What Could Rest Have to Do With Repentance?

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Is 31:15)

As we enter the final two weeks of Lent we will look at the concept of rest together. I’m not sure that we can truly rest without repentance. Before we look at rest, maybe we should first consider why Isaiah might’ve put have these two words of repentance and rest together.

What could rest have to do with repentance? I have no answers, but instead more questions. If we’re not experiencing rest today, how can we expect to receive it tomorrow without some sort of a change? Further, how could we experience rest if we don’t rethink our lives/ reevaluate and make a change? Isn’t that the definition of insanity we have heard our whole lives, doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result?

As I mentioned a few weeks ago (link) repentance (metanoia) in its most fundamental understanding is change (meta) of mind (nous). I’m going to lean on Richard Rohr for his understanding of this change. Rohr says, “Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity. It did not need changing. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God! God is not someone to be afraid of but is the Ground of Being and on our side.” What Rohr seems to be addressing not only relates to repentance, but also to rest. Specifically, that last statement, “God is not someone to be afraid of but is the Ground of Being and on our side.” As long as we remain afraid of God, believing that He is either out to get us or has left us to figure out life on our own, we cannot rest. Augustine puts it this way,

Because you have made us for Yourself,

and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee.

Augustine, Confessions, 1.1.1.

As we look at the concept of rest for the remainder or Lent, perhaps a word to keep coming back to is the word Augustine references, restlessness. We will pick up there later this week.

Jesus and Salvation

As we continue through Lent and consider how repentance and rest are connected to salvation, it could be surprising to learn that Jesus does not talk about salvation very often. He only mentions the word salvation (σωτηρία) twice. He mentions it to a woman he encounters at a well, and to a man named Zacchaeus. We’ll look together at Jesus’ interaction with Zacheaus.

At first reading of Luke 19:1-9 it could seem like Zacchaeus experienced salvation because he gave his money to the poor. This is how it reads:

“But Zacchaeus himself stopped and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I will give half my property to the poor. And if I have swindled anybody out of anything I will pay him back four times as much,”Jesus said to him, ‘Salvation has come to this house today…!'”

It’s nice and tidy, which is how Ilike things. The formula goes like this: Zaccheaus realizes he is a sinner, makes a decision to do something about it and Jesus offers him salvation. That makes sense in my linear mind. A deeper look at the story provides another consideration on salvation.

“When Jesus came to the place (where Zaccheaeus was in the tree), He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheaus, hurry and come down, for TODAY I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him (Jesus) gladly.”

Jesus makes this statement about today before Zaccheaus commits to any sort of change in his life. Jesus mentions TODAY a second time in the story here:

“And Jesus said to him, ‘TODAY salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham.'”

According to Jesus, salvation came to Zaccheaus because of who he was, not what he did. Could it be that salvation came to him TODAY because Zaccheaus was already part of God’s family, he just didn’t know it. The day he welcomed Jesus into his home, his life, more importantly, once Zaccheaus realized who he was (a child of God) salvation became a reality for him.

As I return to Isaiah’s statement about salvation through this lens, maybe repentance and rest are catalysts to us realizing our salvation. What if it’s more of an awareness than a decision?

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” (Is 30:15)

With this perspective on salvation, we will look at repentance during the next two weeks of Lent to see what we can learn together.

“Salvation is not a divine transaction that takes place because you are morally perfect, but much more it is an organic unfolding, a becoming who you already are. It is an inborn sympathy with and capacity for the very one who created you.” – Richard Rohr

 

Ash Wednesday: True R and R

I mentioned Monday that I am exploring the themes of repentance and rest during Lent this year. I’m calling it True R and R. Traditionally, “R and R” is understood as rest and relaxation. While those are good, and I attempt to practice both often, it seems an important “R” is missing. I believe it is the most important “R”, and is integral to actually being able to rest and relax.

