This is how much Jesus loves us:
Foxes have their dens to call home.
But Jesus has none.
Birds of the air have nests to which they can fly.
But Jesus has nothing.
In his own words from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
But he could have. Anytime he wanted to, Jesus could have settled into his den, made himself comfortable in a nest, laid his head down in his own bed. Wrapped himself up in his own blankets.
He chose not to, however.
And that is how much Jesus loves us.
He left everything he could have had behind to tell us about the love of God.
That’s how much he loves us.
Jesus could have married. Could have had children. Could have lived a normal life. He could have contented himself with a devout and holy life for himself, going to synagogue like everyone else.
Instead, as Luke tells us, he set his face toward Jerusalem.
He set his face toward the Garden of Gethsemane instead of his own garden behind his own carpenter’s shop.
He set his face toward Pilate rather than pilot his own fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus set his face toward Golgotha.
He could have gone off in any other direction.
Jesus set his face toward the hammer and the nails.
He could have gone anywhere else.
Jesus set his face toward crucifixion.
Every other point of the compass offered him escape, but his face was set.
Because he set his face toward the only place he could find us.
That is the only place he could find you and me.
That is the only place he could find St. Anne’s.
And that is the only way we’d ever find him.
Up until the very end, Jesus could have run off, walked off, pleaded off and saved his life.
Jesus could have gone off anywhere and begun a new life, a safe life, a devout life, a life with a wife and with children and a stable career, a life where he could wrap himself up in his own warm blankets.
Even Pilate gave him a chance to do so.
Had he done so, however, his mission, his ministry, the message and the meaning of his life would have been gone from the face of the Earth forever.
Instead, he set his face toward Jerusalem.
He set his face toward us.
He set his face toward you and me.
Jesus gave up what even the foxes and the birds take for granted, gave up every creature comfort, for you and me.
And so there is one thing we can do in return.
We can set our face toward him.
We can invite Jesus into our own lives.
Into our own homes.
And not just the living room or front hallway.
Invite him into every room in the house.
Attics and basements, too.
And by that I mean every aspect of our lives, all that we are, warts and all.
Jesus knows us, warts and all, and loves us, warts and all.
So, yes, come live with us, Jesus.
Here is a comfortable bed, Lord.
Here are warm blankets for the Son of Man.
Wrap yourself up in them.
Sweet dreams, my Lord, and may all of them come true.
Because all of his dreams are set toward me and you.
“‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’”
—The Gospel of Mark
When I was a child, I believed in Santa Claus.
I believed in God.
And I believed in Jesus.
I was told by adults that all three of them are real, and I unequivocally believed what I was told.
There was no doubt in my mind, or in my heart, of their existence.
When I was a child, all three of them were as real as real can be.
For years, I believed that all three of them genuinely existed. I clung to that faith long after many of my friends had peeled away the veneer and discovered the fiction behind it all.
Eventually, I grew up, and also accepted the truth that I’d been trying to avoid.
I learned that Santa Claus lives in our hearts.
But that is all. That is the only place where Santa Claus resides. The North Pole is a frozen wasteland. None of the animals there have red noses. Only the wind-chilled scientists and explorers have red noses, and none of them guide Santa’s sleigh.
As an adult, I have also grown to understand that God, too, lives within our hearts. Or can reside there.
As does Jesus. If we let him.
But—and this is a gloriously hallelujah ‘but’—that is not all.
That is not the only place.
God is real.
Jesus is real.
Both of them genuinely exist whether I let them live in my heart or not.
I simply know that to be true.
I believe it to be true.
Nor do I feel compelled to prove it to anyone in order to reinforce my own faith. But there is still plenty of evidence.
The existence of God and the risen Jesus are demonstrably proved by the post-crucifixion turnaround in the disciples, from cowering cowards to bold preachers who feared nothing for their physical safety.
Only a genuine encounter with the resurrected Jesus can account for that. And Jesus can only exist as our resurrected savior if God exists. Therefore, the fact of Christ confirms the fact of God, and a loving God, at that.
Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, transforming him from a murderer of Christians—an accessory before, during and after the fact—to an obsessed disciple of Christ, is another stunning piece of forensic evidence.
Nor are those two examples the only New Testament “exhibits” one could place before any jury that doubts the existence of God and Christ.
