You Have Something GREAT in YOU

Preached at talk 2 of 3 at the Greater Things Conference for students in L’viv, Ukraine.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

12Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. 4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

We need to use the gifts and abilities we’ve been given for God’s glory and greater things will come. Mother Teresa of Calcutta says, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” My brother, Caleb, has the gift of empathy and zeroing in on where you are hurting and my other brother, Josh, who reminds me of Valodia, has a prophetic voice and he’s kind-hearted, which is a rare but needed combination. 1 Corinthians 7:7 says, “Each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.” It’s a natural and human thing to be envious of other people’s gifts. Some of us want to be smarter, prettier, shorter, more handsome, but we should be grateful for our own particular gifts. There will never be another YOU. So how could you use the gifts that God has given you in this particular time and in this particular place?

Psalm 139 starting at verse 1 and continuing until verse 17.
1O LORD, you have searched me and known me. 2You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. 3You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. 4Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. 5You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. 7Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 8If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 9If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. 11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” 12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. 15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. 17How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!”

God knows you intimately. Even before you were born, God had a purpose for your life. Jeremiah 29:11-14 says, “11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”

So God created you and God has promised to take care of you. Back to our original text. What was happening in Corinth in our text from 1 Corinthians 12:1-11?

Community life together was a mixture of confusion, pettiness, envy and ambition, combined with enthusiasm and fervor, they all wanted to do everything and be everything. Attitudes of elitism, rivalry and individualism are painfully present. They struggled to define their identity as the church of God in a complex and sophisticated urban setting much like L’viv.

Paul had much work and education to do. Paul starts by changing the Corinthians’ argument – and even the use of their words from pneumatika to charismata in verse 4 – is a shift from understanding spiritual power as the property of the one exercising it (and therefore something to boast about) to understanding spiritual power as a gift of divine grace (charis) and therefore something for which to thank God and to use in the service of Christ.
Since all gifts come from the same God, there is a fundamental unity and equality between them. All the functions are required for the body to be complete, so there is no place for comparison or conflict.

The gifts are given to all 12:6b – 7 says, “and there are varieties of activities but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Paul is countering two destructive tendencies: the tendency to exalt one gift ONLY along with those who exercise that particular gift, and the tendency to OVERLOOK those gifts that seem unimportant or not as glamorous and thus IGNORING the UNIFYING fact that we’ve all been given gifts that are particular to us through the presence of Christ at work in our lives!

This is a representative not an exhaustive list. Sometimes we are like the Corinthians trying to one up each other, but that comes from our own insecurity about our worth. Henri J.M. Nouwen writes, “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection…. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

Let’s think about growing up….what are those things that our parents placed upon us?

What are some things that our peers in school expected of us?

How are we influenced by society? How much emphasis is placed on our cultural heritage?

Sometimes we need to stop the multiple voices that we hear inside our heads and sometimes we have to get out of our own way.

Ephesians 3:20 says, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Sometimes we need to answer those doubts and fears and say – “Get out!”

In John 10:10 it says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Author of One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp writes in her blog, A Holy Experience, “It’s what I sing when the enemy attacks with lies, when I feel alone and scared, when I fear the future and whispers in the shadows. It’s what my mother-in-law, a Dutch farmer’s wife and mother of nine, godly and with these big calloused work hands, said to do. What she told me once hunched over this row of peas we were picking out in a June twilight: “It’s what my mother said, Ann: When it is hardest — that is when you sing the loudest. The devil flees at a hymn.” At the last, when the cancer wound tighter, folks would ask how she was — and my father-in-law would say, “Good! She’s singing all the time.” And we knew how hard it was — and how good she knew He is.”

We started off with worship tonight both prayers and singing. No matter the language, you know when someone is earnestly crying out to God. I am grateful to the musicians and the people that said prayers for sharing their gifts with us. I am thankful for Erica’s gift of organization and scheduling. I’m in awe of my interpreters, that their brains work in ways that I can only imagine. The world would be a far better place if we start doing the things that we are intricately made to do. Think about what’s holding you back from not taking that next step. Give God your doubts and fears and ask God for confidence and reassurance. We are all needed and wanted in the body of Christ. God has uniquely made YOU to be something great.

