But Jesus said, “Don’t be afraid”

Matthew 14:22-27 Immediately after this [feeding five thousand +], Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!” But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage, I am here!”

We all need these words, perhaps several times a day. Yes?

Alex, the youth pastor at our church, gave a wonderful sermon Sunday based on this passage, including the part about Peter walking on the water. Alex left us with unforgettable images:

The mountain, where heaven meets earth:

where we gain our perspective and strength through prayer,

where we can grieve, as Jesus grieved for his cousin John

The sea, where we encounter powers beyond our control:

              everything that rocks our boat

              But for Jesus, walking on the sea is the quickest way to reach us.

The boat, where we live our lives

              often full of frustration and fear

Lord, how are you coming near to me through the chaos of these days? Let me feel the touch of your hand. Come be with me in my boat and bring peace.

You can listen to the whole sermon here, 22:40-39:49—a wonderful use of 17 minutes!

But Jesus warned

Matthew 12:15-21 Jesus healed all the sick among them, but he warned them not to reveal who he was. This fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah concerning him: “Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen. He is my Beloved, who pleases me. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not fight or shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be the hope of all the world.”

Have you read Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card? It’s part of the Ender’s Game series but takes place about three thousand years later. The Speaker is charged with understanding and expressing the mystery and truth of a person’s life.

It’s not easy work, but our pastor is particularly good at doing this and is having multiple opportunities to use this gift, three funerals in three weeks. After dear 97-year-old Alicia’s service Thursday, I was able to watch by live stream the funeral of our son-in-law Cesar’s 50-year-old Aunt Rosina in southern Brazil. In both cases, I felt I knew the people better in some ways in death than I had in life. I expect that will be true for Jane too, next week—my friend whom I wrote about in the last post, whose service will be next Friday.

This celebration of a person’s unique impact on the world always comforts me. Doing it well honors the significance of the person to those who knew him or her.

So when I read this Scripture this morning, it struck me that by the time Matthew wrote his Gospel, he was free from the restriction not to reveal who Jesus was, and chose this passage from Isaiah to crystallize for his readers (including us!) the essence of Jesus’ character. Read it over a few times. Let its loveliness sink into your heart. Are you encouraged? I am! Even more when I look back to his baptism in Matthew 3:17, and forward to his transfiguration in Matthew 17:5, two other times God the Father calls Jesus his Beloved, and the Spirit bears witness and empowers his work. A beautiful partnership.

He is so gentle. Yet his intent to bring justice will one day be successful. Because he not only died, he came back to life. Take hope!

But God wants us to show mercy

Matthew 9:10-13 Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Jesus quoted to the Pharisees the Greek version of Hosea 6:6. Perhaps he thought the first part of the verse would invoke for his hearers the next phrase: “I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.” Know my heart of mercy. Do as I do—but it starts in your heart with a change of attitude, a change of paradigm. A different, more open way of seeing the world. Not less love for God, but more.

Not as easy as clicking a button.

In response to my post about wondering how I will get through the next few weeks of political mutual destruction, my sister-in-law Elaine (see Art and Scripture on FB) recommended a very helpful little book, Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) by Brian McLaren—see https://brianmclaren.net/store/–scroll down just a bit.

It’s an easy read, in big print. But maybe not so easy to apply . . . I would be delighted to know your thoughts!

I’m adding to my list of suggestions for these next weeks:

*Show mercy.

*Work to overcome biases.

But God made us his captives

2 Corinthians 2:14-15 But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.

I had met Jane at church—enough to greet her. But I got to know her when I was asked to regularly pick her up for church once a month. She was a little hard of hearing, but her mind was sharp as a tack, and we had fascinating conversations going to and from church. She told me about the books she was reading, about events and people in the retirement center where she lived, about her own story—the jobs she had held, her decision not to pursue a doctorate at Pitt though she was invited by professors there to do so, her choice to worship at Ascension, her siblings and their families, her decision not to marry . . .

Jane was up to the minute with current events and shared some of her concerns with me. Once we drove by a lot where a huge old apartment building had been razed. She said, “Wouldn’t that be the perfect spot to build the new Amazon distribution center? I’m quite sure Amazon will choose Pittsburgh.” (They didn’t.) I was impressed that Jane was aware of the competition for this potential source of jobs and was able to engage with me in a discussion of the pros and cons of Amazon coming to our city.

When Karis, All I See Is Grace was published, I bought a copy for Jane. But she greeted me asking for an autograph–in the hard copy of the book she somehow obtained on her own!

Jane loved our family. She followed Dave’s ministry in detail, and always had pertinent questions to ask him. She loved nothing more than a visit from me at her retirement center—if I brought Caleb along. She was thrilled when both our daughters were pregnant at the same time.

Visiting Jane for her 94th birthday. The retirement center was decorated for “Christmas in July.”

Then she suffered a massive heart attack. When I went to visit her in the hospital, she almost leaped out of bed in her excitement. “Debbie, you’ll never guess who was just here! Mark Stevenson! Such a nice young man.” (Mark is a pastor at our church. I think he’s about my age, so perhaps Jane thought of me as young also?!) Jane proceeded to talk to me nonstop for over an hour. She would have kept going, I think, had I not needed to excuse myself.

After that heart attack, Jane was moved from her lovely apartment in the retirement center to a nursing home, where she shared a hospital-style room with a woman who was not happy she was there. In fact, hostile might not be too strong a word. When I looked at Jane, startled at what came out of the woman’s mouth, Jane laughed and said, with a little chuckle, “Perhaps in time I’ll win her over, poor dear.” She set aside the book in her lap—one of the classics; I’m sad that I don’t remember which one—to show me with delight cards and photos she had received from friends and family. When I was ready to leave, Jane said, “Don’t worry about me. I am content. Contentment is a choice. I have chosen to be content.”

Those words have rung in my mind and heart often since that day a few months ago. I didn’t imagine that would be the last time I would see Jane. But then COVID hit. We kept in touch through notes on cards, and Jane sent cards to each of my daughters when their babies were born (she had kept track of their due dates).

July 26, Jane’s 95th birthday, her COVID test came back positive. Last night God took her Home. She has left me with the scent of Christ-like fragrance, rising up to God.  And the reminder that contentment is a choice.

But Jesus says, “Love your enemies”

Matthew 5: 43-48 You have heard the law that says, “Love your neighbor” and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that,” my fortune cookie tells me.

If you’re like me, you dread the next weeks, when we’ll be flooded even more than the pathetic “normal” by politicians tearing each other apart. What to do—an extended screens fast? Focus that time instead on proactive love for neighbors and friends?

Suggestions welcome! Meanwhile, enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-RG0Xh42zs