I just realized I sent these devotions out of order. I write them one week ahead, so they are ready for Sunday and because of that, I got confused, so I have sent them out, week 1, 3, 4 and now 2. Sorry about that. You may want to read them again in order. Again, my apologies. Dan
Henri Nouwen: “The story of our salvation stands radically over and against the philosophy of upward mobility ... the Word of God came down to us and lived among us as a servant.”
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
If up to us, we would have had the message of Christ’s entrance into the world broadcast over the biggest venue we could find. Instead, we find when God’s Son comes to earth, it’s through a humble young woman and new father. The birth takes place in the small town of Bethlehem. The good news is announced to shepherds.
There is consistency in the way God works. When he chooses a nation to be his people in the world, he didn’t choose the great empire of Egypt, but rather a small group of people called “Hebrews,” who ironically lived as slaves in Egypt for quite some time! God used a wild man named the “Baptizer” to be the forerunner to the Messiah’s coming. When Jesus chooses his disciples, the ones who would follow and learn from him and then be the leaders of God’s kingdom movement in the world, he ends up with a rag tag group of ordinary men, fishermen, a zealot or two, and a tax collector! The women who follow are no more impressive.
Downward mobility seems to be the normal course of action God uses to accomplish His plans, and when the people tried to make Jesus a king we are told “he fled from them” (John 6:15). Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised that God’s salvation act does take place, it isn’t when Jesus rides triumphantly into Jerusalem, but rather while hanging on a cross, on a small hill, just outside of the city.
Clearly, God does not, and never has, had much faith in human powers.
Why do you think God has chosen the weak and lowly to be the caretakers of the message of salvation?
Do you trust God’s “lowly” power?
Throughout his ministry, Jesus left little doubt that he was going to live the life of a servant, and here is the catch, he expects the same type of ministry to be lived out in the lives of his followers! Jesus says, “The disciple is not superior to the teacher, nor the slave to his master ...Anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:26-28). He had previously stated: “Anyone who does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Then he gives his ironically “hopeful” message: “To find your life you will have to lose it, and anyone who loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39). Jesus makes it perfectly clear – the god of upward mobility is to be rejected. This writes Henri Nouwen, “is a jarring and unsettling challenge.”
On Maundy Thursday, Jesus took up the role of the lowest household slave and washed the feet of the disciples. How difficult is following this call for you?
As hard as it is to swallow this proposition, much less live it out, Nouwen points out, “Somewhere deep in our hearts we already know that success, fame, influence, power, and money do not give us the inner joy and peace we crave. Somewhere we can even sense a certain envy of those who have shed all false ambitions and found a deeper fulfillment in their relationship with God.”
But that whisper of God deep within our souls, doesn’t seem to be enough. This quiet call too often gets drowned out by two voices: the worlds cry that more means happiness, and our ego’s call that says we are the center of the world and that others should be doing stuff for us, not the other way around. Nouwen speaks of this battle this way: “though these insights from deep within us, reveal that something in us is already suspicious about the upward way, it remains shocking to us think this is the way we are called to live ... We are quite willing to say that we should not forget the poor, that we should share our gifts with those less fortunate and that we should give up some of our surplus for the many who have not made it. But are we ready to say yes, I need to become servant, not a helper, a slave, not a donater? The challenge is not to just hand out scraps but to enter into their lives. It is to make the servant life, our VERY lives. As depressing and frightening as that sounds, Jesus tells us that this downward movement really is the way to enter new life.”
Let’s be honest, that goes against almost every grain of our upbringing, and certainly what we have learned from societies daily barrage of messages. That’s what makes being a Christian so hard, for we might be able to ignore or discredit this call if it wasn’t from given to us personally from God and revealed in Jesus! So, now what do we do? We have to choose whether or not to follow the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, and be willing to put to death our egos and desires, and become a servant to God’s people and creation. Deep down we do know this is the best way to live, but we fight it because of the message of society and the ego: Jesus’ way seems too hard, too costly, too much giving, and too much giving up of our selves.
Answer the questions from the previous paragraph as honestly as you can. What do you find in your answers? What challenges are you facing? Why is Jesus’ call so hard for you (and all of us) to follow? Can you take a step in that direction today?
Henri Nouwen concludes this section by saying, “This is the great wisdom of God, the wisdom that none of the masters of this age has ever known, the wisdom which remained hidden from the learned and the clever but has been revealed to mere children, the wisdom which comes to us through the Spirit and can only be taught to us spiritually. ... Although this spiritual life may well seem enigmatic, intangible, and elusive to us who live in a scientific age, its fruits leave little doubt about the radical transformation it brings about. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness, and self-control are indeed the qualities of our Lord himself and reveal his presence in the midst of a world so torn apart by idolatry, envy, greed, sexual irresponsibility, ware, and other sin (see Galatians 5:19-23). It is not hard to distinguish the upward pull of our world from the downward pull of Christ.”
We are left this week with a lot to think about – a decision has to be made: will we follow Christ or not? And sorry, you can’t “kind of” do this. You can’t have a one foot in each world. As Jesus said, and before his words, God spoke, we can worship only one God. This is an all or nothing, either-or question that HAS to be answered.
Pray deeply about this and ask God’s Spirit to give you guidance and strength.
We will look at “The Lure of Upward Mobility” – found in the Temptations of Jesus.