Greater Things Are Yet to Come

Preached at talk 1 of 3 at the Greater Things Conference for students in L’viv, Ukraine.

We’ve been digging into stories at Gator Wesley, the United Methodist campus ministry where I serve, this past year, and I would like to share with you the story of Esther. It begins with a party lasting for seven days. In Esther chapter 1: 8-9 it reads, “Drinking was by flagons, without restraint; for the king had given orders to all the officials of his palace to do as each one desired. Furthermore, Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in the palace of King Ahasuerus.” Can you imagine a party lasting for seven days? It would be like Mardi Gras or Carnival to the extreme. The party never ends. On the seventh day, the King, who was in “high spirits” from wine orders Queen Vashti to make an appearance so they can behold her beauty, she’s his centerpiece after all. But Queen Vashti refuses to come. The text doesn’t say why she didn’t come. Maybe she didn’t feel like it, maybe she was sleeping and she didn’t want to be rudely woken up by a summons from the king, maybe she thought ‘I’m the Queen,’ how dare the King request me. We’re not sure. As the eunuchs give the Queen’s response to the King, he was furious. Queen Vashti got deposed at the end of chapter 1.

Okay so how did Esther arrive on the scene? While the king was having second thoughts for having Vashti banned, his servants encouraged him to gather beautiful young women from every province in the kingdom and let “cosmetic treatments be given them. And let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” The king thought this was a very good idea.

I feel like at some points I’m telling a fairy tale. Esther was the most beautiful, fairest in the land. There was a Jewish man named Mordecai, and he had brought up Esther as his own daughter because she was an orphan. And so of course, she ended up with the king. I’m skipping several plot points here – the twelve month beautification in the king’s harem Esther underwent and the king actually choosing her. The king made her queen instead of Vashti and gave a banquet in Esther’s honor.

And they lived happily ever after? What happens after happily after? Things get real.

Shortly thereafter, when Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gates, he overheard two of the king’s officers plotting to assassinate the king. Mordecai let Esther know, and she warned the king about it. Mordecai was given credit for unfurling the plot and the two treasonous guards were hung on the gallows.

Now you should be hearing villainous music and lots of bass and minor notes because I’m about to introduce the character of Haman. It says the king “advanced him and set his seat above all the officials who were with him. All the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down.” But Mordecai refused, because he was a Jew, who would bow to no one except God. This made Haman very angry and he along with his wife and his advisors plotted against the Jews making a plan to get rid of them. Haman uses his influence on the king and makes the king a pawn in his chess game against Mordecai, saying the Jews don’t keep the same laws. So the king agrees. Esther 3:13, “Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces, giving orders to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.”

When Mordecai learns this he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth. When Esther finds out about this she is obviously distressed because she is a Jew and from the beginning Mordecai told her to be silent about her heritage in the palace. Mordecai sends this reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”

For such a time as this.

Perhaps you’re here in this world at this particular time in this particular place for such a time as this.
What ensues is some palace intrigue.

Esther was not permitted to see the king unless he had asked for her otherwise she could be put to death. And she had not been called in to see the king in 30 days, so she, her maid-servants, and all of the Jews of Persia fasted earnestly for three days before she built up enough courage to enter the king’s presence. When the king saw Esther, he was pleased and held out his scepter to her. He then asked Esther what she wished of him, promising to grant even up to half his kingdom should she ask. Esther requested a banquet with the king and Haman. During the banquet, she requested another banquet with the king and Haman the following day.

Cue villainous laughter, Haman was already ordering gallows to be constructed to hang Mordecai. At the same time, Esther 6:1 says, “On that night the king could not sleep, and he gave orders to bring the book of records, the annals, and they were read to the king” and he remembers that Mordecai had saved him from the previous assassination attempt and the king realizes he had not rewarded Mordecai.

Early the next morning, Haman came to the king to ask permission to hang Mordecai, but before he could, the king asked him “What should be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?” Haman assumed the king meant him, so he said that the man should wear a royal robe and be led on one of the king’s horses through the city streets proclaiming before him, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!” The king thought this was appropriate, and asked Haman to lead Mordecai through the streets in this way. After doing this, Haman rushed home, full of grief. His wife said to him, “You will surely come to ruin!”

