I only briefly mentioned the 21 Christians who ISIS executed last week in my Psalm reflection last Friday. Today I would like to look at their story in light of this verse from Sunday and a current, very popular, worship song. For those who are unaware, some of our Coptic brothers were recently executed in Libya just because they were Christians. Here is some information about who they were. On Sunday, my pastor talked about how we in America live in the “winners circle” of sorts and are often unaware (by ignorance or by choice) of the issues our fellow Christians face elsewhere in the world. We spent some time praying for the families of those killed and fellow Christians who face this kind of persecution and fear regularly.
We then sang some worship songs and went home. As I drove home, with my daughter dozing in her car seat in the back, this lyric from the song Oceans by Hillsong United flashed through my head (apologies to my wife who currently loves this song).
“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders…”
I couldn’t get the image of those ominous, black clad, ISIS soldiers leading their orange clothed captives down the beach out of my head. Who knows what our captive brothers were thinking or praying at the time. But I felt an extreme disconnect between my experience of singing those song lyrics and the images of the soon to be executed Christians being led down the beach.
Is that what it looks like to be led by the Spirit?
Do I honestly want my trust to be “without borders” like that?
Something tells me that singing that song should be a bit more challenging and unsettling than I originally thought.
Then, I read the Gospel section for Sunday and I was not comforted one bit.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Mark 1:9-15 (NRSV)
The verse gives us two very different movements of the Spirit along with two very different outcomes for the main characters. First of all, John baptizes Jesus and the spirit of God comes down in the form of a dove proclaiming blessing on Jesus. This is a movement of the Spirit I feel like we are familiar with and would welcome all day, every day. This is the jumping around, hands in the air, worship service type movement we put up on screens and videos. This is how we often show how “alive” and “vibrant” our churches are. We also might call churches that look like that “successful” or “growing”.
We think those churches are doing it right. They probably sing cool and moving songs like Oceans every Sunday.
But then, the Spirit takes a seemingly unpredictable move. Immediately after all the blessing and fanfare, Jesus is driven or pushed (The same Greek word is used when Jesus casts demons out) by the Spirit out into the wilderness. In the wilderness Jesus fasts and is tempted for forty days. When Jesus emerges from the wilderness, he begins preaching and it seems things are on an upswing. But then John, who just baptized Jesus and witnessed the fanfare of the Spirit, is arrested. Later, in Chapter 6, we find out John is beheaded while imprisoned.
Is the spirit confused? At one moment the spirit gives a blessing, and then in the next it leads Jesus towards temptation and the wilderness. The Spirit, we are told in Luke’s Gospel, fills John and his ministry. Yet John is arrested and is beheaded while working his spirit filled ministry.
“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders…”
Spirit lead me where? Do I know where that road ends? Do I realize what I’m asking?
In Lent, the road is a bit more clear as we begin walking the path that leads Jesus to the cross. We spend 40 days examining our lives mirroring the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness. During this wilderness journey we attempt to strip away the temptations and struggles that may impede our walk. It’s a tough journey. We may take some solace in the fact the Spirit is with us and has brought us out here. Much like the pillars of smoke and fire brought some comfort to the Israelites as they were led through the Exodus journey.
But, the season of Lent ends with the crucifixion.
The same Spirit that blessed Jesus, led him into the wilderness and led him to the cross.
The same Spirit that leads us in full and amazing worship services, may also ask 21 of our brothers to trust God as they face martyrdom on a beach far away from home.
Following the Spirit, standing up for Jesus and the Father are typically not well received by the world.
During this season of Lent, realize what asking “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders…” meant for Jesus, John and the 21 Christians martyred last week.
Sometimes we might get blessing.
Most of the time it seems, we might get something completely different.