Love in Suffering

In this season of Lent, we are going through the book of Mark; looking at the days leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. On Sunday, we focused on Mark 14:32-42. Brian spoke about the many emotions that Jesus experiences in this passage. What struck me the most is how Jesus deals with suffering and pain.

 Jesus knows what’s about to happen. He knows he is about to be arrested. He knows He is going to be denied and betrayed by His friends. He knows He is going to be mocked, spit on, and insulted. And he knows he is going to suffer and die on the cross. Yet, He still says, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” He willingly walks into suffering. And even further, He loves in his suffering.

Jesus doesn’t try to change his circumstance. He doesn’t say “no” to His Father. He doesn’t ignore his disciples who are about to betray and deny him. He doesn’t hold a grudge against them. He doesn’t treat them any differently at all. He continues to welcome and love them. And He loves them to the end.

Jesus’ choice to suffer and die was Jesus choosing us. Choosing to take our sin upon himself. Choosing to love us. Jesus loving and choosing us in His suffering means that we don’t have to have our suffering define us. What we are going through is not who we are. Depression, anxiety, addiction, and anger are not things that define us anymore. Loneliness, insecurities, and shame do not define us. Death and mourning do not define us. These things do not have the final word over us. Jesus’ love comes in and transforms our suffering because He loves in his suffering.

What would change if we understood and knew that our identity was rooted in Jesus and not these things we struggle with? What if we became a people who loved in the midst of our suffering? What if we included people to walk with us in our suffering instead of secluding ourselves and pushing away? I pray that we may be a people who invite others to walk alongside us in suffering. May we have the capacity to love one another in the midst of the deep pain we are in. May we know more than anything that our identity is in Jesus and His incredible love for us. And may we continue to choose Jesus over and over again in the midst of our suffering, just as He chose us and chooses us again and again.


Eucharist Despite Rejection

As I prepared to move to Arizona, I submitted several applications to apply for a job at GCU. I had spent a great deal of time around college students during the years prior and believed I was the ideal candidate for any job I applied for. In fact, I thought I could do any of the jobs far better than anyone who currently worked there. In fact, they would be lucky to have someone with my experience and skill. Of course I was going to get hired as soon as they saw how good I was right? After being denied almost immediately from every job that I applied for, my giant ego-bubble quickly deflated into a mush of blame and disbelief. I listed off all the reasons why GCU was the problem. I blamed everything from the institution of faith-based education to their choice of mascot for why I had not been given a position, and ultimately decided that it would have been a terrible place to work anyway.   

Needless to say, I don’t deal with rejection well. Whether it is from jobs, friendships, dating, schools, or from random strangers in a drive thru, rejection triggers emotions in me that range from dreary disappointment to jarring and violent pain. Throughout my life, I have dealt with these emotions by being the first to blame and reject others. Whenever I feel even a hint of betrayal or rejection from anyone, I initiate the old pattern of cutting off, isolating, hiding myself from them, and feeling the pain of every other rejection I have ever experienced. The entire time, I rationalize to myself why it is actually everyone else’s fault, even though I am the one doing the rejecting! 

What’s so fascinating about Jesus in Mark 14:1-25 is that while he was given every opportunity to do the same, he chose to act differently. Powerful men have made themselves his adversaries, and are gathering to devise a plan to murder him. One of Jesus’ closest friends is getting ready to betray him into their hands. The rest of his friends will soon scatter, leaving him alone in his time of greatest need. Yet we find Jesus, not rejecting them before they can reject him, but instead giving himself freely in love to those around him. Rather than casting blame and condemnation, we find Jesus mourning the pain that will be felt by the one who betrays him.  

Without a doubt, the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ last days are shrouded in darkness. However, rather than sinking back into the darkness in order to be unseen, we find Jesus moving closer to those whose vision remains unclear. The light that shines from his life becomes unmistakable in the darkness closing in. In hopeless circumstances, facing deep rejection, Jesus chooses to freely offer his body and shed blood. For me this story is a reminder that Jesus has chosen the same with me. Though I give him every opportunity to disown and reject me, he has chosen to offer himself fully, even amidst my darkest moments. When I make awkward attempts to worship, when I experience great sorrow, and even when I cause betrayal, Jesus whispers “Here is my body, this is my blood, eat and drink to your heart’s content”.


Daughter

 

One of my favorite things about Jesus is the way that he offers and invites us into complete healing and restoration.