Esther 7:1-10
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
7 1 So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. 2 On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” 3 Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. 4 For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” 5 Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” 6 Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!”
And you can guess what happened to Haman. He was hung on the gallows that he had built for Mordecai. How do we relate to the story of Esther? Did God place us exactly where we are now, in this time, and in this place “for such a time as this?” How can we stand up on behalf of the poor, hurting and marginalized in our own lives by speaking truth to power? In what ways are we challenged by the story? How does Esther’s story intersect with your life and where God is calling you?

Think about these questions and chew on them a bit, while I show you this video.

Bluetree “God of this City” Story

I love that story. I love that the band took a step out in faith to play at The Climax bar. I love that even out of a horrific situation, we can call on the name of Jesus or cry out to God, and God immediately is there as the Holy Spirit turns our mere utterances into prayers. I love the specificity that the guy from Bluetree gives us the name of the city, Pattaya, Thailand because we can name this specific city of L’viv, Ukraine in our prayers. We can name Gainesville, my home in Florida, in our prayers. We can name the city of Kiev in our fervent prayers. This may be naïve for me to say as an uninformed and ignorant American who’s been here for less than 48 hours, but God can work and move in seemingly impossible situations and God can make a way when we see no hope of there being a way forward. I know y’all know that because I can bear witness to intentional prayer times for the future of this country, I can bear witness to the fasting for the future of this country, I can bear witness to the fervor I’ve seen since arriving here to seek the will of God. I know you all believe that God can move mountains, because as Michael and I hung up posters in one of the universities, it showed a picture of a protester that was killed this past week holding a sign that said, “The voice of the people is the voice of God.”

protestor killed

We don’t lose heart. As it says in 2 Corinthians 4:1 “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”

The guy from Bluetree asks the question in the youtube video, “What does the global church do to actually combat things that actually exist on our planet that are completely wrong whether it’s child soldiers, prostitution within your own city, homeless within your own city, anything that’s going on, what does the church do? We should be the pioneers. We need to understand that we have an authority that comes from Christ…that we need an attitude to serve the world with love and actually living out the great commission.”

And they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love. We will walk with each other, we walk side by side. We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our Love.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” 1 John 4:8 says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” We have to show a hurting, hopeless world that God loves them, in the US and in the Ukraine, in all of the world. 1 John 3:17-18, “If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s live? It disappears. And you made it disappear. My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.”

This is all about our Christian witness to be in this world, but not of it, and that sometimes means being a prophetic voice in the wilderness. The Old Testament has a long history of prophets speaking truth to power and the prophets suffering for it. And what about Peter and Paul in the New Testament. They couldn’t stay out of trouble with the authorities, but Paul wrote some of the most powerful scriptures while in prison. The American missionary Jim Elliott wrote this quote in his journal before he was killed by the native people who he was serving in Ecuador, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.

For such a time as this.

Matthew 5:13-16 says, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all of the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

For such a time as this…..Holy God, may we have the courage to shine your light in all the world and may you guide and lead us in all that we do now and in the coming days. Amen.

Grateful

As I write this I’m preparing for a trip to the Ukraine, January 21st – January 28th, to keynote 3 sessions at the “Greater Things” student conference where there will be students from other Protestant denominations as well as from the Eastern Orthodox tradition and to preach in L’viv at a local Ukranian United Methodist Church. Oh, the connectional nature of the United Methodist Church! You may be wondering how in the world I’m connected to the church in the Ukraine, and that’s a good question. One of my former students at Winthrop Wesley, Erica Oliveira, was assigned as a mission intern to a campus ministry that serves the students at all of the universities in L’viv. The young adult mission intern program consists of approximately 18 months in an international setting and 18 months in a US site. She’ll be flying back to New York two days after I return to start her US-based internship in a partnership between Miami Wesley and FIU-MDC Wesley also based in Miami. We learned late last week that we have been assigned our own mission intern. Brad Kenn, originally from Arizona and a graduate of Pfeiffer University in Charlotte, NC, will begin in March 2014 and will finish the program in July of 2015. Brad’s international placement was in Brazil and he feels like God has called him to campus ministry.

