Promise in the Night Lenten Series: I am the Lord
Isaiah 43:1-7 with Mark 14:43-46, 53-62
This morning as we begin our conversation together about this week's promise in the night-- Jesus saying to us, "I am Lord." I think it might be good if you are willing to work with me here for us to take a time out and talk to each other before I get into the main ideas of what I would like to share with you. So this is what I need you to do. Make sure you are sitting next to somebody. No one is allowed to sit in a pew by themselves. If you are a guest visiting with us, know that our church is quite informal and friendly (like I hope you've experienced already today), so we welcome you to participate in this discussion with us too.
And this is what I want you to share as you feel comfortable with one another: "Who is Jesus? And what does Jesus mean to you?" Share your answer to this question in a small group of 2 or 3 sitting close beside you. If there is anything I know about Washington Plaza, it is that you don't have trouble being honest with one another, especially when it comes to matters of faith. So, in this spirit of "there is no wrong answer" I invite you to share with one another right now, "Who is Jesus? And what does Jesus mean to you?" (SHARING)
I hope that as you shared with your neighbors, you learned something about them that maybe you didn't know before. . . The question of "Who is Jesus?" is central to the gospel passage we find ourselves in this morning. For, just as we have been preparing for the past two Sundays as we read of the plot Judas set into motion to turn Jesus over to the chief priests, at this juncture of Mark 14 starting with verse 53, it is all happening.
The elders of the religious councils have come to Jesus with swords and cubs and have taken Jesus into custody. And though there seems to be little credible evidence against him, with everything said against him appearing to be hearsay, Jesus is put on trial. In this trial, he is accused of the most serious of religious crimes at the time. He says he's the Son of God.
Look with me at Jesus' exact response in verse 62 of Mark 14. After Jesus was asked, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed one?" He responds by saying, "I am . .. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."
If Jesus wanted to beat around the bush and speak in politically correct language of the time, this was not the way to go. In a culture that held so much respect for the name of God--- not even writing out all the letters when putting God's name on paper-- saying that you were "the Christ" was heresy.
Let me be clear here when I say, that it is this very confession: "I am the Christ" that led to his death.
Though centuries of strained Christian/ Jewish relations and a lot of Judas haters out there who want to place the blame on a the Jewish people as a whole or on the one bad apple disciple-- these players in the drama played minor, very minor roles in the larger drama of what God was doing in the life of Jesus.
Because in the end, Jesus came to this dreadful juncture of his life for one simple reason. He said he was Lord. This dark night was ALL about Jesus' Lordship. The chief priests, the whole Sanhedrin council and Judas for that matter were simply players in the story (and the players could have been anybody) who helped to illuminate this truth: Jesus was Lord.
Can you imagine how dark this night of betrayal, arrest, and interrogation must have been for Jesus?
Can you imagine how lonely he must have been?
Can you imagine how abandoned Jesus must have felt by those he trusted the most?
Can you imagine how Jesus' human nature desperately wanted to call upon the bands and bands of angels and archangels and strike down all who sought to speak wrongly of him? But at the same time, his heart burst in compassion for those misguided in truth? What a conflicted, hurt and deserted place Jesus was in!
Where was the hope? Where was the promise for the night? Where was the light?
If we turn over to our Old Testament lection for today, what we find are words of comfort for a group of people, who like Jesus, found themselves in an unfortunate situation. All was not right with their world either.
The children of Israel lived in Babylon in exile, and had lived there for a very long time. The prophet exhorts them: soon they'd be asked to go back to their homeland, even as they'd grown quite comfortable in this foreign country. They'd be asked to deal with the ways in which they'd fallen short of God's best for them. They'd have to face up to their own darkness, the blindness of their own hearts. And, they'd be forced to make changes for the journey that awaited them.
And while the word of the Lord could have been harsh and accusatory, it's not the promise we hear as chapter 43 of Isaiah opens. For the promise begins in the shift of how the Israelites were addressed: "BUT NOW, thus says the Lord, he created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine."
And what follows are some of the most beautiful words of comfort in scripture-- words that I wrote down and put on the wall of my bedroom as a teenager to get me through some difficult times-- words that I often read now at every funeral I preach in an effort to speak words of comfort to mourners-- words that speak of God's promise to walk with us even in the darkness of dark nights.
Look with me at verse two: the Lord says, "When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you." WHY? Because we are told, "For I am the Lord your God."
Such is a promise full of dramatic metaphors which illustrate God's promise to walk with us no matter what situations we find ourselves in.
What is most interesting to me about this passage is what it doesn't say about the journey of faith.
It doesn't say that we won't pass through rivers. It doesn't say that we won't walk through fires. It doesn't say that flames won't get anywhere near us. Though most of us would like to assume that if we just try hard and love well and live the best life we can that life's darkness nights won't find us, Isaiah's promise of prophecy does not guarantee us this at all. In fact, if we have found ourselves deep in rivers or in the middle of fires, or feeling as though our lives are going to crumble at any moment, then we are in good company. We are well acquainted with what it means to be a human being-- just as Jesus experienced on his dark night too.
