“Christian spirituality, the contemplative life, is not about us. It is about God. The great weakness of American spirituality is that it is all about us: fulfilling our potential, getting the blessings of God, expanding our influence, finding our gifts, getting a handle on principles by which we can get an edge over the competition. The more there is of us, the less there is of God.” Eugene Peterson
Last week Mike and I were gone on a work vacation. We were in Waco at Magnolia Shops one day enjoying a nice cupcake and the scenery when I pointed out to Mike the need of EVERYONE to take selfies. We live in a culture that is so wrapped up in self. There was beauty to be had in the garden area, beauty in the day, but many missed it because they were so wrapped up in themselves. Why? What makes us believe we are that important?
Lent offers us a much-needed mentor in an age obsessed with visible, measurable, manageable and tweetable increase. It invites us to walk with Jesus and his disciples through darker seasons that we would much rather avoid: grief, conflict, misunderstanding, betrayal, restriction, rejection and pain. Lent confronts our modern obsession with increase and introduces us to faith building decrease. Jesus, who commands the wind and waves, allowed Himself to be arrested. Jesus, who raised the dead to life, allowed Himself to be crucified. The disciples illusions of commitment unto death were shattered by the fear-inspired self-protection.
The challenge for today is to fast from regret. I’d be surprised if there’s anyone who has not struggled with regret. Regret is when fresh beginnings are stalked by the memories of stale endings. “If I had just…..” “What if I had……” Regret can empty us of anticipation, flatten dreams and suffocate hope. Regret, quite simply, is a form of self-punishment. Hindsight helps us learn from the past; regret beats us up with the past. We raise cattle. It is a given fact of life on the farm that sometimes animals die. You can play the blame game or the regret game, but in the end all it does is beat up someone else or yourself. We have gone through years when the loss of calves during calving season was nearly devastating – not only financially but also emotionally and spiritually because we allowed regret to creep into the mix. “If I had checked her every 3 hours instead of 4, we could have saved the calf.” “If I had paid closer attention I would have noticed he wasn’t feeling as perky today and could have prevented scours.” “If I….” The problem with all of these is the I – much like the problem in the opening paragraph is the we and our. Christ has given us a refreshed outlook. We pray for a safe and successful calving season. We trust that God’s got our best in mind and we do the work He sets before us. Thinking we control the world is the very thing that got Satan kicked out of Heaven.
Today’s reading is John 12: 12-19.
12-15 The next day the huge crowd that had arrived for the Feast heard that Jesus was entering Jerusalem. They broke off palm branches and went out to meet him. And they cheered: Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in God’s name! Yes! The King of Israel!
Jesus got a young donkey and rode it, just as the Scripture has it:
No fear, Daughter Zion:
See how your king comes,
riding a donkey’s colt.
16 The disciples didn’t notice the fulfillment of many Scriptures at the time, but after Jesus was glorified, they remembered that what was written about him matched what was done to him.
17-19 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb, raising him from the dead, was there giving eyewitness accounts. It was because they had spread the word of this latest God-sign that the crowd swelled to a welcoming parade. The Pharisees took one look and threw up their hands: “It’s out of control. The world’s in a stampede after him.”
I’ve often joked that the real miracle in this story isn’t the crowds of people following Jesus, but rather that Jesus was able to ride a donkey colt through a crowd of people waving branches, yelling and throwing their coats on the ground in front of him. We’ve had a donkey – they’re usually not so docile in the midst of chaos.
I highlighted two verses above that really stood out today. In verse 16, I noticed that the disciples didn’t notice the fulfillment of Scripture in the moment. It gave me some consolation that even though they had spent nearly 3 years with Jesus on a daily basis, they still missed some of the good stuff until they had time to reflect. I’m sure there are many times in the midst of the chaos of life, I’ve missed the good stuff. I’ve read scripture after scripture, only to go back years later and find the nugget I need in the present that was formerly hidden from my spiritual eyes.
In verses 17-19 the part that really got me was the Pharisees reaction. “It’s out of control.” In the HCSB, it reads “You see? You’ve accomplished nothing. Look – the world has gone after Him.” It’s not about what we do. The Pharisees believed they could contain God. They liked a god that was predictable. If I do x then God will do y. Christ came because sometimes, even if we do x our hearts aren’t in it. We only do x so we can get God to do y. “God, I’ll tithe if you bless me even more.” “God, I’ll tell this person about you if you’ll heal me from this disease.” Ok, God, I did what you asked and gave up drinking, now where’s all the blessings I’m due?” Christ doesn’t operate that way, folks. He sees our hearts and knows our motives. And when we come to Him with pure hearts and motives, He’s out of control with His love for us. That’s why He didn’t save Himself from death on the cross – He was out of control in love with us. With you. With me. Thank you, Lord, for your love and mercy and patience as we struggle daily to get it right.