But I have also had enough “thin moments” and “close encounters” with the Holy Spirit, and with Jesus (therefore with God, as well) to personally cement my faith.
And I accept those “thin moments” as genuine encounters, as a child would accept Santa Claus, sitting on his lap at the mall. I do not look cynically for any other “explanation” that might seem more rational to an adult mind.
I can pull on the beard of Christ all I want, but it isn’t coming off. He’s no seasonal, moonlighting phony. The kingdom of Heaven is real.
“Are any among you suffering? They should pray … The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up … The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective…”
—The Epistle of James
Life can sometimes make us feel as if we’ve suddenly been caught in an avalanche or a collapsed mineshaft.
We’re buried miles away from our former happiness.
Nearly suffocating in the darkness.
Unable to reach the light of day.
But we are not helpless.
Nor are we abandoned and alone.
Prayer is the tool we can use to dig our way out.
All of our spoken and silent words of prayer can tunnel through the layers of darkness that cover us just as if we’d literally been trapped in an avalanche or a mineshaft that had given way.
“The Lord is my shepherd…”
And we penetrate a little further toward the light.
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”
And we dig ourselves a bit closer to the fresh air that we were breathing only yesterday.
“I will fear no evil…”
And now the Holy Spirit can feel us praying.
“Because you are with me…”
God knows where we are and what has happened, and why would we ever think that God doesn’t pray? And Jesus too.
Digging down toward our words of faith.
So we must keep praying so they can reach us.
Praying and believing that they will.
It is too easy for some people to dismiss prayer as merely a ritual. True prayer can be far more than that.
The words in the Epistle are powerful reminders of the true power of real prayer—the prayer, as James tells us, “of faith.”
James is speaking to us as a compelling firsthand witness of what the early church experienced through faith-filled prayer after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
There is no avalanche too heavy.
James knew this.
And no mineshaft too deep.
Do we understand everything about prayer and how it works? No, not at all. We never shall.
But that is what makes the prayer of faith so powerful. It is all about the faith. Faith that taps into the deepest recesses of our soul and connects us to the power of God’s love and grace.
When that happens, God is surely digging with us, too.
God has joined us in the tunneling.
And the heart of Christ is beating for us all.
“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.”
—The Epistle of James
If only we could control the weather.
Were we able to do so, Hurricane Florence never would have reached the East Coast. We would have squelched it into a gentle breeze in the mid-Atlantic.
If we could control the weather, no hurricane by any name would ever blow, nor any tornado twist.
There would be no floods.
There would be no droughts.
And not a blizzard in sight.
The weather would be perfect. The temperature ideal.
We would save so many lives and free everyone from all weather-related anxiety. No home would be destroyed. No property damaged.
We’d allow just the right amount of rain to fall, and at just the right time for crops and wells. A few picturesque snowflakes might be nice on Christmas Eve, but not enough to spoil anyone’s plans.
But, the world’s weather is far beyond our control and we watched the huge swirling mass of Florence drawing closer and closer, a monstrous nightmare we could do nothing about.
The feeling of helplessness was overwhelming.
But not all of the world’s weather is beyond our ability to shape and change.
Other storms are very much within our power to prevent or control:
The hurricanes inside us.
The tornadoes we twist into the lives of others.
The floods of anger.
And droughts of love.
Our emotions can truly wound or certainly heal.
We are instruments of small, personal wars or catalysts of family and community peace.
Our words can be swords or plowshares.
And that choice is always ours. We, alone, decide.
By recognizing the gathering clouds of our own “bad weather,” we can discern that, Hey, I might respond angrily here, or selfishly; I might throw down a lightning bolt if I’m not careful.
Yes, we can stop our own storms before they thunder.
And we can make certain there is never a Hurricane Me by opening our souls to the love of God and letting the Lord’s “weather” fill our hearts before we speak or act.
As the apostle James goes on to say in his epistle, following his warning about the source of human conflicts and disputes:
“…The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”
There are no mandatory evacuation notices when we forecast God’s love.
And no states of emergency.
“They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then he looked up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, and his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”
—The Gospel of Mark
There are times—too many, I’m afraid—when I am just like the deaf man in this story. I cannot hear the voice of God telling me that I am loved.
Honestly, I think many, if not all of us, experience this deafness from time to time in our lives.
The world has deafened us to the small, quiet voice within us. We can no longer hear it. Our head and heart and our soul are filled with the world’s shouting about anything and everything but God’s love. And we don’t even know it.
