March 11, 2012

Roadblocks


We’ve been looking at the Roads to Home this Lent as we follow Jesus on the way to Jerusalem. When Jesus called his disciples to ‘follow me’ it was a dramatic catalyst in their lives. In fact, it was rather like the tornado that swept Dorothy off to Oz. At first everything seems wonderful. The disciples bask in the reflected glory of their Rabbi and Dorothy steps out into the delightful bright Land of Oz.
However, what happens just when things seem to be going well? Often something happens that brings you up short and causes you to question whether or not you are really going in the right direction. Roadblocks can be resistance from others, or outright rage directed at you or things just don’t fall into place like you expected and planned.
For Dorothy this happens when she realizes that her house fell on one witch and another witch is angry with her. The disciples learn that not everyone is as fond of Jesus as they are, too, when he is confronted by some scribes in Capernaum. It is a rather dramatic scene.
“When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, ‘Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic— ‘I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.’ And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’” (Mark 2:1-12)
The man’s friends are persistent and desperate to get him help from this Healer. They hoist him up to the roof and dig through the rushes, clay and mud to open a hole in the roof. Then they lower him into the crowd. Have you ever wondered what the thoughts of the man were as he dangles downward into the midst of the gathering? Hope, embarrassment, fear, anticipation…? Jesus knows his real need and tells him “your sins are forgiven.” Notice, this is before he is told to walk. Sins can paralyze us just as much as physical ailments.
Lent is a good time to look at those things that keep us from fully living into our life in Christ. We may not have big, dramatic Sins, but we each nurture the little sins of selfishness, fear, despair, jealousy, etc. that can layer themselves so gradually on our hearts and souls that we don’t even notice them. These roadblocks harden our hearts so that we are not open to the call of God. The man let down through the roof was physically trapped in his body and unable to move because of his sins. Our sins can keep us from stepping out in faith to be all that God wants us to be.
Sin can keep us trapped and unable to move. Resistance to our work and ministry can make us doubt ourselves. We may want to run away and hide. Dorothy decides that Oz is not as wonderful as she thought and she tells Glinda that she wants to go home.
Naomi decides that, bad as things were in Bethlehem, they were better than living in a foreign land as a widow with no sons. In my book Naomi’s Joy, Naomi is a sad woman, burdened by the deaths of her husband and sons. Then she makes a decision, that frees her from the inertia of dwelling on the bad things in her life and provides the impetus for her to find her faith again. She thinks she is going home to Bethlehem to die and believes she is giving up. God however, sees the opportunity in her turning toward home and is ready to met her. God meets us when we turn to him, too.
That night I walked out of our house. My footsteps took me in the direction of the graves of Elimelech and my sons.
“What am I to do?” I asked the barren ground. With my teeth gritted I looked up at the starry sky. “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have I not been chastised enough? I obey all your commands, even in this foreign land. You take from me all that I love and now you make me abandon those I love as daughters. In order to spare them death from poverty, I must leave so they will look for new husbands to care for them. Do you offer no hope?”
There was only silence in the night. Far away a dog barked. My heart was empty. I did not have the courage to walk away from my home into the barren desert even to spare Ruth and Orpah. With plodding steps I turned from the graves. At the edge of town I paused. A trader’s camp was set up ready for the morning business.
A tiny hope flickered in me. “I will do it.”
For the rest of the night I sat outside our small house. My jaw was set. There were no tears, only a cold resolve fueled by anger at the God who abandoned me. My course was set.
For Naomi and Dorothy, and for the disciples, the real road is just beginning. They have a long journey ahead of them filled with dangers and opportunities. Tempting though it is to run away when the ‘going gets tough’, a better solution is to look to “Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” for strength and guidance. The rest of that Hebrews 12:2 citation reminds us that Jesus’ way wasn’t easy, but “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Can you look at the looming ‘roadblocks’ in your life as opportunities from God for new growth, new ministry, and new strength? Can you see God is all the ‘problems’ you encounter, be they witches or confrontational scribes or loneliness or sins?
God does not leave us to face trials and tribulations alone. It is in community, with friends, that we find encouragement to step out on the more difficult journeys of our lives. Next time we'll look at the community each of our travelers found.

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