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Victory Amid the Vicissitudes
Optimists are those dismayed when God permits circumstances that are not rose garden-ish. Pessimists are those dismayed when He permits circumstances that are. And yet in his great and lengthy sermon, Jesus said: “…your Father in heaven … loves each of us – good and evil, kind and cruel. He causes the sun to rise and shine on evil and good alike. He causes the rain to water the fields of the righteous and the fields of the sinner.” from Matthew 5, VOICE. Someone has noted that, in life, the only constant is change. How we respond to those variations, those vicissitudes, is largely determined by the depth of intimacy we enjoy in our relationship with our Father in heaven.
2 Brothers Grim
As Jesus was confronted with the many tragic evidences of mankind’s brokenness, he chose parables to illustrate the contrast between Israel’s ways and heaven’s. Each telling had within it an invitation to come, to surrender, to wake up, to trust. And in each, the heart of the Father was always and forever on display as wastefully love-extravagant, with a ”Y’all come!” disposition toward His much-cherished children. The weak link in the communication chain was in the hearts of the listening crowds and in the hearts of his own disciples. They had pre-conceived ideas about the God of their Fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, ideas of a fearsome, wrathful, punishing Sovereign, all of which made hearing Jesus’ warm, welcoming descriptions of his Father vastly perplexing.
“… turning, till we turn round right”
Jesus’ Galilean ‘Band of Brothers’ was constantly being surprised by aspects of God’s Kingdom never before imagined. Most of it was super cool and even thrilling, but some of it was so far outside their experience they just checked out, missed the point, were left groping for a foothold. They regularly came to Jesus with a need for more information, for him to repeat what he’d said, to have it translated for their rudimentary context. And it wasn’t just his teachings. It was also how he lived, what he chose to forego, what uncommon attitude he displayed. After watching, and hearing, the way he talked with his Father, and realizing that this, too, must be a ‘style’ of praying, they asked him how they might do it.
Disciples-In-Training: 2022 Version
Given the vast and gaping ‘in-Adam’ limitations of our fallenness, it wouldn’t be surprising that our response to God’s ways would be something like, “You’ve got to be kidding!” From our naïve and dimly lit perspective, we assume much and, as a result, are much aghast. God’s choosings, timings, methods, recruits, all are stunning upsets of our thinking. The least likely, the least qualified, the least trustworthy, the least honest, the least of the least: this is our viewing of God’s divine wisdom: a confirmation of the prophetic words in Isaiah 55: “My intentions are not always yours and I do not go about things as you do. My thoughts and my ways are above and beyond you, just as heaven is far from your reach here on earth.” And yet. And yet! Here we are, chosen, loved, adopted, Grace-gifted, Spirit-indwelt, commissioned – by that same divine wisdom of God!
Living as the Grace-Gifted
The disciples had no vocabulary for their experience of this thing: Grace. Nothing in their upbringing had prepared them for the shock of having their lives Grace-gifted. And with such abundance! And with such uninterrupted flow! Their Middle Eastern world was steeped in strict Mosaic Law with the additional, restrictive laws of the Pharisees, and it was being held captive in the grip of a fiercely unforgiving, cruel Roman occupation. One could almost imagine the twelve seeing a parallel with the ancient story of their people wandering with Moses in the desert, being fed from the sky day after day, and asking, ‘Manna?’ (‘What is it?’)* Two millennia later, we, too, are left bemused, struggling to find adequately descriptive, easily accessible, language to unpack our wonderment. As a result, Grace is probably not a daily insertion into our conversations at the coffee shop. It may not even be on our radar.
Sermon from January 16, 2022