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.

Week 2 of Lent – Oh Nicodemus!

John 3:16 is one of the most well-known verses in the Bible.  It may be THE most well-known verse.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him nay not perish but may have eternal life.”  It was one of the first ones my mom had us memorize and we memorized the KJV so I’m remembering some “whosoever believeth.”  We see this verse all over the place – bumper stickers, t-shirts, written on the facepaint of Tim Tebow when he played for Florida.  It’s a popular verse and one that focuses on the gift of grace given to each of us.

I totally get that and appreciate it.  What I think we get less of is the passage proceeding it.  This chapter comes after the wedding of Cana and the cleansing of the Temple – after the beginning of John where he has introduced Jesus and then proceeds in the coming chapters to show that the words he wrote in the beginning are backed up by signs, actions, and other bits of evidence.  He’s doing these things and already there is grumbling by those in power.  There’s always some grumbling when something new and not the norm.

Then here comes Nicodemus, a Pharisee who is a leader of the Jews, meeting with Jesus in the night.  Many have said that this looks like Nicodemus is afraid of what other people will think or that he might be in “cahoots” with Jesus.  Don’t you love the word “cahoots”?  He even seems to be speaking the party line, using the word “we.”  “WE know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Maybe he didn’t want to be linked to Jesus.  Maybe he was afraid that his fellow Pharisees will think less of him, be suspicious of him, or will ostracize him.  There was probably at least a little of that.  But it also could be that he wanted to talk to him and it was private, personal, something on his heart.  Have you ever been to a conference or workshop or concert or sometime when you’ve heard or seen something really powerful and you really, really want to talk to the person that moved you but you don’t want to line up with all the other well wishers or those asking questions?  It’s not that you couldn’t wait in line or that you don’t want to talk to the person or you too good to do it, but it’s something you want to ask and digest and unpack away from other listening ears and prying eyes?  It may even be a little embarassing for some reason.  Sometimes the things that we believe and hold dear in our hearts or the things that we question and are trying to make sense of are not something we want to broadcast to a room full of people.  So I don’t think the darkness necessarily makes Nicodemus a sketchy person.

When I preached this text a couple weeks ago, I was preaching in Cannon Chapel at Emory University.  Love Cannon Chapel.  Love Emory.  Loved catching with old friends and seeing people I love and respect and meeting new friends as well.  I’m telling you though there’s not much that scares me more than preaching in Cannon or at Glenn Memorial where all the smart people that actually know the commentaries and all the angles are.  Maybe I’m giving them too much credit.  Could be.  But I know for sure and certain that my hands were shaking before I started preaching.  When you come to someone and ask questions and you really respect that person and are a little star struck, it’s hard to say what you want to say.  It’s hard to get it out.  Especially in front of folks.

Jesus answers to him are not sugar coated, pulling punches or making easy leaps for him.  He’s not watering down his language or making it an easy transition, but says that “no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.”  Now that is not something that Nicodemus automatically understands.  He’s not like us who has seen billboards or tracts or heard over and over that you must be “born again.”  This wasn’t in his common lexicon.  He didn’t have a giant billboard outside the local bowling alley saying that May 21, 2011 is judgement day and you better be born again.  He also didn’t have any handy dandy tracts.  Sad times.  But you know what – the text itself doesn’t say “born again.”  Many translations don’t talk about it happening again, but that it is something “born from above” or “born anew.”

My sister in law is due to have her baby today.  She is.  The baby still hasn’t come and we’re all on baby watch.  Every phone call, facebook post, and everyone I see – all of us want to know when this baby is going to be born.  As we have watched Karen grow more and more “with child” we have witnessed the growing and changing of her body as the baby has expanded and expanded, and the grand finale isn’t even here yet.  None of us in any shape or form want to try to crawl back up into the womb and be born again.  I’m not getting all scientologist on you with the silent birth thing, but the image of being born again doesn’t much seem like a quiet or peaceful process.  Being born from above or born anew speaks to something different.  This isn’t quite like your first birth but is something that is different in its nature.

Nicodemus asks these same questions about birth and Jesus answers him saying “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.  What is borth of the flesh is flesh, an what is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  This isn’t a fleshly birth.  This isn’t just raw humanity at its finest.  There is something more here.  This is about Spirit, not just flesh.

