Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. However, N.T. Wright’s commentary on Psalm 31 focuses more on Jesus Christ’s presence as comprehensive of the whole Bible – not merely the 4 Gospels. A few years ago, Bill led the Chapel on an Emmaus Walk where we journeyed briefly over the whole of Scripture – seeking Christ in the oddities and oft-forgot locations. This link to Tim Keller’s “True and Better” explanation of Jesus through the Old Testament always reminds me of Jesus’ transcendence of our world in a micro level; yet, for me, learning this truth personally, on a small scale proved instrumental in my life.
When I first began as the Pastoral Intern, I set about performing the normal duties as well as I could. They came easily to me, as most were reliant on charisma and relationships. I have always been extroverted and skilled at building relationships or entertaining groups of people. I have never been alone, I surround myself with people that I care about and fill my time with actions and conversations. (I wrote “intelligent conversations” first but then I remembered my roommates and I spent a couple of hours last week debating which characters from The Office we most emulated) A few months into my internship, I was tasked with doing some sermon research on the women in Jesus’ genealogy as depicted in the Gospel of Matthew. Some of you may recall that the genealogies in Luke and Matthew are different; one of the unique aspects of the Gospel of Matthew is the inclusion of 4 women in the famous “Begats” section. Well after I found Andrew Peterson’s “Matthew Begats” video and gleaned all the information I could from people around the Church, it was clearly time for me to do some solitary research.
I shut my door and combed through Genesis 38 trying to understand why Tamar was so important to the narrative of Christ. At 7:00, I emerged ready for lunch. I had lost track of time because – for the first time – I had stumbled across Jesus in a story that I had never heard explained to me. I felt like I had solved a puzzle or gotten God’s inside joke all on my own. The elation so clouded my daily routine that for the first time, I enjoyed the solitude. Jesus showing up in Genesis and the Psalms is important for many reasons. It means there was a plan from the onset of creation, that we are not a Plan B. It means that the same Jesus who paid for our sins was there at the Creation of the World. It means that when Gideon was threshing wheat in the Winepress, our lives were accounted for. It means that we can see Boaz as a primitive example of Christ being our very own Kinsman-Redeemer. All of these are much more important than what happened to me while reading Genesis 38. It’s a small thing to credit God’s Omnipresence but He also gave me my first passion that doesn’t involve other people. I look forward to a life of gleaning Christ from the Scriptures.
Today’s scripture and N.T. Wright’s commentary on Psalm 130 impressed on me the importance of patience. The Psalmist starts out distressed but remains hopeful for the eventual redemption. Too often in my life, patience is a word I use in place of anxiety, hesitation, or annoyance. When I have to wait on things, I’m waiting in apathy, not wanting to move forward. Sometimes, I’m confused, not sure of the right step. In other instances I’ve grown disinterested or frustrated because of the problem and it’s refusal to fix itself. However, the Psalmist does not grow disheartened despite the dismay around him.
I don’t know what kind of season you are in. You could be extremely happy where everything is going your way. You could have recently lost a loved one or having difficulties at work or at home. Personally, I’m in a season where exciting things are happening but there are still some important issues up in the air, some ambiguities that require patience. This Psalm levels that playing field. If the Lord marks our iniquites, we all fail and are in the most miserable position possible; but if the Lord forgives, then no matter our failings, we are blessed with great fortune. So, let us be considerate of our sins, thankful for Christ’s sacrifice and patient for the redemption of Easter.
I’m working on this post on Saturday night. I just finished listening to Dayton upset Syracuse and spend the day watching my friend acclimate to a March Madness with Duke losing in the first round. During the NCAA Tournament, March Madness, we call these small conference schools who achieve notoriety by knocking off the storied programs “Cinderella stories.” N.T. Wright’s take on Worship reminds me of a much more impressive example of something that transcends common sense.
Wright talks about a retired priest who after decades of worshiping and leading other in the act of worship still had difficulty in defining the term. Psalm 95 grants us great perspective on worship as the psalmist is not addressing God directly; rather he is encouraging us to join in the worship based on what God has done. The ultimate upset is that God whose domain includes the “depths of the earth” and “the heights of the mountains,” who created the sea and the land desires our presence and praise through worship. This morning as we walk into the Chapel, we will be in community with the Creator and Savior despite our flaws and depravity.
