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  • Writer's pictureChurch of the Incarnation

Easter 4: "because he had the power to raise himself and came for me"

I got a phone call from my former housemate. We met through trail running and he had needed a place to stay and I had one so offered it to him. It was supposed to be for 6 weeks but stretched into five years. This friend, Tim, knew what I did for a living, but he was a pretty avowed atheist.

And yet, over time we had some really deep discussions: what is truth, how can we have any certainty about what we think we know, is there objective value to the world and if so, how can one determine that, vs just ending up with one’s own subjective interpretation of value.

Tim didn’t follow the typical path of going to college or university and then getting a job and then another and another and so on. He was never able to really find his place in the world and hopped around from joe job to joe job. It’s not that he was unintelligent or lazy. My sense was that he was desperate for a deep, abiding, central purpose that wasn’t about selling things or services. And this caused him a kind of melancholy, as if he was utterly desperate for truth, but kept finding what we called, ‘empty ghosts of meaning,’ that is, the shallow, subjective value or meaning that our particular culture assigns to things at any given time. Eventually Tim moved out and we drifted apart and he seemed to go off the map, as it were.

Then I got a phone call from him, a voicemail, to be exact, saying, “I really need to talk.” So we connected. “How are you,” I asked. He said, “where to begin.” Where he had been was in a place of darkness which I would characterize as being like the desert where the Israelites wandered for 40 days. He described a sense of losing hope, of losing any meaning for being alive. He would go to bed earlier and earlier, to the point he was sleeping most of the day. He told me he kept asking, “why am I here, nothing matters; everything seems like a fake construct that everyone pretends is real. But none of it matters.” And I sensed a kind of giving up of trying to find purpose or meaning, of just drifting, of no longer having the will to try and control anything, not of being suicidal per se, but rather, of being whittled down, stripped, the chaff of self direction burned to the ground.

And then, he said, when I was at my end, not knowing where to turn or what to do, I prayed to God like I did when I was a child in Catholic school: “I am here. Where are you?” He woke up the next day and said that he went out for a walk in the woods where he usually does and had a striking, mind blowing experience of encountering Jesus, like Paul on the road to Damascus. It wasn’t a hallucination; it wasn’t a projection of his mind; it wasn’t even a vision. Rather, it was just a startling presence that affected his sight and his hearing: “I know that what I heard and saw could be no one other than Jesus.”

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me.”

The first thing I asked Tim was, “you have spent your whole life fighting against religion, especially Christianity. What do you make of what happened?” Tim said to me, “I tried on every other shoe the world has invented - science, humanism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Capitalism, Socialism, Islam, philosophy,” but the only one who came after me not just through my mind, through ideas, but who came after me right into my heart and mind and into my eyes and ears, was the one who is me, a man, but who is also not me, who has a power that no one else and nothing else seems to have: the God who created me.

Only this one named Jesus had the power to come into this world as one of us. Only this one named Jesus had the power to lay down his life, take on my brokenness and raise himself up so that I might be raised with him. And only he has written that power and love and desire so deeply into me that I couldn’t rest until I could possess him in my heart and mind. No idea, no religious figure, no words, no deity spoken of has ever come for me, held me, pulled me out of myself and whittled me down so that I might stop fighting like everyone else to go my own way into meaningless subjective constructions of reality.

Nothing and no one has ever had the power to come after me and shake off my old ways and show me and cause me to hear and know in one instant, the perfection of all that is. It was only a moment. But that momentary taste, sight, sound, is Jesus and now I have nowhere else I can go but to know him more deeply. That is it and it is everything. 

And as he continued to talk it was as if scales were falling from his eyes and his ears had been unstopped quite literally. As he talked, my own faith was rejuvenated; the sharp edges of my cynicism and frustration were sanded down so that I might persevere in the sheepfold path God has set out for me. As Tim talked, he recounted all these moments in his life which he could see in a whole new way: moments God was knitting together to draw, cajole, correct, to press me where I didn’t really want to go.” Your rod and your staff they comfort me, O Lord. 

God’s ways and God’s timing are perfect. We are not perfect. And so when these two things collide, God’s action can seem sudden and utterly, gobsmackingly profound. Yet as our Psalm and Gospel lay out for us, like a shepherd tending a flock, the Father is always present with us, drawing us in his Son, through the power of the Spirit, to himself. We are never left to wander endlessly. God does not coerce but rather exercises his power in love to open our eyes and ears and hearts and minds when we, in our often very confused minds, are able and willing to bear encountering him. AMEN. 

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