The week before I preached on this text we were in Washington, DC for a seminar on human trafficking and immigration and it was a rich experience with students from all over the country.  Northern Illinois Wesley, Arizona State Wesley and Winthrop Wesley all came together for the experience and the dialogue back and forth was fantastic.  The only thing that seemed to bother me was that on several occasions there were times I felt like we were talking past each other, or that as soon as someone threw out a statistic than the debate or argument was supposed to be over.  This to me is flesh.  When we’re just trying to win or have our point heard, but we don’t care about the other person or want to have a back and forth dialogue and not just a championship – it’s hard for me to see the Spirit there.  But when opposing viewpoints come together and some semblance of truth comes out and reigns forth, it’s easier to see the Spirit moving.

I often feel like people are missing the point in the midst of the fray.  As I watched the US launch missles against Libya that evening on the news and as I tried to gather information on what was happening and why it was happening, at the bottom of the screen in the ticker tape CNN was reporting that Kevin Costner had signed on to play superman’s dad in the new Superman franchise coming out.  Now, I love my celebrity news as much as the next person and I’m not hating on Superman, but the beyond irony of seeing us bomb Libya at the same time seeing the casting news of Kevin Costner was a little much.  Flesh versus Spirit.  “What is born of flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  When we look around us in the day to day what do we see of the Spirit?  What do see that’s born of flesh?  Verse 8 says, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. ”  One of the things that we say as part of our “What We Believe” on Sundays says “We believe in the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Comforter, who blows peace, strength and perseverance over our lives.”  The Holy Spirit really is in some ways, this uncontrollable force that we invite to shake up and invigorate our lives.

The thing that I really like about this text is a part of it that we usually gloss over.  Or maybe pastors where you’re from don’t usually gloss over things, could just be my own inclination.  Verse 14 talking about the serpent in the wilderness that Moses lifted up is usually something that I would keep on trucking past and not necessarily dig into.  But I love this part that I had never discovered.  Here’s Moses in the book of Numbers with the Israelites wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years and even though everything is being provided for them – land, food, everything, they still start complaining because the food being provided isn’t good enough.  How often do we complain about not being able to get that next new thing or the best food, when God is providing abundantly for us?  So here’s God in Numbers 21 sending some poisonous snakes amongst the people and suddenly the Israelites really do have something to complain about.  Suddenly, it’s legit and even more griping ensues.  So God asks Moses to make this bronze serpent and if they look to it, they will be healed.

So you’re like okay.  We get the reference but what does that have to do with this?  This whole serpent thing became a crutch.  It wasn’t some cure all for all that ails humanity.  But they kept on worshipping it, generation after generation.  It talks about the same serpent in 2 Kings 18 when Hezekiah is cleaning out the temple.  In verse 4 it talks about him breaking it into pieces and how the people of Israel had continued to give offerings to it and had named it Nehushtan.  They had named the thing.  No longer had there been poisonous snakes.  No longer was it necessary, but they kept on doing it. 

There’s a part of us that love the formulaic or the ritual.  It’s easy.  If it worked before, let’s keep using it as much as we can.  (To talk about how we do this in the church, is just too easy.)  If healing came the first time, than maybe if we rub this magic rock or if we do ______ than it will protect us again.

But the thing is, God can’t be reduced to a formula when it comes to special stones or idols.  For that matter, the Christian life, can’t be reduced to a formula or simple ritual.  We can’t just pay homage to relics, even if they once meant something in one time or place.  Not that I’m saying we throw everything out, but the One who is lifted up in the Gospel is greater than any simple thing we could create.  Jesus as the Son of Man is lifted up and that’s more powerful than any snake or any idol of our own – whether wealth or security or power or sense of safety or self.

This is what leads into that familar John 3:16 passage.  It’s not just for a select few that bow down to the snake, but for everyone that believes in him who is lifted up for all of us.  I love the next verses too, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

John 3:16 is important, true.  It is.  Mom wouldn’t have made us memorize it otherwise.  Christian merchandising definitely indicates this is so.  But we shouldn’t make the words the magic formula, but the Savior that they’re pointing to.  We shouldn’t break everything down to a 3 step process, but should let the Spirit of God speak through the words of scripture and our words as we greet the world with light.  We shouldn’t just grasp hold of these verses without also looking at the rest of the teachings of our scripture talking about justice and loving our neighbor and our God.  If we don’t just go back and depend on the old relics, but we see what the Spirit has in store and if we choose not to limit how far God’s redemptive love can reach, what a world we could be looking at.

