Bringing the far near

Grover from Sesame Street made me laugh out loud when he explained the difference between near and far.

There was a skit where he would stand close to the camera and tell the kids “this is near” and then run, huffing and puffing, far away, until he looked small and yell from a place nearly off screen “this is far.”

This went on more comically each time as he would make the trip back and forth, out of breath, clarifying for watchers the difference between the two.

Life operates oddly within these realms. Sometimes things seem far away and like they cannot affect me, in the here and now, in the closeness of near.

Death is one of those things. It seems so far removed, a future reality that’s out there somewhere though not affecting this moment. Until it does.

And the nearness can be nearly suffocating.

Then a week like last week happens. A beautiful high school senior named Grace dies on a winding Georgia road, a faithful servant named Ralph quietly crosses over from the arms of his beautiful bride to the very presence of Jesus and children in a school are brutally assaulted in a place where they should only be safe.

The far comes near.

The outward, physical reality succumbs to every worst inward fear.

Life is swallowed by death and what we want near seems oh-so-far.

These are the times that it looks like grace is gone and we are alienated, strangers in a hostile world.

It is a world that is hard and unbending and unwilling to dwell on grace and truth.

Social media, regular media, have only magnified the underlying ruin of sin that erodes communities, society, the world at large.

When the now becomes engulfed in the nearness of hostility, of death, it is easy to feel crushed and defeated.

We fight back and defend and know that something is missing. There has to be a solution, answers.

The natural inclination is to fix it.

Let’s find the problem and eliminate it by changing some things. We have this power, we think.

There must be some blame for a crash—the road is too dangerous, the speed limit too high.

A doctor can run some more tests, find a new treatment, prescribe a new medicine.

There must be some kind of law to put in place that will stop people from shooting kids, shooting each other. Take away guns, work on mental health issues.

There has to be something we can change that will keep hostility, even death, at bay, far away.

Even in the solution-seeking, we cannot escape the hostility because everyone has an answer. Laws and arguments are convoluted at best.

Solution-seeking devolves to conflict and we seem to thrive on the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality.

People pick sides and not one another. We are desperate and we know our way is the way and the result is heavy, sad and not what anyone really longs for.

At the very core, we want life.

It has eluded us since we chose to live apart from the Creator of all life.

So when JP talks more about Ephesians 2 and reads: “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” hope wells again within.

I only have one sermon my brother says. It is always only Jesus, he says.

Not long before the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, Mary anointed him with nard, or spikenard. It was an expensive oil used traditionally to prepare someone for burial.

At the time Jesus was very much alive in this world and the disciples were indignant over the waste of something so valuable and the death of their leader seemed only a distant, far off notion.

They protested and insisted it would’ve been better spent on the poor somewhere far, not near and now, on this lowly king.

Spikenard is made from a flowering plant that grows in places like Nepal and Kumaon in the Himalayas. To extract the oil, the underground stems are crushed and made into the powerful, aromatic oil. It is expensive.

This King made man was also crushed so we no longer have to be.

I realize that Mary was giving away more than oil of significant value in John 12. She was worshipping by pouring out, giving away what was costly to her. Could she have known that He would be crushed and the sacrifice would be the one pleasing aroma to God?

Then I think this is what is required to heal hurt, bring strangers near, to even conquer death.

We must follow Mary’s lead which is Jesus’ lead and pour ourselves out for one another.

It is a costly venture, but we have the single most valuable gift to share that will help prepare others for burial.

Grace is not gone.

There is life still and it comes only when we’ve poured out the one true gift, revealed it through love for others to see, to understand.

At the end of a week full of earthly death, I was grocery shopping. Nothing enticing, not a what I’d call a good time. But that particular Friday, there was no school and two of my boys went along.

On the frozen aisle of Walmart, my 7-year-old stopped me to say that he asked Jesus to save him that morning.

We’d been discussing this gift of eternal life for the last several days over The Chronicles of Narnia and the approach of Easter.

Holding my hand with a wide smile, he stared up at me.

My brother has it right.

There is the only one sermon worth preaching, every day and with all of our lives.

It is the one sermon that will bring the far near without fear, without worry.

It is the sermon that brings all of us who were far near to the cross.

It is the one sermon that will kill hostility for it crushed a King and it doesn’t end with a burial but with a resurrection and reconciliation.

