Oh, How He Loves Us!

iStock Photo by B-C Designs
iStock Photo by B-C Designs

What was the awesome power that kept Jesus, the Son of God, nailed to a weathered piece of wood, with spikes piercing his hands and his feet?

How was it possible for angry human hands to lay hold of Jesus, the Christ? How were they able to capture Him? What strength was available to those mocking soldiers with their furious faces? Even the sun was stunned, so traumatized by spitting scorners, cruel taunters, and the sight of a wounded Savior that it turned off the brightness of the afternoon and summoned midnight.

When He was captured in the garden, Jesus reminded Peter that He could have asked the Father for thousands of fighting angels to come to His defense. But we know why He did not. He who is King of Kings and worshipped by angels allowed those gritty human hands to subject Him to the cross. He did it because that was God’s plan. In their classic 1993 album, The Mississippi Mass Choir put the answer to our questions to music when they sang: “It wasn’t the nails that nailed Him to the cross. He could have come down, but my soul would still be lost. The ransom was so high, only He could pay the cost.”

Love held Him there. Christ volunteered to pay the ultimate sacrifice.

Yet, His great love for us does not grant us immunity from life’s tragedies or disappointments. I encounter people every day who ask relevant, real-world question–even in the light of the victory of the cross. “If Christ loves me, why did He allow my spouse to die?” “If He loves me, why is my financial situation so hopeless?” “If He loves me, why did I lose my home?” Why did I lose my job? Why didn’t He save my child?

I sat in a chair in the kitchen today chatting with my daughter as she shared the story of the sudden loss of a colleague’s wife. Inexplicably, someone who was there is suddenly gone. And this is a family of believers. “What do you say?” she asked me. These are questions that confront us, even on Resurrection weekend when we celebrate the deep love we embrace as Christians. How do we understand the cross; how do we understand a life of victory in a world where unfathomable pain is possible? How could hundreds of Christians be murdered in Kenya? Why are there one hundred individual stories of mistreated children, innocent people incarcerated for decades, the working poor robbed by unscrupulous predators…why?

Jesus chose the wood, the nails, and the thorns. He did it for our victory. He did it because, no matter what we encounter in life, He assures us that we win. We win over sin and death. We win over pain and grief. This victory replaces any darkness that threatens. We can stare it down. We have undefeatable joy and an anointing that prevails. After the crucifixion comes Resurrection Sunday. Amen, and Thank God!

Let us look only to Jesus, the One who began our faith and who makes it perfect. He suffered death on the cross. But he accepted the shame as if it were nothing because of the joy that God put before him. And now he is sitting at the right side of God’s throne.–Hebrews 12:2 NCV

DO YOU REALLY KNOW WHO YOU ARE?

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.  

2 Corinthians 4:7 (KJV)

Let’s do an experiment. Go get that special cup of gourmet coffee (or tea, if that’s more to your liking), take out a blank sheet of paper and write down the answer to this question:  who are you?  I don’t just mean your name. No, don’t just give me your bio. Who are you…really?

Here’s a bold statement: you are not who you think you are! I am struck by this fact—many of us don’t know our own worth.  If we look at the outside, we see a common vessel–a pot made of clay–we see the external you. However, the internal you is a priceless treasure. The divine light of Christ’s presence is within you. You mirror His glory; you were made in His likeness.

What makes this treasure even more valuable is that, as weak and as frail and as fragile as we may be, we carry the transforming power of God’s grace and share it by our words, our joy, our testimony and our actions.

The PBS’s documentary, “Who Do You Think You Are? With Henry Louis Gates,” highlights celebrities whose background is traced, as cameras follow. I spoke with one of the producers of that series not long ago and expressed how I appreciated their perspective on heritage. I’ve been thinking about having that kind of DNA test done that breaks down ethnicity, even geographically. What part of Africa were my ancestors from? I’ve always heard that my maternal grandfather (he died the year I was born) was Native American, as many people have said…was that true?

Bigger than the mystery of our ancestry is the awesome truth of how valuable we are to God. He bought us, He paid for us, He bankrupt Heaven…giving up His beloved Son…to buy us back to Himself. In the art world, a piece created by Pablo Picasso or Jacob Lawrence is valued based on what someone last paid for a similar piece.  Beyond that, the great God of the universe values you so highly that He paid an incredible price.

Early in the summer, I sat in the window of a fast food restaurant in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, waiting for an appointment with an Army small business specialist to begin.  I decided to use the time to read several documents I had saved on my iPad.  As it approached midday, I looked up and suddenly realized that I was surrounded by men and women dressed in fatigues.  What struck me most was the reality of who these young people are who serve in our military.

