The attorney tells the accused, “I have some good news and some bad news.” “What’s the bad news?” asks the accused. “The bad news is, your blood is all over the crime scene, and the DNA tests prove you did it.” “What’s the good news?” “Your cholesterol is only 130.”
Is it just me, or does it seem like the more we have, the more we want? The more things we acquire, and the easier things get for us, the faster we become discontent. The easier things become as a society with technology and growing convenience, the more we complain. It’s like we need to face something hard for us to grow soft. We need the devil to bring us down to let God lift us up.
Tiger Woods wasn’t just on the mountaintop he was on the top of the whole world. He had the greatest year in golf ever in 2000. He was only 33 years old and had already won 14 majors. He was basically averaging two major victories a year for three years going into 2008. He only needed another two years at that pace to tie the great Jack Nicklaus’ untouchable record of 18 majors. Certainly, in three or four at most he would beat Nicklaus and then who knew what would happen with the next ten years of his career. Another ten? The boy wonder. The greatest golfer ever. He was so unapproachable that in the ranking of current golfers his point total was more than twice as good as the next best player, Phil Mickelson, who was no slouch. The most dominant athlete in any sport.
But it all fell apart. As far as his golf life has gone, he hasn’t won another major since July 2008, almost 11 years ago. Perhaps today that will change as the 2019 Masters fourth and final round is this afternoon.
But you know what, Tiger looks different, and by different, I mean he looks better, happier, holding on to less weight and burdens. He has grown out of his impenetrable façade and become someone who looks like he knows more who he is and likes himself. I can imagine he would give back all that he has gained of himself via losing so much of what he thought he would get. After all, who wants to fall off our mountaintop.
But the return isn’t an option. And more than that, it’s a good thing it isn’t, because it’s almost impossible for us to choose the tougher path over the easier, the spiritual road over the material one, the one whose reward is within ourselves and who we become for ourselves and for others than the high of having more.
We need to let go of the idea that life must go from good to better to best. Clouds with silver linings are real. They rain on us real silver, or real gold which we wouldn’t get if we didn’t find ourselves covered with clouds in the first place. If we’re on a mountain, more than likely there’s a valley attached to it. But realize the valley means there’s going to be a mountain whose summit you’re going to reach. Trust the process. Stick to a long-term plan even in the face of tough short-term outcomes.
You know that professional athletes cry when they win. Basketball players, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, cried when they won their NBA championships. Golfers cry when they win the Masters. Why? Yes, they’re happy but that’s not the reason they cry. You smile when you’re happy. It’s because of the huge amount of sacrifice they put in. Because they went through so many valleys and they finally reached a mountaintop, one that while you are working and sacrificing and losing, you can never be sure you will get to summit. It’s almost torture, self-inflicted to be sure. We cry when we have gone through the so, kept our faith, and reached the peak. It’s the journey that matters. Which kids got up yesterday, Saturday morning at 6:00 a.m. instead of sleeping in until 10 a.m.? Soccer players who had to play at 8:00 a.m. But they believe hardship brings blessings. And they’re right. They trust the process.
We could say someone else trusted the process, in a much huger way. Looking at the four Gospels, you see all of them focus on the last week of Jesus’ life more than any other single part. And not all of it was happiness and light. In fact, the words that describe the week’s experiences are a litany of emotions that represent the ups and downs of the week: hosanna, confrontation, betrayal, denial, trial, scourging, crucifixion, tomb. Then the most electrifying sentence ever uttered—”He is not here! He is risen!”
This day, the gateway to Holy Week, is a day of temporary triumph and a day that sets up the truth that people are often very fickle. A week that lifts us with shouts of praise is also a week that reveals the abyss of denial and betrayal, the duplicity of Judas, and the unfaithfulness of Peter. What begins with a parade and sunlight will reveal Jesus’ friends’ weakness and his death between two thieves—one who curses him, the other who asks his forgiveness. He will be entombed. But then there shall be the glory of Easter and Christ’s resurrection.
