At first you don’t see the family resemblance. Mary seems quiet. She seems to be an introvert. She is a thinker of deep thoughts and she feels just as deeply. Martha is an extrovert who busies herself in hospitality. We don’t know much about their brother Lazarus. He is most famous for his death and resurrection. He is though, a friend of Jesus. He and Jesus have spent significant time ‘hanging out’ with one another. We know of no deep thoughts or great deeds but he is a friend, pal if you will, to Jesus.
A closer look shows the commonality. They each, in their own way are worshippers.
Because I lead nothing that resembles a traditional church, people sometimes feel free to come to me with complaints about their home church. The folks that talk to me love the moments in church when they ‘feel’ deeply in worship or when they have the opportunity to commit themselves wholly to Jesus as “living sacrifices”. These ‘mountain top moments are too infrequent for them and they wish they could be more regular. Sympathy is not one my chief virtues and so I am not long in reminding people that the ‘mountain top’ is a great place to visit but we don’t live there. Worship must mean more than an ecstatic experience.
Yes Mary sat in rapt attention at Jesus feet and after the raising of her brother she does extravagantly pour nard out, anointing Jesus for his own burial. She sheds the concerns of this world and zeroes in on the “better thing”. Her focus is not on the temporal but the eternal and her worship reflects her heart.
Martha worships in another way. She is active in her worship! James writes about being a doer of the word not just a hearer. He might have had Martha in mind. Paul writes in Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” I advise people who want to worship to see the opportunity to worship in each task that comes to hand and to get involved in Kingdom work. The phrase “work and worship are one” can be true. It wasn’t long into his encounter with God that Moses was asked “What is in your hand?” God uses the things that are ‘at hand’ to bring him glory. Jesus visited the Mount of Transfiguration and then “set his face like a flint for Jerusalem”. His destiny and the glory of God was to be found in the mess of this world and even the gore of the cross. Jesus speaks about the Father being glorified in the cross. He enjoins his worshippers to “take up their cross and follow me.” Martha gets a bad rap as being too busy to worship but I suspect she saw her work as worship.
Lazarus strikes me as someone who enjoyed a warm fellowship with Jesus. We don’t see him in the mode of either sister. Jesus is his chum. This kind of relationship is not instant. Over time it develops as Lazarus spends time in Jesus’ presence. They have shared experiences. Some may have been quite poignant but most would have been hum drum. The quantity of time, just the ordinary moments together, become the stuff of a deep friendship.
If we exclude Jesus from our ordinary moments then we exclude him from most of our moments. Life is lived in the ordinary. Lazarus reminds me that Jesus longs to be my companion as well as my Lord. The word ‘companion’ means someone we share bread with. Bread is the most ordinary of food. Our companionship with Jesus can be the richest of worship experiences but we too often miss out because we only value the ‘Mary’ times of worship.
There is a decided ‘family resemblance’ in this trio. They like you and me were made for worship. We find satisfaction and meaning in true worship. Our limited understanding of what worship is and can be, prevents us from experiencing the “abundant life” which is Jesus gift to us.
Several months ago, I retired but not really! I had worked for several years under a contract to provide chaplaincy services to ex-offenders. I continue to be in touch with these same people. Just this week I had conversations with folks who had been convicted of some very serious crimes. Few people in society want to be associated with these guys! I don’t mind in the least being associated with them. It is the bureaucracy of the criminal justice system that I do not miss at all.
I am pleased to be able to tell the most marginalized that there is hope. I am not naive (you wouldn’t last long in this particular world if you were naive). I know that these folks have committed some heinous crimes. I do, though, have a message of hope. I offer a hope of: a possibility for a new and useful life, the possibility of forgiveness, and true freedom. Mine is a message of hope and hope has a name. His name is Jesus. It is through a life changing encounter with Him, that my ex-offender friends can experience these benefits. I have seen individuals hear and respond to this message. The changes are dramatic. Lives that were only harmful are made useful. Shattered ex-offenders are finding wholeness and begun to live lives of giving back to a society they once only took from. Not everyone responds to this message of hope but as Paul says in Romans 10 “How shall they hear without someone preaching to them?” Wayne Gretzky once said “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” It is gratifying to see the seed of hope take root and produce amazing fruit in people’s lives.
The “justice system” does not place a high value on hope. It places a high value on reports counting things that do not count! The organization which should be most pleased with changed lives instead insists that this is not the work and talk of new hope is not valued.
I can’t help but think of Jesus relationship with organized religion in the days of his earthly walk. The very ones who should have greeted their Messiah with joy are upset when he does not meet their skewed expectations. Instead it is the marginalized, the outcasts and the criminals who so readily responded to his offer of hope. It was the least and the last and the lost who first discovered that hope has a name. His name is Jesus!
I am glad to continue this journey with my friends. I am pleased to continue offering a message of hope and a new useful life to all who will respond positively to the one who is hope.
While, I no longer receive a salary for chaplaincy services, I continue to rely on the generosity of those who share the vision of Street Hope. Our plans for Roamin’ Holiday are well under way and excitement is building. Thank you for your prayers and support.
A quote I recently read, gave me real chuckle. “When Canada takes over the world you’ll all be sorry!” Our reputation for being apologetic distinguishes us from among the nations.
On its face this stereotype is not really flattering (nor is it entirely accurate, I am sorry to say). While others may bask in the “rocket’s red glare” we content ourselves with unexciting civility.
