Have you ever met someone and gotten the feeling that they were going to play an important role in your life? Even before you got to know them, you just had a feeling they were going to leave some sort of imprint on the path you were going to take?
I’ve been blessed to meet a few people like that, and while I can’t tell you exactly what it was that gave me those thoughts, I still remember how it felt to welcome them into my life.
When we meet someone who we think is going to make a difference, we tend to remember our first interactions with them — and sometimes even the first words they speak to us. Do you remember when you first met Jesus and how he spoke to you?
The Bible gives us four first encounters with Jesus through the eyes of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. You know those names. They are the writers of the four Gospels. These authors give us first hand accounts of what it was like to walk next Jesus. The miracles he performed, the love he showed to everyone (no matter what their past involved), and of course the beautiful sacrifice he made for all of us to live lives free from sin. But the gospels also provide us our first “meetings” with Jesus.
These are Jesus’ first words in each of the gospels:
Matthew 3:15 – “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.”
Mark 1:14 – “The time promised by God has come at last! The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
Luke 2:49 – “But why did you need to search? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
John 1:38 – “What do you want?”
In the first statement above from Matthew, Jesus is speaking to John the Baptist who is about to baptize him. Here Jesus reveals that he has a plan to carry out on earth and it begins with ceremonial baptism. His mission will change the world forever.
Jesus’s words in Mark imply even more about his mission. We need to repent of our sins and negative ways and believe in him. The Good News is that through belief in him, we can be washed clean of our sins.
His opening statement in Luke was spoken to his parents, Mary and Joseph. After losing track of Jesus during the Passover festival, they finally find him in the temple teaching the religious teachers. Jesus seems astonished — or maybe disappointed — that his parents didn’t think to look for him in a place of worship. Jesus is always with the father, and if we want to find him, we should know where to look. He is in our hearts now. As is the father. As is the Holy Spirit.
And finally, his first words in John were spoken to his first two disciples who been following him. He asks, “What do you want?” Of course, his disciples don’t know yet that what they need is Jesus himself. His love, his spirit, his outlook and of course his forgiveness. When we pray, we also ask Jesus to fulfill our needs and sometimes our wants. Through Jesus, anything we want in this world can be fulfilled.
Our first interaction with Jesus immediately leave us indebted to him. Our lives become overwhelmed with his love and every moment with him becomes special. For many of us who have been Christians for years, we want to get back to the early days when we first met him and had his fire in our hearts. Jesus’ first words our way to get back to our first encounters with him. Or we can simply respond to his question: What do you want?
“We want you, Lord!”
Poetry and portraits,
Biographies and prophecies,
You speak of damnation and eternal hell fire,
While offering messages of love, forgiveness and grace.
The path to you is simple and humble,
Listening and loving with the heart,
Living with a clear conscience,
Trusting you with a sincere faith.
Your words are plain enough,
But where is the real you?
You give your gift free to us,
And yet it cost you the highest price.
Where are you in all this?
Three in one, father son and spirit,
Triune and triumphant.
Let your ancient parables teach us how to live.
Heart, soul, mind and spirit,
The deepest love
For the simplest of souls.
Moonlight soft and faint above the trees,
Casting a shadow of jagged curtains along the horizon.
The singing of birds riding sharp but muted on the cool spring air.
Resurrection Sunday dawn waits.
The details of this morning say it is true:
2,000 years before, the stone rolled away,
Angels in an empty tomb,
Our Lord and Savior mistaken for a gardener.
Today, in your name,
Broken spirits will file into churches,
To draw nearer to you.
Reborn, in your name and by your victory.
The world is made anew on Sunday morning,
As it always is.
Your message of grace as soft as morning haze
And your forgiveness as early morning birdsong.
