Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Ordinary Lives, Extraodrinary Encounters

Mark 12:35-40 (King James Version)

35 “And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the son of David?
36For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.
37David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly.
38And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces,
39And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts:
40Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.”

I get together on Tuesdays to have breakfast with a small group of guys from church. This morning’s group was a bit more eclectic than usual. There were the usuals, Mike Blake, Danny Horst, and myself. But this morning we had two additions and one occasional interloper. The interloper was Mike Stubbs, our pastor. He’s not a breakfast person, which is why I call him an interloper. Mike can be found working late into the night. I’ll sometimes see e-mails from him about prayer needs within our church or the Emporia community that have time stamps like 1:32 a.m. or 2:47 a.m. Hence, breakfast is not usually on his agenda, unless, of course, breakfast is a bit later than 6:00 a.m. So, it was a pleasant surprise to see him. The two new folks were Cliff and James. I’ve gotten to know Cliff a bit in the last month or so. He’s been attending our men’s meetings on Wednesday nights. James is a fella’ I’ve seen around church, but have never met formally.

The thing that seemed very special to me this morning was the unity and commonality we can all share because of our Christian faith, or, more appropriately, because of what God has done through Jesus to make this so. In one sense we all have different professions. Mike Blake sells and services cellular phones. Danny farms and tinkers with some family owned oil wells. Cliff owns a small business working on all sorts of doors. James unloads the daily provisions at all the McDonalds in the area from Sixth Avenue near the center of town to Matfield Green, which is about thirty miles south of Emporia on the turnpike. Mike Stubbs is our pastor. And me, I’m retired, a man of leisure.

The two Mikes and Danny are Kansas natives, as are Cliff and James. I’m the transplant in the group, having been born and raised in the inner city of Boston and the housing projects of Cambridge.

But beyond our more mundane professions, there is one profession that binds us together. It’s our individual professions of faith in Jesus Christ. In His line of work, His fraternity or profession, the professional and personal distinctions we all so often make don’t matter at all. Our backgrounds and histories are diverse, our gifts and abilities vary. But this fraternity centers on faith and how it works its way out in our lives.

It wasn’t what you’d call a profound morning, just a bite of breakfast and casual conversation. Mike Blake talked about his contrary lawn mower and Cliff shared a bit about what’s going on in his world, about family and doors. Danny contemplated some planting. James, who is a “special needs” person, spoke with great pride about unloading the provisions at all the McDonalds in the area. And so it went.

It ended with Pastor Mike praying for God to bless us in our daily endeavors. With that prayerful launch we were all on our separate ways, Danny to plant something, Mike Blake to sell, Cliff to fix or hang doors, James to unload a truck, Mike Stubbs to pastor, and me, the man of leisure in this group, to sit in front of my PC or engage in some sort of “honey do” project that’s on Nancy’s long, long list.

Just common, ordinary stuff, isn’t it? And that, I think, is what makes it all so special. I believe that folks doing ordinary, common things are very attracted to Jesus. He has this absolutely wonderful gift of making each one of us believe we are really important, and cared for.

I got back home and spent some time with Nancy fiddling around in our gardens admiring the peas and lettuce that are beginning to sprout. I’m now upstairs giving thought to the wonder of the day, to the wonder of simple things and seemingly ordinary men.

I was going to use the word common to describe the start to our respective days, but the more I think about it the less common it seems. In one sense our morning wasn’t important at all. We didn’t do anything that seems on the surface to be earth shattering. There were no public policy debates. There were no great decisions made. But in a more important sense this was vital stuff, the stuff that makes Christian community vibrant, and real.

As I think more about it all it’s hard for me to understand why the name of Jesus brings such terror in the public arena. I’ve been publishing my little one man protest about NBC’s miniseries “Revelations” for about a week now. What got my attention was the fact that the writers felt that in actually using the words Jesus and Christ together in a sentence they were doing something controversial. I don’t fault them; they’re probably right. We live in a crazy culture in which up is down and right is wrong and left is right.

