Meeting Jesus In-Between

“Meeting Jesus In-Between”

Temptation of Jesus – Jesus MAFA

Mark 1:9-13 (1:13) – February 21, 2021

            How often do we experience several significant happenings in our lives, and yet feel very much in between things? On the virtual road through life, yet not arriving at any settled place and not staying there for a good long time? When young people pass between one grade and the next, or graduation from one school or course of study to another, that is a time of being in-between.

            This whole past year – 2020 – might be seen as an in-between time. Certainly not a normal year, by anyone’s understanding. Whether it’s a busy time for our families, a hectic time at work, or a stressful time in terms of health, we might be in-between things in one or more areas of our lives. This seems like a time that is especially full of a lonely, uninhabited wilderness for so many.

As we look at Mark’s Gospel reading today, we see big changes for Jesus. His baptism – a big event! Jesus driven into the wilderness – another significant event! And then, Satan coming to Jesus – a third, powerful event! All in the space of five short verses. These three significant events all come crashing into Jesus’s life in a very short time, and with Mark’s typical economy of language.

We talked more about the Baptism of Jesus several weeks ago. This was certainly a highlight in our Lord’s life, and sure sign of His Heavenly Father’s approval. Then, immediately (one of Mark’s favorite words!), Jesus was driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. Jesus must have had major feelings concerning this sudden ushering away from all human habitation. To cap the wilderness experience, the devil and Jesus interacted, face to face. That must have been a sight to see! Imagine, Jesus on one side, and Satan on the other.   

            Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days, all alone in that deserted region. In-between times, in a time that is not a big, wonderful event, but is separated at a distance both physically and in terms of thought and experience. An in-between time, a wilderness time of loneliness and quiet.

            I understand a number of nurses serving in hospitals and care centers are so weary of seeing patients so very sick. This time of pandemic is stressful for everyone, but especially for those who care for seriously ill patients. Since the pandemic has caused patients to be so lonely and isolated, seldom receiving even one relative as a visitor, some nurses have taken it upon themselves to come alongside of very sick patients. To sit with them, give an extra squeeze of the hand or a sentence or two of encouragement or comfort before going to the next room.

            Is there a possibility that hospitals and care centers might be another place of the wilderness in the present day? Perhaps not the actual semi-arid wilderness of Palestine, but certainly an isolated experience, away from other humans except for brief times during the day.

            All the same, this in-between time can also be a time that is hallowed by God’s presence. Sure, God can meet us in this space, this liminal place in between the big things that happen in our lives – in yours and mine.  

            Even though big events can happen in our lives, so much of the daily activities of our lives are not big. Not earthshaking. Are you in the wilderness in some way today? In between events, and wondering how everything is going to right itself, or even somehow manage to continue?

            Let me tell you some good news! It is a comfort and encouragement to know that God seeks us out when we are in those in-between times. True, those wilderness times in our lives can be discouraging and disorienting for each of us. When we are lost or wandering or angry or grieving, God finds us again and again. This is the bedrock of our Reformed faith, that God takes the initiative and comes to seek us out, no matter what

            Just as the Lord God proclaimed Jesus to be God’s Son at His baptism, just as the Lord God sent angels to attend Jesus in the wilderness after Satan left, the common thread in each of these significant events is the Lord God’s closeness to Jesus. We hear the heavenly voice meet Jesus at the threshold of something new and different, and proclaim Jesus as God’s beloved!

            Not only the big places and events are holy, but also the in-between places. All places become holy as our God comes into all of them, breathing new life and encouragement and comfort into every space and place.

Are you at the threshold of something new or different? Still in the wilderness? Or, just continuing to walk that road of day-to-day existence? We can all take heart! God names us all God’s beloved. Did you hear? Each of us is God’s beloved child, no matter what.

As commentator Denise Anderson says, God meets us where each one is. God approaches each of us to claim us, equip us, and send us to do God’s will – as God’s beloved children. Amen!       

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

I would like to thank the Rev. T. Denise Anderson, Coordinator for Racial and Intercultural Justice with the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and former Co-moderator of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), for her contributions to the Lenten sermon guide Again & Again, from Sanctified Art. These Lenten sermons are based on that sermon guide.

Joshua Called Courageous!

“Joshua Called Courageous!”

Josh 1-9 be strong, poster

Joshua 1:1-2, 5-9 (1:9) – June 17, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Do you know what it’s like to be a second fiddle? Someone’s assistant? Someone to back up the real leader, or director, or president? Always there, just in case, always ready to step in, in case of emergency, but never really, fully in charge? I do. I’ve been in that faithful, dependable assistant position a lot, for a number of years.