The prophet Isaiah says this about repentance and rest,

“This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'”      (Is 30:15)

Before we dig deeper into what Isaiah might be getting at when he mentions repentance and rest, what do you suppose he means by salvation? If we consider a common definition of salvation Isaiah’s words don’t make a lot of sense. The word salvation tends to bring about an idea in our mind of Jesus dying on the cross paying a debt for our sins. Salvation is then understood as a person accepting that Jesus did this act for him or her. Salvation or “getting saved” is a one-time decision by a person to accept what Jesus has done.

This is not the understanding of salvation of the Early Church. They instead viewed salvation as being restored to the image and likeness of God. It was an ongoing process that lasted throughout a persons life. The early followers of Jesus preferred the word theosis when they talked about salvation. We will look at that more later this week.

The Early Church understanding of salvation helps me get a better grasp of what Isaiah might be saying with regards to repentance and rest being a doorway to salvation. We’ll keep looking at this together throughout this Lenten season.

Advent Week 4: Joy as a Choice

Mary had a choice to make when her life drastically changed the night the the Angel Gabriel visited her. Would she remain in a state of fear or choose joy? According the Gospel writer Luke, Mary’s first response to the angel was fear in the moment, makes sense. But, Mary did not remain in a state of fear. Verse 38 says “the angel left her.” Being there in the room alone with the news of having a child out of wedlock, rehearsing the speech to tell Joseph that she hadn’t slept with another man, trying to figure out what to tell her parents…that reality sounds very scary to me.

After the visit from the angel, Mary soon leaves to be with her cousin Elizabeth because Gabriel told her that Elizabeth was pregnant. It seems that Mary wants to be with someone who might understand what she is going through. The two pregnant women see one another in Elizabeth’s home and the response is joy. The first words out of Mary’s mouth are, “My heart is overflowing with praise of my Lord, my soul is full of joy in God my Saviour.”(v46) Had Mary chosen to remain in a state of fear her response could have been much different. She could have focused on how her life would never be the same again, how she was going to have a baby that she didn’t know how to care for. She could have also obsessed about the possibility of being stoned to death when she went back home pregnant. She could have started the conversation with Elizabeth stressed about where they would live, how Joseph would earn money, or any of the other fearful things that come with having a kid. Instead Mary chose joy.

Some might say, of course she chose joy, she was going to give birth to Jesus. The Messiah was inside her. Isn’t that what has happened to us as well? “that sacred mystery which up to now has been hidden in every age and every generation, but which is now as clear as daylight to those who love God. They are those to whom God has planned to give a vision of the full wonder and splendour of his secret plan for the sons of men. And the secret is simply this: Christ in you! Yes, Christ in you bringing with him the hope of all glorious things to come.” (Col 1:25-27) 

Choosing to believe this mystery that Christ is in us could be the way for us to join Mary this Christmas and chose joy over fear, no matter what we are going through.

Advent Week 3: Digging In, Holding On

I read this great article about shepherds.

“You need to be tough as old boots. Imagine working for weeks on end in the rain, and then snow, and lambs dying of hypothermia, with the difference between life and death being you and your knowledge. Even if you do your best they still die, and you will need to keep going. The romance wears off after a few weeks, believe me, and you will be left standing cold and lonely on a mountain. It is all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.”

Reading about what is required as a shepherd is giving me a little more insight into why the first group of people to get a visit from the angels were shepherds. According to Luke there were four visits from angels, possibly the same angel. Zacharias, then Mary, then Joseph, then shepherds. So a devout old priest, the mother of Jesus, the father of Jesus and shepherds. (One of these things is not like the other…) That song from Sesame Street just came played in my head.

Back to the shepherds. I love that line from the article, “It’s all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.” I can’t read that enough or say it enough to myself this morning. It’s true. The shepherds knew that. Zacharias knew that from his long life as a priest. Mary and Joseph had a glimpse of this truth through having a child out of wedlock and making the journey to Bethlehem. They would learn this truth more and more as they raised Jesus and his siblings. It is all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.

