Today I Saw God
Over the holidays, our home was brimming with joy and laughter, a continuously messy kitchen sink and the rustle of wrappings. All of the chicks were back in the coop as I like to say, and it was heaven on earth! We had some family game nights, competitive family card games and even an adventure to an escape room in D.C. where we were forced to work together to unlock the clues (and the door) to our room.
Butlast week, my youngest adult child packed up his car and drove off to head back to college. My husband and I cried, as we have done as each child takes flight from the nest, even for a short while. It is always bittersweet when someone leaves you, regardless of the circumstances. The time you just spent together makes you miss them even more as they head out the door; you are keenly aware of the unique and wonderful person that loved one is, and you feel the emptiness of their absence even as you are still in their presence. It's an emotionally charged moment.
Having recently studied the apostle Paul and learned more about his life and his travels, I imagine the pain and loss he must have felt when Jesus was no longer with him. He not only knew Jesus was the Son of God, the Truth, the Life, but Paul undoubtedly also knew what made Jesus laugh or the meaning of a glance his way while sharing a parable. The very God that made the sunrise and the sunset with all of its glorious colors, the God that made such an intricate and sustaining system here on earthtrees that can go barren and blossom with vibrant color over and over with each passing season, and something as small as an mosquito having a role in the circle of lifeyes, that God, walked here, on this earth right next to Paul. And then he died, rose again and ascended into heaven. While I don't mean to compare the infinitely more meaningful and memorable departure of Jesus to my son driving off with a carload of boxes, the point is that both left a hole for those standing back, both were filled with emotion none-the-less.
Paul was able to muster up his courage to go on, leaning into the trust, hope and love that he had not only in the teachings and miracles of Jesus Christ but also in honor of the man, the person that he came to love so deeply. Oh, it wasn't easy for Paul. He encountered hardships of all kinds including beatings, illnesses and imprisonment, but his love for Jesus and the need to spread the good news was all the motivation he needed. The life story of Paul is one I feel a personal connection to, not because I too have had any level of suffering that even begins to compare but because I have met and ministered to people that have.
I worked for a prison ministry for seven years, and in that time, I learned so many valuable lessons. I learned that people go their whole lives struggling against the pressures and realities that come with trying to make a life for yourself that is sustaining and fulfilling, and they have to make choices every day that impact the next step in their journey. Many choices get made without a conscious decision; we just act on the next step on the path we've set ourselves on. And it is not until all choices are taken away from uschoices of when and what to eat, what to wear, where to sleepthat we are forced to realize that every choice that impacts our lives starts with choices of the heart and head. I look at Paul like so many of the men and women who unselfishly volunteer in prisons all over this country every day. They too met Jesus. Some, like C.S. Lewis, met him with their heads as they worked through a very intellectual process to get to him, and others, like many of the prisoners and ex-offenders I knew, met him with their hearts. But each one that did was touched deeply by a love that motivates them to tell others all about it.
When my children are near, I long to hear every detail of their day, their hopes, their concernsusually to the point of making them crazy with all of my questions. But it's because I want to keep a little piece of them with me, to ponder on what I can do to make a difference for them. When they are far away, I peek at their Facebook pages; I hope for a Snapchat or text; and I reminisce over their childhood activities, sayings or antics so I don't forget any part of the wonderful and unique person each of them is. It's the same with my faith. When Jesus is near, I can't get enoughI want to hear more and more, feel his presence and seek ways to put his spirit into all that I am and do. And when I feel he is distant, I remember those times I felt close and work to get back to those moments.
I feel the love of God when I consider my children. The impact each of them have on me and others is not measured by their academic achievements, their net worth or the titles they hold, it is measured by their kind and spirited souls. They are each their own unique person, each beautifully and wonderfully made, and counted by God, the Father Almighty as one of his own.
When Jesus came to earth, it created a kairos moment, a moment when God chose to act and his spirit was and still is palpable. I believe the birth of a child is also a kairos moment, a moment when God acts, when heaven most certainly has touched earth.
