The Briarpatch Gospel: Welcome To The Briarpatch
- Wednesday, February 20, 2013
I have good news for you. Jesus isn’t only on the summit. He’s also in the deep valleys, on the windswept slopes, and in the cavernous crevasses. He’s in the seemingly dark places of your exhaustion and confusion. He’s in the briarpatch, amid all the tangle, thorns, and confusion, and it’s where he does some of his best work.
But what does that look like?
We expect encounters with the living God to be earth-shattering, but it wasn’t that way (at least initially) for most of the people who met Jesus after he was raised from the dead. His disciples were having a despondent dinner, and Jesus walked in and asked for something to eat (Luke 24:35-43). Another time, they were having a really bad day at work, until Jesus arrived and showed them a better way (John 21:1-11). On a third occasion, two men were walking along a hot and dusty road between Jerusalem and Emmaus after they had witnessed Christ’s crucifixion. Even as they wondered why God hadn’t shown up, Jesus came and walked alongside them (Luke 24:13-27).
What is surprising—and encouraging—about such encounters is that they are so ordinary. If you were to make up a story about meeting Jesus in the flesh, what would he look like? I would have him glowing like the sun, maybe with some levitation, lightning in his hands and thunder in his voice. There would definitely be lasers. But that’s typically not how it happens.
In 1995, singer Joan Osborne asked a pretty perceptive question: “What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus?”2 In the case of the New Testament, he was like one of us. What makes us think it would be much different now?
In the plight of the homeless, the abused, and the disenfranchised in the struggle against injustice or the difficulty of loving people who are just so frustratingly different from us, God is there. In the heartbreak of betrayal or the crucible of sickness, God is there. He inhabits the difficult places in our lives and in the lives of others, so we need not be afraid to go there.
Maybe you’re still waiting for lasers and lightning. You’re waiting for a clear, booming voice from heaven before you have the courage to follow Jesus into the prickly underbrush of your everyday life. What you may not realize is that you’ve already been given what you need in order to follow him with confidence.
Ask yourself, why did God bother to raise Jesus from the dead? Why not just take Jesus straight back to heaven and bypass the corporeal interlude? Instead, Jesus was raised in a physical body and appeared to hundreds of people over the course of forty days. Why?
Because his death and resurrection were not just so you and I can go to heaven one day and in the meantime idle our lives away with halfhearted morality and unsingable hymns or feel-good praise choruses. It was not so we can get “churched-up” on Sundays and live in blind indifference or passive apathy on the days in between. The visitation of the resurrected Jesus was meant to signal to us that a new reality has been unleashed in the world. That the presence and power of Jesus are here now, and they are healing and restoring amid the barbs and briars that we call life. Christ’s resurrection shows us that his life, hope, healing, and renewal are happening today, in this place, in our world.
Sociologist James Davison Hunter says it well,
The Son of God . . . was both the actual presence and the harbinger of a new kingdom. Everything about his life, his teaching, and his death was a demonstration of a different kind of power—not just in relation to the spiritual realm . . . but in the ordinary social dynamics of everyday life. It operated in complete obedience to God the Father, it repudiated the symbolic trappings of elitism, it manifested compassion concretely out of calling and vocation, and it served the good of all and not just the good of the community of faith. In short, in contrast to the kingdoms of this world, his kingdom manifests the power to bless, unburden, serve, heal, mend, restore, and liberate.3
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