Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of five columns written by Ron Byler, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. executive director, to mark 100 […]
Editor’s note: From Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, bloggers for The Mennonite will write reflections on the Lectionary text. All eight reflections will be available at themennonite.org/lent. Sign up for our TMail newsletter and follow us on Facebook to receive the reflections.
It has been a difficult year. My family bought a business. We moved three times in a little over four months. I made an intentional choice to leave congregational ministry to pursue simple church planting in a community in which my husband and I knew no one, where I am guessing “Mennonites” are unheard of. I guess because I haven’t asked.
I have been trying to find ways of understanding who I am and who God has called me to be, as a mostly a stay-at-home mom who does office administration work for the family business.
We practice being a simple church in our home, with the hopes of growing, but for the first time in 14 years I find myself in the season of Lent with no broader church family to journey with and, more significantly as a preacher, no pulpit to speak from, which is a humbling place to be. In the holiest of seasons I find myself literally and metaphorically unpacking.
I’m tired of unpacking.
The good news is I’ve literally started unpacking the last of the boxes, which I like to call “the unnecessaries,” pretty much meaning all of those things we carry with us that we can live without. Things like memorabilia from high school and college, wedding presents we’ve never really used, decorative items from my old office. Basically, all those things that have sentimental value but really aren’t the type of things a person keeps on display in their home.
Normally I would be content to shove these things back into their boxes and hide them away until our next move, in which I would open the box and ask myself, Why do I keep this stuff and do I really want to move it again?
But amongst my “special unnecessaries” are the symbolic pieces of pottery gifted to me by the church when I was installed and ordained: a pitcher and a wash basin, and a chalice and a plate.
Even though they are only symbolic of something sacred, I can’t just put these things back into a box until the next time I move.
What do I do with the symbols of my “calledness” when I have no place to display them?
Suddenly, as I contemplated shoving them back into the box I realized this has been my seven-month struggle: Are we really called if we have nowhere to put our calledness on display?
We human beings have this tendency to draw our identities from our successes and/or failures. Whether you are a pastor, business person, mom, or football coach, each one of us is in constant need of reaffirmation of our calledness, as well as important places to put our perceived calledness on display.
What happens for those of us who suddenly find ourselves retired after living a lifetime of identity built upon our profession, or those of us who are fired, or those of us who have to let go of a job or lifestyle because of health conditions. There is a significant space of grieving and questioning, “Who am I if not this?”
In the synoptic gospels, Jesus, following his baptism, is immediately tempted by the devil: “If you are the Son of God…” The devil immediately puts conditions on Jesus’ identity. “If you are the Son of God then you will exhibit every marker of human-oriented success known to humanity: you will feed them, wow them, control them, and then and only then will they follow you anywhere you want them to go and they will do anything for you.
The devil is basically saying to Jesus, “Who are you if not this?”
These temptations of Jesus aren’t simply the trials of the “would-be-Messiah” to pass in order to become the Messiah.
These are our temptations that we have to endure in order to fully become like the Jesus we claim to follow. Which means that we have to be able to recognize, as Jesus did, when feeding the crowd is OK and when it is for our own ego. Or when wowing the crowd is OK, or for our own ego. Or when using our power is OK or for our own ego. This is hard. And it is in every one of our stories, not just the specially called and ordained pastor’s story.
If we follow Jesus then we live as he lived…
Which brings us to Palm Sunday.
The temptations of Jesus end like this, “And the devil departed until an opportune time.”
The temptations characteristically come back into Jesus’ story. Feed them. Wow them. Control them.
Each time the temptations come back a little different, but mostly “good things,” that most people can’t understand. “What’s the problem with that?”
Most of our greatest temptations will always begin as good things for good reasons, taken too far.
But if the temptations of Jesus boil down to the human markers of success, then Palm Sunday is the ultimate challenge for what we humans long for, the ultimate display of our calledness.
On this day Jesus’ reputation preceded him, and both the disciples crying out as well as the clueless crowds who were “mesmerized,” “spellbound,” surrounded him. In the gospel of John the Pharisees say, “You see, you can do nothing. Look! The whole world has gone after him.”
Which was the temptation. By all markers of human success, “If you are the Son of God…” you will have everyone “spellbound.”
Jesus seemed to hit the nail on the head. But at the end of the day, the conditional “If you are the Son of God…” is completely contradictory of God’s consistent “I am.”
If Jesus is the “I am,” there can be no conditions that make that not true. “I am.”
Likewise, if my identity and calledness, is centered in the life and love and gift of Jesus, the one and only constant I can depend on, then no condition makes that not true.
“I am centered in Jesus.”
“Made in the image of God.”
“Called, beloved, chosen and filled by the Holy Spirit.”
In the “I Am,” no conditions make that untrue. The essence of who I am does not need to be on display.
Jesus managed to shake the need of the people’s praises, and their markers of success in order to form in himself the most unshakable identity as the human version of “I am.” Jesus “was” and “is” and nothing will make that untrue. Even the perception of public defeat humiliation and defeat on the cross.
Likewise, if we are to find ourselves in the image of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we too, need to recognize that there are no human markers of success, no titles, or accolades, degrees or certificates that make it more or less true.
If we are founded in Jesus, we are His, regardless of our profession, role or title.
I decided to put my beautiful symbols of my calledness, my precious clay pots in the cupboard with the rest of the dishes, not because they are “normal” dishes, but because I choose an abnormal life in which I drink out of sacred symbols and eat off of sacred plates in the midst of living a sacred life in that everyone else may deem as “normal.”
Shaking off the praise of humanity’s markers of success is a difficult unending journey, and it is very much like unpacking the unnecessaries, all those things we carry with us that we don’t really need. But we are able to live within the story of the One who finally made it possible to live confidently, again and again. May it be so.
Jessica Schrock-Ringenberg and her husband, Shem, and three children live in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, near Kansas City, where they own a business. Jessica works at envisioning, disturbing and equipping the church.
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