Thursday, February 28, 2013

Jesus Wept

During my childhood, Elmer Holmes led the singing for our little church.  Elmer, as all the Holmes boys were, was tall.  He had a special music time for children, I think on Sunday nights.  Often during this music time, he would ask us to quote Bible verses from memory.  It was no secret that he would ask.  He was always encouraging us to learn new ones.  One verse which was often quoted was John 11:35.  It was one everyone knew and one to which anyone caught with memory loss would quickly repeat.  Finally Elmer told us there would be no more quoting of John 11:35.  I suppose he thought the congregation had heard “Jesus wept” enough. 

Jesus’ weeping was at Lazarus’ home.  His friend was dead and he was about to raise him.  I’ve always wondered about the cause of his weeping.  Was he crying because Lazarus had died . . . because Lazarus sisters partially blamed Jesus for not getting there sooner . . . or was it because Jesus hated to call him back from what had been found beyond the tomb? 
There is an event, described by Luke (the sermon text), that leaves me wondering if perhaps Jesus wept again.  He certainly lamented.  Jerusalem, the Holy City, had all but rejected him.  The people of the city, like so many others, had heard him and had seen the miraculous things he did; but, in spite of this, they rejected him.  This was the city where he, as a twelve year-old boy, had taken his place as a “man” in the Jewish faith.  It was here he had dialogued and questioned the leading rabbis.  It was here that he had the first awakening of who he was.  When his parents realized he had been separated from them and rushed back to find him, his mother chastised him.  Well, what mother wouldn’t?  He said, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?”  (See Luke 2:41-51)

Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem was personal.  As the Father’s Son, this was the one place he should have been welcomed.  Oh, I know that his message challenged the established faith, but wouldn’t those who were watching for the coming Messiah expect him to challenge them? 

It all leads me to wonder if Jesus is weeping still.  As he looks down on our houses of worship and our other institutions of faith, what does he see?  Have we embraced the Messiah he was?  Or have we reshaped him into the Messiah with whom we’re comfortable?
Christians make a lot of noise in the public arena.  They march and carry signs.  They boycott businesses and offices.  They do it all because of the evil society the nation has become and the immoral behavior they see.  Jesus made his way through the society of his day, even daring to travel into the despised land of the Samaritans and to engage them in dialog.  In doing so, he carried no sign but himself.  When he lamented, it was not over society as a whole but over the Holy City, the place that was the center of the faith that was his.

Perhaps we lament over the wrong things, places, people, and causes.  Perhaps we should look more closely at our own practice of the faith we claim to hold in Jesus’ name.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Devil Made You Do It?

 “The Devil made you do it!  Are you sure about that?”  I posted that statement and question on Facebook yesterday, and then added, “Life is so much easier when the Devil gets the credit . . . but then there is that Other problem.”

One friend, understandably, identified the “Other” problem as being “me,” by which she meant all of us.  We are a big problem when it comes to temptation and sin.  Like it or not, we bear responsibility for our actions and our reactions.  I sometimes wonder about God’s wisdom in giving us free choice, but I have no doubt that God did so.

But that wasn’t the “Other problem” I had in mind.  Jesus is the other problem.  Were it not for him, you and I could blame our own sin and all the ills in the world on the Devil.  There is a lot of evidence that the Devil deserves the credit for all that is ill and evil in our lives and world.  God certainly can’t be seen as responsible for such.  So, if God is not behind the evil, surely the Devil is.

I like blaming the Devil for all that I do wrong.  It removes responsibility from me and from those I love.  It allows me to fall back and use the Apostle Paul’s lament: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19, ESV).  Whew!  I’m in good company—Paul’s and yours.  Well, I may be in good company, but I still have the Jesus-problem.

After forty days of fasting and prayer, Jesus did battle with the Devil . . . and won!  I know.  I know.  He was Jesus.  Yes, he was Jesus, but do you recall who Scripture tells us that Jesus was?  He was the Son of God in flesh and blood and limited by that flesh-and-blood as are each of us.  He beat the Devil not because he was the Son of God, but because he was a faithful son of God.  He spent enough time with the Father to recognize the Devil when he showed up and to be able to distinguish God’s ways from the Devil’s ways.  Jesus did that as the flesh and blood man he was.  That’s the problem.  We would prefer that Jesus’ power to resist the Devil be a special divine power available only to him.  

We love to hold Jesus up as the perfect example of the kind of persons we should be.  Well, let’s be consistent.  Jesus’ example says that the Devil’s power to lure us away from God’s will is limited to the power we grant to the Devil.  Jesus’ power to resist the Devil was not a special divine power.  It was the power that comes to one who spends ample time in relationship with the living God . . . one who spends so much time that the line between good and evil is always clear.

The problem may well be our fear that, if we were to follow Jesus’ example, we might miss out on something.  We will . . . the hell of being outside God’s will.