Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
Anna Kamieńska belonged to a generation of Polish poets born in the 1920’s who came of age during the brutal Nazi occupation, years of post-war turmoil, and the suffocating entrenchment of Communist rule. In spite of this, or perhaps, because of it, she became a woman of faith. “I was looking for the dead,” she writes, “and I found God.”
“Even when I don’t believe
There is a place in me
Inaccessible to unbelief
A patch of wild grace…”
Something in us is always searching, listening for the still small voice of God. Like Siri, or Alexa, or ok google I’d like to think my heart is always listening to receive and embrace God’s grace. But I think just as often, or perhaps more so, there is something over my heart always listening to defend itself against God and to hold grace at bay.
“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” (Mark 1:24) The man with an unclean spirit immediately sees and hears what the others do not. He recognizes Jesus. “I know who you are, Holy One of God.” Jesus entered the synagogue in Capernaum. It was among the oldest in the world. By all accounts, it was beautiful, large, and successful. The people are astounded at Jesus’ teaching. They were “ekplessomai,” literally, they were “blown out of their minds.”
Immediately a voice of condemnation arises from among the people. A demon residing there recognized danger. “Have you come to destroy us?” Jesus provoked an unclean spirit watching and listening to defend itself. The community had a lot to lose after all if the political-economic-religious world they were accustomed to were suddenly to change.
Something in us always watching and listening wants to survive—to defend itself against the gospel. How often do we recognize the power of the gospel first because of the way it provokes us to say no? Not just no but hell no. The power of rebellion and sin runs deep in us. Often, we are deaf and blind to its presence. Yet, again and again, the spirit of God bids us come and wash in the word, be cleansed through contrition and prayer, restore a right heart and mind through baptism, and renew our strength for service with good food from the Lord’s table.
When we are made clean in the spirit we can hear and see the truth again. Healthy religion is not a reward system. It is not an evacuation plan to another world. It is not fire insurance. When we say “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20) we are announcing our commitment to Jesus’ upside-down world where “the last are first and the first are last” (Matthew 20:16) over any other power system or frame of reference. It means we have changed our loyalties from power, success, money, ego, and control to the imitation of a Vulnerable God where servanthood, surrender, and simplicity reign.
Every generation has its epiphany. Every generation gets a chance to open its eyes and ears to hear and see how unclean spirits have taken hold to dwell among of us. Today we are being led by young women of color like Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi founders of Black Lives Matter, or Tarana Burke founder of the #metoo movement, and by the dreamers who call us to reclaim our heritage as a nation of immigrants. They are prophets among us. There are always prophets among us to call us back to the right road. We must listen to our prophets.
If Jesus is Lord and head of the church, there is a radically changed religious typography. Rules for who and what is clean and unclean, moral and immoral, righteous and unrighteous must change. What counts is love and mercy more than piety and appearances.
But this process is slow, painstaking, bewildering, and often painful. The price for real transformation is high. Yet there is something in us deeper and beyond sin and rebellion always listening and searching for exactly this. We are thankful for whatever progress can be made to renew our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
People of faith stumble forward into a dark future they cannot fully see. To follow the leading of the Spirit we must learn to use our peripheral vision rather than look straight ahead because that is how we see best at night. Scripture says Moses saw the burning bush out of the corner of his eye. (Exodus 3:3).
Some part of us is always looking and listening. If Jesus is Lord our selfish selves must die too, which Jesus exemplified on the cross. This is what is called the Good News! And here is a wonderful surprise: We can surrender to God without losing ourselves! The irony is that we find ourselves when lose our lives in God.
Again, Anna Kamieńska in a poem called Transformation found in a book of selected poems called Astonishments, writes:
To be transformed
to turn yourself inside out like a glove
to spin like a planet
to thread yourself through yourself
so that each day penetrates each night
so that each word runs to the other side of truth
so that each verse comes out of itself
and gives off its own light
so that each face leaning on a hand
sweats into the skin of the palm
So that this pen
changes into pure silence
I wanted to say into love
To fall off a horse
to smear your face with dust
to be blinded
to lift yourself
and allow yourself to be led
like blind Saul
Something in us was always looking and listening for this. Something in us already knows. To lead, we must first be led. To build a living sanctuary, we must first be “undone. “To resist ego, orthodoxy, and empire can be accomplished only by the gift of a fearless faith, one that shatters all our illusions, one that knocks us off our horse, one that allows us to be led, like blind Saul to Damascus.” (Robin Meyers, Spiritual Defiance) Then we are like leaven that God has hidden in the imperial loaf. “We are salt and light and seed, and all we have to do is walk straight into that light—the same light that is breaking through these very windows at this very moment. See how it falls on our faces? Do not turn away.” (Robin Meyers, Spiritual Defiance) Look and listen and for the love of God, follow and be clean.