Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Words of Grace When Heaven Is Torn Open Mark 1:4-11

As I read Mark 1:4-6, it sounds a lot like John the Baptist is the story's subject. But read the next line and John says the story, and his ministry, is about somebody else (Mark 1:7-8).

Jesus appears and it's clear John played a significant part in the story, but he was not the central character (Mark 1:9). John was first announcing Jesus' ministry but he wasn't the last. God the Father reached into the story next in Mark 1:10. Heaven tore apart. God wants in. God wants in today in the Word and through the people who make up his body into the world.

The next words God the Father speaks are words of joy and celebration (Mark 1:11). I listen as God declares love for His Son—and I wonder how often this happens among us humans? These uplifting words of grace and approval stun me. Hear the Father's approval of Jesus shows us what God's gracious aproval feels like—this is the a clear declaration of God's of gracious love.

Words of Living Grace
God the Father says such gracious words, but what about me, a human father. There are times when no gracious words come from me. I'm a sinner who digs in deep into my own sin. I stuff my head so deep inside that I can't see my sin or even smell it anymore. Make matters worse, with my head stuffed inside, I sit in judgment of other's sins while I've become so accustomed to my own sins that I can't and won't face or even smell them. In my sin I pronounce judgment but no words of grace.

Jesus' prescription for this problem is to 2 fold
1) He imparts His righteousness upon us. In Jesus the Father's words of love are imparted to us. Paul explains Jesus death as imparting something on us in Romans 5:6and reshaping our relationship with God Romans 5:11.
2) Jesus own advice is to seek forgiveness from God and from others. He taught that as we seek to be forgiven we are to ask God to help us to forgive (Matthew 6:12).

You are beloved by God.
We're blessed to hear God's words. Hearing them strikes hard if you've been the one giving too many lectures or speaking too many words of harsh judgement. There's a judgment hear and in the same moment an invitation: speak words of grace and encouragement. Martin Luther's explanation of the 8th Commandment is an invitation to speak to the good of the others in our lives. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Luther says,

We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light. (From Luther's Small Catechism translated by Kolb and Wengert)
This commandment's about what we say. Luther's keen twist is to see it as more than a direction not to lie. We have power in words to undermine and uplift. Luther's words hit directly and forcefully when I examine how I talk to others and how I speak about others.

God the father is teaching us graciousness by example. May He help me to live showing such grace to people around me. One of the best explanations of how to live this way is from Florence Littauer. Her Words of Encouragement are a great invitation to speak as graciously as God the Father spoke to God the Son. As she explains every word can be like a, "Little silver box with a bow on top." I keep this talk by Mrs. Littauer on my Ipod and listen often. It's a message I sure need to hear.

Now if only I could practice this as easily as I can write about it.
Pax, John

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