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Thursday, September 02, 2010

Nailed, helpless

Pastor Al preached Sunday about the thief next to Jesus on the crosses
there outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago. We've read that story a
hundred times, more probably, but this time it really stuck with me.
This man enters the Gospel story for only 6 hours or so. But in that
short time, he goes from reviling Jesus, hateful, insulting, crowd-
pressured, resentful, scornful . . . to a changed man who recognizes
Jesus for who he is, expresses faith, and heads to Paradise. All of
that change occurs while his hands and feet are immobilized and his
body is physiologically failing. No clearer picture of how helpless
we are to effect change. No clearer picture that God's power can work
in the most unlikely of circumstances. Something very real but very
hidden occurs between two near-corpses, something that changes this
man's eternal destiny.

We are not exactly nailed, but in some ways trapped in suburbia far
from those who hold our hearts, and feeling just as helpless. One
child starting college: bewildering array of choices, hard-to-find
classes, required print-outs but no printer, pouring his heart and
sweat into making the club soccer team, feeling the let-down that the
promise of wonders has been revealed to be tedious hard-work among the
masses of freshmen in entry-level classes. One child alone in
Africa: also busting his anatomy to make the soccer team, and his
brain to be the lone Junior again in BC Calc, and to be himself. One
team in Uganda: a direct lightening strike took out their power this
week (how not-subtle an attack), turmoil and chaos as the district
insists that under-age but shadily registered-to-vote students be
released from school to participate in elections, a multitude of team
illnesses, and the ever-difficult-to-negotiate cross-cultural lines of
expectation. One team in Sudan: planning for the next year when the
whole region could flare up in war after January's referendum . . or
not, in which case we want to be ready to move forward. We listen to
all of these, and promise prayer, feeling helpless to really offer any
worthwhile words of comfort or wisdom, let alone real aid.

And there is something about plunging across cultural lines that
refocuses one's view of one's own sin. I don't like to think that I'd
challenge Jesus to get off the cross and rescue me in a haughty and
complaining voice. But is it any different to worry, and stew, and
complain, and notice all the things about this time that aren't what I
would choose? As we get distance from our normal life I remember the
friend-wounds of coming face to face with ways I judged and hurt
others. And I'm not proud of the weary, short, way I often react
here. Not good.

Six hours on the cross, five months in America. Not a peppy self-help
change-your-life program, but a nailed down helpless look-only-at-
Jesus state. If the thief can change into a spiritual human who will
be communing with Jesus by doing nothing more than looking at him,
then anything can happen. For those I love (friends, good classes,
direction, joy, fair elections, peace, power, healing). And even for
me, a changed human ready for the feast.

1 comment:

scruffy said...

i wrestle with a "yeah, but what am i supposed to DO?" feeling all the time. In a sick way it would be almost a blessing to be nailed up and know there's nothing for me to do. In a very sick way. Thanks for sharing your struggles, they always help me keep mine in perspective. Know also that someone is praying for y'all.