The heart that risks the most has the most of self invested, and the most to lose.
People I meet often ask what makes Christianity – and here I distinguish religion from faith in Jesus – different from other belief systems. My answer? The greatest gamble in all of time by the most relentless love in the Universe. The gods of the Romans and Greeks and Norse myths were capricious, fickle, playing tricks on each other and on the lesser beings called people. Other belief systems focus on what we ought to or have to do to become one with deity, acceptable to a deity, or transcend our human selves.
The God known by Jews and Christians is the entity who created all that is – the indescribably variety of burning stars and mud, algae and plumerias, fleas and gray whales and condors and life itself from the same “stuff,” the God who activated healthy sperm in a 90-year-old Abram and gave life to an egg cell in the womb of a post-menopausal Sarah, who set captives free from 400 years of slavery and guided them by cloud and fire, rolled back water to reveal dry ground, turned the Nile to blood, imploded the walls of Jericho, rent mountains, and rained down fire to completely burn up soaking-wet wood, stones, and totally evaporate a trench of water (1 Kings 18:17-40). This is the same Creator who birthed human beings with brains and hearts and, at the risk of his own heart, extended to them the choice to reject or accept his existence and his love for them.
I don’t know how it works, but in Jesus this God made himself at the same time wholly other and wholly us. A scandalous risk for Deity, confined in the very real body and person of Yeshua, Jesus, who no doubt fell as a child and skinned his knee, got splinters in his fingers from sanding wood and probably smashed his thumb more than once in a blue-collar job as a carpenter, who sweat and got dirty and experienced sore muscles and bone-tired fatigue from long days working, and overtime in praying. This God willingly limited himself to the boundaries of all that is humanity and experienced sorrow, derision, betrayal and agony, yet healed and delivered the sick and mentally ill, created eyes and whole limbs and gave life into dead bodies in order to make himself knowable, touchable, visible, approachable, available, reachable, and most daringly, rejectable.
Jesus is not a god of asceticism, other-worldly mysticism, aloof, disdaining human limits and weakness, or self-absorbed-enlightened “navel gazing.” Jesus cried over the death of his friend Lazarus and likewise over the religiously pious, self-righteous but humility- and grace-disconnected residents of Jerusalem. We are all, like them, as a pastor said last Sunday, “jacked up,” and the most “jacked-up” of us all are “religious” people who don’t recognize what a mess we are. Jesus, wholly God and wholly us, shattered human assumptions to release us from “religion” and “the traditions of men” into a flat-out miracle of relationship with him, astonishingly friendship and family with him, and true connection with each other, masks off, loved so securely that we can joyfully admit to others how imperfect, but completely loved in spite of it, we are.
This God incredibly gave his own blood to completely nullify blame and shame and condemnation, as well as every “good work” we think can make our narcissistic, codependent, self-actualizing and self-centered, addicted and otherwise flawed selves equal to that forever unfailing love. Jesus blew apart ever preconception of true Godliness to make a life lived in that love available from that time forward to anyone who reaches out with honest admission of their own “jacked up-ness” and says yes to his gift of love, transformation and relationship with him now and for eternity.
That sounds lofty and philosophical as I write it, but it’s radical in its simplicity. Jesus, “The Father and I are one”, turns our own splinters, every honest question, every cry of pain, loneliness, loss and uncertainty, insecurity, and every act of love we give anyway, letting go of both shame and “I can do it myself, ” into a holy act. Like a rainbow in an oil slick on a puddle, Jesus makes a life lived out out of being loved into a life of holiness.
God of complete perfection and holiness risked his heart and desires to give us the dignity of free will to choose his love and his heart, or to refuse it. This is a God to gladly worship: a Father with open arms to run into! I’m free to disobey, to be selfish, to hurt, to reject and judge, but I don’t want to. For a heart that risked all His heart for me, I risk my heart for others just like me out of pure joy. I’m free to dance!
Hebrews 4: 14-16: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
A “. . . but . . .” to move: God, I don’t begin to understand all of who you are, or how you could be completely in Jesus as the same time you were present everywhere and yet apart from him. What I really don’t understand is why you bothered to make yourself so real to people then and now, and vulnerable to our questions and rejection? What wondrous love is this? I may not be able to make sense of it BUT I want to receive it, want to want to receive it and long for you to transform my___________________________________________ into __________________________________. Yes, Jesus, do everything you want to do in me!