But even though our lives are full of troubles and there will be moments when the nights of winter seem long and unending-- we receive a hopeful promise. Jesus is Lord.
And not just any Lord-- a word that might be scary to our independent sentiments of a society. But a Lord who loves us unconditionally, a Lord who pledges to be in our lives no matter what, a Lord who holds out joy for us when it seems to be the emotion we fear we'll never experience again.
Look with me at verse four, "Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you , I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life."
It's a love letter for a particular people, a love letter from a God who wants to show forth the light of the good news. I am the Lord.
I don't know where you are in your journey of faith this day-- believer growing, eager to go deeper in your faith, skeptic standing on the sidelines not ready to say you believe in this Jesus story yet, or somewhere in between, but I dare say wherever we find ourselves this morning, we've ALL had experiences where we've experienced God's presence with us, especially in difficult times. (For it seems our awareness of God seems to be softened to receive most memorably when we hit a place of helplessness, lostness, or even feeling as though our lives are so bad "that there's no place to go but up.")
For me, one such time when I felt God's presence with me came when I was on my first trip out of the country to Africa as a freshman in college. Alone, I traveled to spend three weeks with some missionary friends of our family. Eager to experience the culture of some new nations and to be with folks I thought at the time were some of "God's best people on earth" (i.e. the American missionaries) I boarded the plane and set out for what I thought would be a life-changing adventure.
However, the trip turned out completely not as I expected. These missionaries, I admired from afar, turned out not to be the welcoming bunch I hoped they'd be-- to me a young adult hoping to follow in their footsteps one day. None of them really seemed to care to get to know me at all. The missionaries were among some of the most rude, selfish-centered and arrogant people I'd ever met. You could imagine how crushed I was. All my dreams for a career in international service felt ruined. There was no way I'd want to work in a community like this! What in the world, was I then going to do with my life? And did I even want to follow this God?
But, in spite of the unfortunate turn of events, grace found me. This grace came from two women, whom I don't even remember their names anymore who I worked alongside as I taught at Bible camp during one of the weeks I spent with the American missionaries. These two women, from the US like me, but in particular, came with the purpose solely of teaching some of the missionary's kids while their parents sat in meetings. And, I have to say, if I ever met an angel on earth, I know it was these two women, who said they were from Alabama. They nurtured me, welcomed me to teach with them and showed me through their actions that I was not as alone as I felt at the time. God spoke through me and my broken spirit at the time to say, "I am the Lord; and it is going to be ok." I don't know if I would have made it back home in one piece if it weren't for these two women.
In the same way, one of the things I hear most often from you, even those of you who still have great doubts about your faith and wonder if you are a Christian at all, is that you've experienced God's presence in dark times of your life. You've had experiences where you've encountered this promise in the night of "Fear not, for I am with you." You've received comfort from something you can't explain in rational terms. You've experienced what you can only call the divine. And these are moments that we remember.
But the thing is that though many of these experiences are impactful in the moment, our memory as a human race is short. How quick we are to forget! How quick we are to doubt! How quick we are to throw up our hands in disgust, wondering why we find ourselves drowning in rivers again, feeling as though we have no life-preserver to help get ourselves to shore!
Such is why today's promise in the night is so important. Jesus is Lord. For in fact it is the promise, if we remember nothing, I mean absolutely nothing else about the Christian life, it is the promise we need. Because knowing and believing that Jesus is Lord changes EVERYTHING about our personal lives, about our life together as a church and about our outlook for the future.
And because Jesus is Lord as we walk this journey in community, everything begins to look different. We get out of our pettiness, our focus completely on ourselves, and we look up to the one who is the Lord.
When we are figuring out who is bringing what for coffee teams on Sunday morning and how to clean the tables, we remember: "Jesus is Lord."
When we are choosing what color to paint our walls in our bedroom with our spouse and really want to strangle him or her for their tacky taste, we remember: "Jesus is Lord."
When we are deciding if we will buy just one more thing at the mall or make our pledge to the church- we remember: “Jesus is Lord."
When we find ourselves bickering and then not speaking to a dear friend for weeks-- we remember: "Jesus is Lord."
When quick fire backs of anger seem more enticing than going the extra mile in life-- we remember: "Jesus is Lord"
When folks slander us, speak ill of us for reasons we know are untrue - we remember: “Jesus is Lord"
And, most of all when we find ourselves in bleak situations when we wonder how in the world we are going to get out of bed and face another day, we remember what? "Jesus is Lord."
For this promise in the night or in the day or in the in between can make all the difference in our lives my friends. For when we get out of the framework of this life is about me, me, and more just me, we realize that though the road of following the Lord may be rocky and though the journey may be long, we have this larger truth in which to cling. And what is it? Jesus is Lord.