Jesus an activist who taught and practiced soul-care

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

Mark 1:35

The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

Mark 6:30-32

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
my whole life long.

Psalm 23

Jesus was an activist in kingdom of God work. Of course it was work which involved everything: inside out, but in a deft way, certainly not at all in the way and ways of the world. However we parse that, there’s something else absolutely necessary for us to keep in mind. Jesus did not run on empty, but kept himself full in the presence and fellowship of God. And he taught his disciples to do the same. Of course any good apprentice or follower of a rabbi as in those days, will want to do what the rabbi tells them to do, and will want to imitate their life.

What about us today? Some of us are activists in one way or another for God’s kingdom in Christ, for the good news of that kingdom in him and what that might mean today. And all of that’s a tall order. It isn’t easy, particularly when there’s so much resistance, often entrenched, unyielding, and even from religious folks just like in Jesus’s time.

We must take care. “Self-care” or maybe a better way of putting it so that we avoid some of the baggage of that term, “soul-care” hopefully having less if any baggage. Just to rest, yes physically, but for us in Jesus much more. To rest in God’s presence, to just be still and come to know in that way, yes, that God is God, that certainly neither we nor anyone else is, that while what we do is important, we are not left on our own, that God wants to help us. And most important for us as followers of Christ, we want to be caught up into God’s kingdom work no less. But that can wait for now. We need times, intervals of just sheer rest in God.

remembering why we’re here

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about. My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”

John 4:32, 34

It’s more than easy to be caught up in what we might call nonessentials, but things that seemingly have to get done. Add to that preoccupations we choose to do which may well be innocent in themselves, and may even be alright in their place. For example a hobby or pastime. Actually all of this can serve to the greater good of life. God is present with us in everything, so that nothing has to be wasted. Unfortunately with us, we all too easily fall into making this and that along with something else, I think usually one thing at a time, into idols (Calvin).

What we need to keep in mind, and the Spirit will certainly help us in this, is that we are here for basically one reason: to love God and love others, and to do the work that God has for us to do, whatever that might be. Jesus tells his disciples in the above passage (click above link) that they are working in a field of harvest in helping others see the light of the gospel, and enter into that blessedness. Whatever our work here, it’s related to that, even if not directly that endeavor. We are light in the Lord, and all of our lives are meant to be lived in that light, whatever we do, so that others might see the light of God’s love for all in Christ.

This actually will help us. Jesus described it as food for himself. This helped Jesus, and it will help us as Jesus’s followers. Not only something more than ourselves, but what is most important of all.

unlearning and relearning

Do not remember the former things
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?

Isaiah 43:18-19a

I don’t think faith is about simply settling into one place and remaining there the rest of your life. Even if let’s say one is more or less completely settled into one way of understanding and thinking, one theological school, learning from and in that, this will be so, although only to the extent that their theological understanding gives them freedom to explore and explore and explore some more in understanding God, one’s self, and life. Scripture certainly stimulates growth in that it is a real and unflinching engagement with life. Especially together in community and in our own practice we’ll learn much from it perhaps in spite of, or with the help of our tradition.

For me I’m at a new stage in life in which old settled ways of living and thinking are coming into question. I don’t actually mean right now matters of dogmatism or belief, but more like application of such to life. I find myself hemmed in and fettered down when I think I have to look at things and act in the way I have for years. Perhaps there are other ways to see it given my circumstances, disposition, and gift or lack thereof. At any rate, this is something I can’t escape right now in the new season of life I’m in.

In Isaiah we read that God says that God’s people are to forget the past, that God is going to do something different, a new thing. We need to be open to that possibility. But for that to be the case, we’ll need to let go of the old so that we can lay hold of the new. This will mean a reorientation in day to day matters. And we can expect that it will take time. The dawning of a new day with new possibilities. That’s part of the word God wants God’s people to hear. When God is acting it will never be the same old same old. Even in repetitive things we do day after day and year after year such as morning and evening reading and prayers, and weekly gathering with God’s people in which there is a liturgy or way it is done, God will always be doing something new. We only need to have a heart open to that, with eyes to see and ears to hear.

God’s accommodation

The LORD is a warrior;
the LORD is his name.

Exodus 15:3

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us

John 1:1, 14a

God lives where we humans live. God accommodates God’s self to us humans. These are two basic statements which describe the faith we find in scripture. This is no Deist God, happy to remain apart and aloof from creation, but a very present, active God, hidden only because of our lack of faith or to help us grow in some new way in our faith.

God helps us according to the help we need, and not only that, but even according to the help we think we need even if God’s will is to by and by get us to grow beyond that. The truth that the Word became flesh, that God became human, one of us is certainly something that is central and close to God’s heart, a nonnegotiable part of God’s will. But that God meets us in other ways, even in the midst of our sin without participating in that sin, but in love holding us accountable to help us confess and forsake such is also a given.

And yet there are aspects of God in scripture which are hard if not impossible to reconcile with God revealed in Christ. Christ comes and refuses all violence, will not resist those who physically abuse him, and tells his followers that they must do the same if they’re to truly be his disciples. And yet the God we find in the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament does not seem averse to violent acts against evildoers. At least God as God is understood by God’s people.

But make no mistake about it: God will meet us where we’re at, and will help us there. As we have the desire to have a heart intent on doing and living in God’s will. God will help us where we’re at. Not where we ought to be, or where we think we ought to be. God has always done that, and will continue to do so as God finishes the work God has begun. In and through Jesus.

the pipe dreams and the possibilities

In the day of prosperity, be joyful, and in the day of adversity, consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that mortals may not find out anything that comes after them.

