draw a line between sickness and sin, suggesting that all that which oppresses is not external. (Please do no hear me say that sickness is always indicative of sin. John Cpt 9 clearly indicates otherwise.) Oppression is a deep word – one that most of us can sit with for a moment. It presupposes injustice, but does not rush to sling blame so much as sees the one oppressed. It is at risk of becoming commonplace, however, and I think we sometimes miss that oppression can come in a vast number of forms. Anything that sits on our chests so that we cannot freely breathe. No wonder we can relate. A light dawns, that perhaps this message of a savior of the sick, is for me. Perhaps Jesus would rather meet with the sinner in me, than the sanctimonious. He’d rather dine with my brokenness than any saintliness: that which oppresses, in me, or through me. Maybe he endures my hustling to clean myself up before I’ll approach him; flattering myself to somehow earn his favor or expecting others to do the same; but would much prefer the raw and broken Jenny, instead of so many layers of stiff white, but no less dirty, bandages. Perhaps he’s not all that squeamish about my wounds; whether self-inflicted or otherwise. Perhaps he’d like to bring a little mercy…HERE.

Various translations of this God statement read differently. In Hosea, God speaks judgement on the unrepentant, concluding: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (3)  Is it possible, that God does not want me to keep throwing away pieces of myself, untended by him,  because I cannot scrub them clean enough; but rather asks me to enter into his way of steadfast love. Steadfast love… HERE? You mean…you and me…the sinner in me? Is that even possible? And is that way level? Enough so that I might stop throwing away pieces of others as well?

Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (4) This is my winter ponder. Who is the object of this mercy? Could Jesus be talking about a multi-dimensional culture of mercy, rather than one direction? Could we abide in that kind of space, fill it out and breathe there?

The winter night sky of Isaiah makes it clear that, mercy-allowed, God still does not dispense with righteousness; but it is a righteousness of his making, not our own. He is hungry for righteousness to be fleshed-out in us. This Advent season, perhaps God would like to dine with the sinner in each of us;  our offering the unworked, rough places to his levelling, that we might remember from what place salvation comes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit. This is me, God, perpetually unable to make myself right or plumb, or gracious. Unable to level my heart to kindness, or remove the roots of anxiety and selfishness. Yet you came, undaunted by our culture of woe, bringing the kingdom of heaven with you. Come again, Lord Jesus, into these rough places in my soul, into the poorness of my spirit. Lift, miraculously, the power of sin’s oppression, and establish your culture of mercy, in me and through me. Amen

Scripture references are typically sourced from Blue Letter Bible, for ease of reader access. (1)

  1. “Isaiah 40:1 (NIV) – Comfort comfort my people says.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Dec, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/isa/40/1/p1/s_719001&gt;.
  2. “Matthew 9:13 (NIV) – But go and learn what.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Dec, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/mat/9/13/s_938013&gt;.
  3. “Hosea 6:6 (ESV) – For I desire steadfast love.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Dec, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/hos/6/6/s_868006&gt;.
  4. “Matthew 9:13 (NLT) – Then he added Now go.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 18 Dec, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/mat/9/13/s_938013&gt;.

Transfigure

sunrise 2

 

Today is day 2 of ‘springing forward;’ which usually feels like ‘dragging, one-step-at-a-time,’ in order to adjust to a new schedule.  As I accompanied my daughter, on her distracted and dawdling way to the bus, I marveled anew, that in spite of her profound array of special needs, she can pretty much daily  show up with a cheerful attitude and not too much coaxing and cajoling. The ‘pretty-much-every-day’ is what gets me.

As we trundled our way to the bottom of the hill,  dawn crept up the sky; this dawn, unedited and extravagant, delivering a message.  I was struck dumb, and continue struggling to find words. Even after the bus had come and gone, I stood still and let the majesty and the magnitude of God’s unspoken words wash over me.

I am here. Every day. Showing up.

Though the air is unseasonably warm this morning, there is a brisk wind out of the southeast – that too, an atypical direction. I could feel it picking up as God continued to paint the sky.

I am here in the storm. I was here BEFORE the storm.

I’ve been in what feels like a crop-flattening storm lately, so those words are ponder-worthy: What does it mean for God to have been here, displaying His Glory, before the storm? And why, today, does he deliver a message, not quietly on paper, but painted and wind-propelled,  across the whole sky? In one instant, the sky was 157 degrees of pink, from southeast to west-northwest. Before the day even started…

If God can paint the sky east to west, can he not then paint a life, my life, a different shade of storm-cellar grey? Can he not at least ‘brighten up’ my perspective? Can he not transfigure the bleak questions of this season; questions of fear and unknowing and loss, into some realization of the beauty of his goodness? Some realization of who he is, starling though it is against that stark grey backdrop?

We’ve been reading the book of Mark during this pre-spring.

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
"Mark 9:1 (NIV) - And he said to them." Blue Letter Bible. Web. 13 Mar, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/mar/9/1/p1/s_966001>.

“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him” This after Jesus has told them he must suffer and be killed and rise again. Can you imagine the questions in their minds? ‘Listen to him’…after his stark announcement of impending suffering, even death?

“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.” This… after the radiance, and a sighting of Elijah and Moses. Wouldn’t that still one’s run-on of questions just for a moment? Storm and light, juxta-positioned.

I feel like God completely transfigured the sky this morning. Midst the dismay of surveying what I have presumed to be ‘Crop damage’ from the storms in our life, I feel a bit like Peter,  I’ve experienced a great sense of loss and some hyper-anxiety. What to do, think, feel, say??? So when Peter suggests doing something…ANYTHING…I can relate. But perhaps I should still the questions, and listen…

sunrise transfigure

I was here, before the storm. “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

And from another story, I am here, in the storm; “Why are you so afraid?”

Jesus Calms the Storm
35 As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.
38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”
39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
41 The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”
“Mark 4:35 (NLT) – As evening came Jesus said.” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 11 Jun, 2018. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/mar/4/35/s_961035&gt;.
“This is my son, whom I love… listen to him…”
Lord Jesus, the proclamation of the dawn, has left me speechless. Speechless enough to feel a burble of hope shift, and rise above the questions in my soul. Will you unfurl this hope – like the dawn, and transfigure me?

 jfig 3/2018