“Aaron, you’re so good at Legos. You should do the talent show next year and take all your Legos onto the stage and show how many ships you can build in two minutes.”
For your head: may the words you have committed to memory today return to you often to guide, encourage, and sustain you. And may this day mark the beginning of a habit of lifelong study and learning. There will not always be a hefty notebook and tests, but there will always be those with something to teach you and those needing you to teach them.
For your mouth: may you continue to speak aloud what is true about God; may you regularly confess your own faith to those who understand and affirm it and to those who do not; may you learn to pray often and to sing loudly.
For your heart: may the words of faith you have spoken here today take up residence in your heart and may they define you. May you never forget how very deeply you are loved by your Father in heaven and may you cling to your identity as His child. Do not listen to any voices that seek to tell you differently.
For your hands: may your profession of faith today take on flesh through a life of service: service to God and service to others, when it is comfortable and convenient and when it is not; when people are easy to love and when they are not; when it takes you down the paths you expect and when it does not.
For your feet: may you understand that the story you have told us today; the story of God and the people of faith; that is your story. You are the next pages of this history, and there are adventures to be had and roads to travel. May you walk boldly, knowing that God is with you, the Good Shepherd who knows you by name; the One who will never leave you nor forsake you.
“And God looked at all he had made…and it was very good.”
To the question “Who do you say that I am?” we cannot give a merely theoretical or theological answer. What answers it, in the final analysis, is our life, our personal history, our manner of living the gospel.
Peter’s affirmation, ‘You are the Christ,’ is fundamental. But what is demanded is that we make that affirmation the guiding thought of our life — accepting all the consequences, as dire as they may be. Only so is our response valid, as honest and sincere as it may be without it.
Our response to the question, ‘Who do you say that I am?” does not end with a profession of faith or a theological systematization. It is a question addressed to our life and that of the entire church.
From Gustavo Gutierrez, We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People (p. 51). (H.T. Scot McKnight)
I was preparing for an announcement I hoped to give during our worship service last week and found the following reflection written close to six years ago. I am now on the other end of this, planning and recruiting Seattle folks to join in a week of service and kinship with Church of the Redeemer. This was a good reminder for me of the many ways God uses outside groups to come alongside and bless an existing community.
On April 14, 2005 I wrote the following post, titled “My Burden Is Light”:
I love my baby. I love holding her, playing with her, talking to her, bathing her. I am one of those moms who simply cannot get enough of her little one.
With that said, when someone asks to hold her and I pass her into the arms of another, there is that moment where I straighten my back and shoulders and stretch my torso a bit. There is that feeling of release, relief, and the easing of a weight or burden, even if for only a few minutes. There is that sudden freedom to go to the bathroom by myself, or sit down and eat a plate of food unencumbered, or sit at the computer and read an email without her little hands grabbing at the mouse and shoving bills and papers onto the floor.
This week our church is hosting a group of kids and adults from my home church in Seattle, Washington. They are here this week to serve our church and our community through morning service projects at our tutoring center and at homes of church members, and through afternoon sports and dance camps for neighborhood children. It is an amazing group of people who chose to spend their spring break, many of them as families, not in Cancun or at Disneyland, but in the gritty streets of South Central.
I have been close to tears many times this week:
-leaving the home of one of our church members who is widowed, wheelchair bound, and the primary caregiver for her elderly mother with Alzheimer’s disease where four members of the mission team were scrubbing walls, priming rooms for painting, scouring behind toilets, picking dropped pills up off the floor, and helping to organize the contents of a kitchen so that things could be accessed from a wheelchair;
-standing in the middle of the street talking to a neighborhood woman and her son who had nothing to do with any of our camps or events but who had driven by our gathering time of singing with the kids in the park and had stopped their minivan to find out who we were and why we were doing what we were doing;
-sitting in the auditorium of our local grade school watching a beautiful high school senior who is an accomplished dancer in Seattle teach dance to more than forty little girls—and remembering holding that young woman when she was the same age that my own little girl is now;
-walking into the back classroom of the tutoring center I have directed for the past three years and having someone flip the light switch to reveal a brand new ceiling filled with new recessed light fixtures that fill the room with bright, warm light–no longer will young children and their tutors squint to learn new words on book pages that are barely illumined by a lone fluorescent light.
I love my life here in South Central. I love my church and the people I call neighbor and friend. I love the opportunities I have daily to wrestle with Jesus’ call to love mercy and to walk justly. There is nothing else that I would rather be doing.
But it is not always easy. And it can sometimes feel lonely. And so this week I am feeling that deep sense of a weight lifted, of responsibility shared; of partnership, companionship, and relief. I have stood on the sidelines of camp programs, free to chat with the watching moms. I have stood in the back of the group of kids singing, free to engage stopped minivans and curious neighbors in conversation. I have stood in the middle of a newly painted tutoring center, and watched others bend and sweat and cover themselves with paint so that children I love can be welcomed by cleanliness and beauty.
This week, twenty-nine people have come into our life here and humbly asked: “Can we hold your baby?”