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But God

I love to floss.
My husband often says that I do it too much and when I visit a dentist I like to mention that. 
“You can’t floss too much,” the hygienist will counter and I will nod in arrogant agreement.
This latest checkup, however, reveals what a clean, white exterior will not.
There is decay beneath the pretty sheen of a crowned tooth.
Somehow the rot got in, under, beneath the pleasant exterior. The x-ray unveiled the sham, it acknowledged what was lurking below.
That tooth may need a root canal. 
The underlying decay will eventually cause pain, an unrelenting kind, as the nerve warns of a tooth that is headed for death unless there is intervention.
I was taken back by the revelation and gravely disappointed.
My brother stands at the front of our church building during worship service and tells us all that sin has gotten into everything. 
All of the world is affected, infected.
I think of my tooth.
It is something I know and firmly believe and even more so the older I grow and this is only one more depressing reminder.
There is no escaping in this lifetime the awful effects of sin. And sin, like the underlying decay, hastens death be it physical, or worse, spiritual.
Those who do not know that they know this, still actually do. 
There may be no conscious acknowledgement, but when a Super Bowl commercial for a pickup truck has to tell people we are created equal and can accomplish great things, it is blatantly obvious that something here is broken.
We have lost our way.
Lost because we do not understand this place, our place.
When early astronomers did not yet understand the proper orbit of the planets or that the planets rotated around the sun, not the earth, the numbers simply did not add up.
Johannes Kepler set straight the idea of planetary motion when he discovered the course was elliptical not round just as Nicolaus Copernicus had done when recognizing the sun was the center, not the earth. Scientific observations of planets in motion did not make sense until these basics were established and acknowledged.
The sin that infects and invades can be traced to that moment we took our lives out of their proper orbit.
When God gave Adam and Eve a choice, they—we—did not choose well.
Their choice removed creator God, Center of the universe, from His proper place. 
When we chose self, we subverted the design. As each generation ignores this reality, we make the sinner the center and the numbers do not add up.
Now nothing moves or operates in the way in which it was designed. 
God created, designed, loved and allowed a choice. The moment that choice meant redefining the proper course of all bodies, all of the universe tilted away from the Son.
To accommodate that shift, the world grows weary with propping itself upon the visible, the instant glory and gratification.
There is a grasping at any and all to tilt, to shift things back to a way that they make sense, to a way to balance the weight.
We know things are off-kilter, we sense that the weight is unbearable, but to straighten things out, to bear things up?
As long as the sinner is in the center, there is no possible way. 
After Copernicus and Kepler, Sir Isaac Newton would again enlighten minds.
Newton’s  first law of motion: Every body perseveres in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed theron.
In and of ourselves, we will continue in the way that we are going—even when we know it isn’t right. 
After the poor choice of a gardener and his wife, depravity became the norm.
The misalignment throws the weight off and balance is lost. Wickedness prevails as bodies continue in uniform motion.
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts o this heart was only evil continually,” Genesis 6:5.
“And you were dead in the responses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Ephesians 2:1-3.
That is the sheer horror of sin. There is no way to break out of the pattern of this continual uniform motion.
Death is inevitable.
Then two of the greatest gospel words offer that glimmer of hope, the hope of an outside force in a sin-wracked, lost, decaying world: But God.
Verses 4-6 of Ephesians 2 is the force that compels the change by impressing upon us.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages hie might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
When God saw that every thought was evil and began again with Noah and a flood, Genesis 8:1tells us: “But God remembered Noah and all of the beasts and all of the livestock that were with him in the ark.”
When depravity was the norm, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5).
When the rot and decay have reached the sinner at the center, there is death. 
When the Son inhabits His rightful place at the center, His own death will lift the unbearable weight and the sinner will not be crushed.
The weight that is too much for the sinner at the center, the nerve that cries out in pain—these are the mercy of God at work in our lives. 
The disappointment comes.
The flood destroys.
The flaming sword protects the way back to the tree of life.
The wrath, the death, the struggle all actually point to the way of life.
Before a tooth dies, there is a lot of pain, warning cries. There is a reminder that grows day by day as it is ignored until finally it is unbearable.
When the decay reaches the center, it brings death. And while we may prop it up and even wear a crown of our own, there is no relief until an outside force unveils and restores the decay.
Relief is restored when the weary sinner sets down that weighty burden of the center.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-10