Many of you have heard [these words] countless times. They are known as the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” They have been heard as marching orders, but they are also a mission statement, a peek into the inner working of the Trinity, and a blessing.
As I wrote in the newsletter, like those disciples, today we are outside our traditional place of worship, easily overheard by people who are in this place to fish or walk, to play tennis or enjoy nature. These are the sort of people we have longed to reach out to, to connect with, to draw in. But our efforts haven’t always had the power of Pentecost that drew thousands.
Joan Gray thinks she knows why.
Three wildly different sources – a sci-fi series, a piece of art, a poem – but maybe they were not rabbit trails after all. Maybe the Spirit is using those odd angles help us to wrestle with the nature of the Ascension event – a moment that speaks to us …
of the reach and limits of a community’s mission,
of the interplay of absence and presence,
and of the empowering hope of God’s kingdom.
Cleopas and another of Jesus’ followers begin their story with heartbreak. They have not been “kept safe” to use Julian’s language. Instead, they have seen the one they love “handed over to be condemned and crucified.” Now they are not naïve. This is not the first time their hearts have been broken; not the first time death has stolen their joy; not the first time the heavy weight of Rome’s brutal power has assaulted their world. But they “had hoped that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel,” so his death stung in a way that others had not.
By including these elements Matthew is reminding his worshipping community (and ours) that when God is at work, nothing stays the same …
solid things, like the earth’s crust, dance like a two year-old with a puppy;
steady people, like veteran Roman soldiers, tremble like flags in a breeze; and
sure and surly things, like death, meekly turn loose their prisoners.
“Some passages are simply too rich to be only heard. They need to be experienced,” writes David Lose. That is the driving truth behind our decision to let you experience what it is like to be blind, even if only for a short while.
So what did you experience?
West Virginia’s own Kathy Mattea once sang “You have to sing like you don’t need the money; love like you’ll never get hurt; you gotta dance like nobody’s watching; it’s got to come from the heart …”
Why did we stop dancing?
Maybe her marriages had their bad sides; maybe she was not anxious to admit them. But maybe it is this hurt, this brokenness, this vulnerability that allows her to embrace the living water that Jesus is offering. Maybe she is so aware of her need, and her inability to ever quench it, that it opens her up to being filled with living water. Maybe that’s why she connects with Jesus when Nicodemus couldn’t quite do so. Maybe you have to be broken to be filled.
So, if Pharisees had more in common with Jesus than we might have thought, is it possible there are other unexpected nuances to this meeting?
Let’s start with the timing of the visit: at night.
Was that because Nicodemus was afraid, ashamed, or annoyed?
Or is it possible it was because he had been thinking about Jesus all day and couldn’t sleep, couldn’t wait to talk to him, couldn’t stop the stream of questions and hopes?
But Jesus is not tempted. The real treasure found in the wilderness is not miraculous bread to fill a growling stomach, or angelic bodyguards to keep a person safe, or flashy, intoxicating, corrupting power over all the worldly kingdoms.
No, the true treasure, the prize that should tempt us to spend a season in the wilderness, is the Word of God.