Safe hands

Luke 10.21-24

Pastors can be guilty of boring people with too many reflections from their own lives, and I’m sure at times I’m no exception. But you’ll have to forgive me today because what we’ve just heard from Jesus in Luke 10 remind me of a recent event in our family’s life. A few weeks ago my wife Sarah was over due to deliver our second child and the anticipation was growing hourly. We expected to deliver at the hospital, but our baby had other ideas. Without going in to too much detail, it was forty-five minutes from the first contraction to holding our baby in our arms. Heroically, Sarah gave birth in our empty bathtub, with only yours truly on hand to help. Meaning, I literally caught our baby, tied off the umbilical cord, and then waited for the paramedics to turn up. Thankfully, Sarah and the baby were healthy and I didn’t collapse. As we’ve shared the story, a few people have praised us for how we handled things – and of course they should rightly praise Sarah – but I’m not sure how much credit I’m due. It’s hard to imagine unless you’ve been in a situation like that, but in many ways our daughter just happened to us. We couldn’t prepare for that sort of arrival, had no expertise to guide us, and barely had time to phone 911. Much of her arrival was out of our control, we simply had to react and receive her on her terms.

On What Terms?

I share that story because whenever we read the gospels and meet the real Jesus, we’re always faced with someone who arrives on his terms, and not on ours; someone we simply react to, one way or another. The phrase “an inconvenient truth” was coined in reference to climate change, but occasionally rings true for Jesus too. Just listen to some of what Jesus says to his disciples here. He says that it’s the childlike, not the powerful or heady, who are eligible for blessing. In other words, God and grace don’t come your way because you’ve got something to offer, but because you’re willing to trust as a child trusts a parent. That’s problematic for a world buried under millennia of you only get what you earn, or societies set up solely to favour those in positions of advantage. Jesus also says, in no uncertain terms, that God’s put everything under his power, and that it’s him alone who puts the Creator on display in high-definition. So the remarks we often hear about Jesus being a wise teacher among many, or simply an outstanding moral example, don’t quite square with histories like these. Jesus doesn’t give us much wiggle room when he says, in effect, “don’t guess about God; look at me and you’ll get the full picture.” On top of all this, Jesus adds that his disciples (and through them to us today) are blessed because all manner of holy and influential people were desperate to see and hear what they have and didn’t. Which is why I suspect he begins this little aside in joy and gratitude. It’s a remarkable scene in Luke’s gospel, with all of history converging on Jesus, not to mention a rare moment where we see an explicit mention of Father, Son and Spirit all densely packed, indicating a closer look would be wise. So, if Jesus is full of joy about the reality he’s opening up on his terms, what does that mean for those who welcomed him?

Two phrases stand out here when asking that question. First, when Jesus says “My father has entrusted everything to me”, and second, “Blessed are the eyes that have seen what you have seen.”

“My father has entrusted everything to me”

You might remember the famous scene from the Lion King between Mufasa and Simba as they look out over the savannah and the father says to the son, “everything the light touches is our kingdom” and then something to the effect of, and one day it will be in your hands (or paws, I suppose). Or maybe you’ll know that silly scene in Monty Python’s Holy Grail where a medieval lord tells his timid son “One day all this will be yours” gesturing out a castle window, to which the son replies “What, the curtains?” Not by much, but that language gets us a little closer to Jesus’ meaning it uses a similar grammar about authority and entrustment. Jesus’ disciples know how authority, wealth and power works around them, most often moving down family lines, so Jesus uses similar language to get his point across. When the gospels speak about Jesus’ “sonship” and the one Jesus calls “father”, it’s often to do with what we might call “legitimate claim”, not some kind of greater or lesser family position. Maybe the closest colloquialism we have today is “like mother, like daughter” or “like father, like son”. What the parent has, the child has, to no lesser degree. We hear the same talk in Matthew when Jesus says “all authority has been given to me in heaven and earth” (Matthew 28) or in John when “Jesus knew everything had been put under his power…” (John 13). What we have to get our heads around when reading the gospels is not so much how the Godhead works (as if we ever could), but that when Jesus says “everything” has come under his power, he means it, and backs it up with proof because he does the things only the creator of heaven and earth can do. Paul says later in his letter to the Colossians “in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.” (Colossians 2). So when we take Jesus seriously on that level, and stop reading him as simply a kind of a self-help guru or fairy god-mother, remembering this is God in the boat or at the table, our faith begins to take real shape. Meaning, we not only trust Jesus to help us live a good life, or to marginally improve our life, or even get us to heaven. We begin to explore trusting Jesus with much, much more, because as he says, “my father has entrusted everything to me.”

