I took a bite of a mini Snickers the other day, and instead of just enjoying it, I remembered it as the illustration of my pastor’s sermon: It is one thing to know all about Jesus—quite another to experience him for ourselves. We had talked about Snickers and then eaten one given to us. And the point, activated in my memory by all my senses, stuck.
I pulled laundry out of the dryer a few weeks ago and as the clothes tumbled out, so did a tiny plastic shovel. It also was a reminder of a sermon, given to us to serve as such. Just as God had asked the Israelites to dig trenches in the desert that he could fill with water, God asks us to create time and space for him in our lives, to carve out places where we can anticipate Him filling us with new hope. I don’t know how this token had survived our recent move, ended up in someone’s pocket, and appeared in a random moment in my day. More remarkable was that even though the sermon was months past, the little shovel served as a trigger to my failing memory and helped me recall the truth it represented.
I kept intending to tell my pastor about these events. These moments where seeds planted in faithful, creative ways sprout in my soul, grow roots, and stick. There is so much distraction, so much information; in the deluge of all that floods my mind every day, many of the best things get washed away. Somehow, God uses these little tokens in my life to help me learn and remember, to illustrate something in a way more profound than if I had heard it in words alone.
So here’s where it gets really personal. I’m not sure if this will be uplifting, but it is most certainly real. It is the very graphic way I believe God chose to speak to me. (and since I don’t claim that often, I feel a sense of urgency to write it all down. Record it. THIS happened.) Today I watched last week’s sermon from home. When my pastor got to Isaiah 64:6, I started to cry. In that verse, and his explanation of it, I realized that this time, God had given me the token. The parable. The physical evidence that evokes all my senses to drive a point into my memory and make it stick.
On Thursday, I came to the disturbing conclusion that I was in danger of developing a dangerous infection known as toxic shock syndrome. Previously to this situation, I didn’t believe that-to put it euphemistically-menstural apparatus could get lost inside oneself.
It’s recovery and disposal was traumatic and horrifying. It was. I know it’s absolutely sick to even talk about, and you’re probably cringing in embarrassed disgust right now, wondering how I could be so nasty to talk about bloody menstrual stuff. Believe me, I get it. (and hopefully you’ll understand why in a bit) I felt like I wanted to gag. Afterward, I got into bed and cried. In a weird, inexplicable way, I felt a deep sense of shame. I felt dirty. Gross. The least attractive and loveable in a concrete, provable way. But after I settled down a bit, I also felt profoundly, deeply, overwhelmingly relieved. Relieved that this thing that could literally cause my death through a dangerous infection was gone.
So where is all this going? And why would I share something like that? What purpose could possibly be served by it?
We have all become like the unclean and all our righteous deeds are like a menstrual rag. All of us wither like a leaf; our sins, like the wind, carry us away.
Even the prophet Isaiah didn’t think it was a cheap trick to evoke all our senses to drive home a point. In a culture where women were sent away outside the city if they were even on their period, I can’t imagine that this reference would have been casually slipped in with little notice.
And yet, here in the sacred Scriptures, it is mentioned as a way to help me see that this is what even my best efforts at righteousness are on my own.
But do you expect to hear a verse like this from your pastor? In a sermon? I didn’t. And yet, the very week I have my own painful experience with a “menstrual rag,” this is the verse our pastor reads.
I find this amazing.
This scripture is shouting at me. Ablaze in my memory (mixed with my own experience), it makes me aware in a new and terrible way that all my scrabbling, all my efforts, all my striving is just plain vile.
“What a wretched man [woman] I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 7:25
So I admit. Before God and man: I’m a sinner in need of grace. All my little efforts and best (unfulfilled) intentions, all my inconsistencies and hypocrisies. All my outright sin and all my hidden sin. All my secret judgey thoughts and maliciously spoken ones. All my kindnesses I hope you’ll notice and all my oversights I hope you won’t. All of it. Just one big mess of sin and self-effort and self-delusion.
Even the parts that I think of as “not bad” or “pretty good”: dirty rags.
After sitting with all this for awhile, I managed to dry my tears, stop writing, reading, and talking to God about it all and unpause the sermon to hear what the next couple of points were.
Point 4: Reaffirm your dependence on God.
Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.
And this is where the great hope of my heart finds a landing place. If I am clay, mere clay, I don’t have to fix myself. I don’t have to fashion myself into something lovely and useful. I don’t have the power to, nor is that anyone’s expectation, least of all the potter’s. If I can find my home on his wheel, then the potter can do His work and I can find my rest. I can depend on a loving Father who sees my filthy rags and says he can replace them with spotless robes.
Renamed, reformed, repurposed.
So Advent begins. And God moves and speaks in unexpected ways to me this season. I am not left hanging in a state of shameful despair. The last three points of the sermon were: Expect God’s presence. Enjoy his presence. And Embody his presence. I'm looking forward to seeing what that means in my life this year.
If you’d like to watch the whole sermon, you can follow the link here. I think it is the first one he has ever done like this, in video format en route to Africa, and while there. I strongly suspect that there will be something else, altogether amazing and unexpected that God will use His word and this servant to give you this Advent. I hope you’ll share it with us when He does.