In the passage that Brian spoke on this past Sunday (Mark 5:21-34), we learn of a woman who has been bleeding continuously for 12 years. In Jewish culture at this time, this would have made the woman ritually unclean. An outcast in her society. She would not have been allowed to touch or even come near other people. It would have been assumed that her disease was her own fault, brought on by some sin she or her family had committed. The shame that she must have felt would have been overwhelming. Have you ever felt that shame? For something that you’ve done, for something that maybe no one even knows about? I have.

Her pain and desperation for healing are so extreme that she risks her life to get to Jesus. She has already tried finding healing everywhere else but nothing has worked. She thought “if I can just get to Jesus, if I can just touch his cloak, I know I can be healed”. And so, she risks everything. She pushes through the crowd with her head down and probably covered, trying not to be found out. He is it, he is the answer. He is the only option she has left to be physically healed. She continues pushing through the crowd and manages to reach Jesus and touch his cloak. Instantly she is healed.

That could easily be the end of the story and it would be an amazing miracle. But that is not the end, and what happens next is what I love about Jesus. Jesus notices that power has gone out from him and he stops walking, with the crowd still pressing in all around him. He asks who has touched him. His disciples think he is crazy because there are people everywhere. The woman is terrified. She has been trying to hide and yet she has been found out. She is terrified of what the crowd or Jesus could do to her next. Yet Jesus is all about offering full healing, restoration, and teaching a new way to do life that breaks from the cultural norms. He looks at the woman and the first thing he does is call her “daughter”. With that one word, he goes one step further than the physical healing and now heals all of the shame and guilt and brokenness that she has been feeling. He completely restores her with one word.

Can you hear that invitation into Jesus’ presence? An invitation of grace and love and healing. Where no matter what you have done or how far you think you are from being able to find healing, he sees you and he calls you his daughter, his son. He is patient, he is gentle, he is powerful. And he loves you and wants to offer himself and his grace and his healing to you as well. 


Mark 5:1-20

In this passage, we see Jesus restore a demon possessed man. A man who had been tormented to the point of self destruction, “he would cry out and cut himself with stones.” (v 5) I love that Jesus doesn’t just drive out the demons, but he restores the man. A man who had been feared by his own people because he was so destructive and could not be subdued. When Jesus saw this man, he didn’t see a scary man, he saw a scared man possessed by something out of his control. He looked beyond the demons and saw this man’s value. I want to see people that way. Instead of an addict making horribly self destructive decisions, I want to see a mom who is possessed by an addiction that has taken over her life and become much bigger than her. I want to look her in the eye, see passed her demons and treat her as someone who has infinite worth. Someone who is never too far away for Jesus to reach. For Jesus to restore. 

In a time when there is so much finger pointing and blame being thrown around, I want to see through the labels and just see humans in need of Jesus. Because we all need him to restore us. Let’s be unified in that truth. 


Mark 3:1-6   Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath.  Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.  Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

 As great as it was to grow up within a church community, there are a few assumptions I picked up that I don’t think are a part of what Jesus has in mind for my life.  Putting on our Sunday best for Jesus I don’t think is an evil thing, but when that entails more than just a decent shirt and pants we can get into trouble.  For some reason we always had to be happy when we were at church, no matter how unhappy we were everywhere else.  And we never really talked about the struggles of our family at church, we just kind of shoved them under the rug of “amen brother” and “God bless you.”  Early on, like everyone, I had experiences in life and at home that confirmed something was broken; the world was broken, I was broken.  As a teen I grew resentful of the places that didn’t address this brokenness.  If life was always so great for everyone at church (they talked and smiled like it every week), then why did I feel like crap all of the time?  What did God think about the brokenness I saw in the world?  Did he just try to hide it like we did?

    It blows my church kid mind that Jesus got angry.  I thought being anything but feeling happy was evil.  But anger is not evil in and of itself.  It is an emotion we were created by God to experience.  Make no mistake, much of the time we get angry because of the influence of our own brokenness; like a child who is throwing a fit because he can’t eat more candy.  However, it’s clear in this passage that anger rises up in Jesus not because of the brokenness within him, but because of the brokenness around him; the religious leaders were more interested in protecting their rules than in helping people. Some scholars have called this kind of anger a holy discontent.  It's a discontent not because I'm not getting mine but because someone else is being overlooked, mistreated.  I’m so stoked that Jesus gets angry at this!