What do we mean by everything? And what would it means to trust that everything is in Jesus’ trustworthily hands? We could start by saying that “everything” means literally everything. Our planet, our solar system, the vast array of space and all that fills it. That gets the imagination going. But coming a little closer to home, we could begin by trusting Jesus with the contents of our heart. Like our mistakes, believing he can handle our blunders and isn’t losing sleep over them. We could talk about trusting Jesus with our future, whether it looks bright or bleak or blanketed with uncertainty. We could talk about beginning to trust Jesus with every detail of life we can’t control, from mortgages, to marriages, to miscarriages, to mental health, to our mortality. In short, if everything really is in Jesus’ hands, and Jesus’ hands are trustworthy, we are invited to trust without conditions. And that, it seems, is much of what a life of faith becomes. A growing trust in Jesus with increasingly few conditions, giving Jesus the chance, day after day to prove his trustworthiness.

Of course, at times we don’t give Jesus much of a chance to earn our trust, because we like to take him on our terms, rather than his. We’d rather live under the illusion of control, that our intellect (as Jesus mentions here) or perceived power over ourselves or the world around, will mean we can cheat or evade our problems, including death. There’s plenty of religious-type practices around promising to offer us a sense of control, but look closely and most of them come down to you and me being the center of the universe, trying to bring everything under our power, and working little tricks to make things bend to our will. But sooner or later we learn that no amount of research, meditation, manifesting or self-improvement satisfies our questions or needs. A Christian is someone less interested in little tricks or marginal life improvement, less anxious about a lack of control, because of Jesus. A Christian is simply someone who trusts the one who has, as the old children’s song goes, “the whole world in his hands” and chooses each day to  believe it when the rubber hits the road, when the control is lost and the tricks don’t work. Of course, that’s easier said than done, when the mortgage payment is overdue, or the marriage is falling apart, when the miscarriage is fresh, or our mental health is spiralling. But as a widower recently said to me in a moment of despair and desperation, “it’s just like the disciples said, “who else can we turn to? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6)

So, when Jesus says “my father has entrusted everything to me” we are invited then to trust Jesus with increasingly few conditions as we grow up in faith. Which leads us to the other stand out phrase.

“Blessed are the eyes that have seen what you have seen.”

Letting go of our perceived control can be a rough detox, but it does lead to joy. If we’re tempted to receive Jesus with a kind of reluctant resignation of trust, Jesus’ words about blessing here are striking. Notice that Jesus isn’t melancholic or unconfident about things. He’s got a joyful Spirit, a buoyant thankfulness. “Your eyes and ears are blessed!” says Jesus. Blessed because if life is going sideways, or we feel a little simple, none of that indicates the reality of our relation to God or eternity. “Expect to face some trouble, but take heart, because in the big picture, I’ve got trouble beat” we hear from Jesus elsewhere in John’s gospel. “My yoke is easy, my burden is light” we hear in Matthew. We can’t know for sure, but I have a very hard time hearing the words “and Jesus full of joy and the Holy Spirit…” and not imagining him in this scene beaming as he slaps Peter or John’s the back with the confidence and hope only God could strut around in!

