Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: March 2011

Jesus Opens Blind Eyes, Deaf Ears and Mute Lips

Jesus Opens Blind Eyes, Deaf Ears and Mute Lips
Lent 3, 2010 – Luke 11:14-28, Ephesians 5:1-14
Doug Floyd

This is a teaching from Lent 3.

In our Ephesians reading today, Paul exhorts us to “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Christ loved us. Gave Himself up for us. Gave us His Spirit to make us lovers in His Image.

We are images of God, and we are on a journey toward the fullness of love.

We are on festal journey. We travel toward a great feast, in fact, the greatest feast of all. But first, we pass through the desert. In some ways, Lent may likened to the journey through the valley of the shadow of death on the way to the feast of feasts. We follow in the steps of Christ Jesus, who for the joy before him endured the cross.

He calls us. “Take up your cross and follow me.”

During Lent, we pay particular attention to this command that always resounds before and within us. We meditate upon the desert places. We reflect upon the wilderness temptation, and the fight with the evil one. The Spirit led our sweet Lord into the wilderness to be tested. He leads us into wilderness places to test us, to teach us, to perfect us, and to glorify us. Today, some of us are truly immersed in a wilderness passages and times of great struggle. Others in our company are enjoying fullness of soul and times of great victory.

We enter the Lenten journey from different places. Some know first hand a barrenness of soul, the ache of God’s refining fire. Others know first hand the sweet bliss of God’s renewing love.

From our different places, we come together on Lenten journey. Paying heed to the rhythm of descent and ascent. There is a time to break down, a time to weep, a time to mourn, there is a time to die. During Lent, we pay heed to these times and to our weakness and desperate need for a Savior.

Like the Children of Israel, we are learning that “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the Lord.” We are all catechumens. We all stand before the Lord, waiting, listening, trusting His Spirit to “sound down” His Word into our hearts.

Today as we wait and watch and listen, we meet Jesus casting out a demon. Verse 14 of Luke 11 reads, “Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled.”

This verse captures the heart of our story.

Jesus speaks, the demon flees, the mute talks, the crowd marvels.

Jesus speaks,
the demon flees,
the mute talks,
the crowd marvels.

Even as the crowd marvels, there are voices of dissent. Some people cry out, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul!” Others cry out, “Show us a sign that you are truly from heaven.”

Even as the people behold Jesus casting out the mute demon, they do not see. They cannot see. They are blind. Blind to the Sign in their midst. Jesus Himself is all the Sign needed. Jesus Himself is YHWH in the midst. But they are blind.

So very blind. They call the Lord of Glory, the servant of Beelzebul. The intoxication of sin has blinded them, and they cannot see.

They cannot hear. The Word of God is fully enfleshed in their midst. But they cannot hear him.

He declares, “The kingdom of heaven has come upon you.”

For centuries, their people waited and watched and longed for the coming of the kingdom. For centuries, they cried aloud, they called out, they looked for the Messiah. Now the one and only King has come, but they cannot see, will not see. They cannot hear, will not hear.

They even fail to speak. For as Jesus casts out the mute demon, they do not open their lips and offer praise to the Most High. Instead, they curse and challenge. Their words fall like dead letters to the ground.

Jesus, the strong man, has come to drive out the demons and take his spoil. Jesus, the strong man has come to gather His people unto Himself, but these people want to scatter.

He warns them of their own perilous condition. Their houses, their lives, their souls may appear to be swept clean, may appear to be righteous, may appear to be holy and true, but in fact, they are in utter peril. Without the strong man to protect, deliver, restore and heal them, their law-keeping cannot protect them from the evil one who comes to ravage their souls.

Earlier Jesus exhorted His listeners to ask, seek, knock. Earlier Jesus encouraged His listeners to ask the Father to send the Spirit. But these people choose to heed the serpent instead. They’ve waged a war of words with the only Lover of their souls.

Even those who are sympathetic to the work of Christ, fail to see. A woman cries out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!”

Jesus replies, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!”

The Word of God is true meat, true drink, and true life for the soul. But the blind cannot see this bounty. The deaf cannot hear of this treasure. The mute fail to ask and fail offer thanks for these good gifts of God.

Like their ancient ancestors, many in this crowd will die wandering at the border of God’s Promised Land.

Lord Jesus, have mercy, come and save us your sinners as we trod these dry and dusty paths. Have mercy as we ourselves fail to see, fail to hear, fail to speak. Have mercy and save us from dying of thirst before the fountain of life. For You alone have the words of eternal life.

