In the Way of the Cross – GRIT in the Grip: The Great Struggle

There's something up ahead. Familiar. Strange. Comforting. Foreboding. It pulls me in. "Come to me," it says. "Come slowly; come quickly; come any way you can." But it repels me, too. "Don't go there!" That's what I feel, what I see, what I hear. It makes me want to weep. I'm just not always sure if the tear-salt I taste brings sorrow or relief. There's something up ahead of me. And you can see it too. The CROSS, the Cross, the cross. It's where we're headed. I am. So are you. Our journey, like Jesus' journey, at once baptized (ordained) and struggle-soaked. Every year, all through the lengthening of our years, it's true. Like Jesus, we will require grit in the grip, faith in the fire, style against the guile, eyes to see the prize. 'A kind of deep, heart-knowing in order to keep-going. Jesus himself could show and tell ya… in fact, he does… this is The Way of the Cross.

From our Bibles to our bank accounts these days, from our beginnings to our endings, CONTEST confronts us. You can watch the pre-schoolers shove for the shovel in the sandbox, or slither by the line to slide down the slide before the rest. You can listen in the office lavatory or gulp at the gossip in the grocery line. No matter. Contending is the thing. You needn't come to church to know it's so. But did you, do you know? Ahead of us all lies a time and a place to contend, to contest with God! And GOD has initiated it. And on the outcome rest who/what/how we are/will be.

This contest has a long history. Jesus knew it. We should too. Take Grandpa Jacob! A silky-slick son. A bartering-bamboozling brother. A serious sinner. Now get this. God may be willing to appoint him his Israel, One who has wrestled with God… and lived! But not without a fight, a struggling, a contending of good and evil, a grappling intended to instill grit in the soul! God comes to Jacob, not the other way around. In effect, the God-Wrestler, Sumo-Soul-Grappler… grabs hold of Jacob, body and soul. He demands, "GET A GRIP!" On yourself, your spirit, your life/times. The two great truths here: God faces/forces the moment. 'Goes 1st!

And: God requires a response. The result is a promise that redeems and makes new. Friends, this history isn't just HIS-Story, it's ours.

I am always amazed by what language reveals that our unknowing leaves hidden. To quote Jesus on his way into Jerusalem long after Jacob, "Woe to you… for you did not know God's moment when it came." For weeks, maybe months, we've described our world in crisis, Wall to Main Street, Amazon to Afghanistan, Darfur to Detroit. And that's before we get to what's goin' on in our hearts and households, faith and families. Do you know crisis is actually a Greek word, a Bible word, krisis, meaning judgment! It refers to, "the day that is coming and now is." It's The Lord's Day, described both as doom and deliverance. But always, it's a day of reckoning when God comes to us (1st), with intent to set things right, as God sees them. Like Grandpa Jacob, we can hope to go away more holy and renamed, but we may well go away… with a limp just like Jacob! It's all there, from the long ago to just this morning, and we bring it along, just like Jesus, on the way to the cross. God is willing to give us the grit. But you and I will need to get a grip.

John, that old Baptist, grabs us, introduced by Malachi, 12th of the 12 Prophets who close the Hebrew Testament. His words are the hinge, swinging us from the Old to New Covenant (Testament). Malachi brings us the voice crying in the wilderness. "Who can endure the day of the Lord's coming?" Wouldn't we like to know! We are wrestling, you and I. 'Grappling daily, just like John.  Should the Lord come and weigh in, will the Lord be on ours, or the other side? Why look what we're up against!

Doubt facing scarcity Lies facing hard choices Idols facing abandon  
Will I have enough It doesn't matter More'll feel better
Can I do enough No one will know Popular beats principle
Will God give enough No one will care Control over trust
Am I good enough It can always be fixed I alone understand
Is God strong enough Just this once Now wins, not later

Do you think it was different on John's Jordan-chilly banks? Enough meant enough to survive the day, not chart your 401K. The question of the hour was, "Is there any word from the Lord?" They'd been askin', not 5 or 6 months, but 500 years! Lies lay available for the taking when choices were tough for the making. The straight and narrow or the easiest for ease. (Caesar or God, Temple or tread the holy way, thumb on the scale or lend a helping hand.) Idols were available… from miracle workers to fast talkin' tent-preachers to quick-fix-officials-from-the-capital. (And all without aid of HDTV… who'd a thunk it?!) And here stands John, hip deep in the river. "Repent! Turn around. Get right! Get ready. Wrestle with wrong, don't throw in the towel. Get right with God who will wrestle for you!" Then along comes Jesus. He comes to the waters. "I want to wade in this, too!" That's what he says. That's what he does. And God Godself is moved to open up the gate of Heaven and call across the sky, "You are mine. And I am yours. 'Over you. 'Under you. 'Beside you. 'Wonders to wilderness, let all comers come."

Grit in the grip. That's what we get in Jesus. 'Sure hope against doubt, even when we're scared by scarcity. 'Truth to choose truly, not fold in the grip of false choices. 'An awesome God to praise, even when we feel alone against the choke-holds of bad days. God is ready, even eager to reveal to Jesus the sheer goodness of God's promises. Every Gospel insists the Spirit drives Jesus into that wilderness. 'For assurance, not for the devil's sake. Oh, be sure, God knows what and who is waiting there. And God is prepared to assure Jesus and show us that there among the demons and the beasts, God is Ready. God is Able. God is Good. 'Good Enough… everywhere, all the time, in this time, in our time. Even for us, as for Jesus! Today we have Mark's word for it. We could have read another. But Mark is our most impatient reporter of Jesus-the-Redeemer. 'No details of the "Smack-down" twixt Jesus and the Tempter. 'No stones into bread promises. 'No need to declare, "'Not by bread alone." 'No, "Throw yourself down" enticement for Jesus to take the showy way to win souls. (Jesus will choose, of course, the costliest way.) 'No promise of power over all the earth's kingdoms… the constant hammerlock the devil throws our way. 'No Jesus seein': if the Devil'll give up all-power-on-earth, just to be worshipped, how clear can it be that worship belongs to God alone! And no thing I can do is better! (True for us, too! It's true.) Mark covers the whole "match" this way, "He was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him." Whatever the beasts in your wilderness this week, there are angels in your corner. Jesus sends them. God tells him to. That's the practical point. It's the promise of Grit in the Grip. It's the strength to walk/sight to see/faith to hope… in the Way of the Cross.

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