That isn’t to say there’s no room for doubt or sadness in a life of faith, of course. Even the most admirable of Christians feel the heaviness of trouble. You only have to read Paul in Corinthians, who at points sound like someone very likely clinically depressed, or Mother Tereasa’s personal journals to see how dark things can get for people of faith. Even John Wesley, the great revivalist preacher, confessed he felt as though he’d never really known God at times. But if we’re a Christian, and I say this un-flippantly as possible, our trouble is behind us, and deep in their bones these characters trusted Jesus and that reality of blessing, even when it wasn’t visible to them. The question of whether or not we’ll matter a life-time from now, the dread of something happening to our loved ones, the anxiety about the future – it can get on top of any one of us on any given day. But the Christian thing to do is to follow Jesus into concrete gratitude, and remember we’re blessed in his trustworthy hands. It doesn’t mean we pretend the world is sunny when the rain pours, it’s just a relentless trust that the sun is always behind the darkest cloud, which gives us confidence and joy as it did Jesus.

A few years ago a young man joined our church after getting sober through a local recovery center. For a few years he was doing well, but later he relapsed in a dark moment, overdosed and sadly died. It’s not an unfamiliar experience for recovery homes and groups, of course, but this particular recovery community to which he belonged, always refuses to wallow in despair. Why? Because they are resolutely Christian. Because even though a battle with sobriety was lost, even though a life was lost, they trust that “everything is in Jesus’ hands” and that the people they lose are still safe with Jesus. It’s why we hold “celebrations of life” when someone dies, not just because we’re looking backwards, but because we trust Jesus’ life-giving hands. Sometimes we’ll say it with a jubilant smile, sometimes we’ll say it with a defiant whimper, but Christians must always say it: I am blessed because I am in Jesus’ hands.

So the invitation is not only to trust without conditions, but to revel in the blessing. Christians used to be quite good revelers, and some still are in different spots around world, but around here we can be a bit muted. Maybe we need to dial that up a bit. Some of the first Christians in Corinth got so good at reveling in God’s blessing that they’d get drunk and forget the point of the meal they were sharing. Paul had to give a bit of course correction, which is where we get our instructions about communion. Imagine that, we have the words about communion in scripture because someone threw a party about Jesus which got a little out of hand. Have we at times course corrected a bit too much? Have we gotten a little too heady, too weighed down, and need to return to the gratitude and joy of our Christian roots? Can we learn to revel in blessing again, as is our Christian birthright?

How can we revel in the gospel, the truth of blessing? Well, we start by appreciation, gratitude for the material world, and with one another. We revel in the goodness of food as a symbol of blessing. We revel a moment of laughter with a friend because Jesus played a joke on death. We let every moment of enjoyment sink in, be present to it, as a reminder of the concrete reality of God’s eternal blessing of life over death. This week our ministry team is throwing a party to celebrate the work done during a hard season of pandemic. We’re handing out silly awards, we’re eating good food, we’re even getting a pandemic-pinata and beating it smithereens in celebration that we’ve coming through something together. We’d be poor pastors if we never partied, and we’d be a poor church if we didn’t either. Today we’re throwing a BBQ in the park, free food, everyone invited. Why? Not just because it’s the end of summer, but because “everything is in Jesus’ hands”and because of that we’re blessed.

Safe Hands

Of course sometimes reveling has to do with just sitting in the peace that passes all understanding. That reminds me of a story I read recently of a Christian scheduled for execution, and on the morning the axe was to fall the guards had to wake him up to inform him execution was being postponed till later in the day. However true it is, the story goes that the man rolled over and asked the guards to return later and to wake him up again because he’d quite like to get a little more sleep. “Everything is in Jesus hands.”

Please don’t misunderstand me. It’s not easy to trust Jesus when we see the harsh realities the people of Afghanistan are yet again facing, and we’re reminded how futile our efforts are to try and stop suffering or injustice. It takes a growing trust without conditions during earthquakes and wildfires, overdoses and oncologist appointments and pandemics. This is no self-help movement, the stakes are higher with Jesus. But Jesus faced his death with confidence, he faced his abandonment and torture with an assurance of security in the end. And if we follow Jesus, we can each face life and death with the same confidence that in the end nothing will slip through Jesus’ fingers.

So the invitation today is open our eyes and ears, in childlike simplicity, and to trust the truth of the blessing.