Friday, March 10, 2017

Getting Things in Order

Like most expatriates living in Europe, nearly all our furniture came from the Swedish furniture store Ikea.  We all felt at home in one another’s houses because we had similar furniture. 

You hauled the stuff home in a flat box and then assembled it.  I was smarter the second time, after having some problems the first time in Belgium.  I ended up prying some things apart and breaking a few edges.  In Italy, I followed the instructions meticulously, rereading each section, and at times getting clarifying counsel from my wife.  The order of assembly was very important.

So it is with life; the order of things is important.  Lent is about getting things back in the right order.

In the fifth century, the church had a practice where poor farmers with little cash would bring in homemade bread and wine.  It would then be served back to them in communion, symbolically receiving what they had brought.  It was a reminder that everything came from God; it was all gift.  In a time when starvation was common and survival a daily concern, this practice reminded them of the proper order of things.

In Matthew 3, Jesus is declared the beloved Son of God in whom God is well pleased. Then in Matthew 4, Jesus is tested to see if in his hunger he remembers the proper order of things.  The tempter in the wilderness says “If/since you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”  What harm is there is bread?  How can this be a temptation?  Jesus is hungry; turning stones to bread would be a great idea.

Henri Nouwen sees this as the temptation to be relevant.  We are encouraged to be relevant, to make a difference, to improve things.  Those are worthy goals, but are they primordial values?  Nouwen writes “the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self (In the Name of Jesus—Reflections on Christian Leadership, p. 17).”

Later in the story Jesus will feed the multitudes with bread, heal the sick, and make whole the lame.  He will be relevant, but primarily he will offer himself in all his vulnerability and move with solidarity among those in need and at risk, the excluded and the forgotten.  That is primary in his life.

Irrelevance is not a worthy goal, but vulnerability and solidarity are of the first order in following Jesus.  Lent is about getting the order right.

Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister--American Baptist Churches of New York State
Lent 2017

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