When Jesus speaks all creation stands in rapt attention. His Word cannot, will not return void. For all things are created in and through Him. And in Him alone we live and move and have our being. His Word is the water that springs from the Rock, quenching our thirsty hearts. His Word is the sweet milk and honey fattening our souls. His Word is the wine of comfort and wisdom in our hour of need.

When Jesus speaks, the demon flees. The church has often understood desert wastelands as places where the demons inhabit. These are the places outside of God’s promised land. Again and again, God’s people cross these fierce landscapes on their way to the holy city.

In these wild places, they face temptation. They face struggle. They face trial. In these forsaken haunts, they find solace and strength only in the True Bread and True Wine flowing out from the Word of the Lord. In these desert valleys, they also discover their own blindness, deafness, muteness.

Jesus meets his people in these desert valleys and opens blind eyes, deaf ears and mute lips.

Jesus gave Pearl Fryar eyes to see. He gave him eyes to see the wonder of the world all around him. Mr. Fryar lives in Bishopville, NC. He’s a simple man. He worked at a soda can factory for most of his life. One day in the 1980s, he began to see. As he passed the local nursery, he saw a pile a dying plants being thrown away.

He saw something else. He saw that these plants could live. The nursery allowed him to take home the plants they threw away. Mr. Fryar wasn’t trained in Horticulture, but he could see. He could what these plants could be, might be, would be. With his loving care, over many years, these plants would not only live but thrive and become glorious.

This man saw the goodness of our Lord’s creation and planted a garden of Love, Peace and Goodness. He literally planted these words at the heart of his garden. He created shapes out of plants like hearts and squares and circles and swirls. He created a garden of wonder, of playfulness, of joy.

His vision changed his lawn, his city, his state and has even impacted his nation. Newspapers and television stations from across the country came to behold this wonder. Art museums, schools, churches and families came to walk through his garden of love.

Mr. Pearl began see and now many people travel from around the world to come and see a simple garden through his loving, worshipful eyes.

Jesus gave St Anthony ears to hear. Walking past the open door of a church, he heard the voice of the preacher repeating the words of Jesus to the rich young ruler, “Sell all you have, give to the poor, and come follow me.”

So he did.

He walked away from the comforts of the city and followed Jesus into the dangers of the desert. He was not running away, but running to. He was running to the voice of the Lord. And the Lord called him into the wastelands of the world.

So Anthony went into to the heart of darkness, feasting only upon the Word of the Lord.

If you’ve read the tales, you know the story. He faced all sorts of evil spirits and torments. But our Lord was faithful. Our Lord sustained Him, strengthened and gave him the victory.

Anthony heard the Lord and followed. Generations of men and women continue to follow Anthony into the wilderness, planting communities of faith in the wasteland.

Jesus gave the ancient Celts lips to praise God. They trained their tongues to praise the Lord, using the Psalms of God’s people. When they wrote a poem, they began by writing a psalm of praise unto the Lord.

Then they praised the birds of the air, the water below, and the tree before. All the time, the praise of God echoed through every poem. They praised the king, the warrior, the farmer and the mother.

In every word of praise, a double sound went forth: praise to the creation and the creatures as well as praise to the Lord Most High. They are still singing.

Bobi Jones, a 20th century poet, began to praise every person and place around him. He looked at a dreary bus conductor and wondered how can I praise this almost lifeless man? And then he did. Bobi writes,

A Bus Conductor

There’s no mystery in him: I put my hand
In his heart,—knock: I saw how sickly
Living was. Black-framed glasses, jaunty, shallow,
As grey-faced as a shop’s passion.
……………………………………………….
He knows nothing but a bus. “Tickets please.”
To death, to sweetheart, to agony.
A person’s a shilling, and two pence change.
“Tickets please” to the springtime, to autumn—
Stop. Oh Christ-where-there’s-no-field-without-scar,
Red-without-blood, trees-without-roots! Nothing but a bus!

Under slate-coloured brows, his eyes are dust
Lacking the explosion of seeing, lacking the taste of looking,
lacking.
Is God to be found in them?
……………………………………………….
Oh God: bus, pools, food, pint, boys, cash, grave.
What shall we love in him? Unless love the lack.
The lack that anchors everyone. Since we all give loaves
And fishes to Christ, and He turns them into an immense creation.