What a small world! I’m grateful that the Ukranian campus ministry received a grant from GBHEM to cover all my expenses associated with the trip, grateful to the staff at Gator Wesley who I know will step up in tremendous ways giving me the reassurance that it’s all taken care of and grateful to see and experience this part of the world.

Speaking of grateful, I’ve chosen that as my word for 2014. Have you noticed the “choose a word for the year” trend? I first read about it in One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp as well as on her blog, A Holy Experience. She named 2008 “eucharisteo,” 2009 “communion,” 2010 “the Year of Yes,” 2011 “The Year of Here,” 2012 “The Year of No Fear,” but she did something different as she entered 2013 that’s explained in the post below. Ann wires that she wants a do over for last year. She continues saying this, “Well…. do I tell you that this last year was the year I didn’t lose 10 pounds, forgot every morning for. a. year. to exercise, didn’t finish reading the Bible, failed to write what I really wanted, never got the basement backroom gutted, rammed about in the same ruts on rinse and repeat, only read half as many books to the kids as I’d planned, and missed living up to what I’d named this year?”

It doesn’t matter how well you do, it’s not about achievement. It’s about moving forward in grace for yourselves and others. It doesn’t matter what you name your year or even if you do name it. A friend posted this on Facebook at the beginning of the year, “Last year I went to adopting a “word of the year.” My word for 2013 was ‘Overcome.’ So many stories of how I watched God help me overcome in my life and the lives of those around me. My word for 2014 is ‘Glorify.’ In all I do, every moment, might God be glorified!”

In this season of Epiphany may we recognize the gift of God’s manifestation in Jesus as a baby, the Word made flesh, Emmanuel, God with us. May we celebrate those that give us unexpected gifts on this journey – whether friends or strangers or The triune God working ever in our midst. May we be grateful in the big and small things: a hug, a smile, a chance conversation that makes our whole day, the perfect lyrics to the song that came on the radio at just the right time, or an unexpected trip to the Ukraine.
May we be ever longing to bring the light of Christ to pierce the darkness of our world.

Grace and Peace,
Narcie

How to Move Forward into the New Year… when you feel like you failed the last year

Martyr of the Holy Innocents

Isaiah 63:7-9

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

God’s Mercy Remembered

I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord,
the praiseworthy acts of the Lord,
because of all that the Lord has done for us,
and the great favor to the house of Israel
that he has shown them according to his mercy,
according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
For he said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will not deal falsely”;
and he became their savior
    in all their distress.
It was no messenger[a] or angel
but his presence that saved them;[b]
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

Most pastors avoid this text I’m about to read you like the plague.  It’s even called the Holy Innocents or Martyrs in the Lectionary.  You see, we’re still decorated for Christmas.   Most people don’t know it’s even part of the Christmas story, and Lord knows we wouldn’t want it depicted in any way.  But my friend and colleague the Rev. Paul Shultz, had a way of wading into texts that still made you uncomfortable, still did not give you all the answers and didn’t tie up the loose ends.  He would act like he relished making you uncomfortable, but he let slip one too many times, his care for people.  He died this past week from flu complications.  We texted on New Year’s when he first started coming down with something.  He was only 50 years old and had three kids, 1 grandchild and a fiancé Jana.  I will travel tomorrow morning to represent the United Methodist Campus Ministry Association at the visitation and the funeral because he was my co-chair on UMCMA.  Prayers for his family, students at The University of Iowa Wesley Foundation, and all those that loved him

Hear now the word of God. 

Matthew 2:13-23

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Escape to Egypt

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”14 Then Joseph[a] got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

The Massacre of the Infants

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men,[b] he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.[c] 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

The Return from Egypt

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph[d] got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.

 

So how do you deal with the implications of an angel warning Mary and Joseph to flee with baby Jesus while hundreds of children, 2 years old and younger, were slaughtered?  This is my attempt to not gloss over and fast forward the 3 verses, but to deal with them, realizing that I have my own limited understanding of what it’s like to lose a child.

This is the journal of Divorah, daughter of Amos, of Beyt-Lechem.

