Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dear Mom and Dad

*a letter preached at St C's, October 31, 2010*

Dear Mom and Dad,

Shalom! Thanks for the letter.

It’s been almost three years now since that sweltering evening in the synagogue when I first heard him preach. Can you believe it? What a sermon - it still makes me shudder to remember those words: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. Then he sat down. You could have heard a pin drop as we waited in suspense. Finally - finally, after what felt like Eternity before us - he spoke - he spoke the words that I’ve been chasing ever sense. He said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” What did that mean? I remember asking Matthias. He said he wasn’t sure. Neither of us were. And yet I have never been so certain as when I heard him say those words.

I know I hurt you when I left; still I’ll never forget that you did let me leave. You kissed my forehead and hid your tears and said you’d pray for me and Matty. You know I pray for you.

Following hasn’t been easy. Jesus isn’t much for staying put! And the crowds only grow more raucous; I think even Jesus is wary of that. One day some clowns lowered their friend through the ceiling in order to get his attention - to get past the crowds. The man was paralyzed. Jesus was smack dab in the middle of teaching, but he didn’t seem to mind the theatrics of the men who loved their friend. The joy of the healed sometimes begins with the friends of the sick.

I don’t think, when it started, that I imagined becoming a friend of the sick.

Some days I blush at the circumstances, how wrong it must look on the outside - even as I marvel at how gloriously right it is on the inside. I’m not gonna lie - Jesus doesn’t hide from a really good party with some really bad people. All the rumors are true. He doesn’t call them bad, though; he calls them sick. And of course, this tour began as a healing tour for sick folks; as it turns out, Jesus just has a pretty broad definition of sick folks. I think he has a mind to heal us all, if he could. So there we are.

The other day he sat us all down in a field. A lot of us - the sick and their friends. He starts talking, preaching, and it’s not all that different from the first time I heard him: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” But later he adds something new that up until then had been lost on me. He said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” He went on to say, “love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.”

Love your enemies. Some Pharisees had tried to stop a healing the other day, because it was the Sabbath. At first I wondered if he wasn’t talking to them. Now I wonder if he wasn’t talking about them.

Love your enemies...expecting nothing in return.

I wonder what I’m expecting in return - that is, what I hope comes out of this. It’s amazing, for sure, the healings, the friends, the words that sustain us. Most days, though, I don’t know where we’re going. The way is good but the destination unclear. I wonder if Jesus himself knows how this all ends.

Matty told me the other day that he overheard Peter and Jesus rattling on about taking up crosses and losing one’s life. Peter didn’t want to talk about it, and it’s a rare day indeed that finds Peter lacking for words, God love him. I wonder what Jesus meant. That seems like pretty drab talk from the life of the party.

Lately the wandering has seemed less random. To be sure, we’re a vagabond crowd and never too busy to be interrupted. But that we know we’re being interrupted is itself a sign that things have changed - for the first time, Jesus seems to know where he’s going: he’s going to Jerusalem.

I don’t know how to say this, Mom, Dad - I’m going with him. I’m not so naive that the importance of Jerusalem is lost on me - the city that kills the prophets. I’m not looking to die, but following Jesus has become a habit, a training - truly the habit of my soul. I can conceive nothing other.

The other day, Jesus told us not to be afraid of losing our belongings on this adventure with him. He said, “Don’t be afraid. It gives God great joy to give you the kingdom.” Then he told us to give the rest away. I guess his thinking is that you can’t lose what you don’t hold onto but the fact remains that you no longer own what you give away.

Like this man, Zacchaeus. Another party we weren’t supposed to be at. Jesus saw him in a tree (in a tree!) and invited us - the whole gang - over for the afternoon. Now Zach makes bank. His house, his place, was incredible. He’s also a head tax collector. And he knew he was sick.

So we’re sitting around after dinner - dinner was fantastic; almost as good as your homemade matzohs, Mom! (almost) - and out of nowhere, Zach says he’s giving half of his belongings away to the poor. I laughed out loud - I thought he was blowing smoke, trying to impress the man who called him down from the tree. But then he went on to say that he’d pay back the folks he had cheated - four times over, even named names (it was awkward) - and it hit me that this man wasn’t just looking for attention - he had been paying attention. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”

Well, the Pharisees tried to stop this party, too. The Pharisees thought that Zacchaeus being a sinner made Jesus a joke. Zacchaeus thought that his being a sinner made Jesus his hope. Zach was willing to give up his stuff if it meant being closer to Jesus.

As long as I live, I’ll never forget Jesus’ answer to Zacchaeus; he looked Zacchaeus in the eye. Twenty-two of us together in that room, but he was staring holes through poor Zacchaeus. Not through him, into him, with a love that was unspeakably tender. He said, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a Son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Zacchaeus climbed up that tree because he was short and he wanted to see the Good News. Who knew that the Good News wanted just as badly - or more! - to see him? Zacchaeus thought he was looking for God. And all the while it’s God who is looking for him! For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost. Even Zacchaeus. Even me.

Tonight, as I write this letter to you, the sky is clear and bright with stars, and the campfire shadows dance a sinister, smoky dance. Tomorrow, we sojourn to Jerusalem, and the campfire shadows know it. Jesus left to pray a while ago, and his face looked oddly different. Still him, still tender, still true, but determined in a way I had not picked up on before. One gets the sense that the importance of Jerusalem isn’t lost on Jesus, either.

He’s asked us to give up a lot to follow him. I get the sense tonight that there is nothing I have given that he won’t, in the end, give up, too, and more. He’s not like us - he’s not sick like us. But God, how he loves us. The sick and the poor. The rich and the strong. The deluded and clear-minded. We ones who need God.

I think he has a mind to heal us all, if he could.

I love you. I miss you.

Peace be with you.

1 comment:

  1. Are you kidding me? This is great! is this what you preached today?
    Stellar I love it! Just Beautiful.