My children do not regularly read my blog, so I share this story not for them but hopefully for you because it has brought so much joy to my life over the last week. (My kids are at ages now in which they would be mortified that I would share something as innocent as this with you, so if you have occasion to see them around town this week, I ask that you please keep this between us.) On Easter Sunday morning, I somehow managed to awaken my three children from their slumbers at the “ungodly hour” of 4 a.m. so they could accompany me to church for the 6 a.m. sunrise service – a very brave and therefore “godly” task for a single father to undertake, right? My kids are Jesus followers, but they are not ordinarily church fans on Saturday evenings, Sunday mornings, holidays or any other time we grace a place of worship together. For them to rise at an hour when the world is still dark and they have another 3-4 hours of solid weekend sleep ahead is a miracle unto itself. But rise they did, with only a few complaints, and we loaded into my truck and made the drive to church. The interstate was barren at 5:30, as was the parking lot, and we easily made our way through the mostly silent building to the outdoor “porch” area. In the cool 50-degree temps, we found seats up front and sat on long slabs of rock facing a small stage and a rise of stairs where the pastor would deliver his message. The seating accommodations felt as though we were stepping back into antiquity, to a temple or amphitheater, which seemed appropriate for an Easter message. The service opened with an acoustic worship session – just one man and a guitar leading us in song. Then, at the pastor’s request, a few of the congregants stood and shared their testimonies, telling how they’d seen Jesus at work in their lives recently. And, then the pastor read the entire final chapter of the gospel of Luke, which, if you’ll recall, is the account in which Luke shares the story of the risen Jesus appearing alongside a group of men walking to Emmaus after the events of the crucifixion. This is a long portion of scripture to sit through, even for many regular church-going adults, let alone three teenagers dressed in their Sunday best. I kept stealing looks at them (seated to my left) as the pastor read to see how they were following along. The scripture story tells us that Jesus somehow supernaturally keeps the men in the dark about his identity, and pretends not to know what has transpired in Jerusalem over the course of the Passover celebration. These men, in dire sadness, recount everything from Jesus’ ministry to his death on the cross – and with his death, the loss of the man they thought was to be their Savior. In response, Jesus explains to them how is was necessary for the Savior to be rejected and die a lowly death to fulfill the old testament prophecies surrounding him. Then the Bible begins to reveal to us a very playful side of Jesus when, after walking with the men for some distance, Jesus acts as though he’s going to separate from the men and go on with his travels. But being so set on fire by his words, they beg him to stay with them. It’s during dinner that night that Jesus reveals himself to the men, which sets them sprinting back to Jerusalem to tell Jesus’s followers that he has risen. When the men find the apostles, they begin telling their story when Jesus appears among them. His followers apparently need some confirmation that Jesus is risen into a new body and is not in fact a ghost, and so he asks them for a piece of fish to show them that only those with bodies need nourishment. I always personally found these details somewhat bizarre for reasons I’m not sure I can fully explain. Here is the risen Jesus standing among his followers for the first time since they’ve seen him tortured, spit on, humiliated, and hung on a cross, and he asks them … for food. During this final part of the story, I turned to my left to take in my children’s reactions to this specific detail, and it’s then that I saw the broadest, prettiest, toothiest smile on the face of my 13 year-old daughter. This is, indeed, a very amusing part of the resurrection story and it reveals to us what could be interpreted as a lighthearted side of our Lord and Savior. My daughter’s reaction brought a smile to my face in the moment, and it does now as I write about this (along with a few tears, quite honestly.) I have been guilty the last few months of a fate that befalls many of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus. We seek to prescribe a deeper meaning to every word of scripture. With the best of intentions, we pour over Jesus’ words in hopes of finding in them something that can enlighten our perspective on a situation we are facing in our world, today. And we forget that there are moments like this, which of course are meaningful in a theological way, but also manage to make a little girl smile. They show his heart. They show his love. And they reveal to men like me where, unknowingly, we have closed our hearts to the best parts of our Lord.
On the first slope leading down toward the valley
is a limestone outcropping that marks a place I call Jerusalem.
The rocks warm here in the red dirt, seeming to draw the sun away from the surrounding hillsides.