Journal Entry 1

I am a young woman today, full of strength and life, and I’ve been blessed by God.  I am from, well, not a wealthy family, but a good one.  I have a good name, something that, among my people, is priceless.  The Lord led me to my love, my husband, Yoseph, and we have had three full years of joy together.  We have good lands that flourish with wheat and barley and honey, and I have praised God daily for it.  God even favored us enough to give us a child, a daughter, whom we’ve named Hannah.  She has been the most precious thing I have ever known.  Every movement, every sound, every new thing she learns or discovers – it has been overwhelming the amount of unconditional love I feel.  Her father and I would commission someone to paint her life, one day at a time, if we could.  That is how this journal came to be.  Yesterday, on Hannah’s first birthday, we bought this book of memories, with as many blank pages as we could afford, to begin to record her life.  And all of that, taken together, is an overflowing cup for any person.

But that was yesterday.  And today let no talk pass my lips of the Lord’s favor.  Let no one speak his name before me.  May no prayer to this “god” pass my lips or those of anyone in my household as long as I live.

Yesterday morning my Hannah turned a year old, and yesterday evening a Roman detachment arrived in town under Herod’s orders.  Yoseph and I could hear the crowds and shouting from here, and in only minutes they had come to our door.  They didn’t ask for the tax, or if we were harboring a fugitive, or if my husband was a member of the latest insurrection.  They demanded, of all things, our little girl.

And I cannot tell you how bitterly I fought them, four armed soldiers.  My husband was clubbed nearly to death, and these men murdered my Hannah.  Yoseph couldn’t protect her.  And no matter how loudly I screamed and scratched and hit, the soldiers just pushed me to the side.  They killed my sweet, precious Hannah and they might as well have killed me as well.   My husband keeps shaking me, asking me if I need anything, anything at all.  Doesn’t he know I can’t bear to go on?  Doesn’t he know that it’s all I can do to record every last thing I can remember in this journal?  For her short and brief life.  What made her smile and giggle……I can’t bear it.

Journal Entry 2

Almost thirty years to the day, I open up these pages again.  I’ll confess that I’ve read and re-read those last words many, many times since that day.  No birthday of my Hannah’s ever passes that I don’t come back here to remember.  On more than one occasion I even thought to record my feelings, to write to her, to tell her things I would’ve told her at 8 or 12 or 20 years old.  But it seemed wrong to change this book.  It seemed like moving on from her.

Nevertheless, I write today because new facts have come to light with regard to the history of Hannah’s life.  My husband and I’ve met again a young man named Yohanan, John, son of Zebediyah the fisherman from the Galilee.  John’s mother is my cousin, and he spent some time here on the farm as a boy.

Anyway, in the city, John had been invited to teach.  I thought it strange for the son of a fisherman, but the local Rabbi seemed to wish to almost interrogate him about the happenings of another wandering Rabbi that John has taken up with, one named Yeshua, or Jesus.  So my husband and I attended, and if I’m honest I was shocked and moved by John’s wisdom, and the “spirit” that was upon him.  We greeted him afterwards and he invited us to lunch and started to open up his heart to us.  And it was he who mentioned Hannah’s name to me.

He explained that this Jesus, whom he takes the foolish risk of calling “lord,” is none other than the Messiah.  And I told him that I’d heard all of that talk before but that I no longer have time for any of God’s Messiahs.  But he went on to say that it was because of this Jesus that the soldiers were sent to our village so many years ago, that it was this Jesus who threatened the evil rule of men like Herod, that it was this Jesus who is God’s great savior.  He spoke of the boy’s birth to a man and wife from Nazareth who had traveled to Bethlehem; he told me about Herod’s schemes and the appearance of angels in visions and dreams to deliver the child and his parents.  He started to describe the kingdom of God coming, and an age where even grief like mine would be no more.

Now that I think of it I can still remember the Roman census that year, and the rumors that were circulating in town at the time – a king was to come from the city of David, after all.  It was only a few months later that I became pregnant with Hannah, so we had taken it all as a good omen!  Our daughter, growing up to see the reign of Israel’s great king!