Shepherds knew this truth all too well. They were at the bottom of the social rung, outcasts, you might even say homeless since they primarily slept outside with their flock. There was a strong prejudice against them, especially from rabbi’s and religion leaders. They would have not only felt the pain of their occupation, but also the internal pain of their position in society. If anyone near the birthplace of Jesus needed saving it was the shepherds. Into that context Luke writes:

“There were some shepherds living in the same part of the country, keeping guard throughout the night over their flocks in the open fields. Suddenly an angel of the Lord stood by their side, the splendour of the Lord blazed around them, and they were terror-stricken. But the angel said to them,

“Do not be afraid! Listen, I bring you glorious news of great joy which is for all the people. This very day, in David’s town, a Savior has been born for you. He is Christ, the Lord. Let this prove it to you: you will find a baby, wrapped up and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)

Three statements stand out to me:

all people; Savior; has been born for you

Some might say these shepherds were the most human, the most real of all those living around Bethlehem. They knew pain, joy, loss, sacrifice, friendship, wonder. They were not only the ones to first hear the news of the baby being born, but they were the first ones to tell others. Their message was about a Savior being born just down the road from where they were tending their sheep. These men who brought this message of hope understood, it is all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.

The message of the shepherds was that a baby had come into the world. This baby would  learn that it’s all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on. Not only would baby Jesus learn this as he grew, but he would eventually embody this message as a man, showing all who dare to follow him that it is all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.

Maybe that is why Jesus calls himself the good shepherd.

Advent Week 2: Suffering as a Teacher

As followers of Jesus, we don’t really like to talk about suffering. We tend to like to praise God when good things happen, when we land the big deal, our kids succeed at something they worked hard for, or when God provides in some overt way. But if things like perseverance, character and hope are desirable traits, then why are we so surprised when suffering comes?

Jesus’ parents knew suffering. There is one very understated line of Jesus’ birth story in Luke that hints of the suffering of his parents, especially his mom. “…Mary, now in the later stages of her pregnancy. So it happened that it was while they were there in Bethlehem that she came to the end of her time. She gave birth to her first child, a son.” (Luke 2: 5-6) As a man, I know nothing about the suffering of being in the later stages of pregnancy. I have, however, been a witness to the suffering. Any husband who pays attention can see that there is a lot of suffering, especially in the last few weeks before the child comes. I can try to picture being Joseph, traveling 90 miles with Mary by foot or donkey through rough terrain just days before my son’s birth. But, think about the suffering of this teenage girl Mary is almost unimaginable.

Our family has experienced quite a bit of suffering the past three years as we continue to walk through this journey with Anna’s cancer. Similar to when our kids were born, I know nothing of the day-to-day suffering that Anna experiences in her body, but I am a witness to the suffering. I am also experiencing my own suffering as her husband, and as a parent who is raising our three young kids with Anna in this reality.

Paul writes, “…suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint” (Rms 5:3-4) After years of suffering, our family is slowly seeing perseverance, character and hope building in us, especially our children. We also see these traits in our extended family and community of friends who love Jesus and love us. They are suffering through this cancer journey with us, and we are learning together how suffering is a teacher.

“Suffering is not so much about pain as it is about giving up and losing control.”           -Dan Bruner

Freely and Lightly

How could anyone learn to live freely and lightly in our world today? Our world is in chaos, and many of the things we face in day-to-day life seem constricted and heavy. So what is Jesus getting at with his offer of “freely and lightly” in Matthew 11?

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matt 11:28-30)

It seems like the invitation of Jesus is to learn to live freely and lightly in the midst of circumstances that are heavy. Jesus understands that life on earth can be difficult because he lived it. He especially lived it in the days leading up to his death. Phrases like, “take this cup from me” and “why have you forsaken me” remind us that even Jesus desired a different road than the one he was set to walk.

I don’t believe that Jesus’ invitation of freely and lightly ignores the pain and turmoil of our lives. This posture of freely and lightly that Jesus offers comes when we realize that we are not in control. Jesus’ journey to the cross and our journey through life is about letting go, it’s about surrender, it’s about trust. As we learn to hold things more loosely we get a glimpse of what it means to live our lives freely and lightly.