Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Perfectly Wide Place

Psalm 119:96  I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.


John 12:24-26 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.


I love the way the Daily Office juxtaposes bits of Scripture as it goes.  I don't know if this is intentional or not, but very often there are great insights to be gained by simply asking the question, "What does this have to do with this?"  Here's an example.


When Jesus is speaking to his disciples about his coming death he begins with a formula I am told always adds special emphasis.  The "truly, truly" (lit. amen, amen) is the New Testament equivalent of saying, "thus says the Lord" or "what I am about to tell you is absolute truth.  You can depend on it never varying."  


It is a law of science (well... plant science) that the only way you're going to get next years' harvest out of this years' harvest is by sacrificing a small portion of what you might otherwise have eaten.   We can't know if Jesus uttered this collection of sayings in sequence or if John grouped them together because of their affinity, but there are three sayings of assurance here.  The first we have already seen.  The second is that you can be assured that, like Dickens' Scrooge, if you guard your own life carefully you will never really live.  And the third tells us that, as my mother used to love to say, "there is no way out, but through."  Actually, in Christ, there is no way IN, but through the same sufferings, the same trials, the same radical obedience to the Father, that Jesus knew.  Those are the terms of discipleship, and they are a spiritual truth of the Universe.  


The last piece of what Jesus has to say is the promise that if you do these things, no matter what life looks like on the outside, the Father will honor you.


Now, what does all that have to do with Psalm 119?  Simply that Jesus has laid before us the truth that embracing Death yields Life, every time.  That is a "perfection", a completeness, a truth.  My flesh recoils at that thought.  I don't want to die.  I don't want self to die in favor of Jesus in me.  It sounds so limiting.  It sounds like I will lose control, and I don't like that.  But IF I am willing to lose control, IF I am willing to die, what results is like very like an experience I once had when I was in Istanbul.


We had taken a ferry up the Bosphorus (the strait that separates Europe from Asia at this point), and had landed in a small fishing village at the very top of the strait.  At this point the strait is quite narrow, like taking a trip up the Mississippi around St. Louis.   I think the name of the town we docked at is Anado Feneri.  


In town we were told there was an old Roman garrison at the top of a hill just outside town.  So we began to walk up a very steep grade, through a residential district.  We followed the signs for about 20 minutes until we came to a place that looked like a park.  At the end of a sidewalk at the top of the final hill was a set of ruins.  There wasn't much to them, really.  When we got there I was kind of mad that I had walked all this way just to see the outline of a small fort.  It would have been so easy to take a couple of pictures and conclude that this rather dead, badly taken care of, graffiti-marked old ruin was all there was.  


We decided to scale the ruin anyway.  Even on the back side, higher up still, all seemed pretty much overgrown and dead.  We stepped back a bit further to get a good look at the fort from a distance, turned, and then came our reward: a commanding view of the entire south end of the Baltic Sea.  It was massive.  It took our breath away!  Now we understood why the fort was there and what its purpose had been.  Here, at the end of a very steep and boring climb was one of the most spectacular views on earth.  


The way of abandoning what I want to what God wants is just so: my options may seem to be becoming more and more limited; the reasons why I'm even taking the trip become more and more unclear; the law of death seems to be the only truth around me.  And then a wide place opens up -- so wide that the scene cannot be taken in by human eye.  


There's a wideness in God's mercy like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in his justice which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood.



--Frederick W. Faber (1862)


Jon


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