The Bible sets amazing standards for people of faith. If the ten commandments were not hard enough to live up to, Jesus interpreted them adding difficulty.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.
— Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)
No wonder Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (John 3:1-2). What deep dark secret did he have in his life that might place him in danger of judgement? I like to write broad general confessions of sin so participants may write in their own sins and hear the assurance of pardon for those sins.
But what would it take for people to truly and perfectly live sin free lives? People who live real lives with daily temptations and compromises and imperfections? People affected by emotionally charged topics that lead to emotional outbursts?
Could real people set aside every past indiscretion and every past neglect and live new lives or would they have to start over? Or as Nicodemus suggested: crawl back inside one’s mother’s womb and be born again?
The amazing part of Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus is learning that God chooses us to be perfect. That we need only look upon Jesus to be healed of our imperfections so we can live lives as new people.
Nightly images of homes torn apart with memories strew across farmlands and neighborhoods tell us that tornado season has begun. These monstrous tails that descend skies that had only a few minutes before had been clear, amaze us with their power and unpredictability.
The second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles begins with the sound of a violent wind that filled the whole house where the disciples had sat. Within a few verses these devout men had been driven from their seats and out into the marketplace, alarmed and amazed by the power and unpredictability of the Holy Spirit.
While Luke described the Holy Spirit as power and fire, John described it as a counselor, one who comes alongside in difficult times, an advocate. This is how I most frequently experience the Holy Spirit; a serendipitous nudge to action with just the right word at just the right time.
But while a tornado rips and tears things apart, scattering homes and memories across miles, the Holy Spirit pushes us together, binding us into one body, the Church. So that together we might accomplish great tasks, together we might build the body of Christ.
The next few years will be roller-coaster-ish; boring and exciting, scary and fun, dangerous and safe.
I had written that sentence thinking about half a dozen boys and girls who were finishing a confirmation class. High school lay in their immediate future; a time that would at times be boring and exciting, scary and fun, dangerous and safe. In short roller-coaster-ish.
I suppose I could have used these same words a few years ago at the start of the great recession. The next few years will be roller-coaster-ish.
This year these words I will delivered to high school graduates and to their parents. The next few years will be roller-coaster-ish.
I wonder if Jesus might have had similar thoughts for his disciples as he prayed in the garden at Gethsemane. Had he been thinking of the trials and excitement, boredom and rewards they would face in the next few years.
And now I am no longer in the world,
and they are in the world, and I myself, come to you,
Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me,
in order that they may be one, as we are one.
— John 17:11
As much as we might like to protect these graduates, and their parents, from at least the most precipitous dips and sharpest turns, they need to experience them for themselves so that they may mature and develop into full adulthood. For life is indeed like a roller coaster.