Monday, April 27, 2020

Glorious Weakness | I Am Not Labeled, I Am Named

"It was always the plan that in the midst of the catastrophic brokenness in this world, grace would surprise us all." + Alia Joy

I continue to need Alia's words this week (here is the link to the previous post: Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack along with a reading from her book I shared on Facebook Live: Waiting with Hope). And if you do, too, keep reading with me ... 

"I Am Not Labeled, I Am Named" excerpt adapted from Alia Joy's Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack

Who am I?

In the desert, we are introduced to a terrible and mighty doubt. Weaving our fig leaves, we become the great pretenders or we become who we were always meant to be. Unashamed. No one remains unchanged in the wilderness. I forget Jesus knew the landscape of the desert too. The Spirit led him into the wilderness ...

Jesus knows the voices we face, and his promise to send a Comforter to be with us forever anticipates that our lives will be filled with grief and sorrow, with desert wanderings and our consuming and ever-present weakness. Why would we need a Comforter unless he knew we would be uncomfortable? Unless he knew we would need comforting? Jesus says, "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have have said to you" (John 14:26 NIV). Jesus knows we face an accuser; he knows the voice that comes for us. The Holy Spirit is prepared for the grief, sorrow, trials, and accusations common to us all, and we are ministered to by the Spirit of Truth even in the wild  especially in the wild. Jesus knows we will be ravaged by our hunger, by our doubt, by the tendency to want to sustain ourselves, protect ourselves, rescue ourselves, nourish ourselves, name ourselves. He also knows we are utterly incapable of remaining sober minded on our own, not when we face such terrible lies, such loud voice of accusation. Jesus promises we will not go into the wilderness alone. We will not be left hungry. We have a Counselor to defend us. A Comforter to tend to us. We have a language of hope that speaks truth to us and calls us out of the desert, changed forever.

The Power of True Words

Sin has sown discord in our hearts and reaped a bounty of pride, fear, lust, racism, white supremacy, misogyny, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia, ableism, ageism, classism, and so many more spores now flourishing full grown like toxic mold without our atrium and ventricles, pumping deception into our souls. Its nucleus is invisible to our clogged eyes but it is everywhere choking out life, filling our bodies with disease. We don't realize we're colonized, but the symptoms are everywhere ... The warfare leaves its scars on us, marks us with lies. Lies we tell, lies we are told. Lies we become. Are we arrogant or are we afflicted? We are not good enough or we are too good. We have no place at the table, no banquet for us, no safe haven  or we are invite-only, RSVP and black tie required. We don't take truthful stock of both the wickedness of our afflicted hearts and also the belovedness of our everlasting souls. 

If all warfare is based on deception, truth is the weapon to fight against the lies. The balm for our scars. To flourish in relationship we need a bridge of truth to connect us. The cross is the greatest truth we have. The X on the map, the way home, the treasure unearthed. The antidote for the voices that come for us is our true identity as beloved. The cross tells the truth. I don't know of a fiercer love than this: while we were sinners, Christ died for us. We are not shamed or self-satisfied, we are saved. We return to the slippery-tongued serpent and hear the hissing in the whole world, and even though lies come easier, we tell ourselves a new story. We hear the good news. We are hardwired for self-deception and self-preservation, but the Word of God is intrusive. Disruptive. Subversive. The Word of God that tells the story of God tears at the skins we've hidden ourselves in, and that's agonizing. The power of true words comes to fruition in repentance. Weakness is seminal to grace. Nothing can be birthed that has not first stretched and ripped you open. Truth is the midwife that helps us labor long and hard during the process of being born again into this story of good news. 

What I had gotten wrong about my salvation attempts all those times I timidly raised my hand for altar calls was that deep down I only saw my sins and scars. I only saw that I was dirty and separated from God. I only tasted bitter fruit and heard the voices accusing me. I only saw where I didn't belong. I saw my lack, but I didn't see God's abundance. I needed the truth of the gospel. It is the goodness of God that brings us to repentance.

For those who put their trust in God's love, the cross neither condemns nor condones, it only ever covers us with Jesus. This kind of truth is intrusive but it is also redemptive. It both unmasks and covers. It's the most beautiful truth I know. We are claimed by the devastating love of God's grace. I am claimed by a greater love. The nature of gospel truth is to confront, but its purpose is to set us free.

Jesus gathers the weary ones, the ones who can no longer hear anything but accusation and despair, the ones whose ears ache in agony and ring with the need for good news. We count ourselves among the poor, the oppressed, the weak, the meek, the wandering, and the poor in spirit, the hemorrhaging, the unclean, the broken, the thirsty, the outcast, and the other because we know Jesus came for just such ones. We know we are more than the labels the world places on us. 

And the voice that cancels out all the whispers and the hiss of unholy tongues says, "I have made you good." Maybe all of life is just a journey back to the heart of God, back to the garden where we saw his face and he called us good. Back to the place where we remember who we are by knowing who he is. "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine." I am not dirty. I am not what they say. I am not what was done to me. I am what Jesus did for me. Redeemed. "When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you." I can spit out mouthfuls of ash and scalded tongues that are quenched with a language of hope. These lies have no claim on me. "For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." No longer a lost one, no longer a label or a stereotype. Named. Beloved. Ransomed. 
My shadow still spreads across the light, but these days it dances to new songs. ... When the voices come to me, I remember whose I am.

Next post: Christ Over the Coronavirus City Notes '20 | Glorious Weakness: Fluent in Hope

Here are links to previous City Notes books:

Soli Jesu gloria.

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike “Sully” Sullivan

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