Recent events have caused me to reflect on the virtue of meekness. Meekness is an easy virtue to imitate when things are going ‘my way’ but much more challenging when faced with injustice, unfairness and threat. In my devotions I was reading Psalm 37. “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it only leads to evil” (verse 8) “But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.” (verse 11)
These days it is easy to fall into anger. Tweet storms and mean memes are everywhere, luring rage from its den of hibernation. It is here in our inner life that the battle is won or lost. As we allow the fleshly desire to strike out and strike back we forfeit inner peace. Our outward bellicosity robs us of inner peace. This is too high a price to pay! Meekness is the answer. Its unexciting exercise lulls anger back to sleep.
Some say meekness is weakness and I guess I agree. Meekness involves an acknowledgement that “I am not God.” and that God alone can and will resolve life’s problems. Meekness is a humble submission to God and his ways. Striking back seems satisfying in the moment but like all sin turns quickly to ashes. Paul reminds us that when we are weak then we are strong. God’s power is made perfect in our weakness!
Meekness is a path too little trod. It is a path that ends in ultimate vindication. One of my favourite modern hymn writers, Graham Kendrick, penned “Meekness and Majesty” as an homage to the character of Christ. We do well to imitate our Lord. I seldom (never?) feel meek. Submission does not come naturally. Thank God that my life does not have to be ruled by my feelings. It is my actions that count as I bring the thoughts of anger into captivity.
In the Beatitudes Jesus affirms the promise of Psalm 37 when he promises that “The meek shall inherit the earth.” This sets out, for us, a winning strategy for life. Let us purpose to maintain our inner peace through active submission to one who has “overcome the world”.
Yesterday we had the last session in our 10 week Recovery Workshop. The workshop is designed to help people discover that “spiritual answers will solve all our problems”. Using only the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous we present a vital ongoing relationship with God as the solution to addiction and the means to health and growth. I have not kept track as well as I might have but I believe this was our twelfth such workshop. Over the course of doing these, we have discovered a significant pattern. We start with a large group crowded around our table but as the weeks move on, and it becomes clear that to experience change we must surrender our will to the will of God and take dramatic action to foster life changes, people drift away. For our closing last night a handful of us gathered for the final exhortation for us to take the message of hope out into a hurting world.
I have just been reading in the Gospel of John about the multitudes that followed Jesus in early days but when his sayings became “hard” they drifted away. At one point Jesus turns to the 12 he has chosen and asks “Are you going to leave also?” Peter responds for the group “Where else could we go? You have the words of life.”
Jesus invitation is “Come and die”. He says “Pick up your cross and follow me!” The Prayer of Saint Francis says “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” My will is killing me, and must die! This is not just a hard saying. It is a brutal truth. The Big Book says “Any life run on self-will can hardly succeed.”
We all want change. We all want a new and fulfilling life. We may even be aware that our current mode is not really working for us. Yet we find the challenge of surrender too hard.
As I see people fade away I am reminded of Jesus’ conversation with the Rich Young man who walked away. Mark records that Jesus “Looked at him and loved him.” We sense the Saviour’s sadness as the young man walks away, but walking away is his right and his choice. The dear folks who come to our workshops are perfectly entitled to their own choices. It is sad to see some return to the addiction they seek to escape but we have also seen those who left earlier workshops return for subsequent ones.
Each series of workshops we witness powerful differences in a few and we are seeing a cumulative effect in our community especially as these folks multiply the message. A community of hope sharing a message of hope verified by life experience can, I believe, have a dynamic impact on our larger community.
It was one of those moments that as you recall it you are there again. I was outside on a cold Northern Ontario evening when I looked up. The heavens glimmered with a myriad of lustrous stars. I was startled by the beauty! I silently pondered “The heavens declare your glory, Lord.” The Don McLean song “Starry Night” began to play in my mind. As I recall that brief but poignant moment I wonder how people can be blinded to the message of the skies “There is a creator!”
MacLean posits that “This world was never meant for One as beautiful as you” The old hymn tells us the meadows are fair, the sunshine is fair and the twinkling starry host is fair; but Jesus is fairer! The beauty of nature itself both pales in comparison and points to the exquisite beauty of Jesus.
Romans 1:20 teaches us that if creation was the only witness to God that there is enough evidence in it alone for us to know that God is and that he is almighty. I have been privileged to stand outside without all the ambient light of the city and gaze up. I have stood on sea shores and even mountain tops. I have had the wonderful advantage of wonder-filled occasions. So many of my Street Hope friends have not had these same advantages. Their poverty keeps them imprisoned within a walking distance, stuck in the drab grey and tedious small world in which they live.
With all this on my heart, I have felt led to give my friends the opportunity to experience the beauty of our world. Here in New Brunswick, beauty is on our doorstep (a local might say “In our dooryard.”) We live in “The Picture Province”. In a series of day trips we can visit some of the most beautiful spots on earth. We are planning on taking “A Roamin’ Holiday”. The title is inspired by the passage in Romans which sparked the idea and captures the itinerant nature of the plan.
The plan is to get the biggest “beauty” bang for the buck, but it will still require money. Would you join us in praying for this adventure? Would you consider helping us financially? We are hoping for at least 60 people to help us with donations of $50. Last year people were generous to help us with our lavish Fandango and the gift of fans that we gave each guest. I hope we can match that generosity for this project.
At the top of this page is a “Donate” button, or you can send a cheque to Threshold Ministries with a note in the memo ”Roamin’ Holiday” 105 Mountain View Dr. Saint John NB E2J 3B5. You can also call: 1 506 642 2210 and arrange a credit card payment.
I pray that you, too, will take opportunity this summer, to experience God in the beauty of his creation. Thanks.