"Shouldn't this woman be freed on the Sabbath?" Jesus asked.
The current moment is what matters most. The Pharisees were only asking that Jesus delay his healing of this woman for one day. What is the value of one day of suffering? How can we make the gospel immediate?
Funny thing. When it comes to life, we often expect what we harvest will be different from what we plant. What we really want are the fruits of the Spirit. If you grow a spiritual relationship with God, you will become both creative and compassionate.
There are fifty-nine national parks in our country, but most Americans suffer from a lack of wilderness. Most of us have the ability to skip a meal anytime we want, yet Christianity today is suffering from a great neglect of spiritual disciplines, including fasting. Jesus went into the wilderness, as the song says, to fast and pray for us. We each have people that we should be fasting and praying for. Our spiritual disciplines this lent, should be brave enough to do what ever it takes to gain the moral high ground in our lives.
My cousin Giselle recently asked me if Protestant’s fasted for Lent, or if that was just a Catholic thing. I replied as follows:
If we were with Elijah on Mount Sinai, we would look for God to stand between us and the earthquake, wind, and fire. When natural disasters strike, we expect God to stop the hurricane, or at least divert it so that it only hits islands without tourists. We expect the wind not to blow off the roof of the church. We expect wildfires to stay away from our city’s suburban sprawl. In general, we expect God to disrespect nature, like we do. When the Old Testament borrows from the destructive power of nature to describe our God, we find it quaint. We are not willing, as Elijah was, to pray for a drought to come to our land so that our leaders would be humbled (or at least deal with climate change). We are not willing to be driven out into the wilderness and become dependent upon crows for our food supply, as Elijah was. Face it, we don’t cultivate in ourselves the God-awareness that we see in the people of the Bible.
One way to say something different about the familiar Psalm 23, is to list the things that are constant about our relationship with God and give personal examples for each. Then point out that the psalm deals with the scary changeableness of life and its great transitions. This contrast, lulling people into a security with the familiar aspects of their favorite psalm, then hitting them with the harsh realities that demand faith, can be effective, if you don’t show your hand ahead of the big reveal.
I’m willing to bet that you weren’t born alone. When you came into this world, there was at least one other person in the room, probably your mother. The room, in fact, was likely to be quite crowded, but the person who really mattered at the moment of your birth was your mother. She was in that moment, truly indispensable. The same thing needs to be said about spiritual birth. When a person comes to themselves and given the opportunity to find fulfillment in this world and hope for the one to come, they are never alone. There is at least one other person in the room, usually God.
Even in the church, we forget this mystery. When we tell our own birth stories, we often forget to mention the obvious, that our mother was radically involved in our birth experience. My son was the first in a series of seven or eight births that took place that night in the local hospital. The nurses and doctor were so busy that by the time morning came, they didn’t know our child from Adam. But, his mother did. There are many people who hover over our spiritual life, but only one mother-God.
I could not choose! In Hosea, God speaks of his constant love for his people with the tender image, “...like those who lift infants to their cheeks” (11:4). In Luke, Jesus speaks right to our Kardashian-crazed country by talking about a rich landowner who builds bigger barns in the hope that he can make his ‘soul’ happy (12:13-21). In both the Old and New Testament, you hear God pleading with those whom he has blessed with luxury to not forget their maker. Jesus speaks of wealth as an extreme impediment. Those with money have as much chance of praying sincerely as I have of winning the lottery. Hosea hears God complaining that He has done everything He could to bring his people into a healthy spiritual relationship, but they have chosen instead to run after Baal (see The Sound of Silence). For us in 2013, middle-class wealth is the new Baal. We worry more about our 401k than about our spiritual condition. We tear down our old pension barns and build new ones saying, “Soul, now you will be happy in retirement” (Luke 12:19).