“What is it about Jesus?” I wonder, “That makes the high and lofty cringe at the mere mention of His name.” It’s really a rhetorical question as far as I’m concerned. I think I understand why Jesus is so dangerous. It’s because He elevates the common and breaks bondages. It’s because He can miraculously balance diversity and unity. And, more than anything else, it’s because He is there and He cares. You see, we didn’t sit down to have breakfast with a senator or a college professor or a public policy guru. For that matter, we didn’t have breakfast with the Queen of England. It was Someone far more important than that; it was Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.

That’s dangerous stuff and the mighty and powerful fear that. I believe they fear the comparison that common folks make between the powerful and the really powerful like Jesus. We had breakfast with Him this morning. He was there with us at the start of an ordinary day. The powerful would only come to us if they need our votes or acclamation. The stuff that Jesus does, when compared with that, is dangerous stuff indeed.

I’ve read a couple of interesting things in the past two days. Yesterday there was this from a piece in the Wall Street Journal by John Fund:

“As welfare expert Marvin Olasky has observed, "the major flaw of the modern welfare state is not that it's extravagant with money, but that it's stingy with the help that only a person can give: love, time, care and hope.”

Olsaky’s absolutely right. I’m a qualified expert myself. I grew up as a recipient of the welfare state; I know how it works. And I can say, as an expert, there’s not an ounce of compassion in the system. Fixing it all would take someone who really cared, someone like Jesus. Based on what I see in the current culture, that’s not going to be happening any time soon. The powerful don’t want Him.

I’m sure there are some who will contest what I’m saying, but it really doesn’t matter. I’ve lived in the belly of the beast. I know what it’s like and I know what I’m talking about.

This morning I read this from Mike Gecan:

“On the most basic level, the contempt of the progressive elite for ordinary people—for their faiths, their speech patterns, their clothes, their hobbies, their hopes, and their aspirations—has driven scores of millions of Americans out of the Democratic Party and into either the Republican Party or a no man’s land between the two.”

And then there was this:

“The Democrats have failed to realize that multiplying programs or policies designed to meet people’s needs is doomed to fail unless and until those people sense a fundamental level of recognition of who they are, not just what they need. The medium may not be the message. But a medium of respect and recognition is what makes the reception of the message possible.”

Gecan’s piece was about the “religion gap” into which the Democratic Party has fallen. He’s right about that. But in the piece he also offers that the Republicans have come in and filled that gap.

While there may be some truth in what he’s saying about the Republicans I think he’s missing a larger point, and it’s this. Most of us who have abandoned “the Party” haven’t done so because we’ve embraced Republican politics. We’ve done so because we’ve embraced Jesus. We walk with Him and we talk with Him along life’s narrow way. He’s with us in our triumphs and our tragedies. He shares those things in common with us. While, in one sense, He’s above us, He’s also with us, in our midst.

The powerful, the earth shakers in our society, can’t compete with that. The politicians can’t devise a plank or a platform that will reduce Him to their size. He’s far too big for all that. He’s far too busy eating breakfast at cafés, plowing fields, driving buses, meeting production quotas alongside some assembly line worker, or weeding a Flint Hills garden. Oh, the politicians and the powerful may stop by occasionally to see what’s going on with us little people. But they’re almost always transactional visits. The aim is invariably a vote to get or some sort of agenda. But, Jesus is different; He’s dangerous. He’s with us because He wants to be. He’s with us all the time. And, while He really is too good for us, He’s also so humble that He comes to us.

Jesus is really dangerous. He’s dangerous because He does the things the powerful would rarely think of doing. He cares, He listens, He walks us through days filled with common, ordinary, events. It’s no wonder they want little or nothing to do with Him. It’s no wonder that even the mention of His name is controversial. It’s no wonder that they’re now losing their grip on power. They just can’t compete.


Guy said...

For those of us that name the name of Christ as Savior, I'm reminded of the words of the great hymn, "In Christ There Is No East or West":

"In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North;
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth."

Sadly, there are so many that do not share that comonality.

Pastor Mike said...

I really enjoyed this blog. It inspired me to invest many more early mornings in the communion of our shared faith. I may even have to go to bed earlier. What I thought of as mundane is suddenly vitally important.