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Take a Breath
In the Midst of Our Mess
Br. Keith Nelson
In the church, knit together as his Body, we believe that Jesus saves us from sin – our own and the sins of the whole world. Jesus saves us from death: by his incarnation, by his freely given human life, and by his freely chosen death on the cross. Jesus saves us from the worst in ourselves: from our daily blindness, ignorance, resentment, and failure to love. As we name in the Nicene Creed, all that he did, and all that he does, is offered “for us and for our salvation.”
Jesus saves. Today I believe that with my whole heart – though I haven’t always.
It’s not hard to imagine that somewhere there is a person who doesn’t believe they are in need of saving. The message that “Jesus saves” rings hollow in their ears, little more than a tired slogan tied to a narrow-minded agenda. In fact, they and their many friends hear this proposition and yawn, or chuckle, or roll their eyes. The offer of that kind of Savior is not what they need. Perhaps you yourself struggle with the assertion that Jesus saves.
OK, let’s start again.
If the historical portrait we have inherited told us nothing else, it would point to a man known far and wide as a healer. As a band of pilgrims tracing his footsteps, we believe that Jesus, our Savior, was also a healer at heart. We have seen and known in our own aching flesh how he bends down and reaches out to touch the leper, the blind, the deaf, the lame, the bleeding and broken and forsaken of the world.
In healing bodies, he healed hearts and souls, and lives even now to do the same. Jesus heals.
Our imaginary friends don’t believe they are in need of saving. But if pressed, they might admit that, in some sense, they are in need of healing. Deep down, they have felt the dis-ease of living – that feeling when they rest from all their motion and commotion that things are not entirely right, that something is off kilter, out of balance. A bruise, a burn, an open cut throbs beneath the surface. They long to say, “I’m sorry,” but to whom? If they were to come across Psalm 51; if they were to read the words, “The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise”; they might remove the bandage from the wound within and yield themselves, even if for one trembling moment, to God’s healing touch.
But healing hurts. After all, the wound has been there so long. It’s easy to give up on the course of treatment.
OK, Jesus says. I’ll meet you where you are.
OK, Jesus says. I’ll meet you where you are.
Jesus meets us where we are.
Jesus does not wait for us to get our act together. He doesn’t wait for us to clean the snot off our noses or put on a clean shirt. He doesn’t wait for us to decide what exactly we think of him. He certainly does not wait for us to solve the mystery of human suffering, or articulate an airtight personal theology, or establish an invariable routine of daily prayer. He does not wait for us to prove that we deserve his love.
If your experience is anything like mine, here’s what Jesus does:
On a Thursday night at 9pm – when your heart feels as empty as your refrigerator – Jesus pulls a chair up to the dinner table and helps himself to a piece of your leftover pizza. Jesus doesn’t care that you didn’t cook, that you didn’t even know he was planning a visit, or that you don’t have any clean towels. Shhh. I’ll meet you where you are, he whispers.
If we let him eat our leftover pizza and use our dirty towels; we can be certain he will return the invitation.
Jesus met Andrew and Peter by the Sea of Galilee, mending their fishing nets, because that’s where they were. He met Zacchaeus standing in a sycamore tree; he met Mary Magdalene in the prison of her own mind, possessed by seven demons; he met Paul on the road to Damascus intent upon persecuting the early Church. Jesus met Matthew sitting at the tax booth. And he met all of Matthew’s friends at dinner in Matthew’s house – a group of people who had likely never had dinner with a rabbi and felt disillusioned and cynical about the institutional tradition that had labeled and judged them. That’s just where they were.
But, you see: that is how Jesus saves. That is where Jesus heals. Jesus saves us and heals us by meeting us where we are.
If we let Jesus do this; if we open the door to let him in, even once; if we let him eat our leftover pizza and use our dirty towels; we can be certain he will return the invitation. He will invite us to be with him where he is. Jesus takes us where we are, as we are – and, before we know anything about it, summons out what we shall be, one moment of meeting at a time.
How does the idea of Jesus meeting us where we are challenge your expectations of spiritual growth and transformation?
What parts of your “mess” do you try to hide? What would it look like to allow Jesus to meet you in your imperfections and brokenness?
How might you open yourself more fully to the transformative love of Jesus?
Take some time praying with Luke 5:1-11. Peter is exhausted after spending a whole night fishing and has caught nothing. At first he is doubtful that Jesus can contribute anything to the situation. When the presence and power of Jesus are made known through a catch of fish that begins to break the nets and even sink the boat, Peter cries, “Lord, go away from me, for I am a sinful man!” In the midst of his dim assessment of himself and his prospects, Jesus chooses him to be a “fisher of people.”
When have you felt like Peter, protesting that your life situation was too messy to let Jesus get involved?
What does it feel like to practice consent to Jesus’s power and presence in those moments?