We believe that we are still listening to God’s voice of love. We haven’t stopped praying. We haven’t stopped reading scripture. We haven’t stopped our meditation and contemplation. We’re still going to church. We believe we’re just as tuned in to God’s frequency as ever.
But we are not.
The world has become too loud. Sometimes, I think, I mistake something that the world is saying as being the words of God.
But God doesn’t talk to me like that. God never says those sorts of things about me. Words that may make me feel good about myself but don’t bring me peace. Words that might feed my ego and my need for affirmation but are the equivalent of drinking Diet Love or Love-Lite.
I should know better.
There is a distinct difference between the way God assures me that I am beloved and the way the world says, ‘I love you’ one minute then withholds affection in the very next heartbeat, telling me that I am not good enough.
When I am deafened to God’s voice of love, something else happens, too. Just like the deaf man in the Gospel of Mark, I develop an impediment in my speech.
My voice begins to sound more like it has been taught to speak by the world. I am too prone to mimic the world, rather than articulate the true speech of love that God tries so desperately to teach us by assuring us we are loved. That all of us are.
Truly loved by true love. A love that never demeans or seeks to diminish or lure down false pathways. That never says, ‘I love you’ one minute and then throws you into the recycling bin.
When I recognize the sound of the world speaking in my own voice, I understand that it has happened again—I have become deaf to God’s voice of love. I have closed myself off to that voice of love and begun listening only to the world, and without even realizing it.
And so I cry out to that love and for that love as the world seems to gather its breath so that it can blow all of that love away. Even the tree limbs begin to sway in the gathering breeze.
It is then that I can suddenly discern that I am no longer hearing the wind in the leaves but, instead, the sound of Jesus sighing beside me. And then he leads me away from the gathering storm.
“Be opened,” he tells me, when we are alone. “Be opened and receive God’s love. Be opened and speak plainly of God’s love. Do not let the world close you up and away from me.”
And so I am here. With you. Speaking of love as plainly as I can. And listening. Listening with all of my heart.
“…So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go?’”
—The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John
Jesus had just blown their minds.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them,” he had told them. “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Nobody in the synagogue in Capernaum had ever heard anything like that before. Say what? Go ahead, pull the other one.
But Jesus wasn’t pulling anyone’s leg. Everyone who heard him could tell that he was deadly serious. That’s why they left. Because Jesus believed in what he was telling them.
“This teaching is difficult,” many of them responded. “Who can accept it?”
Many still find it hard to swallow today. They shouldn’t. Swallowing an idea and being utterly transformed by it has been occurring throughout human history, sometimes with wondrous results, at other times starting wars.
We are surrounded by people who’ve swallowed an idea. Look in the mirror, there’s one now. Most people have swallowed dozens of ideas and sometimes found their lives revolutionized.
People swallow an idea about a particular diet and their bodies are visibly transformed. Others swallow yoga or meditation and find inner peace. Some swallow the idea that running or walking every day is the right step toward health and achieve fantastic results.
Look at the advertisements that surround us online, on televisions and radios, in newspapers, magazines and on billboards. They are solely designed to get us to swallow an idea.
Consider all of the people who swallow the idea that they should became a fan of this or that sports team. They start painting their faces in team colors, dressing up in the team’s jersey and watch every game. They plan their lives around the team’s schedule.
So, this idea-swallowing ability of human beings is an every-day thing.
“The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life,” Jesus tried to explain, but some just didn’t understand. Most of them undoubtedly got stuck on the image of literally eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood, rather than swallowing the idea that there is a spark of divine love inside them. A spark that is like a seed, waiting to be sown and cultivated, and, then, fully harvested to become the bread of heaven.
A Christ-ness inside them, if they’d only swallow.
But some, like Simon Peter, absolutely got it. No, he didn’t yet understand completely. That wouldn’t happen until after the resurrection. But Simon Peter knew he’d found something unlike anything else on earth. He is bewildered, mesmerized but intent on following the train of thought.
When everyone else looked at him, Simon Peter knew, they saw only a simple fisherman. But, when Jesus looked at him, he somehow saw the light of the world.
And that blew Simon Peter’s mind.
But he wasn’t about to walk away. There was no other place he could possibly go. No one else who would ever look at him that way.
The way Jesus looks at us, seeing the light of the world.