Pearl Fryar had eyes to see the glory of the Lord in the plants around Him. St Anthony had ears to hear the call of Christ in the desert places. Bobi Jones had a song to sing to world around him.

Oh that we might see, might hear, might speak.

During this Lenten journey, we focus on the Lord’s calling into the wilderness. The Spirit is leading, guiding us through the perils of the desert. He leads us through the valley of the shadow of death.

This deadly valley saps our strength. The deserts and struggles of our lives humble us, expose us, defeat us.

We grow weary. We lose heart. He is not faithless. He will not forsake.

The desert reveals our blind eyes. We no longer see the wonder of the Lord all round us. We fail to see his goodness and see only our losses, our needs, our disappointments.

The desert reveals our deaf ears. We no longer hear the vital life of His Word. We think it has grown dull. It is we who have grown dull and fail to hear the Power of God that booms out from His Word.

The desert reveals our mute tongues. We have no praise to bring Him. Instead of new songs, we sing old songs of complaint and despair.

In the midst of our struggles, Jesus speaks. He speaks to you. He speaks to me. He frees us from the power of the evil one.

He calls out,

“Awake, O sleeper
Arise from the dead
Christ will shine on you!”

In our weariness, He comes. In our struggle, He comes. In our lack, He comes. In our faithlessness, He comes.

He comes with healing in His wings.

Come Lord Jesus open eyes to behold you, to behold your glory in all creation, to behold your Image in the people around us.

Come Lord Jesus open our ears to hear. To hear your voice in the Word, in liturgy, and in the path you’ve called us to walk.

Come Lord Jesus open our lips to praise.

O for a thousand tongues to sing our Great Redeemer’s praise!
O come let us worship God our King.
O come let us worship and fall down before Christ our King and God.
O come let us worship and fall down before Christ Himself, our King and God.

In the name of Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bearing the Name in Babylon Pt 3

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
(Numbers 6:22-27 ESV)

Becoming the Blessed Peace
In this blessed assurance we rest in the midst of wild animals encircling the wasteland, then we hear yet another blessing, “the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Even as God’s people stand face to face with the enemies of God, they are enveloped in the favor and peace of God.

Daniel faces the cold, cruelty of Babylonian rule as he falls into a den of Lions. But he can Sabbath while surrounded by vicious animals. They are at peace for the Shalom of God is in their midst.

Daniel reminds of us of yet one more mystery concerning those who bear the Name. The Name Bearers, the Children of God, the Favored Ones, bear the Name on behalf of the enemies of God. Just as Jesus fully bears the Name before the enemies of God, thus removing the enmity between God and man, Daniel bears the Name before those who oppose the Holy One and removes the enmity between them and God. Nebuchadnezzar repents. Darius calls out to Daniel and then to the Lord Most High.

When the faithful fall into Babylon, the Glory of the Lord does not depart from them. Instead, they bear the Glory as Shining Lights in the midst of a dark land. When God’s people are dispersed and driven into the desert places, they build a city of refuge. The Lord sends them out to bear His Name in dark places, and they become peacemakers, joymakers, lovemakers.

Think of the woman Jesus meets at the well. He speaks the word of life, convicting her while restoring her. She immediately runs to her village “bearing” good news. She becomes a joymaker, a peacemaker, a true lovemaker, revealing the Good, Good News of Jesus Christ.

Like this blessed woman, like the faithful shining out in Babylon, we realize that we shine out in place where we are standing. In Christ, we bear the weight of the Holy Name, we behold the Shining Face, we become the Blessed Peace. Living in and through His blessing, we become His blessing in the midst of wasted and warring places.

Bearing the Name in Babylon Pt 2

Beholding the Shining Face
The Lord also promises to “make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” Even as the faithful fall into Babylon, the promise of His Shining Face remains. Ezekiel beholds this Shining Glory on the banks of the Chebar canal. Standing alongside the captives, in the midst of the dark land, Ezekiel beholds the glory of the Lord.

This is the glory of the holy mountain coming down into the valley of the shadow of death. Moses is called up the mountain to behold the glory. It is from this place of beholding the Lord that Moses speaks the Law and proclaims the Word of the Lord to the Children of Israel.

In obedience to the Lord, Israel builds a Tabernacle and later a Temple where the glory of the Lord will dwell among His people. This glory is His favor, His intimacy, His presence. The Tabernacle and later the Temple serve as Mountains of the Lord. In fact, the Temple is built on Mt Zion. For the mountain is the place where man ascends between heaven and earth to behold the glory of the Lord.