When I've experienced holy discontent I have a difficult time figuring out what to do with it. So, I go to our typical mode of operation with anger; I blame, insult, make enemies, you know the usual stuff of a broken life. The problem is that these responses only add to the brokenness that I'm witnessing. Ghandi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” which is exactly what we do when we fight evil with evil. It doesn't work. Jesus on the other hand, simply asks which is better, “to do good or evil, to save life or to kill?” Sometimes when we make situations too complex we get ourselves into trouble. Sometimes the most basic questions cut through our pride, selfish motivations, and pretense. 

    This is exactly what Jesus does when he asks them which is truly good, to save life or to kill it?  Everyone in the room knows the answer but there’s a religious regulation keeping them from answering it. The rule in those days was that you could help someone if their life was in danger but if not, doing any kind of other good on the Lord’s Day (the Sabbath: God’s day of rest) was considered work and so was forbidden.  

In this passage Jesus compared doing good with saving life. And then he compared doing evil (for Jesus this was doing nothing at all), with killing life. I think there's two important pieces here. The first is that Jesus is teaching us that every good deed, even the seemingly small and insignificant ones, contribute to the saving movement of God in this broken world. If you have the opportunity to do good, it's not rocket science, do it. If your religious life is keeping you from doing good to those around you then you are missing the whole point. Second, I think Jesus is identifying with the man who needs healing.  Jesus knows that if he chooses to heal this man on the Sabbath, which according to the Pharisees breaks one of the primary commands of God, the religious leaders are going to try to kill him. He also knows that if he doesn’t heal this man then he could save himself from the scrutiny and death wishes of the religious leaders.

    I would have saved myself the trouble, waited a few hours, and then healed the man.  But thankfully Jesus is not like me. Jesus chooses to heal.  Jesus doesn’t take a break from loving people. Jesus doesn’t take a day off from wanting to heal people no matter how the rules are being interpreted.  Jesus heals the man, and in so doing, condemns himself as the religious leaders and Herodians immediately go out and begin plotting to kill him (3:6). This is a glimpse into who Jesus is. Jesus went to the cross in order to save us. He refused to use his power to save himself and instead showed us what true power looks like; sacrificial love. It is the power of sacrificial love that changes things. Later in the gospel of Mark Jesus dies at the hands of the religious and irreligious, dies at these hands because his love would not be conformed to our patterns of hate, violence, greed, indifference, status, lust, and unforgiveness. Hands that broke his body but not his love and grace. 

There is a hand shriveled and broken in this story. Jesus invites the man to open it in front of all those watchful eyes. It reminds me a lot of Jesus’ invitation for me to open my own stubborn heart. So often this happens in moments I don't feel ready for, moments that even involve some embarrassment like it probably did for this man. But like this man, as I open my heart to confess my brokenness, to encourage someone, thank a friend, ask forgiveness from a loved one I know I've hurt, serve my family, give of my time and resource, hang out with someone who might at first look like an enemy; I begin to realize that Jesus is healing me just like he healed the man with the shriveled hand.  Healing my shriveled and broken little love and making it big and beautiful like his. 

So, will we allow our shriveled and love starved hearts to remain silent like the religious leaders? Or will we stand with Jesus and open our hearts to him, even when it causes us to be embarrassed, misunderstood, and/or picked on?


Luke 1:26-56

Luke 1:28 NIV The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

The note in my study Bible for verse 28 reads, “Surely no on experienced Immanuel, ‘God with us’ as did Mary, Jesus’ mother.” Mary is the only one to ever know what it's like to give birth to the Savior of the world; to raise him, to wipe his nose, to teach him to take out the trash, to mind his manners and wash his hands before dinner. It's obvious and yet unthinkable that Mary, a young girl who was not especially talented, not especially beautiful, nor especially rich, would be mother to Jesus the Messiah. In the reading for today we do get a glimpse of what was special about Mary. Unlike Zechariah from just a few verses earlier, Mary's questions for the angel are not fueled by disbelief but end in one of the most powerful expressions of obedience in all of Scripture, “I am the Lord’s servant…let it be to me according to your word” (1:38). If I put myself in Mary’s shoes even for a moment, I am overwhelmed with so many questions, so many doubts about my own qualifications, so many fears of inadequacy. But for Mary, I think there was one reality that trumped all of these concerns; “the Lord is with you.” God was with her. God was not mad, not against, not disgusted. God was with Mary. I think it was this truth that enabled her to take the leap of obedience that she did.