If we’d only swallow.
And shine into the darkness.
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.”
The Psalmist wants us to hold nothing back.
Wants us to shout ‘Hallelujah’ from the highest peak and from the deepest valley. From the brightest day and from the darkest night.
Give thanks to the Lord with our whole heart.
Every inch. Each corner of our heart.
Across our heart’s entire lifetime.
Down every hallway of our heart and inside every room—even those that we keep carefully locked, and sometimes pretend aren’t there.
But, we must unlock those rooms, go inside and turn on the light.
Because we might just find something else.
Something quite unexpected, something wondrous and life-changing.
I know that is what I found.
Down certain hallways and inside particular rooms that I have carefully locked and then walked away from—trying to convince myself that I have moved on from what’s inside them—is where I found the holes in my heart.
The places of deepest pain and sorrow too wide to wade through.
The places that are over my head.
The places that make me feel as if I am drowning.
How, I asked myself, can I shout “Hallelujah!” about the things that had made so many holes in my heart?
How could I possibly give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart for those holes in my heart?
Such a thing is impossible, I told myself. It simply can’t be done.
But then I turned on the light and found there was a way after all. I discovered that I wasn’t alone in that room that I had carefully locked and walked away from. The Lord had slipped in beside me after I’d turned the key, opened the door and stepped inside.
No, I was not alone.
I felt the Lord surrounding me with love, filling the holes of my heart with love.
I was astonished. Amazingly, the holes were where the Lord’s love most truly found me.
A love that flowed into every hole in my heart, filling each of them until the love ran over, and I felt the current of that love taking me away, out of the room, down the hallway.
And I heard the key falling to the floor.
I wouldn’t need it anymore.
The door will remain open. The light always on. The shades ever raised.
The holes, I admit, are still there. Right there in my heart. They always will be.
But they are no longer places to mourn and fear because they are filled now with the Lord’s love.
The holes in my heart truly are where the Lord loves me the most. There, where I am so utterly vulnerable and powerless to resist.
For that I absolutely can and do shout ‘Hallelujah!’ and give thanks with my whole heart.
Every square inch of my lifetime.
Holes and all.
Every single one of them.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Come and get it.
Breakfast’s ready. Lunch and dinner, too.
This kitchen serves it up 24-7.
Open all day. Open all night.
Never a second when the door is closed and none of the doors have locks.
And there’s a place around the table for everyone.
Yes, come and taste and see that Lord is good.
In fact, the Lord is something quite special.
Delicious and sustaining.
A meal unto itself.
“Taste the Lord.”
What an extraordinary invitation the psalmist extends to us.
We aren’t invited to read something and think about it.
We aren’t asked to lock ourselves away in deep meditation in hopes a revelation will come to us.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Merriam-Webster’s definitions of “taste” are telling:
“To ascertain the flavor.”
“To perceive or recognize.”
“To become acquainted with by experience.”
And all of these definitions directly apply to the invitation to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Ascertain the flavor of Love.
Become acquainted with Love by experiencing it.
I mean, really, what more could we possibly want?
After all, this love is all we need.
And for that we can thank Jesus and the door he opened to the Trinity of Love and our relationship with it.
The concept of the Trinity can be difficult to wrap our heads around. Let’s leave our heads out of it and use the taste buds of our soul, instead.
Think of the Trinity as the most incredible meal in the history of the world. The Holy Spirit is the wondrous scent that whets our appetites. We can’t see it or taste it, but we know it’s there, invisible but palpable. Jesus is this Love made manifest among us. The sight of this Love. The voice of it. The touch and feel of it. And it is Jesus who leads our souls to a direct place at the table with this Love:
“I in them and you and me, may they be perfectly one,” he prays to Love in the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John.
A prayer that was answered.
God’s Love is already deep inside our soul. Taste this miraculous truth.
Swallow it. And inwardly digest the feast.
“One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about 5,000 in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.”
—The Gospel of John
The hero of this parable isn’t Andrew. And, despite this legendary miracle, the hero isn’t Jesus, either.
The heroic figure in this story is the anonymous the boy.
But perhaps we know more about him than we think.
We know that he came to see Jesus, and apparently alone because there is no mention of any parent or adult with him. So he is brave, questing and probably quite spiritual. Perhaps not unlike Jesus was as a youth.