Yes, there’s a battle of darkness and light.  Yes, there are choices to be made.  And I think often some of us are right there in the middle right where Nicodemus is.  You see these verses don’t end Nicodemus’ story.  We see him again in John 7:50 sort of trying to ask some questions to help Jesus but not really committing to actually step up and put a stop to anything.  Then we see Nicodemus again with Joseph of Arimathea in John 19:39 and it’s done.  Jesus is gone and he brings some myrrh and aloes to prepare Jesus’ body.  John specifically says that this is the same Nicodemus as the one who visited Jesus in the night.  He doesn’t tell us if Nicodemus regrets not doing something or if there’s sadness as he prepares the body of Jesus or if he struggles with his part played.  John doesn’t tell us any of those feelings, but he tells us actions.  Nicodemus came and asked questions, Nicodemus attempted to speak up, and Nicodemus helped prepare the body.  We don’t know if Nicodemus regretted just going with the status quo or old relics, or if he eventually caught on to this new vision in Jesus.

How have we reduced our Christian walks to a formula?  When something challenging or difficult happens to we begin the same ritual that has worked before or we start promising God all sorts of things that we’ll change if God would only…?  How are we like Nicodemus, curious, questioning, sort of trying to step up, and yet…?  How have we reduced God’s power and vision into tidy boxes?  Can we discern what is “flesh” in our lives and what is Spirit?  Are we ready for the Spirit to burst into our lives…into the lives of our churches…into our workplaces…into the day to day?  Or are we so awesome at compartmentalizing our faith that we’re letting a lot in this world just pass us by because we don’t feel that sense of urgency?

For God so loved the world…

Week 1 of Lent – Storms

We began the Lenten season with Matthew 4:1-11 which is the familiar section where beforehand Jesus has been baptized and he goes into the wilderness for 40 days and nights.  He is then tempted by the devil 3 times with questions about his power and Jesus responding in scripture back to him.  When people are questioned about their power and their authority is questioned, sometimes their hackles are raised and it’s easy to react out of a defensiveness or justification of how powerful you think you are.

When this Sunday rolled around a couple weeks ago, the Charlie Sheen saga was at a fever pitch.  It was right after he started waving around a machete on top of a building.  Now I know that people in Hollywood generally may have a healthy sense of self, but waving around a machete and talking about bi-winning and having goddesses are not really the way to go about winning America’s love much less your argument that you are the one with the most power that everyone should praise.  And yet, there was something about this terrible spectacle that at least some people watched because ratings have been up for the show and people couldn’t get enough of the news stories, interviews, and magazine covers.  There’s a certain kind of power that needs attention to be validated.  There’s a certain kind of power that feeds on the frenzy whether good or bad and the ego just continues to grow and mutate.

Now Jesus, who is both God and man could be argued to have been the most powerful human to ever walk the face of the earth.  Nope this wasn’t some demigod or Zeus.  This was God, right here, Emmanuel – God with us.  Now, you didn’t see Jesus waving around machetes or calling for press conferences to do great miracles and healings.  In all actuality a lot of the miracles and healings that he did, he did with what was handy whether a couple loaves and fishes or his own spit mixed with some dirt, and about half the time he told the people don’t tell anyone about this. 

In this snapshot with the devil in Matthew, he’s not falling for the trick of the attack on his ego, he’s answering clearly and definitively in scripture.  In some ways this would have been prime time for him to show how awesome and powerful he is.  He had just been baptized and a loud voice had burst through the clouds and said “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)  That’s bigger than any political endorsement that you could get.  With a ringing pronouncement like that you would think he would have immediately used all that capital and start ministering everywhere showing all the he could do.

And yet, in Matthew immediately after the baptism it says that Jesus was then “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  Jesus was led by the Spirit.  He didn’t just go off on his own and start building his own little kingdom on earth with a huge building, marketing campaign, and tv spots.  He listened to the Spirit and followed even if that was into the wilderness where he would be tempted.  One of my dad’s favorite Bible verses in high school that he shared with me when I was in high school was 1 Corinthians 10:13 which says, “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.  God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”  Jesus could handle this testing.  He could.  That didn’t make it any easier to go through.  That didn’t mean it was any less tough.  When is fasting ever easy for the human body?  As any youth group that has done the 30 hour famine can tell you, fasting is not easy.  As anyone who has given up desserts or chocolate or soft drinks or sugar for Lent can tell you, fasting is not easy.  Mother Theresa used to say, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”

What are some ways that we have been tested?  How did we respond to those tests?  How was God with us in those tests?  Tests are not necessarily things we look forward to whether in school or in life, but if we prepare for them, it’s that much easier to be ready.  One of the students and I talked last night about questions of theodicy or why God lets bad things happen.  She specifically was asking about a friend who had died while still in high school, about my brain tumor, and about the continued struggle and misery of the people of Japan.  I don’t have some big, perfect answer to give that’s going to wipe all the sorrow away.  I don’t.  But I do know that God is with her friend’s family and with the people in Japan.

