I am reading a book called This Beautiful Mess by Rick McKinley. He writes, appropriately for Lent: “When we read the stories in Acts of the first disciples, words like suffering, persecution, and martyrdom quickly come to mind. We shouldn’t be surprised. Their stories echo many of the same elements of their leader’s story, and Jesus warned that His followers could expect exclusion, rejection, and insult on His account. My story isn’t like that though. Is yours?” It isn’t that I think a Christian people should walk around with their chins on their chests, depressed all the time, but I think there is something to be said for giving up comfort for a Kingdom that is so important people have given everything for it. We think that giving up chocolate is revolutionary when so many have given up lives, both figuratively and literally.
McKinley goes on to write: “the apostles suffering was different. Stephen was stoned to death for preaching. Peter and John were jailed for healing people. The key distinctive is that these Christ followers chose to risk suffering and death rather than live in safety.” It makes our concern for the Ten Commandments Plaques pale in comparison. However, I have to hand it to the Mosaic Fanatics that while I don’t agree with them, at least they are fired up! There is something to be said for intentionality. I am in the same boat as the average Christian: I have a pretty comfortable lackadaisical faith. I haven’t put my life on the line for the Kingdom. I haven’t done anything that might even cause me a modicum of discomfort. McKinley asks: “What is the role of suffering as an intentional lifestyle in spreading the gospel of the Kingdom?”
“[My word] will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” I like to think this passage has a lot to do with Jesus being the Word, the ways in which he emptied himself on the cross, and how that emptying effected humanity by not returning void to God. I think Jesus achieved his purpose. The Word did not return empty but accomplished God’s desire—to turn [Their] people back to the spirit of the law. Even going further, Jesus is like the precipitation—through Him, the world has been fortified, fed, and nourished. All creation blooms through his presence.
I am reminded of the Sacred Way by Tony Jones and the Jesus prayer: Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison imas. Praying the Lord’s prayer along with this refrain of ancient meditation changes me: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on me. I am reminded through Jesus’ words that I am but one of many seeking his Kingdom on earth. I am lifting my prayer beside the prayers of other believers. This passage also forces me to think again about the communal nature of redemption. Forgive us our debts. As we forgive, forgive us. The grace we give is the grace we receive. The sins of others that we forget are the ones that are forgotten of ours. I guess I don’t mean forget, but the sins of others that we shoulder and accept the shame for are the same ones that Jesus accepts the shame for of ours. We are called to forgive. By being gracious are we, too, watering the earth so it can bloom? Is that part of the word not returning empty?