Pleasing vs Enjoying

 Let us learn, therefore, to be men of wisdom and to honour Christ as he desires. For a person being honoured finds greatest pleasure in the honour he desires, not in the honour we think best. Peter thought he was honouring Christ when he refused to let him wash his feet; but what Peter wanted was not truly an honour, quite the opposite!  - St. John Chrysostom

Drawing by Eric Carpenter

Drawing by Eric Carpenter

Some months ago I heard a marriage counselor speak at Hope Chapel on the topic of sexuality. He presented an idea which has changed the way I relate to God, and to my husband as well. He began by posing this question to the men. "What is more exciting and fulfilling to you as a lover - having your wife work hard to please you, or knowing she really enjoys your touch?" The answer is clear.  We all want to be enjoyed more than we want to be pleased.

The problem with trying to please a person is that we can never truly know when we succeed.  We cannot get inside another person's head.  But we are fully aware of our own pleasure, and we can communicate that.

God is a Lover.  Scripture says so.  Jesus became a man to woo, to win and cleanse a Bride. There is no more romantic story than that! As a Bridegroom, Jesus delights when we enjoy His presence, just as He loved Mary's attention when she sat at His feet in Bethany.  Mary chose what was best for her, certainly, but also what Jesus most desired.  This is what He still desires - the affection of the Beloved.

Of course there are many ways to honor and please our Lord.  Jesus is not only a Bridegroom. He is our Lord, our Teacher, our Savior and our Brother.  It is right that we should serve Him with the work of our hands, as Martha did.  In fact, this practical labor will serve as a basis for judgment. Jesus tells us that whoever feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, cares for  the sick and visits the imprisoned renders that kindness directly to Him. (Matt. 25)  It is beautiful that Jesus identifies with us this closely, and in doing so, He binds us to one another.

In doing the will of the Father, we become mothers, brothers and sisters to Jesus. This is a glorious calling!  Still, there is a deeper intimacy which Jesus longs for, but cannot demand, and that is simply to delight in His presence.

Fire and Flood

A photo of me walking through our 35th St. duplex after the fire.  March 31, 1996

A photo of me walking through our 35th St. duplex after the fire.  March 31, 1996

I mentioned in my last post that Thomas and I lost a home to fire when our first two children were very young. Fires are traumatic.  We didn't sleep well for awhile.  I had trouble leaving the house. Letting my children out of sight was harder still, even when they were in the care of trusted friends or family.  The biggest stress was a lack of privacy. Though we were able to move into the spacious Cogdell family home, it was not our own. I, more than Thomas, felt the strain of being a guest; and sadly, I passed that stress along to the little ones. Overnight our family patterns changed.  I no longer allowed Noah to get his own snacks, or make messes in the living room.  I felt uncomfortable taking a nap in the middle of the day, and since I wasn't sleeping well at night, I was chronically tired. I cringed every time the kids cried, worried about bothering Thomas' parents because I knew that they too had lost a great deal of peace and privacy.

But that fire was also a blessing we would not trade. Through it we learned how much we were loved, and how beautiful the Body of Christ can be. Before we could ask for help, people from our church were on the scene. They saw we were too overwhelmed to make decisions, so they quietly went to work, looking for tasks to do.  A group of women gathered every dish that was not broken, distributed them among themselves, and took them away.  A few weeks later they were returned, scrubbed clean from any trace of soot.  I cried knowing what a labor of love that was. Removing soot is no easy job!

Someone else bagged clothes that were not burned and took them home to wash.  Not many clothes were salvageable, but what a gift it was for someone else to do the sorting! The Red Cross showed up within hours, giving us coupons for food, shoes and a new mattress. Friends brought meals. Caroline took our children to play at her house while Phillip came with a giant shovel and scooped  ash off the floor.  I am not sure why that particular act of kindness touched me so much, but I will never forget the sight of Phillip wielding that shovel. I would not have had the energy or even the thought to clear the floor; but his quiet, solemn work brought order in the midst of chaos. It felt holy to me, rather like a burial.

I remember lying in bed talking to Thomas about how much love had been lavished on us.  We were humbled, changed, woven more closely into the Body of Christ by this great debt of love. I asked my husband several times, "What happens when a whole community is struck by disaster?  When everyone is so overwhelmed that there is no one to help? How do people survive without this kind of love?"

When I see photos of the flooding in Houston, this questions comes to mind again.  What happens when an entire city is traumatized? How will they experience the love of Christ and the provision of their Father in Heaven?

In the past 20 years I have become more confident of the Father's ability to provide in the wasteland.  I pray with hope that many brothers and sisters will experience Hurricane Harvey as a blessing as well as a trauma.  I know this will not be the case for all.  Much will depend on the way the Body of Christ responds to this disaster.  I am praying that we will love like the Good Samaritan, like Jesus has loved us.  Kindness like we experienced after our fire changes lives.

The homily from today's Office of Readings is particularly apropos.

From a homily on Matthew by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop.

Do you want to honour Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honour him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me. What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.