I don’t believe that God causes cancer or earthquakes or tsunamis or abuse, but I do believe that God is with us in our sorrow and in our anger and in our doubts and in our fears.  I have no idea why God allows some things to happen.  Like I told her last night, as much as I think that may be one of those things that we would want to ask on the other side, I honestly don’t think we’ll care all that much at that point in the midst of God’s presence.  I also trust and know that if we dig into the Word of God and if we are fed spiritually that when the tests and struggles of life arise, we’ll be that much more prepared.  Jesus didn’t just let the devil keep taunting him.  He answered clearly and specifically from the Word of God.  Even when scripture was thrown back at him, he didn’t waver from the truth and where his heart and trust was.  He was strong.  He was ready.  He wasn’t just on a Charlie Sheen power trip.  He didn’t have to prove his power by some big display or some long soliloquy.  He just had to answer solidly and unwaveringly in faith.

Often it is our fears that get in the way of us feeling this security or confidence.  In the movie The King’s Speech a lot of the soon to be King George’s hang up with stuttering goes back to trauma and fear.  A lot of our fears and worries can be traced back to our own traumas and fears.  God is offering us something different though, better than any SAT or GRE prep course and better than any class we can take at the local college, community center or YMCA.  God is offering for us to know God whether through scripture or prayer or song or meditation or silence or just opening our hearts and eyes to the fingerprints of God around us.  God is offering us tools and foundations so that when the storms of life are raging, we know who’s standing beside us.

So as we continue this Lenten season, may we continue to prepare ourselves through repentance and renewal knowing that God is beside us and before us no matter what this world may bring.

When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the world is tossing me
Like a ship upon the sea
Thou Who rulest wind and water,
Stand by me (stand by me).

In the midst of tribulation,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of tribulation,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When the hosts of hell assail,
And my strength begins to fail,
Thou Who never lost a battle,
Stand by me (stand by me).

In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of faults and failures,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When I do the best I can,
And my friends misunderstand,
Thou Who knowest all about me,
Stand by me (stand by me).

In the midst of persecution,
Stand by me (stand by me);
In the midst of persecution,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When my foes in battle array
Undertake to stop my way,
Thou Who savèd Paul and Silas,
Stand by me (stand by me).

When I’m growing old and feeble,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When I’m growing old and feeble,
Stand by me (stand by me);
When my life becomes a burden,
And I’m nearing chilly Jordan,
O Thou “Lily of the Valley,”
Stand by me (stand by me).

Why not some small rebellions during Lent?

Kathy Bostrom, wise woman that she is posted to her facebook status, “I never have given up something for Lent. Instead, I try to add one more prayer, one more act of kindness, one more word of grace, one more way of being the Love of God for God’s children. Join me?”

I loved that sentiment.  It reminded me of Jars of Clay’s song, “Small Rebellions.”  If we spent our days doing these small rebellions what a world it would be.  If we intentionally practiced this, not just for Lent, but for always – wowzers what could happen?

God of the break and shatter
Hearts in every form still matter
In our weakness help us see
That alone we’ll never be
Lifting any burdens off our shoulders

If our days could be filled with small rebellions
Senseless, brutal acts of kindness from us all
If we stand between the fear and firm foundation
Push against the current and the fall
The current and the fall

God of the warn and tattered
All of Your people matter
Give us more than words to speak
Cause we are hearts and arms that reach
And love climbs up and down the human ladder

Give us days to be filled with small rebellions
Senseless, brutal acts of kindness from us all
If we stand between the fear and firm foundation
Push against the current and the fall
The current and the fall

The fall

We will never walk alone again
No, we will never walk alone again
No, we will never walk alone again

Give us days to be filled with small rebellions
Senseless, brutal acts of kindness from us all
If we stand between the fear and firm foundation
Push against the current and the fall
Give us days to be filled with small rebellions
Senseless, brutal acts of kindness from us all
If we stand between the fear and firm foundation
Push against the current and the fall
The current and the fall

The fall…