Moses went up the mountain, early in the morning
To see the glory of Yahweh
“Come alone” God had instructed
“Leave Joshua, Aaron, and Hur below”
not even goats or sheep could graze within sight of this meeting
only his two feet, two hands, two slabs
the basket boy of Nile birth
slow of speech and tongue
the “who am I” who met the “I AM”
and took command of the sea
His climb was harsh, the way hidden
leaving light and friends and flocks behind
level ground and tents and food abandoned
for this trust-walk into darkness
Believing, following, expecting Voice and Presence
Found in fearful, fiery cloud
He had begged to see that which should strike a man dead
A showing of glory that would kill
And Yahweh agreed to the meet-up
Promising mercy to the one whose staff had split the sea
A way would be made, a space would be given,
And so this man stood atop the mountain, protected
Death again pressed back by the hand that summoned him
A fissure of rock prepared
A chasm of stone holding the holder of stone
Carved embrace crafted by covering hand
And so a man pressed into mountain cleavage
Allowed to catch a glimpse
of the back of the Presence passing
And hear the Name declared:
“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
The promise spoken:
“I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you.”
The union sealed:
“Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”
Moses’ climb met God’s descent
Union, reunion, communion,
Glory of God come near to one alone on mountain rock
for forty days Moses feasted there
Tasting neither bread nor drink
Only Presence, Glory, Word
The two empty slabs he carried up
Once lifeless stones now invited to become flesh
Words binding one to another
A promise chiseled that would endure rejection
Generations of rejection already begun in tents below
Tablets declaring a lover’s faithfulness more powerful than any wickedness
And a promise to walk together
Faithful, obligated, entrusted, promised
a people belonging to the beautiful name
The abounding, maintaining, forgiving Name
Whose every right it is to punish
Whose glory deserves to kill
Is it any wonder Moses’ face was flushed
With the unbearable radiance of such a meeting
And the weight of goodness declared in a name
that is at once a promise and prophecy
Mercy ever new, unfailing
Like a widow’s oil that cannot run dry
Compassion hounding, chasing, searching
Coins and lambs worth dying for
Love that lifts up its skirts and runs
Majesty that stoops and scrubs
A king whose borning cry screams hope to every nation
This is the Presence we too long to see
this One who could have withheld or struck down
but reached down instead and joined
This is the Name we speak aloud
Or wrestle in dark silence
Or flee from altogether
This Mercy, Compassion, Forgiveness we cannot exhaust
This summons to meet and see and taste
Glory shown, heavy as stone, tender as flesh
God with us
A few weeks back I posted a quotation from Joanne Heim, a woman I have never met in person, but whose blog I have enjoyed reading this past year. She and her husband attended Whitworth while Doug was there, and I found her blog because of a profile in Whitworth’s alumni magazine that featured her writing. Last week, Joanne suffered a major stroke and I join the thousands who are lifting her and her family up in prayer. Her husband, Toben, has been writing updates and reflections on her blog, and he said something last night that I found very much worth repeating:
Audrey came to visit her mom and we were walking down the hall at the ICU she said “Dad, this sort of feels normal.” And she’s right, but it’s also so bizarre. How can something so messed up feel normal? I have only one answer that makes sense to me: a peace that comes from God that passes all understanding. That’s all it can be. This may seem like over-spiritualization to some. I’ve had one conversation in which I articulated these thoughts only to have that person say, “But how are you really?” Like somehow these are just words that as a believer I am supposed to say, but that I don’t really mean.
But Joanne’s stroke is the crucible in which what I have articulated all my life as a believer is tested. Do I believe in a peace that passes all understanding? Do I believe that God’s provision is enough for today? Do I believe that God’s glory can shine through in the darkest of times? Do I trust? Do I have faith? Is God really even there?
And the thing is, the list doesn’t erase the heartache, it just sits next to it. The good God works out is an AND, not an OR. So often, I think we feel like we have to deny the bad to find the good. And I just don’t think that’s right.
From Joanne Heim
Ten years ago they took you
Past the place where any of us could reach you,
We could not pull you back to where you belonged
I never saw the blood-covered seats
Or met the girl they murdered beside you
But I saw your shoes
And paid for the flowers
And sat for hours in that funeral hall
I kissed your tight cheek
As cold as your smile was warm
before they took it
Thieves and killers wearing courage
like a bad Halloween costume
My kids know your name
They know stories about you
You smile down on them from our refrigerator
My Elijah William, he’s three
His smile and charm remind me of yours
Ten years later
My heart’s hands still hold you
Tightly, fiercely like a mother
Grieving, like a mother
Who should never have to bury her child
Jamar, you knew the Jesus I preached about
And I know that same Jesus loved you
My son, Aaron, caught me crying today
And said with confidence:
“But Mommy, he will be alive again on the New Earth”
May it be so.
Years ago, the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann wrote one of my favorite biblical articles titled, “The Costly Loss of Lament.” In it he says the reason that we can lament is that when God created a covenant with us, God made us partners. Both sides have responsibilities and things they must uphold. Without lament, our interaction with God is reduced only to praise and celebration. God is then surrounded by yes-men and yes-women. The contemporary Church is one that has lost the discipline of lament and it has hurt us. What happens then if life is not praise-worthy or events that cause us turmoil should not be celebrated? Should we celebrate cancer? Should we praise earthquakes? Without lament we have no way of being honest before God when bad things happen. And the God we see in the Bible wants us to be honest.
From Tyler Watson
“Mommy, do you know Molly has a new, big, three-hole puncher?”
“Yes, Aaron, I saw that.”
“Mommy, when I become a baby again and get bigger and have to learn how to poop in the potty again, will you buy me a three-hole punch like Molly’s as a prize?”
“Sure, Aaron, I’ll do that. But I don’t think you can become a baby again!”
“Mommy, of course I can. When the new earth comes and I am born again.”