And he brought five barley loaves and two fish. Nobody else in the crowd had any food readily visible. Why did the boy have the loaves and fishes? If he had traveled far, the bread and fish might have been all the food he had to survive the journey. Or, if he’d come only a short distance, the boy might have arrived prepared to share his food with others. For that is what he certainly did.
Either way, he is also of a giving, compassionate nature. Perhaps not unlike Jesus was as a boy. And that makes me wonder.
I especially wonder what Jesus said to the boy as Andrew and the other disciples were telling 5,000 people to sit down. Jesus didn’t just walk up and take the five barley loaves and two fish from the youngster. Of course not. He would have spoken to the boy about the hunger of the people all around him, and the wondrous possibilities if the boy gave him the loaves and fishes.
Jesus once said that unless one becomes like a little child it will be impossible for them to enter the kingdom of heaven. This parable shows us what he meant by that.
The boy didn’t make a fuss about giving Jesus all of the food he’d brought with him. There was no argument. Their conversation attracted nobody’s attention because there is nothing written about it. All the words were spoken quietly between Jesus and the boy.
Nor did the boy question Jesus’ ability to feed so many people with so little food. No, Andrew, the adult, had done that. The boy simply gave Jesus the five loaves and two fish, fully expecting Jesus to feed everyone there.
The boy clearly had the strong faith of innocence, the kind of faith that could walk on water. I wonder if Jesus saw himself in the boy, recognized a kindred spirit. I suspect that he did.
No, there would have been no famous miracle without this unknown boy who knew the kingdom of heaven when he saw it. And, standing there with Jesus, that child made the kingdom of heaven manifest to the 5,000. And to us.
I wonder where in the world that boy is today.
Here’s a thought:
You’ve got a barley loaf. I have a fish. Let’s go in search of him.
After all, he may be waiting somewhere for us with Jesus.
And if we do undertake this journey and do somehow find him, we will also find ourselves.
“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 awhile.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in a boat to a deserted place by themselves.”
—the Gospel of Mark
The apostles’ energy reserves were drained to the dregs.
They’d walked everywhere telling as many people as they could about the Kingdom of Heaven. They had blisters on their feet and aches and pains all over.
Jesus heard the fatigue in their voices.
Saw the lines of weariness on their faces.
Discerned the stoop of shoulders.
Jesus had been there and felt all of that.
He understood the danger of burning up all of one’s physical, spiritual and emotional fuel without pausing to re-fill the tank.
Such self-neglect could have dire consequences to them personally and to their mission.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus regularly went off “to a lonely place” by himself, re-charging his batteries through prayer, contemplation and just plain rest.
He knew the prescription the Apostles needed to have filled for their rejuvenation: Go off to that lonely place and rest.
Jesus’ advice is timelessly wise. But going off to a lonely place can be nearly impossible because most of us carry the crowded world and all of its incessant distractions everywhere with us:
Smart phones. The digital umbilical cord connecting us to static chatter and hubbub.
Can’t live with them.
Can’t live without them.
When the Apostles went off to that quiet hillside by the sea for their spiritual retreat, they did not take the compulsive demands of social media with them.
Texts and emails did not call upon their time. The only tweets came from the birds singing among the trees at dawn. There were no incoming Instagram messages to respond to. If you’d said “Facebook” to them, they would have wondered what in the world you were talking about.
Yes, the apostles could have found effective ways to incorporate social media into their mission, spreading The Gospel by streaming Jesus live, putting the Sermon on the Mount on YouTube.
Just as all of us are fortunate to have social media as a useful tool to expand our ability to communicate and connect. As you and I are doing now. But we need to manage our social media rather than be managed by it.
Today, Jesus would have this additional piece of advice for his Apostles: “Oh, yes, and before you go off to that lonely place to rest, leave your smart phones with me. Otherwise, you will never find a lonely place. Every hillside, shaded glen and mountaintop will be filled to overflowing with the world and its distractions.”
We’d be wise to listen to him. Our lonely place might be a quiet room in the house, the shade of a tree in the back yard, the sanctuary of our church on a Tuesday morning or Thursday afternoon, or some favorite trail at a local state park.
When we go to those lonely places to re-charge, let’s turn our smart phones off and leave them behind. Without the world’s siren song, we can better hear the small, quiet voice of the Holy Spirit in our soul.
And take it back with us into the world when our rest is done and there is more work to do.