Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Oaks of Righteousness

As I reflect on these words from Isaiah 61 (see yesterday's post), I cannot help but be struck by the fact that although in terms of my own ministry, I resonate with the first three verses, there is a certain element of my story (a fairly large element of it) in which I have been not the anointed, but the comforted. Not the sent, but the received. 

And I owe my life to the anointed ones.

I owe my life to those who have done the dirty work, who have delivered good news to me in moments of my greatest humiliation. Who have been the healing salve to my broken heart. Who have broken into the prison to set me free and done battle in the darkness with my captors that I might be released. I owe my life to to those who have comforted me, who have provided for me, who have spent their countless breaths trying to convince me to trade my ashes for a crown. To those who have made it possible for me...even me...to restore, rebuild, and renew.

I think this is the way that it ought to be. No, that it must be. There must be, even in the stories of the anointed ones, some narrative of God's glory - a glory that does not come from the anointing but from something much more human. In that weird sort of way that God works, we must be aware that even those of us who have been called to do the dirty work must have some mud and muck in our own lives if we are to be of any value at all.

See, I owe my life to the anointed ones, and it's easy for me to say it in those words. But what that also means is that I have been humiliated. Yes, I know what it is to be humble and not by choice. I know what it is to be mocked and teased and taunted and tortured. It also means that I have been brokenhearted, that this life has not always gone the way that I hoped it would. That I have been told no. That I have missed out. That I have been disappointed. That I have struggled with agony and angst and ache. It also means that I have been imprisoned, that I have lived some of my life behind bars that I couldn't break free from; that I have been captive, that I have been held by forces that just would not let me go. It means that I have grieved, that I have mourned, that I have felt lost, abandoned, lonely. That I have covered myself in ashes and for good reason.

These are not so much the easy stories to tell. These are not the moments I relish to relive when I talk about who I am, who God has made me to be, how my story has taken shape.

And yet, it is these stories that reveal something else about my story: all the little threads of God's glory that run through it. That's what Isaiah 61 reminds us. It tells us, in beautiful language, that it is here in these broken places that God's glory is on full display. Not in the anointed, but in the comforted. Not in the sent, but in the received. It is in this mud and muck that the seed is planted and that God's people become not the anointed ones, but Oaks of Righteousness. Becoming anointed is something else altogether.

But the two are not entirely disconnected. I think if you're ever anointed, if you're ever one that God calls to do the dirty work in this world, then you have to have a story of glory. You have to have some of this muck and mud and dirt in your own narrative. You have to understand what it's like to be brokenhearted, to be comforted, to mourn. You have to have at one point been an Oak of Righteousness in order to appreciate at all the acorn.

An acorn that will grow into its own oak and reveal in greatest majesty the glory of the Lord. As they restore, rebuild, and renew. 

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