In every direction, the prairie rolls on gently with the valley forest cutting a swath through its center.
Jerusalem, as I have deemed it, feels mysterious at the edge of the woods,
where travelers either emerge from the shadows or head directly into them.
This is a place where the ground feels alive — where miracles happen.
If the Spirit was poured out on these fields, it would be here,
On hills like the promised land,
Dry ground where travelers stand and see the walls of the ancient city first come into view.
The coyotes sing here at night over everything that is alive,
and it feels at that early morning hour like Jesus’ hour of doubt in the garden.
The animals and all of nature offer their sacrifices and hidden treasures
To this land from which life bursts forth,
where the Holy Spirit rises on the whim of the winds.
Still and small, it is a fleeting voice
Riding on something like spirit.
Struck, it fills up the body.
The heart, finally learning to listen, beats back to life.
Your voice imparts on me a purpose.
Clear and detailed, a vision unfolds before me.
A house in which you are the Lord.
A family in prayer, carried in cupped hands.
Surrounded by angels.
A revelation of the Holy Spirit.
A person I will come to know but who I’ve only recently met.
Let this feeling never escape me.
Forever in your presence.
Keep open my heart to your path.
From the middle of the night came his anxious prayer.
In the dead silence, long before dawn,
the Savior sent up his voice on a clear line to his father.
His words were the direst ever to reach God’s ears
– a plead for the cup of his crucifixion to pass him by
– and for his father’s will to be done, not his own.
And it was the second part of this appeal that was obliged.
On his knees in the moonlit garden,
surrounded by his followers who’s long since fallen asleep,
the Savior’s fate was fully revealed to him:
hate and pain.
As the torchlight of his accusers came over the hill,
he arose, awakened from his fear.
The cup of pain and bitter sorrow were his to carry
to the cross, where the contents
— like water to wine —
would be changed to love and forgiveness.
On the path this morning, I saw a silver bird no bigger than my fist, too weak to fly. He ran along ahead of me in bursts. As I came closer, his legs moved in a flurry making up the distance between us. But still, he couldn’t lift his wings. I followed behind for 100 steps or so as he kept looking back, wondering what creature I might be and what I might do to him if I caught up. The winds blew the brush on the edges of the trail as he struggled to leap over the uneven grass greening with the spring. Just days before Easter, I could feel a Spirit of change in the air, and the world renewing itself. Finally, when I was almost on top of him, there was another flurry of energy — this time in his wings — and somehow up he went into the air about 20 feet and off the path into the tall weeds with tops like wheat stalks. I’m certain he thought himself safe — delivered from danger — though I planned to do him no harm. I imagined as I walked past that he would calm himself and rest there until he was able to take flight. Then off he would glide into April. Reborn like these fields. Full of new life. A bird of the air, cared for forever by the mysterious provisions of our Lord.
No sooner than I say amen, the shadows are upon me and I slip back into flesh.
The immediacy magnifies my failure and I feel even more distant from you though just a few hours before, kneeling at your feet.
I put my head down at night praying that the next day will bring a lasting change of heart — that a shot of Spirit will rush through me and I’ll finally have a light-filled revelation, becoming a completely new being.
The sun rises and I wake, beginning my day with earnest prayer and reading of scripture.
Then my enemy sets up the hurdles before me and I stumble over them, forgetting not to rely on my own strength.
On my face again — and sorrowful — I send up my prayers for forgiveness.
“Alight my heart with your Spirit, Lord. Pull me up from the sinful ground where I am rooted and plant me close to you. Near the water. By your eternal stream of love and forgiveness.”
Speak prophecy over me. Appear to me in my dreams and visions. Whisper to me in the quiet moments of my day and alight my soul with your wisdom. Impart on me a mission for your kingdom. Lead me into the paths of the wicked so you can use me to drown them in your Spirit. Entrust me with the power to do miracles in your name. Whatever it takes to deliver the lost from the eternal darkness that awaits them. I am yours, for your purposes. Take me over and let it all be done in love.