Hints of the Kingdom
I am amazed at the everyday “Kingdom Preparation” that happens in our lives as we live and interact in this world. The Gospel is actualized in us through the mundane things of life, the everyday parables that only those with “eyes to see” can decode and learn from. I think my eyes are starting to open… I pray they continue to.
One sunday after our worship celebration I ran into my friend John, a middle-aged man who has seizures quite frequently and needs his medication if he is going to hold a job or merely survive. He told me his medication was out and that he had no money to get it. This is the story of many people in my community. I didn’t have any money and the pharmacy was closed anyway, so I told him to hit up Pastor Walter and if He couldn’t help him I would help him later in the week once I got a few bucks… Then we had a time of prayer (he prayed the sweetest prayer for me and my family and for Kimberly who was feeling really sick) and we parted ways.
Fast-forward to wednesday… Pastor Walter and I were getting ready to leave for a prayer and planning retreat in the gorgeous Pocono mountains (something pastors are supposed to do… it’s in our job description). I was already running late. Who should I run into but John, walking hand in hand with his fiance. My selfish heart immediately sunk because I knew he had a need. I knew I had promised to help him. I also knew I had the money on me to do it, but I really didn’t want to. In my mind I started listing every excuse I could to convince myself that helping him in this moment would not be the right use of my precious time. I tried my best to weasel out of loving my neighbor to the same extent I would want to be loved if I was in his shoes and he was in mine. It didn’t work so well.
Fortunately, the Holy Spirit doesn’t let those excuses add up and they really didn’t. So I was a good obedient pastor (though my heart was still not in it yet) and pulled my car over. I told them to get in and said I would take him to the pharmacy to get the meds. I made sure to include that I was in a rush. He was so elated and promised it wouldn’t take long.
We went to the pharmacy across from our church building and sure enough, it took long… I should have known. Nothing “doesn’t take long” in Newark (except getting mugged). My schedule was in shambles, and I stood there tapping my foot with a “you said it wouldn’t take long” look on my face as I texted my excuse to my missed appointment. In my mind I was thinking, “why am I helping this guy, it’s his own fault he can’t get his medication. He needs to grow up and stop relying on other people for help. He needs to get his act together. How dare he lie to me and say it wouldn’t take long. Doesn’t he know I am an important person and have more important things to do.”
As I stood there frustrated I looked over at John and saw in his eyes the pain he was feeling at having to make his friend wait. His hand was shaking and he was frantically looking over the counter; his own awkward way of trying to encourage the pharmacy person to hurry… He looked over at me sadly and said “sorry this is taking so long, but thanks so much for helping me.”
My heart melted, and I felt once again the power of the Gospel being preached to me by the least of these. Jesus was there and Jesus was teaching me something… He was drawing me near to himself and was bringing my heart into true communion with Him. I just hadn’t seen it yet… I wasn’t going to get any closer to God up in the Poconos, praying and fasting, than I would right there in that pharmacy, pissed off and angry. I didn’t need to go up to the mountains and listen to more Tim Keller sermons about serving the poor, I needed to let Jesus preach to me through John, and truly learn how to love my neighbor by actually doing it.
I can’t help but laugh mockingly at the pointless anger and selfishness in my heart. I also laugh out of sheer joy for the redemptive work of Christ being actualized in my innermost in that moment. Here I am, getting ready to leave on a retreat to draw near to God so that I can better serve the poor, broken and marginalized of my community and God throws a wrench in my plans by sending a poor needy person my way. What do I do? I get angry, frustrated and even bitter toward God and my neighbor.
Amazing isn’t it? I am a Reformed Pastor so I am really supposed to believe that God is sovereign and works all things for our good… That’s in our doctrine. But I really didn’t and my attitude showed it. I might actually be sicker than John is.
Fortunately the Spirit doesn’t let our guilt add up either… The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord brings good news for a poor, faithless and sick sinner like me… How? In Jesus, the anointed servant, the bread of heaven who came to heal the sick; to heal me and John from all our diseases. You see, Jesus doesn’t act the way I do…
So what does Jesus do and how did He act that day? Well, He waited patiently with me for my medicine; medicine I needed to get that I hadn’t received yet that day. Medicine He chose to purchase for me with his own blood that slowly drained from his body as He hung on the cross. The Medicine of Heaven – an eternal remedy that is healing me forever… The Good News that God is healing and will heal us from all our diseases, inside and out. He will redeem us, even at an infinite cost to Himself. This is medicine for life. Jesus waits with me everyday, patiently enduring my unbelief, and the sickness of my sin, lovingly waiting for me to truly get “it” and believe the covenant promises of God’s redeeming love. Heaven’s remedy allows me to TRULY LIVE and abide in the will of God, and Jesus is the way I can get it. There’s no way I can manufacture my own remedy to heal my unbelieving heart, I need the pharmacy of heaven to give me it’s manna everyday, and Jesus has bought an eternal health plan for me through His atoning sacrifice… The best news is that it’s free.
The problem is that I try so many false medications to deal with my sickness. My schedule and my religion are a few of the many… If I could just be more organized, busy, efficient or if I could just do more for God- preach a better sermon or pray more… then I can be healed, Newark can be changed, and this world will be redeemed… No, my false medications continue to fail on every level. Yet especially in my failure and “seizures” the love of God has a chance to seize my heart afresh and reminds me of what really matters.
Jesus is always amongst the poor and needy. I got to commune with my Savior as I stood there waiting with my blood-bought brother John, both of us poor and in need of mercy. I felt repentance wash through me. I felt fresh joy and faith in God flood my soul. As we stood there waiting, talking and laughing, that pharmacy became a sanctuary. We worshipped our God together; each of us thankful in different ways for how our Father in heaven was providing the medicine we needed.