  Let us learn, therefore, to be men of wisdom and to honour Christ as he desires. For a person being honoured finds greatest pleasure in the honour he desires, not in the honour we think best. Peter thought he was honouring Christ when he refused to let him wash his feet; but what Peter wanted was not truly an honour, quite the opposite! Give him the honour prescribed in his law by giving your riches to the poor. For God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts.

Lord, have mercy!

 

A family in Houston waits to be rescued.  Photo from CNN.

A family in Houston waits to be rescued.  Photo from CNN.

Thorns

Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it; Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you."

Though I have often heard how fruitful it is to meditate on the wounds of Christ, until very recently found that practice difficult.  The horror of the Passion overwhelmed me, saddened me, frightened me.  But something has changed of late which allows me to look on my crucified Lord with new eyes.  In my last post I talked about the nails in Jesus' hands.  Now I am seeing the crown of thorns.  Another type of piercing painful to the body, yes; but this torment was aimed at the soul.  The men who fashioned the crown were mockers taunting Jesus' for His claim to be king, or rather, for  His refusal to deny that title.  

Perhaps there was an even deeper mockery going on, one inspired from hell.  There was one present at the crucifixion who was present in the garden, a witness to the curse of Adam and the ground.  I am sure Satan reveled to see the Son of God crowned with thorns - a reminder of the Father's judgment and his own first victory with men.

But I believe Jesus saw the crown of thorns differently.  He came with the intention of bearing and breaking the curse, and so the thorns were a fitting symbol. The crown was a visible sign of humility, of love, and in a way obscured to our jeering, disbelieving eyes, it was a sign of authority. The crown on Christ’s head testifies to His redemption of the earth, just as His wounds witness  His power over death.

Adrienne von Speyr was an early twentieth century mystic and Catholic theologian who claimed that the most defining attribute of the Father is that He is the one who takes responsibility.  He created all things.  He sustains them.  And because He fathers men, He refuses to abandon them to their own fate but plans a means of redemption at His own cost. He inflicts the curse in His righteous judgment, and in so doing, puts limits on our folly.  But He sends His Son to bear the curse with us and for us – limiting our pain and opening the tree of life again, only more gloriously as we now known the depth of God’s love.

The funny thing about mockers is that they cannot stand to be mocked. Satan delights in our fear, in our anger, in our hate, but he cannot stand to be laughed at.   Silence unsettles him as well.  I suspect hell would have enjoyed the crucifixion far more had Jesus spat and cursed and called down fire from heaven. But He did not.  Jesus suffered in silence, in patience, in confidence.

I fear that for all our talk about becoming Christ-like, most Christians resemble the devil more than their Savior when faced with mocking.  We hate it.  We fear it, and with some justification.  It is true that mockery usually precedes persecution. This was the pattern for Jesus.  Mocking at the trial, death at the cross.

This was the pattern in Nazi Germany. Years of defamatory propaganda fueled the fires of Kristalnacht.  Our friend Hanna Miley remembers being taunted at school.  She and other Jewish children were put in the middle of a circle while their Gentile classmates danced round singing songs about killing ugly, stupid Jews. Shortly after, her family was rounded up and forced into a ghetto in Cologne.  Thankfully, Hanna escaped on a Kindertransport rescue train.  Her parents did not.

For the most part, American Christians have not suffered the sting of mockery or persecution.  There have been some shining exceptions – the early abolitionists, the pioneers of the civil rights movement. But in general, American has been a safe-haven of religious freedom and that is a blessed thing – a gift to us citizens and a blessing to the world. Yet many of us feel the tide turning. Academia has long been a skeptic of faith, if not an outright mocker.  Our entertainment industry daily serves up fare pushing traditional standards of decency farther and farther to the fringes of society, and they do so because we eat it up, Christians included. Now we begin to hear outright attacks on traditional Christian teaching regarding sexuality, beliefs held by most civilizations for millennia, not only Judeo-Christian societies. 

I feel the fear rising.  We try to fight back with legislation.  Others rant on social media.  We do not like to be mocked.  We are not comfortable with silence.  And not all of us should be silent.  There is always need for the prophet.  But I believe there is also need for patient enduring, even suffering in confidence that our Father will make all things right.

As a child I loved the beatitudes. I spent a lot of time imagining what it must be like to be pure in heart, to be a peacemaker, to be meek or poor in spirit.  But there was one beatitude which scared me.  “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven!”   On the one hand, I was relieved that it seemed unlikely that I would ever be put to such a test. I simply did not know if I had that kind of strength. On the other hand, I wanted all the blessings and rewards in heaven I could carry. That is a childlikeness which I hope pleases the Father.  I still want that desire to mark me though I am now wiser and more aware of my own weakness.

Jesus, you are beautiful in Your crown of thorns, and I want to be like You.

Iron

"Oh mad lover! It was not enough for You to take on our humanity; You had to die as well!" - St. Catherine of Siena

Lately when I pray I often see the nails in Jesus' hands.  It is not a gory, bloody scene.  What strikes me most in this internal vision is His patience and humility.  His willingness, His love.

And I know that the One who allowed his body hands to be pierced with iron is entirely trustworthy to wield the rod of iron that will shatter the nations.

Come, Lord Jesus!  We need Your mercy and Your justice!