I have been reading my former seminary professor’s work Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places. It’s a journey. A long one. The basic thesis is that we prefer to taste the luxury of food offered to idols than the bread of heaven. We have forgotten to long for the Promised Land. We prefer the Egyptian culture.
Chuck DeGroat really brings to life this paradox of our journeys from real counseling sessions and personal life-stories. I will be interviewing Chuck at a later Trinity Talk episode, but one clear message from the book is how much we underestimate suffering. Suffering is usually cheapened with even cheaper slogans.
Psalm 88, that psalm of abandonment, is full of realness. In the realness, there is constant suffering. The Psalmist writes:
You have taken away my companions and loved ones.
Darkness is my closest friend.
The Psalmist feels abandoned in Job-like manner; so abandoned that darkness becomes his closest ally in grief. The pain is real. As Chuck DeGroat observes:
As much as we believe that God can redeem our journey through the wilderness, we should never underestimate its destructive force.
We cannot trivialize suffering and its force. The pain is not to be taken lightly and neither is the journey. The journey brings rough winds and those winds push us around with remarkable ease. The weaker we are the more damage it does to us.
I have just returned from preaching a funeral of a parishioner who committed his life to abandoning God. In his brief time in our congregation he sought death vociferously. But while he sought death he was confronted with the message of life many times. I believe he accepted that message though his garments were stained with fire, as Jude says. This is not the life we have been called to live. We were not created to live in Egyptian bondage. Our bondage was meant as a prelude to glory. In desiring Egypt we become addicted to more suffering and forget that God is preparing us to “flourish in the land flowing with milk and honey.
Death waits with open arms. Suffering is real. We should not trivialize its force. But at the same time we should desire new companions (Ps. 1). Darkness is the friend of abandonment. At times these are genuine Christian laments. But in lamenting we also remember that God is still the God of our salvation. The Psalmist who laments is the Psalmist who trusts in his God.
- DeGroat, 82 (back)
I often sit at my desk on Monday morning after a tiring and refreshing Sunday, and say to myself “Here I go again!” I just finished preaching and leading a liturgical service the day before, fellowshiped in the afternoon, and on Monday morning I am ready to begin that process all over again. I hear many pastors take Mondays off, but on Mondays I am on. I am motivated to find the best resources, the best applications to feed my congregation the following Sunday.
Preaching through Luke this Lenten Season has been part of this motivation. Luke has become dear to me. His attention to details, his emphasis on the Word-authority of Jesus, and his unique description in chapter 15 make Luke unique among the Gospel writers. What is in chapter 15? Chapter 15 describes–among many other things–the lostness of the son, and the found-ness of the Father. The Father finds what He lost; the Son lost what He had, and the elder brother belittled the feast of the found one.
Preaching through this section is filled with remarkable challenges. What to emphasize? What is central to this text? Father or sons? Or both? How is Jesus connecting the lostness of Israel to this text? What is the significance of the feast imageries in the reception of the prodigal son? What does repentance look like? In what way is the Father’s profound forgiveness like our heavenly Father’s forgiveness? How is the elder brother’s reaction much like ours? How is his reaction much like the Jews of the first century? Suffice to say, these are only initial questions to pose in this ocean of beauty and grace.
Once again I am confronted with the glorious task of savoring this text as much as it is possible before I can give my parishioners a sample of it as well. May this sermon do justice to this remarkable and rich passage of Holy Scriptures.
In these few verses in St. Luke, the writer plays on the animal vocabulary to describe two opposing groups. In the process it also echoes the exodus motif.
In this text, Herod is described as a fox. A fox is known for its cunning and deceitful ways. Herod wants Jesus out of his way. As N.T. Wright observes, “Herod is a predator.” The Pharisees come along and ask Jesus to flee the fox and exodus from the town. On the other hand, Jesus describes his purpose in gathering Israel to a hen protecting her own.
Herod wants to kick Jesus out and Jesus wants to kick demons out (exorcism). Jesus wants to gather his brood, but they will not listen. They do not want Jesus’ hen-like protection, and so they will suffer destruction. Their home will be left desolate. The glory will exodus from Israel’s temple. Jesus will journey out of the region, so that He may depart to Jerusalem. Finally, Jesus will work on day one and two, but on the third day He will depart and cry It is finished.