Making a place for young adults to connect with each other and with God is super exciting, but also more than a little scary. For what guarantee do we have that if we really go after these lost lambs, we won’t get lost ourselves? Every time I hear a version of this fear, every time I myself think that we three churches have enough struggles and we don’t have the resources to make room for a new church nor do we have the strength numerically or financially or any other way to support a new congregation, I hear the words of Jesus ringing in my ear, loud and clear: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” [Mark 8:35] I am convinced that these are the words that have to guide everything we do at Willow Glen. If we want to be found, we are going to have to be willing to get lost.
The question that came to my mind this week about this story is, “Did Jesus really stop the storm or did he lead the disciples into the center of it where everything is still? You’ve heard about the eye of a hurricane, that space in the center of the storm where the wind and water are strangely calm. Chaos and destruction are still going on all around, but in the center the pressure goes way down and there is peace. In light of the hurricane this week, I hear Jesus saying, “You can’t escape all the storms in your life. You’re just going to have to live through them. So get in my boat. We’re not going to evade or evacuate. I am going to take you right into the center of this storm. You will be safe there with me. We’ll ride it out together.”
We may never have had this honest a relationship with another person, but it’s the only kind of relationship we can have with God. The real you. The real me. Total honesty. Deep intimacy. That’s all that God wants from any of us and from all of us. That’s why God keeps sending out servants to bring in more and more of us. And here we come, the good and the bad, all mixed together. No table manners? No worries. Christ is a patient teacher. The One who knows us will grow us and give us all the humility, charity and honesty we need. This is one banquet that doesn’t need a bouncer.
In Kaleidoscope last week, someone noticed that Jesus told the woman that she was free even before he laid hands on her, before he healed her, before she stood up straight. Could that be because he knew that he had to free her mind before he could free her body? He had to cast off that crippling spirit that had let her disability do so much damage to her sense of self. First she had to be set free from the lies that told her that there was no wholeness in her and that there could be no healing for her. At some point in our lives, haven’t we believed those lies? We all have to be mentally and spiritually ready to be physically healed.
This morning I want to offer you one method for moving from saying to praying, one method for reclaiming the extraordinary power of Jesus’ prayer. C.S. Lewis called the method “festooning” and how it works is that you take the Lord’s Prayer word by word, phrase by phrase, and write down your thoughts, your feelings, your associations, your questions—anything that comes to mind.
Jesus came to put his whole being into our brokenness and maybe that’s why he was known to the disciples in the breaking of the bread. When the bread was broken, they were confronted with their own brokenness, with their profound grief. That broken loaf was not just his broken body, but their broken hearts as well. And seeing their broken hearts held in his loving hands enabled them to recognize him. But at the moment that they saw him, he disappeared from their sight. Their encounter with the living Lord lasted only an instant, but eternity was in it.
But we don’t have to wait until we die. We can lay our Christ cloaks on this road while we are still alive. Ambrose knew that the road to salvation is rough. Following Jesus has never been easy. But it is especially hard when so many Christians live unChrist-like lives. Most people have no problem with Jesus, only his followers. So Ambrose encourages those of you who are clothed with Christ to lay down your cloaks, lay down what is Christ-like in you, so that others might see your good works and give glory to your God in heaven. [Matthew 5:16] That way, you can make the road to salvation a little smoother. You can make it a little easier for Christ to ride into someone else’s heart. [Ancient Christian Commentary Series, Luke 19:29]
We can’t say, “Fake news!” The facts are plain as day. It is what it is; I am what I am. I am not just who I am on my best days. I am also who I am on my worst days. That old song, “Just as I am, without one plea,” was written for me. Lord, sin has dismembered me. So, re-member me. Remember me through the rose-colored glasses of your love. In your eyes, I am beautiful. In your love, I become loveable. Re-member me. Remake me. So when the rebel says “Remember me,” he is really saying, “Forgive me.” And when he says, “Forgive me,” he says, “Befriend me.” He hasn’t made amends for all his wrongs. He hasn’t learned how to pray. He hasn’t been baptized or read the Bible or memorized the creed or kept the sabbath. All he says is “Remember me,” and that’s enough. Today, he’s with Jesus, so by definition he is in Paradise. Still suffering, he is saved. Today.
I wish the evolution of love happened a lot faster. And I wish those moments when we experience real communion with God would last a lot longer. Because our Methodist body is so broken right now, we’d better get up that mountain to pray. Who knows? By God’s grace it is possible that this tragedy could somehow be transfigured so that one day in the not-too-distant future, our Church will look more like Jesus.
Loving our enemies means, first and foremost, accepting the fact that God loves us. We can’t love anyone else until we know what it’s like to be loved not because of our virtues but in spite of our vices. Loving our enemy means loving our harshest critic, doing good to the one who thinks we are bad, and praying for the one who knows best how to abuse us. In other words, it means loving ourselves. We are our own worst enemy until God loves us into being our own best friend.