Did Jesus Oversell Discipleship?

While some struggled with the daily requirement to wear a mask during the Covid pandemic, few suffered deeper inconveniences than those who wear glasses everyday. I don’t wear glasses, but I watched daily as coworkers and friends would don a mask and their glasses would immediately fog up. 

To the rescue was a anti-fog spray that supposedly eliminated this first world problem. I bought some, applied it to my sunglasses, and sure enough the first time I used it, MAGIC! It worked. Unfortunately it didn’t work more than a couple more times before I was reapplying it. The daily reapplication was too much and I soon abandoned the practice. I was a victim of the classic oversell.
An oversell is when the reality of the benefits of a product or experiences don’t live up to the marketing or advertisements. This can happen with huge ad campaigns and it can happen in our private lives. If you’ve ever been underwhelmed by a restaurant after a friend just raved about it, you know what I am talking about.

Does Jesus oversell in the gospel this Sunday?

In the gospel, Jesus commands his disciples to go into the world and proclaim the gospel. Then he goes on to say all those who believe will be able to drive out demons, speak new languages, pick up serpents, drink poison, and heal the sick. 

I don’t know about you but to this point I have been avoiding drinking poison and handling venomous snakes. I have prayed for people to be healed, but I’m not sure I’ve ever laid hands and healed someone. I speak about 25 words of Spanish and I can’t name a time I drove a demon out of someone. How about you?
So are we not believers? Are we believers, but Jesus oversold on the effects? 

First, I am a believer, and I’m sinner (a tremendous sinner, in fact). I try everyday to avoid evil and do good, but I fail everyday too. I got to confession often. I share all this to say that I am a believer who falls everyday. Take a beat and ask yourself, are you a believer (and maybe a sinner too)? 

If you answered yes as I did, then the next question is why can’t we do all the stuff Jesus promised? One answer is that I haven’t really tried to do all of that. It’s probably not the prudent choice to test the Lord by leaning into these items just to see if I make it. So I am going to continue to avoid drinking poison and holding snakes. 

I think Jesus’ point here is that being a believer, following Jesus and joining the mission to save the world, has life and death implications. Being a believer doesn’t mean we will be saved from physical death. What it does mean is that the choice to follow Jesus is a life or death decision. If we want to live forever with God in perfect delight, then we need to be a believer now. It matters what we believe, what we think, what we do. Not because we earn heaven or earn God’s love, but because when we believe in the Lord of life, the result is life. When we are in love with God, we life life to the fullest. Faith is life! Believing in Jesus doesn’t disappoint; it isn’t a oversell. It is life!

Live It: Take 10 deep, deep breaths. Breath slowly and purposefully. With each one, pray this simple prayer to Jesus, “Jesus I believe.” Breathe and Believe. 

Sunday Readings for May 12, 2021.

Take a Hike.

In the midst of the pandemic this past summer my family decided to spend more time outdoors. We began going on hikes. It started small, but eventually we went on day trips to State Parks all across MN. We would do a longish hike, find some lunch (or bring it), and eat some ice cream on our way home. They were pretty good days. 

Hiking in the time of covid, especially in Minnesota’s numerous State Parks, feels pretty safe. While there may be people in parking lots and around picnic areas, once we got out onto the trail we rarely encountered people. So when we did, it was a surprise. 

It would often happen that we would be going up a steep incline with what seemed like endless fields of poison ivy on both sides of the path at a sharp turn so we couldn’t see very far ahead of us. All of a sudden some other family would be briskly walking towards us around the bend. They alway had like 3 large, overly friendly dogs, and aggressive looking children. We would try to jump out of the way off the path, they would do the same. Everyone would be polite and try to socially distance. It was fine, really. 

That pesky bend in the path not only obscured oncoming traffic, but it would keep us from seeing our goal. Whether it was the end of the trail, the top of a crest, or a facilities stop, a curvy trail made it harder to see where we were headed. Knowing and seeing your goal is often an encouragement and incentive to keep walking. If my kids could see the goal, they could do it. When they couldn’t see where they were going, they would get discouraged. 