But that is when I remembered myself.  That is when I remembered the kind of faith that had left my home unguarded on that bloody night.  I remembered the kind of hope that naïve children cling to before they’ve grown up to see what life is like here and now, on earth.  I asked John why it is that our great God, the Lord of heaven and earth, had his son born to peasants in unsecured and unknown towns; or why this God speaks in fables and dreams while men like Herod give orders to armed legions?  Or why was it only God’s son who was warned to escape Bethlehem while Hannah was left alone to die?  And hundreds more with her?

I cannot even remember John’s reply, but my husband Yoseph had a few choice words for John that he had the audacity to bring up that terrible night as if this Jesus……    As Yoseph regained his temper, he thanked him for the lunch and sent him on his way without another word.  He wished him luck that he and his Jesus might somehow survive either Herod Antipas or Caesar or the Chief Priest, for that matter, but I feel none the better for our conversation.   There’s no way this Jesus being born could justify my Hannah being taken from me.  Here I sit, and thirty years have passed, but no words and no anger will bring Hannah to me.  I no longer know who I am or how to live.  I write, only, to keep record of what I now know of her story.  God have mercy on us.

Journal Entry 3

Today, Hannah’s story in this book comes to a close.  Very briefly I’ll say that, through John, in the past year I’ve been able to meet Jesus in person.  To follow him in the crowds, very skeptically at first.  Then, to eat with him and speak with him intimately a few times.  And the same wisdom and Spirit that I saw in John in that synagogue, I’ve felt in Jesus – as the source of it, like the sun sharing its light.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I first even entertained the idea that he could really be our Messiah.  It was gradual, as he answered many of my questions, and gave me new ones.  But something in his teaching, that the others usually overlooked or rebuked, started to call out to me.  He would occasionally speak of death, and of his own suffering.  He would hint at the need to shed his blood, and to tear down the Temple only to rebuild it again.  He spoke of a time of great personal sorrow to come, and of his own pain, and of his followers being prepared to carry a cross every single day.

And I don’t know what it was, but while the others murmured about these strange, off-hand comments of his, they rang in my heart.  While the crowds asked him not to say such things, but foamed at the mouth for the triumph of Israel over the Romans and all our enemies, it sounded to me like something deeper was at work.  So, yes, just weeks ago during the Passover when he was arrested, I was stirred to draw near to Jesus like never before.  What did I have left to lose?  What could the soldiers take from me now that they haven’t already ripped from me?

As some of his crowd fled in fear or others shouted out in their disappointment for him to be killed like a criminal, I prayed for him.  As I watched what they did to him, and how he endured, as he suffered, and felt unspeakable pain, at no fault of his own, in spite of his innocence, I thought of the innocence of my 1 year old, Hannah.  And I ached for his mother Mary, to witness the unspeakable ways they were treating him.  It was this final thought that confirmed in me that this was my Lord and my God.

I, who wasn’t one to look for a Messiah, who felt like no one on this earth knew my tragedy or could possibly feel my pain – I understood the injustice and cruelty, tyranny and evil, that was upon Jesus.  And I knew for certain that this was not God’s doing, but it was the fruit of what men and women had chosen to do, that day and since the beginning.  Then I remembered Jesus’ words about freedom.  “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  It convicted me that, in all of the many ways that I’d hardened my heart these decades, some of his suffering was my own doing.  But Jesus’s way was to come and submit to such a thing, in order to finally set things right.  In his own words, he had become the Passover lamb for my sake and for the sake of his children, and for the sake of the man next to me that day shouting curses at him, and for the sake of his own weeping mother, and even for the sake of Pilate and Herod and Caesar.

I stayed that day until the end; I followed them out of the city, heard his final words, and watched him pass into death.  I grieved and mourned.  I wondered what could be next.  And then I received word about Jesus at my home in Bethlehem, a simple message from the believers:  “the grave could not hold him.”  And today I remember his words:  “Because I live, you shall live also.”    And though, more than 30 years ago, while his innocents were slaughtered in Bethlehem, God did not intervene in that moment to spare Hannah’s earthly life, I trust that, today, she lives also.  And I will.  So, as I said, today her story in this book comes to a close, because it continues elsewhere.

John 3:16-17 —

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

 

This was written by Josh McClendon and Narcie Jeter.