It all began Palm Sunday, a day of applause. Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time. It’s possible he planned his own parade. Until then, he had
avoided public acclaim and publicity. Now, he accepted it. He came to celebrate the ancient Passover with his fellow Jews. The city was jammed with pilgrims from all over the world. He rode in on a young donkey. But this was a dangerous move. In Jerusalem were powerful people who hated Jesus and wanted him dead. His friends had argued with him about the wisdom of the trip. But Jesus was determined, and if he was determined to do something, it would get done.
Yet, there’s no trace of arrogance in Jesus. No bullying. He’s a hero, a superstar, but one who comes without the trappings of power. He’s healed the sick, raised the dead. But still he didn’t exalt himself. Today, there are certain people who claim to do the same or have huge followings. They don’t travel on a donkey or even in an old VW, however. They fly, and first class too or in their own jets.
It must have been a little shocking to see someone who many were calling king riding into town on a donkey that probably wasn’t much bigger than he was! Not even a saddle on the thing, just coats for a cushion. This is not the President of the U.S. riding in a bulletproof limo accompanied by 26 other vehicles. Yet Jesus knew what he what he was doing. He knew the old prophecy, “Your king comes to you humble on a donkey’s colt.” It’s a quaint story and poetic, but is this how we see Christ ourselves? I wonder how many of us really want Jesus on an ass.
Just outside Eureka Springs, Arkansas, on the top of a beautiful hill, there’s a giant statue of Jesus standing out above the evergreen trees. Viewed from the hills in Eureka Springs, it looks like a giant white cross, but when you actually drive over to it, you see that it is a stylized rendering of the resurrected Christ, standing with his arms outstretched. You may expect to be impressed to see the Christ of the Ozarks. It is huge, but on approaching the statue you will hear gospel music being played on a very bad sound system. The statue is full of cracks and is apparently constructed of concrete, which is crumbling. Artistically speaking, you aren’t off base to see that the statue and its surroundings are gaudy and, well, poorly done. It’s the Jesus of our consumer culture, huge, and doesn’t come with scars or nail holes in the wrists or hands. The Christ of the Ozarks is simply large and triumphant.
That Christ would never ride a donkey! There’s no valley for that Jesus of Nazareth. Palm Sunday for this Messiah never takes a tragic detour through Gethsemane and Golgotha. The people sing Hosanna at one end and
the risen Christ ascends at the other. The in-between stuff is a little too messy to think that’s God’s way of doing things.
Of course, nobody wants to go into the valley. The mountain is where we all want to stay. But too many Christians don’t trust God’s process. They’re already as perfected or as pliable as they’re going to get. Their hard shell is their salvation, or should I say, protection, they believe. They know where they belong, and nobody should be knocking them off their king or queen of the hill rock. But that’s a life that slowly seeps away its original goodness.
The fact is we can be leaky containers. You see, God gives us so much of the original divine imprint. We’re born with a full measure of blessings we can build on or can lose along the way. What we do with it however is too often trade these blessings for things we want more. We don’t practice patience or compassion because we want to feel more powerful or in control. So, we give away something of God to gain something for the moment. We seek first not the kingdom but something more monetary or convenient, and give away a little bit more of what God has given us. We believe this transaction will pay off in the end or there will be more of God to come so we won’t be hurt or lessened. It’s sort of like we have a hold in our pockets and the sand keeps falling out, trailing behind us, as we journey through life.
The truth is it takes the right choices to keep God blessing you. It takes willingness to face the truth and walk under the clouds and hold on to faith and keep to the Lord and see the good side of things and wait for the silver lining to come and to make your way all the way through the valley and then you get to climb up again to a height.
Don’t let God’s goodness slip away from you. Sew up the holes in your pockets. Face some personal truth you’ve been hiding. Accept fully a harder time for yourself without blame or anger or defeat or misery. Let the Lord take you through to the other side. It’s good to be led. It’s grace to trust God with your life. God’s compassion never ends. The love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.
So don’t reject what God’s hand is offering, even if the cup you have to drink doesn’t taste as sweet as you would like. Sometimes medicine brings a little fever with it, but it saves you from the worst of an illness. Take ownership of the whole of your life, not just the good parts and what you did well. Own up to how much you need the valleys to soften you and recreate you more in Christ’s humble image. Realize how important God’s strong
hand of molding you has been. Let the Lord bring about a better you, with less ego and more wisdom, more faith and less fear.
Can the church say Amen?