In the gospel this Sunday, John the Baptist is asked who he is. He denies being the Christ or Elijah or a Prophet. Instead he quotes the prophet Isaiah and says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” John’s role, as he explains, is to prepare the way for Jesus to come. John’s job was to level the mountains and fill in the valleys and yes, to make straight crooked paths. 

In the spiritual life, straightening a path accomplishes a couple of things. First it aids us in being able to see obstacles and potential traffic on the path ahead. When the path is straight, we know what is coming and can plan better for those things that might push us off the path and interrupt our journey. 

Secondly, a straighten path helps us to keep our eyes on the goal. Often, I think we loose sight of our final destination and the reason we do all this religious stuff. The goal is Jesus. The destination is the Kingdom of God on earth and in Heaven. When we aren’t sure of our goal or can’t see what we are working for, we can easily be distracted and maybe even fall into despair. I think this is one of the reasons why the pandemic has been so difficult. We didn’t really have a clear goal for all that we were doing. We couldn’t see the end. 

One more thing, if you think that the on reason the paths are straightened are so that we can have a better spiritual hike, let dispel that misrepresentation. The paths are straightened so that Jesus can more easily get to us. The path is cleared and leveled and straightened so that nothing can separate God from us. Jesus doesn’t wait for us to climb the mountain and find him. No. Jesus gets out on the path and comes for us. He is willing trudge through any hardship, including death and the cross, in order to save you and me. 

Live It: Are there bends in the road of your life that makes it hard for you to draw closer to Jesus? Close your eyes. Imagine your life is a hiking trail. Where are the bends that aren’t spiritually helpful? Ask Jesus to make straight the path of your spiritual life. Ask God to inspire you to call out to him. If necessary, head to confession this week to fill in some valleys. 

Sunday Readings for December 13th, 2020.

Breath. Breath. Breath.

I rolled over the other night to find myself face to face with my beautiful, beloved bride. She was sound asleep and was, how shall I say it, melodiously breathing deeply. It was then that a warm gust of moist breath hit me in the face. It struck me that it felt like it had been a long time since someone breathed in my face. In this time of social distancing and mask wearing, I haven’t felt the warmth of someone else’s breath for a while, thank God. 

Truth be told, it’s not like I was getting explicitly breathed on a lot in the past either. It is such an intimate thing to happen, we just don’t normally feel other adults breaths on our face. Sure when you have kids it will happen that one of them will climb into your arms, say something cute, sigh, and then breath out deeply all over you. But how often would you purposefully share breath with another adult and know it, feel it? Rarely right? 

So it strikes me as odd that in this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus, in the midst of his post resurrection appearance, breathed on his disciples. Can you imagine being the disciples? Your best friend, leader, and messiah actually rises from the dead, he shows up, says a couple things, and then breaths on you. Why?

Jesus’ breathing onto/into his disciples reminds us of the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament. In Genesis 2:7 God made man out of the dust of the ground and “blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Just as God gave life to man by making this carbon bag filled with mostly water into a living, breathing, conscious thing, Jesus breaths the breath of life into the disciples. His breath gives them new life, a life in the Spirit and as the Church. 

When people talk about hearing a good talk or reading a particularly good religious book or quote, what do they call it? Inspiring. If someone shouts “Eureka! I’ve figured it out.” They have been inspired. Jesus literally expires his breath and by doing so  inspires the disciples, and indeed the whole Church, to complete his mission. Jesus has preached and commanded and now Jesus is giving inspiration to his followers one last time.

The Hebrew word for God’s breath that was used in Genesis 2:7 is ruach. This word can be used for breath and often is. The other meaning of ruach is spirit. By breathing on his followers, Jesus is literally giving them the Holy Spirit. He is breathing his very life and indeed his Spirit into the disciples and into the whole Church. The very next thing Jesus says is, “Receive the Holy Spirit…” Boom. 

This Sunday we should probably refrain from receiving anyone else’s breath. But we can and should know the intimacy Jesus wants to have with us. How close? He wants to breath on us. We can know with confidence that Jesus Christ has and will breath his life, his inspiration, and his Holy Spirit into the Church – into us! Come Holy Spirit!

LIVE IT: On Sunday, take 12 big, deep, from your tummy, breaths. With each one pray, “Come Holy Spirit!”, either when you breath in or out.