It can be a relief, not having to be the top person in charge. Remember, President Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here.” With the second fiddle, the buck definitely would not stop at the assistant’s desk. He or she would be able to pass it on.

All the same, imagine Joshua, the newly designated leader of the nation of Israel. His predecessor, the strong and dynamic leader—or, director, or head of the Israelite nation—Moses, had been in charge of the nation for over forty years. Israel had been wandering in the wilderness all that time. Joshua had been Moses’s right-hand man all of that time, too. By all accounts, Joshua was a faithful, dependable assistant and second-in-command to Moses, for decades.

What kinds of things must have been going through Joshua’s head, after the death of his leader, probably even his mentor, Moses? I cannot imagine the shock and grief at his leader’s death, plus all the huge weight of the responsibility for the whole nation of Israel, now resting squarely on Joshua’s shoulders. What on earth does he do now?

As the book of Joshua begins, we hear the words read to us today, where the Lord God meets with Joshua. Not with Moses, as had happened a number of times in years past, but with Joshua, instead! Joshua is the one having an up-close-and-personal encounter with the Lord!

This is a first-hand encounter with the God who led Israel through the wilderness for forty years. Pillar of cloud by day, pillar of fire by night, manna every morning, for forty years. We’re talking an extraordinary God, here! Power beyond understanding, magnificent glory, works miracles on a daily basis. That’s the God who meets with Joshua.

Joshua probably did not feel at all up to the daunting task of primary, solo leadership. However, God knew better than Joshua. “Joshua was prepared by faithful service in small things, in being Moses’ assistant. Dr. Alan Redpath tells of a motto over a kitchen sink: “Divine service is conducted here three times daily.” [in the washing of dishes] The motto is true, and great men and women are prepared by faithfulness to the small things.” [1]

We see that God has encouraging words for Joshua: “Be strong and courageous!” And, “Be not afraid!” That is why many biblical scholars think that Joshua had an inferiority complex. The Lord needed to give him a leadership pep talk!

When Pastor Gordon and I began an interim, emergency pastorate in 2014 here at St. Luke’s Church for three months, this was a familiar job for me. Gordon and I had done it before, in an interim position at another UCC church in 2007. I was Gordon’s assistant. I was playing second fiddle to a seasoned, self-assured pastor who had many years of experience under his belt. When Pastor Gordon left St. Luke’s Church in June 2014 and left me as solo pastor, I was experiencing some of the same feelings that Joshua probably felt. How on earth am I going to lead these people? Yet, with God’s help and the help of several seasoned professional pastors and clergy, I weathered that storm of low self-confidence and low self-esteem.

Joshua faced a huge, new, daunting task, to be sure!

What is one of the most important things the Lord says to Joshua, when giving him the heavenly pep talk? “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.“ Reading and meditating on the Word of God on a regular basis is of primary importance to God. Moses did these things. Joshua must have seen Moses read and meditate on the Word of God, countless times, and I suspect he joined in, as well.

Let’s break down God’s words to Joshua in these verses, and take a closer look at what God is telling him to do. “Joshua must take great care to observe the law. God’s Word and Joshua’s commitment to it would be the pillars supporting his success. Joshua did not only need to read God’s word. It had to be on his lips (“shall not depart from your mouth”), in his mind (“meditate in it day and night”), and he had to do it (“observe to do according to all that is written”).” [2] Regular, even daily insights into God’s Word, the Bible, can help us think the way God does, behave in the way God does, and have compassion on the people God does.

Even though you and I are not facing such a huge task as Joshua, today, what we face can be daunting to us. Sometimes, we can be anxious, fearful, afraid, even stressed out, angry or confused. We might need encouragement and support from God, too. What is a daunting task, to you? How can God’s words to Joshua be helpful and encouraging to any of us, today?  

Pray, seek the Lord, and talk to other, trusted Christian friends. The helpful, encouraging answer will be there. The Lord can—and does—inspire and encourage each of us as we face new and daunting tasks in our lives, day by day. What a tremendous promise to celebrate!

Remember God’s words to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous!” And, repeated again and again throughout Scripture? “Be not afraid!” Be that way. God said so!

Alleluia, amen.

[1] https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/joshua-1/   David Guzik Bible commentary on Joshua 1

[2] Ibid.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)