"It's just down this street," she said. "Take the second left, and go around the corner. You will see the church, but don't go intake the steps on the right and go up to the caf. That's where you will find it." She was smiling as she said it, as if it made perfect sense. It helped that she spoke in friendly Italian, with lovely hand gestures to help us picture the way, but the truth was, after a day of roaming around Rome we were quite certain it would be hard to find. But we were game. After all she was very kind and so welcoming of three American tourists to her city. We had been looking for a different church, one of so many in Rome, but she encouraged us to search for this one instead. "It's better," she said, "and it has a surprise." So we decided to take her advice and go for another adventure on the winding streets of Rome. As we were reaching the second left she came running after us and said, "Wait, you must look very carefully for the caf. Be sure to stay alert. I really want you to find it. I think it will bring you joy."
We found the church, the steps, the small caf entrance and finally the surprise; a window from the caf looked out onto the top of the church. And there it was: an original Raphael. Just waiting for us to experience the beauty of this master's work. There is something about a masterpiece that was created hundreds of years ago that shows the glory of God. I imagined I could see in the faces of the angels something of the artist's desire to honor God. It seemed that each brushstroke was painted with care and thought, as if he hoped that by creating this work of art he could, in some small way, honor the creator of the world. I wonder if he had hoped that as the years went by people would see this painting and marvel at the power of creation. I think he would smile to hear that a small group of travelers took to heart the kind words of a stranger in a strange country and discovered his creation. And she was right. It brought joy.
It was more than the painting, as beautiful as it was. The entire experience reminded me that if we are willing, if we are open, we can be surprised by joy. In Paul's letter to the Philippians he writes, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to all and in everything by prayer and petition put your requests before God and the peace of God, which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." Paul knew what it was to live a difficult life. He was stoned, beaten, put in prison and endured countless other punishments for his efforts to share the message of Christ, and still he wrote about joy. That day in Rome I was reminded that joy is often just around the corner. It might take perseverance, a willingness to ask others for help and an inclination to trust the kindness of others. But when we embrace the adventure, we are often astounded at the beauty and wonder of joy.
I am a bit relieved to write "9-12" in my journal today, the day after. I am not sure what I was expecting on our Day of Remembrance. More attacks? National Sadness? Silence? I read moving accounts of people who were changed on that day, remembered loved ones, and commemorated acts of heroism. I recall words written ten years ago by my then 11 year old daughter, "On Monday, we rushed on to avoid the person on the street; on Tuesday, we crossed over and smiled to greet them."
We were different on Tuesday. We talked about how life would never be the same. We were living a time that would be recorded in history books, and now is. As a nation we were a people wanting to capture the moment and yet move on. To stay and go at the same time. It is the wisdom of recording our stories and the greater wisdom of looking back on them.
From them not only can we see how far we've come but in what direction we are headed. That's what the Remembering the Future sermon series has been about. How gracious of the Spirit (or how brilliant of Tom) to see how beautifully it would all dovetail.
Yesterday in worship we got a glimpse into Paul's prison cell as he wrote to his church in Ephesus.Could he have known this letter would circulate to faithful who would be staggering through a temple in ruins?Paul may have known his death was imminent, yet he pens praises to God and expressions of God's infinite love in a letter which will encourage the church. Paul refused to let his jail cell imprison him. He wouldn't despairbecausehe could see beyond his circumstances and theirs to the glorious riches in the throne room of God.
We call those people visionary who can look beyond, but often in crisis we don't know who they are – until we look back. Sometimes then we can seehow prophetic they were and, perhapshow blinded we have been.
You might enjoy this video link of JonStewartfrom the Daily Show that aired the day after the 9-11 attacks. A comedian and satirist turned serious, he reflects the mood and message in New York on September the 12th. Through tears he says, "The view from myapartmentwas the Twin Towers. It isn't any more." He pauses to gather himself and then says, "Now, my view is the Statue of Liberty."
You can destroy our buildings but you can't take away our freedom. And freedom in Christ lasts forever.
~ Wendy LeBolt