Call and Response

Do you believe in pure coincidence? Serendipity? The human mind, I think, is always looking for connections, ways to make sense of what happens in our world. It’s like proof-texting scripture, though. Oftentimes, we come to a conclusion and then work our way back to its origin, falsely concluding that correlation equals causation.

At the same time, I’ve lived long enough to have had a moment – and sometimes my entire life – completely altered, taken down a path felt always meant for me, by a domino effect of “sheer coincidences.”  It’s then that I think… this can’t be just coincidence.

When I applied to seminary, I knew it might take me ten years to finish because I could only pay for one class at a time (I did not want to take on more school loans). Then – out of the blue – I was told my application had been referred for a scholarship I didn’t even apply for. A scholarship that eventually covered all my tuition.

A couple of days ago, I pulled an old journal of mine from a stack, looking for quotes or scripture notes I might be able to use for an essay on Ephesians. I didn’t flip through it, though, as I might normally do.  Instead, I opened the notebook to the first page:

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It was Ash Wednesday 2018, and I had started reading A Way Other Than Our Own by Walter Brueggeman. It’s now a year and a half later, and I’ve been steeped in Ephesians for weeks. By randomly opening an old notebook, I immediately spotted a connection between the OT book of Isaiah and the NT letter to the Ephesians. I would never have looked in Isaiah otherwise.

What I had read in Ephesians, coupled with what I found in Isaiah, brought me to tears:

In him, we have redemption through his blood… Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price… (Ephesians 1:7; Isaiah 55:1).

The OT prophecy and the NT message say the same things:  We – all of us, everyone who thirsts – are invited to come back, return to our original identity in God. We – all of us, even he who has no money – can buy wine and milk without price. Because we – all of us – have been redeemed by the grace of God through Christ’s sacrificial death and rebirth.

Our bill has been paid . We have been called to return. All of us. Everyone.

The Universal Call

Jack Wilson

Today I received calls from Oregon, New Jersey, a very small town in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Jamaica. No, I don’t know people all over the US or the Caribbean – these are dreaded telemarketers who keep offering me “better” interest rates on [credit cards, mortgages, car loans] and warning me about the perils of continuing to operate in the world while unprotected from [hackers, scammers, the dark web]. One call was even so kind as to offer a consolidation loan for my husband’s school loans. Only problem is, he doesn’t have any.

So, note to all my friends who may be calling from a number NOT in my caller ID: I’m sorry you’re [in jail, caught under something heavy, running from reality] but I no longer take calls from numbers I don’t know. If you’re actually someone I’ve been in contact with at some point in my life but for some reason I don’t have your current phone number in my current cell phone, you’re just gonna have to leave a message and wait for me to call you back.

Hopefully you won’t have to wait long, because I totally understand your frustration if you do. Waiting for people to call me back is an irritation that runs a close second to telemarketers blowing up my phone and filling my voicemail. I tell myself it’s building my capacity for patience, but in reality I’ve chewed all ten fingernails while waiting “patiently.” (And I’m eyeballing my toenails.)

I have a bad habit of anthropomorphizing God, so I find myself envisioning his response to waiting. Does he flop on a cloud with the remote dangling off the edge in his hand, mindlessly scanning through the cable channels? Maybe he cuddles with a cat, perusing Instagram photos, mildly annoyed when he discovers his ginger ale has lost its punch from all the melting ice (and passing time)? The impressive thing is, no matter how long we keep him waiting… no matter how many infomercials he watches, or how many watery drinks he ends up pouring out… God continues to wait for all of us to answer his call. And don’t ever doubt that you’ve been called!

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul literally begs them to lead lives worthy of the calling to which you have been called (4:1). Paul isn’t talking here about “calling” in terms of what profession or career each person chooses. He’s talking about the one call that everyone has received: God’s call to join the one, unified body of Christ. It’s a call to everyone – and it’s a call everyone can accept.

I think the problem might be that we forget (or don’t realize) that God called us first. Through Jesus, God called us and offered his gift of reconciliation – a gift that we have done nothing, nor can do anything, to earn or deserve. It’s not like first opening a new credit card and then getting six months without interest. God asks nothing of us in advance for us to be given his gift of love, reconciliation, and redemption. He’s already called and left a message. The next move is ours.

God called you up a long time ago and not recognizing the number, fearing what it might be or what it might mean, you let it go to voicemail. Now that you’ve figured out who’s calling – that it’s an old friend who needs/wants nothing other than just to get everyone together again – how long will you wait before you answer? How long before you begin living a life worthy of the call to which we have all been called?

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Lent – Holy Saturday

Luke 23:50-56

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments.

On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

Lent – Good Friday

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When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:33-34, 44-46)

You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
    for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
    for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
    you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

Psalm 31:3-5

“A new sort of power will be let loose upon the world, and it will be the power of self-giving love. This is the heart of the revolution that was launched on Good Friday. You cannot defeat the usual sort of power by the usual sort of means. If one force overcomes another, it is still ‘force’ that wins. Rather, at the heart of the victory of God over all the powers of the world there lies self-giving love, which, in obedience to the ancient prophetic vocation, will give its life ‘as a ransom for many.’” (N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion)

Lent – Maundy Thursday

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When the hour came, [Jesus] took his place at the table, and the apostles with him.  He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer….” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:14-15, 19-20)

And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

“You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” (John 13:2-5, 13-17, 31)

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood:  Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.   (Book of Common Prayer)

Lent – Holy Tuesday

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Today’s Thought:  The greatest commandments.

Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. (Mark 12:13)

Jesus is accumulating followers, making the Romans and church leaders nervous. He’s been attracting large crowds when teaching at the temple, so Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians begin gathering there as well. They inundate Jesus with questions in an effort to catch him in a lie or blasphemy.

They ask who gave him authority to teach in the temple; whether or not the religious should pay taxes to Caesar; and quiz him on hypothetical situations dealing with the resurrection. (Those last questions were from the Sadducees who didn’t even believe in resurrection.)  And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that [Jesus] answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (v28)

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ [Deuteronomy 6:4-5].  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ [Leviticus 19:18]. There is no other commandment greater than these.”  And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher….”  And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions (v29-34).

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you turned an instrument of shameful death into a means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  (Book of Common Prayer)

 

Lent – Holy Monday

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Today’s Thought:  Are we good caretakers?

Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him. (Luke 19:45-47)

I can tell you several bits of information about this scripture. I can tell you it was the day after Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt. That this particular scene took place during Passover, so there were thousands of pilgrims descending on the temple plaza. (Which, by the way, was the size of 29 football fields.) I can tell you how Jesus quoted from the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and how that challenged the powerful.

But the most important thing I can tell you about these words from Luke is how they were merely a precursor to the profound change Jesus would usher in as the Messiah. In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth he, like Jesus that day, reminds them to take good care of the holy temple of God. But now, because of the sacrifice Jesus would make within a week of his arrival, the temple is no longer standing in Jerusalem. Now, it’s within each of us.

Paul writes, Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (3:16-17).

So… What’s going on in the Temple, that holy place of God where the Spirit dwells? Do thoughts about money take up 29 football fields? Does hatred, or bitterness, or self-destruction? Is there space for Jesus to teach or will he be forced to flip a few tables first? Is there room for you to learn? You are God’s holy temple. Are you caring for it?

Monday’s Meditation: Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God’s new Temple. They are, individually and corporately, places where heaven and earth meet. ― N.T. Wright