This is the Aaronic blessing that the LORD “make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” Long after the Temple burns and the mountain is far, far away, Ezekiel beholds the Shining Face. The blessing of the Name,the burden of the Name is the promise of God’s faithful presence even in the place of judgment. His people may enter into judgment of captivity, but He will join them in the land of the alien gods.

His Ever-Shining Face glorifies His people even as they suffer in the land of darkness. Paul knows the glory of the Shining Face in persecution, in suffering, in prison and even in despair. In 2 Corinthians, he expounds the depths of his suffering and wasting away while at the same exalting in the glory of the Shining Face that grows ever brighter even as Paul is growing ever weaker.

The desert, the prison, the dark places cannot extinguish the promise of His Shining Face, his gracious love that covers us, sustains us, renews us, and glorifies us. Though we face death all the day long nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

Bearing the Name in Babylon, Part 1

Deserted (used by permission via Flickr)

When Jerusalem falls, the faithful fall alongside her. Their homes are burned, their treasures are lost, their families are taken into captivity. Those who heeded the words of the prophets stumble alongside those who ignored the words of the prophets. They bear the judgment together.

They bear the Name of the Lord on the banks in Babylon. They carry the weight of His Glory even as while stumbling into the wilderness. The Name of the Lord is not a magic talisman to ward off suffering and pain. It is the gift of Covenant with the Most High even in the midst of the desert waste places. Over 1,000 years earlier, as the Children of Israel crossed the wilderness into the Land of Future Promise, the sons of Aaron were instructed to put the Name of the Lord upon the people.

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
(Numbers 6:22-27 ESV)

A dark day comes when the faithful few must leave the Land of Future Promise behind. They walk by way of the wilderness into captivity. Jesus also walks by way of the wilderness into captivity. The Spirit leads Him into the wasteland to be tempted. The Spirit leads Him into the captivity of the tomb.

When Jesus invites His disciples to “follow Me,” He invites them and us to follow Him to the cross. He calls us to follow even when the sky darkens, the land trembles and the future promise fades.

He calls us to follow where we do not want to go. I think back the faithful few walking into the jaws of Babylon. They carry the weight of God’s three-fold blessing:

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Bearing the Holy Name
The Hebrew word for bless carries the idea of the kneeling. The blessing is much like the giving of a name. The people kneel and receive a blessing, a naming. The good parent names their child with the hopes of seeing the child grow into that name. The name is a word of praise, a word of goodness, a call.

In one sense, our names call us forward into the future. My parents called me, Douglas. When I hear the name called, I respond. The name calls me. And in the end of my life, the name will be filled with the content of my life.

At the same time, my father also recognized me as his son, and gave me his family name Floyd. Thus I am part of a family that reaches across time. Douglas Floyd bears both the particularity of my own life and the connection to a greater whole, a people who preceded me and will live after me.

In much the same way, the Children of Israel bear a particular name as well as the Name of the Lord.

In Egypt, the ancient Hebrews are slaves. Nameless ones. Fatherless children. The Lord names them, “Children of Israel.” His naming is a blessing. His blessing is a calling. His calling is so effectual that no power can resist, not even the god Pharaoh can stand in the way. In fact, those who try to stop the call or prevent the call (including Pharaoh) are destroyed in the process.

This is the power of the Name. The Lord “calls out” His people, Israel. Over the centuries, they will fill out this Name and give it content.

At the same, the Lord gives this people His Covenant Name. They are part of a greater whole, the “called out” family of faith across time and space called to bear His Name. They have no image of the Lord. Only the Name. They bear the Name as His children.

When Jesus comes, He bears the Name completely. He fulfills the name of Israel and the Name of the LORD in His life, death and resurrection. This royal name of Israel can finally be understood in light of Jesus.

Jesus also calls out a nameless people. These people are not slaves in Egypt, but they are slaves to evil and corruption. He calls them out from every tribe and nation. They are the “ekklesia,” the called out ones. He names them as his own, as his friends, as his chosen ones:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
(John 15:16 ESV)

His disciples then and now are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. They are named as His own and He will keep them–even through the baptism of fire. Those who bear the Name of the Lord bear it into the midst of a world that is out of order, bear into the heart of struggle and suffering, bear in the face of the enemies of God. But the ever faithful Lord promises to keep them. He will guard them, seal them, protect them and lead them into glory.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
(Jude 1:24-25 ESV)

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