Parts of this passage remind me of conversations Jesus has with his disciples after he is resurrected from the dead. In John chapter 20, the disciples have locked themselves in an attic and are scared that the authorities were going to come and crucify them the way that they had crucified Jesus. They are filled with fear. They are filled with shame as all but one of them had fled and left Jesus alone during his darkest hours. They are filled with questions about Jesus and about themselves. In that space, Jesus shows up without any reasonable anger, malice, or disappointment. There's not even a twinge of “what were you guys thinking?” What we find instead is the same message that Mary received from the angel at the start of this journey. Mary heard “do not be afraid” because “the Lord is with you.” For the disciples, Jesus enters their room of fear, shame, and doubt, stands amongst them, and says, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19). 

Like He was for teenage Mary and like He was for the failure ridden disciples, God is with you. Jesus is present offering you peace no matter what you've done or haven't done. The reality that changes everything is not our ability, talent, or success, but the reality that the One who created the heavens and the Earth is with us. And this changes everything.  


“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”            – Jesus in Matthew 6:33

Some how we have picked up the idea that if we find “the one” or our true “soul mate”, then we will live together happily forever after. In my college years I remember meeting someone or going out on a date that was fun and immediately thinking, "could she be the one?” Although I do think finding the “one” language is much more Jesus centered than finding the one night stand or the casually committed, there are some misconceptions that come along with it.  

First off, I always felt like I was trying to find the one person in the entire universe that God had destined for me to marry. As I've grown in my understanding of Jesus; who He is, what He cares about and what He doesn't care about, I no longer think each of us is on a scavenger hunt to find the man or woman of our dreams at the end of a rainbow. I think Jesus cares more about making me into the kind of man, whether single or married, who more and more leans into His Kingdom each day. A man who forgives, even when I don't feel like it. A man who thinks of others needs and not just my own. A man who looks for the good in others and encourages them to grow more and more into that good. A man of purity who doesn't make those around me into objects or possessions but more andmore sees the image of God within every human being. A man of humility, who doesn't just give my relational energy to those who can give me something in return but especially to those who can't. Don’t get me wrong, I have a long way to go. But these are the things that Jesus is most concerned about.

With this in mind, a successful relationship doesn't just happen because two people are “soul mates.” Some how we think my spouse will always be intuitive and caring because he's my soul mate, or my spouse will always want to do what I want to physically because she's my soul mate. Being someone's soul mate has nothing to do with the day in and day out grit of a marriage relationship. The warm fuzzies I have for my spouse don't help me out when I've been on 2 hours sleep and I thought she was going to wake up with our kid this time. That perfect romantic kiss from your honeymoon isn't going to get you through the moments when your spouse said they were going to clean up before your friends come over but didn't and then blamed you for it. What is going to change everything is your relationship with Jesus. A relationship that causes you to forgive the other even when it's not fair. To make the relationship about what's best for the other instead of just what's best for you. To be mutually serving and encouraging even when you would rather be served. All of this makes a successfully loving relationship and all of this comes from Jesus. It comes from watching Jesus do these things for us, receiving his love and mercy, and then choosing to live it out for someone else.

So if I'm not looking for One in the entire world, will anyone work? This is the other extreme that I wouldn't bank my life on. There are many people that a person on the hunt for a relationship could sleep with, have children with, but not have intimate lifelong friendship with. If you're still in a mental space where you are just looking for the most physically attractive person that will hang out with you then you have some growing up to do. Physical beauty fades, but friendship can withstand the test of time. If you think you might have found a person you could marry you might ask yourself and the closest community around you a few questions like: does this person love Jesus? Has this love for Jesus influence how this person loves those around him or her? How do they treat people that frustrate them? Do they forgive? Do they cause you to want to follow Jesus more or less?

D, my best friend who’s been through more ups and downs in life than anyone I know, taught me to stop spending so much energy on finding “the one” and put some of that energy into being the one that someone who is all about Jesus would want to be with. In short, give everything you have to giving Jesus your life. Learn from Him, read the gospels, talk to people about Him, ask hard questions, and talk to Him. My experience is that He is faithful. Faithful in a way that's better than giving you the relationship you want when you want it like some kind of cosmic Santa. But instead Jesus is faithful to complete the work that He started in you. Faithful to transform you into a person who carries a faith, an identity, that is indestructible through the storms of life. Jesus, keep doing your good work in me…even if I'm throwing a 5 year old fit about it :). 


Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

[28] “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. [29] Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. [30] For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

It’s that time of year again.  You know, endless emails for black Friday deals and Christmas songs that I could have sworn used to start playing after Thanksgiving.  You might be trying to get to your family; long drives, awkward conversations, and maybe even a little past hurt you’ve been shoving in the closet of your unseen life.  Anybody need a vacation?  Or a vacation from your vacation?

The shopping, the work, the family functions, the parties, the Netflix binges can tend to hide one resounding truth.  I need a break.  I think I need a vacation from my regular life.  Yes, I think this will fix my exhaustion.  But what I don’t realize until after my vacation, is that I come back to the same exact life.  The same insecurity plagues me, the same unforgiveness of myself and others, the same hurt that I’ve been running from for years.  I soon find that all the problems I left are still there when I get back.  This is why for many of us anxiety finds its way to us before we even get back into our regular routine.  

In this passage, Jesus offers us a whole new option.  He sees our weariness and the weights of life that have been tormenting us for years.  Jesus offers us rest.  This is amazing grace.  There’s no “how dare you,” or “how could you”, though if we’re honest this may be what we feel like we deserve.  Instead, we find our savior gentle and humble in heart towards us.  He’s inviting us into rest!  But it’s not a vacation kind of rest.  

When Jesus offers us his yoke it’s not so we can make an omelet.  A yoke was the harness that was placed on an ox or cow in order to pull a cart or wagon.  A yoke represents work.  So Jesus is offering you and me work?  This is the point that confused me for a long time.  I don’t want work, I want rest…right? 

Jesus is offering us a counter intuitive way to finding rest.  For Jesus, the yoke represents the way we do life; our habits, routines, and default responses to work, family, friends, frustrations, circumstances, failures, and doubts.  So Jesus is inviting us into a new way of doing life.  A new way of interacting in our daily routines that is easier and lighter than our old way of doing life.  As we follow Jesus into new life habits like confession (admitting to others when we’ve been wrong and when we’ve done wrong), forgiveness (even when we don’t think they deserve it), serving (like cleaning the kitchen even when it’s “now my job”), truth telling (telling the truth even when a lie seems like a better idea), and encouragement (encouraging others instead of being focused on how appreciated we are), what we find is a life we never thought we could have.  A life in which we have real rest.  A life filled with peace, grace, hope, and love.  

In the original Karate Kid movie, a boy named Daniel learns karate from his sensei named Mr. Miyagi.  The first tasks Mr. Miyagi has Daniel do aren’t kicking, punching, or even blocking.  Instead, Mr. Miyagi has Daniel paint Mr. Miyagi’s house, sand floors, stain a fence, and wash cars his cars for hours.  At the end of this crazy work week Daniel is pissed because what he’s doing doesn't seem to have anything to do with Karate.  So Daniel decides to quit.  But before he can leave, Mr. Miyagi has Daniel show him all of the movements he has learned through the work Daniel was doing.  To Daniels surprise, they are movements needed to defend himself in a fight (if you haven’t seen it here’s a link to this scene: https://youtu.be/Bg21M2zwG9Q).  Although Daniel couldn’t see it, Mr. Miyagi knew what Daniel needed.  In the same way, Jesus knows how to bring real rest into our lives.  Not a rest that comes and goes like Thanksgiving break, but a rest that comes only through a whole new way of living life.  This new life might be difficult at first, and even feel more tiring at first than your old way of life.  But, make no mistake, Jesus is leading us into his rest.

So the question to finding rest isn’t as much…when is your next vacation? (even though taking a break from work is a healthy thing to do).

A better question might be: What new way of doing life is Jesus inviting you to this week?


Mark 2:18-22 NIV

[18] Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” [19] Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. [20] But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. [21] “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. [22] And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

Anyone who has had a meal with me knows that I love ketchup.  I put ketchup on just about every kind of meat you can think of including blackened fish.  It’s my favorite condiment.  When I got married the person in charge of our reception meal brought me a giant bowl of ketchup to go with my meal, I guess she had been told a few stories.  

