You study and prepare, thinking you have done all you can do and think all that you can think, and then you are surprised! It can be a question at a presentation or a question during a test or a question in the doc’s office. Or, you can get up each week and try to speak God’s message to folks seeking to be God’s people and you get surprised by what comes out of your own mouth – stuff that isn’t in your notes.
Sometimes, unfortunately, you think, “Ouch! I wish I hadn’t said that, somebody is going to pulverize me over lunch for it!”
Other times, with great joy and surprise, you think, “Wow! I wish I had thought of what I just said. That’s so good I’d like to stop and take notes.”
This past Sunday, I had a bit of both. It would be stupid (yes, I know I am not supposed to use that word around kids, but sometimes is the perfect sounding word) to repeat any of the “Ouch!” comments. But I’d like to share — if with no one but myself — the “Wow!” comments. These latter comments are not things I’m not smart enough to think up. I hope they were the product of trying to deliver God’s message, listening to the Spirit, faithful preparation, and the hearts of the people hearing that message and helping shape it as it is delivered.
While the first statement felt like an “Ouch!” when I said it, the more I thought about it, the more true I believe it is. I said something like, “I know a lot of folks are very nervous about all of this post-modern stuff, but I would like to confess, as one who has grown up a modernist, that our era killed God. We bought into the scientific method, we depended upon what we called ‘rational thought’ and we broke the tie between the earthly and the spiritual. You younger folks, you post-modern folks, have reminded us that we have to account for the spiritual world.”
I know some folks probably didn’t agree with that, or even like it, but the more I’ve pondered it, the more I believe it’s true. Our modernism has split the world into secular and sacred, flesh and spirit. Heresies among followers of Jesus repeatedly have tried to do it. But a whole wave of human culture, now firmly entrenched since the 18th century, has enforced it and chosen the rational over mystery, proof over prayer, and lived in the world of the secular because we felt we could manage it better – because, we claimed, the secular world is tangible, empirical, touchable, solvable, provable, demonstratable, and real.
Bottom line reality is this: we are right earthy folks. We’re made of dirt. One of these days – and I’m not being insensitive here, just honest – all of us are going to be the main attraction at a funeral. People will hopefully say nice things about us. Then they will haul us out to a pretty place with grass, flowers, and trees, drop us in the ground, throw some dirt in our face, and go back to the church house and eat chicken. Some of those folks will hurt like crazy, but the world will go on and part of us will go back to dirt.
But, every part of the living, dying, crying, eating, and all that goes with this earthy existence is spiritual – even the dirt. It is a reminder that God made us out of this stuff and our rebellion broke our world – it’s all broken dirt. And just as we cry out for deliverance, so does the broken creation (read Romans 8:18-25). So every time we are sick or someone dies or there is a natural disaster we are reminded that everything, everything around us is part of the spiritual world in which we live. All of it begs us to seek after God and find Him in our earthiness (Acts 17:24-28).
The amazing thing is that God chose to live in a house of dirt, to wear skin, just like us. That is who Jesus is! And no matter how much folks want to separate the earthy from the spiritual, the secular from the sacred, the matter-of-fact from the mystery, Jesus is the great reminder it goes together. He spoke peace to the winds and the waves and to the woman with an uncontrollable menstrual flow. He made mud out of dirt and spit and put it on a blind guys eyes. He lived in the world of fish, storms, green grass, leprous skin, dry deserts, and rugged mountains. He got hungry, tired, thirsty, and cried – cried real tears for Lazarus, Jerusalem, and the impending Cross. And He did as God – the One who is Spirit!
Which brings me to the other “Wow!” – the other thing I wish I was smart enough to think up before I preached.We prayed the Lord’s prayer and were reminded that the way we deal with our brokenness is to be dependent upon and love God with all that we are and love our neighbor enough to be reconciled through forgiveness. Just as the Lord’s prayer anchors us to God and to our neighbor (Matthew 6:9-13), and just as Jesus taught us the two great commands are loving God and our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39) , Paul taught the same thing. He said that God was at work in every circumstance to bring about His good in our lives if we love Him and are called according to His purpose – loving others for him (Romans 8:28-29).
I think we all live between the “Ouch!” and the “Wow!” I am so thankful that Jesus came as a God’s great gift of grace and grit, the divine in dirt, to show us the way of grace is not an escape from earthiness, but through it.