May 5, 2013
“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
My wife and I once enjoyed a relaxing weekend in Port Townsend, Washington. As we roamed the town, we came upon an outdoor yard sale at the house of four young adults who lived together. The next thing we knew, we were playing croquet with them; we stayed for several hours! Had we not had a hotel room to return to, we might have woken the next morning on their couch. To this day, I hold these young people up as a model of hospitality to which I still aspire.
How open is your home? Have you ever made an instant connection with someone, of the kind that might lead to such hospitality? Lydia of Thyatira had just such an experience that day by the river when she met Paul and his companions. She could have listened with interest and then moved on, grateful for the momentary food for thought. But instead, she was inspired to open her home to them and feed them back. Through this show of hospitality, Lydia opened herself to receive God’s hospitality as well.
As a dealer in purple dye, which was only used by the well to do, Lydia no doubt had ample resources to share with her new friends. Perhaps your home isn’t amenable to such a possibility. What are some other ways you can be ready to stretch your comfort level and extend hospitality to the stranger God places in your path?
Lately I’ve been reading the Bible to my 7-year-old daughter at bedtime. Occasionally we’ll come across the word “awesome,” and she’ll laugh at what seems to her a colloquial expression. Even I, in my youth, was distracted in church by the word “awesome,” a word my friends and I used to refer to just about anything we liked.
I have tried to explain to my daughter that the kind of “awe” we hear of in the Bible is a bit like fear, a bit like amazement, and a bit like gratitude. In today’s psalm, we pray, “May all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.” In a secular world in which people are as likely to chalk positive occurrences up to luck, karma or science as to God, it’s easy to forget what that “awesome” feeling is like.
Yet I think we have all felt it. We may have felt it while standing under a huge sky full of stars, or while on a boat in the middle of the ocean, or at the top of a canyon. We may have experienced it at the birth of our child, or when much-needed money appeared just in time, or when we have fallen in love. As people of faith, we credit God as the originator of all good gifts. This week, keep an eye out for those things in your life that are truly “awesome.”
Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
One morning when I was about 12 years old, I woke from the most amazing dream of my life. Inspired by C. S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia,” I dreamed I had died, along with my entire family, and that I found myself in a beautiful, sunny land with green, rolling hills. All my friends were there, and new friends as well. My brother and some other boys were playing together, had a disagreement, and got into a fight. But they found that their blows did nothing to harm each other, so they shrugged and stopped fighting. The great lion Aslan was there, too: he divided us into groups and had us sit down on the grass to eat together. We reached into our pockets and drew out as much food as we wanted. There were games and fun, and there were deep, important conversations. Above all, there was a growing realization that this was forever: that we would never have to be parted or miss anybody ever again, and that death was only a memory.
This dream felt like a promise, and it has sustained me ever since. I think this passage from the Revelation to John is intended to be a promise as well. In John’s vision, the very cosmos is changed: not only is there no need of a temple, but there is not even need of the moon or sun, for light pervades everything. There is no more war or fighting, for the very leaves of the trees are able to heal broken nations. The tree of life, which God prevented Adam and Eve from touching when he banished them from the garden, is now available to everyone. A river waters everything all around; perhaps it flows with the waters of baptism. In this place, we are all marked and sealed on our foreheads as God’s own forever. Today, rest in this promise and know that it is for you, too.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” These words are common on the lips of Jesus and of angels throughout the Bible: “Be not afraid.” But why on earth not? Am I not allowed to own my feelings? Life is terribly uncertain, and I have plenty to be afraid of! Jesus, would you deny me this honest experience?
Yet here is peace – peace of a kind the world does not and cannot give. Do you know what it is like, this peace that passes understanding? We may be tempted to wonder, “How can I attain this peace?” However, Jesus assures us that this peace is already in our possession. Perhaps the problem is in denying it is there.
The key seems to be keeping Jesus’ word. What does that mean? In the course of John’s gospel, it means following the new commandment that we “love one another” as Christ has loved us. When we live in love and for love, our actions unlock the very peace that we were not able to see in our fearfulness. “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). So which will you do first today: stop fearing, or start loving? Whichever you choose, Jesus tells us that one naturally leads to the other.