I remember as a boy how sad I was to find out I couldn’t survive by just eating ketchup.  My mom would say, “Brian Alan (middle name usage always meant what she was about to say was very important) you can’t just have ketchup, you actually have to eat something!”  My love for ketchup wasn’t swayed however.  I still use it to add a little flavor to my life.  Sometimes I think I treat Jesus like ketchup.  I add a little bit of him here and there to parts of my life for flavor.  The problem is, I can’t live off of it.  The sustaining life, peace, hope, and relationship that Jesus has promised doesn’t come if I treat him like ketchup.    

This is exactly Jesus’ point in this passage.  If you add a new patch of jean to an old pair of jeans to cover a hole, when you go to wash it the new cloth will shrink and end up pulling away from the old pair of jeans that have already done their shrinking.  It’s the same thing with the wine.  If you put unfermented grape juice into an old wine skin container then as the fermenting process takes place and the juice expands, the old wine skin container that has already expanded as much as it can will burst, spilling all of the wine everywhere.  

So the question for us is not will we make room for Jesus in our lives, adding him like a patch to cover a hole in our lives or ketchup to cover the bad taste?  The question is will we give up our old way of doing life for his?  Will we make Jesus the meal and not just the condiment.  Will we join his wedding celebration?  Will we follow Jesus into his new way of doing life?  

In college I prayed for Jesus to become the most important love of my life.  I soon found myself playing basketball, and by playing I mean sitting on the bench in every game to the point of blisters, for a small college that was the worst team in our conference.  It was horrible for my basketball career but it redirected my love away from basketball and towards Jesus.  Before I was married I asked Jesus for a healthy marriage that would be centered on him.  The next thing he did was invite me to break up with my girlfriend and not date, and by not date he meant for two years.  What I at first felt was punishment was really grace.  I was addicted to female attention, to flirtation, to lust.  He removed the object of my addiction so that I could begin to see the women around me not as objects for my selfish desires but as human beings created in the very image of Jesus himself.  I had tried adding a little bit of Jesus to my life before this but I just wanted all of the benefits without really changing any of my life.  In a sense I wanted Jesus to change and not me.  I wanted to keep my selfishness, my lust, my pride, my need to perform on the basketball court, and add Jesus to make all of those things taste a little better.  But Jesus came to transform all of my life, not just bless the old rotten meat that my life had become.  He came to give me the life that is truly life: a true affection for others, an exuberance about life, serenity, a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people (Galatians 5:22, The Message).  As I follow him he brings others changes that makes us more and more loyal to our commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies and urges wisely (5:23).  It’s the kind of life that’s like a celebration of life.  A celebration that doesn’t end but keeps getting better and better.

Why follow Jesus and move away from our old way of doing life?  In this passage Jesus calls himself the bridegroom.  Who’s the bride you might ask?  Me.  You.  Us.  Jesus is the lover of our souls.  Some folks think God is angry.  Others think he’s a vindictive judge.  Or maybe God is indifferent; more like a watchmaker who starts creation and then sits back and lets it work without ever getting involved again.  In Jesus we see someone very different.  In Jesus God is the unashamed lover of humanity who will do anything to be in relationship with his bride, even so far as laying down his own life for us.  

Weddings have unspoken expectations.  If my groomsmen, my best friends in the world, came to my wedding and refused to eat because they stopped at sonic and had tater tots on the way I’d be dumbfounded.  But it would be even stranger for the groom to leave the wedding celebration early.  Most of the weddings I attend I try to leave early, but grooms don’t.  Jesus goes on to say that this groom is leaving because he’s being taken away by force from his own wedding.  Jesus is alluding to how he will die.  Later in Mark’s gospel Jesus is taken by force from his life of bringing healing, mercy, grace, teaching, forgiveness, and hope to those who don’t have any.  Taken by force to be beaten, humiliated, spit on, whipped, abused, made fun of, hurt for sport, ridiculed, shamed, and murdered on a cross.  Jesus allowed himself to experience the horror of all of this so that you and I could join the party.  Our sin, our hate, our selfishness, our lust, our greed, our indifference, our … makes us guilty.  These ways of doing life separate us from God, from love, from peace, from forgiveness, from hope, from relationship.  But Jesus took our place.  He got what you and I deserve.  The one who had no sin became sin so that you and I can have life more and more without sin that destroys everything.  But it’s not just about not having sin.  It’s about living life with Jesus; who is more loving and gracious than we could have ever hoped for or imagined.

We’ve been invited to the party of forgiveness and love thanks to the grooms sacrifice.  Will you freely choose to join the celebration?  To join his way of life?