Fort Campbell is one of the world’s largest Army installations. It was lunch time. The restaurant had quickly filled with fresh-faced, fatigue-clad men and women. Should I have been surprised at how they looked like my grandchildren? Almost aloud I said, “These are our children! We send them around the world to fight for us, and they have only been in the world for two decades.”

With that vivid picture still so fresh,  the Defense Department announced statistics on military suicides.  They now cap one a day, a record high.  A few weeks ago, I passed through the book store of the airport ain Columbus, Ohio, nd picked up the July 23 issue of Time magazine.  The cover story was:  “One A Day.” The article, by Mark Thompson and Nancy Gibbs, stated that “every day, one U. S. soldier commits suicide” and went on to describe “why the military can’t defeat its most insidious enemy.”

Are these youthful soldiers returning from combat and giving up on life? Why? Perhaps it’s because no one told them who they really are.

You matter to God!  The One who created you wants you to claim the power of your identity and enjoy life…completely.  You were meant to know God, up-close and personally, serve Him by doing the work you’re created for, be joyful every day, and enjoy Him forever after this life. So, go do that.

 

Is This What Jesus Said to Do?

We each go through life looking for the meaning of our calling, the purpose of being alive, the reason for taking up space in the universe. We look for connectedness to a greater purpose. I know I do. I believe that, as long as I’m alive, I have a purpose. There is a work still to be done.

There are people we haven’t met, places we need to go, tasks that yet need the unique touch of our hands.  We squint to see the rich cord connecting people, circumstances, places and events—to find out the “Why?” of it all.

Above the door in his pastoral office, my husband had affixed the words of the great commission:  “Go ye therefore…”  Followed by the promise:  “Lo, I am with you always…”

In the last few months, I have reconnected with a pivotal part of my history. Before moving to Wisconsin, we spent four years living on the campus of American Baptist Theological Seminary, now American Baptist College. Those were years of awakening, of bonding with those who became lifelong friends—all as dedicated to sacrificial ministry as we were.

Now, I am back on the Holy Hill, strolling across paths that span these marvelous fifty-three acres on the edge of the Cumberland River. Views of the city from here are breathtaking. Sometimes I stay until dusk just to watch the diamond of Music City come alive, as lights come on.

One of the people I needed to meet is Professor Janet Wolf. I am astounded by her vision of Christian leadership and of our responsibilities for community building and social justice. Every conversation with Janet has caused me to consider what Jesus told us to do. Our individual “go” and “lo.” Dr. Wolf teaches classes in the Tennessee prison—but not just in the prison, one class is on death row. As part of her Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, she teaches “Transformative Justice” and “Community Building and Conflict Resolution.”

God’s timing is so precise. He knows what we need to experience. When I took my seat at ABC’s commencement ceremony last week, I chose a spot near the rear so that I could be a quiet observer. Dr. Wolf delivered the prayer.  Her words were so Holy Spirit-filled that they were like a mighty wind blowing across everyone present on the Library lawn.  I asked her to share them with me…so that they could bless you.

This prayer is for every graduate in the class of 2012, everyone who watched a child reach a milestone, and everyone who wonders if God still calls us to touch lives—in prisons or in palaces. You be the change agent God requires today.

Gracious, life-giving and holy God,

we come this day with joy and with thanksgiving.

Thank You for the gift of this day

and for all who gather here,

for the power of your presence, the wideness of your mercy

the enoughness of your grace.

Surely you are good and we are thankful.

 

Thank you for ABC and all who have labored here.

For almost 88 years, on this holy hill, you, O God,

Have been calling forth and raising up

Prophets, pastors, and protestors;

teachers, transformers and truth tellers,

nonviolent but militant warriors and saints.

 

Over and over again, on this holy hill, you, O God,

have made a way where we saw none;

you have opened doors when others slammed them shut.

You have propped us up on every leaning side

when things got hard;

and we thank you.

 

Thank You for those who graduate today,

each one a miracle, a sign of your steadfast love.

Thank You for their courage and creativity,

Their passion and persistence, their fierce determination

and defiant trust in your promises.

Thank You for all who accompanied them,

those who loved them and fed them,

those who supported them and encouraged them,

those who challenged and prodded them,

those who refused to let them give up or in

or settle for less.

 

Pour down your Holy Spirit upon us this day and always,

that we might be all you have created us to be—

Channels of healing and hope,

agents of change and challenge,

instruments of justice, generosity and joy.

In Jesus’ name.

                                                Dr. Janet Wolf

 

Note: the above prayer is abbreviated. Please check back here tomorrow; I will post the prayer in its entirety.