Ecclesiastes 7:14

This passage in maybe more of an indirect way captures something of what I want to say. The NRSV-UE heading for Ecclesiastes 7:1-14 seems apt: “A Disillusioned View of Life.” I know I can get caught up in something of the troubles of life which affect others, and especially what hits home. That in itself is a bit of a rebuke to me.

We need reminded that we are indeed only mortals (even though that’s not actually the Hebrew word in this passage, though maybe it is fitting to translate it that way in certain contexts). We have a tendency to live in something of denial. Time will pass all too quickly and our time will be up either then, before or not long after. It is always good to keep this in mind, so that we live in part as those who know the end could come much sooner than anticipated, as well as live with the possibility of some more time ahead.

Along with that, we need to be open to the possibilities God gives us along the way to bless others. That after all is why we’re here: “We’re blessed to be a blessing.” The fact of the matter about any possibility we may dream up or think of is that it rarely comes to fruition, at least not in the way we envision. But what God does with the small, incremental things over time may not be seen or ever evident to us, but it is nevertheless every bit as real as some wildest dream coming true.

Things to think about whatever our age, especially pressing in on us as we get older.

the world of the Bible

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have known sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:14-15

Karl Barth preached a sermon in 1917 entitled “The Strange New World within the Bible.” In it Barth helps us see that beyond the plain ordinariness and sometimes offensiveness of the text, there is a Hand at work. Yes, through fallible human authors, but if we’re attentive, open, and even desirous to mine the gold, the wisdom and whatever else there is in the pages, God will surely by and by grant that to us.

The Bible elicits a vision of both the old world, and a new world breaking in. There’s the vision of both. It is fulfilled through God’s calling to Israel, culminating in Jesus Christ. There’s no end to the unfolding of this from the pages, if we give ourselves fully and attentively enough to that. God will make it known to us individually and as community. Something meant to be ongoing throughout our lives. In and through Jesus.

God behind and before us

For you shall not go out in haste,
and you shall not go in flight,
for the LORD will go before you,
and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.

Isaiah 52:12

Right before the “suffering servant” passages we have this promise for Israel in the midst of subjugation by the foreign world power of that time, Assyria. All the promises of God we’re told are yes and amen in and through Christ. So, there’s something we can take from this for ourselves this day and time.

God is behind and before us to guide and protect us. We need to live appreciating that. It might well be true for us and is as long as we have faith. But we may not much if at all have any sense or experience of it. This truth should help us not to be afraid or panic as the passage above tells us. Because we have a certain inward rest even in the midst of difficulty, trial, whatnot, just all the inevitable twists and turns that life brings.

God will take care of it. God has our backs and knows all that lies ahead. There’s a certain mysticism which faith in God elicits. We can’t explain or understand it fully, except we know there’s one that fully understands, and though much seems out of control, and is definitely beyond our control, we also know that God is at work in all things for good, somehow in control in the midst of it all. So that our full confidence is only in God. In and through Jesus.

a new thing

Do not remember the former things
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches,
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

Isaiah 43:18-21; NRSVue

Imagining something different can be God-given, a gift from God. Whether it’s personal or societal, hopefully both. We don’t want to think that we’re either forever in the same rut the rest of our lives, or that the world itself can’t improve in certain marked ways. I have to think though that God’s main work is in Christ within God’s people. Out from that touching and affecting everything. I think now of the sad, sometimes blatant racism which afflicts this nation and in various ways, the world. And other forms of injustice and wrong, as well.

God wants to do something new in our lives and through us into the lives of other, into the world at large, even if that ends up simply being a witness of how things ought to be. We must not let go of this thought, of this hope. This is from God, God’s word.

It will certainly be challenged, and we have to be ready for that. But unlike Israel of old…

Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob;
but you have been weary of me, O Israel!

Isaiah 43:22; NRSVue

….we need to persist in faith, “let go and let God,” take hold of God and God’s promises and insist on that and no less than that. Instead of being weary of God, not growing weary of claiming God’s promises and seeking to live in the clear, in God’s will ourselves along with others in Christ. And wanting to see that light shine out on a dark world. In and through Jesus.

“I prayer”

In return for my love they accuse me,
even while I make prayer for them.

Psalm 109:4; NRSVue

The footnote for the NRSVue translation here is “Syr: Heb I prayer”. Which means this depends on a Syriac rendering. The Hebrew simply says into English: “I prayer.” And that speaks to me. What should mark us, what should we be about? Of course in love, but prayer, prayer and more prayer. That should characterize us, our lives, what we do.

No matter what gift we might have, whatever charisma, etc., etc., etc., if we’re not people of prayer, we’re really not helping anyone. Blessed are those who see themselves as having little gift and no charisma, and yet set themselves to prayer. And blessed are all those around them as well as all the lives and the world they touch. Why? Because they set themselves to prayer.

The psalmist was praying in spite of what was going on around them. What follows is for our pondering, but in the way of Jesus, we continue to pray for those who persecute and hate us. God is the one who must act. All attention needs to be turned to God, not to anything else. And our attention included, as we look to God in prayer, in prayers, over and over again. Not stopping, the goal. In and through Jesus.

all things work together for good

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28; NRSVue

All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

Julian of Norwich

Do we really believe that God is somehow active in working all things together for good? That work is actually meant for all, to be experienced by God’s children. In a world which seems completely at odds with that. We might be able to trace some of this working in our imaginations, but it certainly requires faith on our part to begin to rest in this reality.

We get in trouble trying to unravel and figure it out ourselves. We just have to take it at face value for what we’re told here. All things, not some things. Work together, all in the mix. For good, meant for the good of all. Involved in that are all the peculiarities of God’s work, including God’s good judgment and the salvation which follows. And in the meantime, all the ins and outs, ups and downs, every struggle and circumstance of life, somehow even our own miscues and sins. For good. In and through Jesus.