We were over-matched with the problem of Sin. Sin was more athletic, faster, stronger and shot 3-pointers with great precision. Christ triumphed over that Sin and we get to worship the Creating Father, the Saving Son and the Present Spirit. I think Dick Vitale would call that a “Diaper Dandy.”
In middle school, I broke the accelerated reader record for most points; literally, this translates that I read the most books at higher difficulty levels than any other middle schoolers; in practice, this translates that I was a huge nerd without any semblance of a social life. I believe I got through life with others perceiving me as intelligent because I had a large vocabulary – all of which I had required by 8th grade. It was so exciting for me – whenever I would learn a new word – that all of a sudden it would seem as if that word were bombarding me from television, books and conversation. Eventually, this vocabulary would seep into every facet of my life. (Calling an 8th grade opponent a “Potemkin Quarterback” doesn’t count as quality trash talk) In the same way, everything I have read this week seems to have been soaked in the wisdom of Dick Woodward.
N.T. Wright states that “Lent is a great time for pausing and pondering, for reading more deeply and perhaps, more slowly.” (Lent for Everyone, pg. 31) I remember Dick joking that the point of learning how to read the Bible in Greek or Hebrew was so that one would learn to read it slowly; but that he wasn’t all that bright in the first place so slow was the only way he read in English. He always spoke with a humility that somehow made you feel a little closer to Christ while in Dick’s presence. I think it’s easy to see Jesus when we encounter someone with humility like Dick. I think it’s easy to see Jesus when we observe something beautiful. Dick taught me that it’s also possible to see Christ in human frailty and weakness.
The illustration that seems embedded in my mind is Dick’s commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (NIV) Dick used to talk about how whenever you went ring shopping, the salesmen and saleswomen would show you the diamond on a mat of black velvet. Nothing makes a diamond shine like black velvet and that’s precisely how Christ uses our fallen nature. Whenever I see imperfect people partaking in a perfect relationship or community, I think of Dick and I look to the hills knowing that despite their beauty, my help does not come from them, but rather from the power of Christ which shines brightest from the black velvet of my sin.
One day, I hope Christ uses my weakness to share His power with people the way He used Dick’s. Until then, I will follow Dick’s advice: reading slowly, abiding in Christ, and approaching my faults with as much humility as I can muster. I pray to God for the strength to be weak.
Interestingly, N.T. Wright took a break from the Gospel of Matthew to examine Psalm 32 in today’s reading. He reveals the common misunderstanding of confession as a somber or morose exchange instead of the liberating and celebratory experience it should be. When I was young, I went out into the driveway to wait on my mom before we ran some errands. The door to the van was unlocked and I looked from the passenger seat down to the gear-shifter and wondered how cool I would look if I got to move it like my parents did. Never considering that it might work without the car being on, I put the 86 Red Aerostar into reverse and began rolling backwards down our driveway. A spindly tree somehow stopped the van from careening into a creek across the street just as my mom, screaming hysterically caught up to me from the front. I can still taste the trepidation when I admitted to my mom that it wasn’t the car’s fault but my own actions that caused the dangerous experience. I approach confession to God much like this juvenile confession to my mom.
However, there are several differences. For God, our confession of sin is about as surprising as Travis showing up bald on Sunday mornings. We know Travis is bald, we have prior and repeated knowledge of Trav’s baldness. In Psalm 51, David talks about how our sinfulness was apparent even in our mother’s womb. God knows we’re going to mess up and while that doesn’t excuse the mistakes – it should relieve some of the tension we can allow to to render us incapacitated to confess. Secondly, Wright points out that confession should be celebratory. When we release these burdens, we are able to rejoice that the price has already been paid! Furthermore, we should engage confession more often as a method to clear out the lawnmower sludge from our engines. In middle school, my parents decreed that I needed to take at least one year of chorus or band so that I could be musically literate. Well 6th grade was uncomfortably close to puberty and my voice made that decision easy- I was awkward enough already, really didn’t need a cracking voice in chorus to help that movement along. I was so tall, the band director stuck me with the tuba – which I hated. But I stuck with it long enough to learn that you needed to empty the spit valve if you didn’t want a gargled sound from your instrument. We get clogged up with our sins; and I believe the sounds we produce are distorted to the outside world because of our cloggage.
I hope that this Lenten journey will galvanize us toward more regular confession so that we can be ambassadors of Christ with less bilge and sludge. If we are intent on carrying out the Chapel mission “to make more disciples” than we are in dire need of all the tune-ups possible.