Face Like a Flint: Determined Obedience

Photo by Jeff Rodgers on Unsplash

Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Lectionary offers two sets of Readings: Liturgy of the Palms–Luke 19:28-40; Psalm 118; and Liturgy of the Passion–Isa 50:4-9; Psalm 31:9-16; Phil 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56. I’m focusing on the Liturgy of the Palms as well as Isa 50:4-9. A good practice for Holy Week is to read the entire passion narrative in all four of the Gospels. One guide you can use (start with the Trials of Christ: https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/harmony/index.cfm

Entering Jerusalem on the back of a colt as a King, Jesus surely must have “lived in the moment” with the welcoming crowd of palm-waving worshippers. In just five days the words of Isaiah the prophet will come about: “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.” 50:5-6 How did Jesus have the courage to ride into the arena of disgrace and death? The prophet foretells his steadfast determination with this simile:

“But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore, I have set my face like a flint; and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” Isa. 50:7 ESV

“he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Luke 9:51

Steadfast resolve. Solid. Unmoving. Determined Obedience. The title of this blog, Adventurous Obedience, is a reflection of the person I become when centered and focused on the adventure of following Christ. Adventure doesn’t always mean fun times when paired with the word “obedience,” since following also involves denying self and taking up your cross. (Luke 9:23). A life of determined obedience is a lot like Palm Sunday and Good Friday followed by Easter Sunday, a transformation sequence of order, disorder, and reorder.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus lives in the moment of order, when all things are going well as the crowd rightly identifies him: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! But chaos quickly turns the praise to disorder with death threats on Friday: “Crucify him!” (Luke 23:21). Pain, loss and death are necessary for true transformation as nature teaches us: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24 This disorder and death is not what we would choose. We want to quickly resolve the problem, get rid of the pain, and live in comfort. Yet Jesus, with determined obedience, “set his face like a flint” and “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Phil 2:7-8. He was “pierced and crushed” and “poured out his soul to death” so that Easter Sunday could bring reorder, peace, healing, wholeness, and redemption.

Oh such life-giving, steadfast love, sweet Jesus. “Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” Ps 118: 5,14

As Richard Rohr says in Everything Belongs: “There is no direct flight from order to reorder. You must go through disorder…the wounds to our ego are our teachers and are to be welcomed. They should be paid attention to, not denied or perfectly resolved…which is surely why Jesus dramatically and shockingly endured the cross. He knew we would all want to deny necessary suffering unless he made it overwhelmingly clear. The Resurrected Christ is the icon of Reorder. Once we can learn to live in this third spacious place, neither fighting nor fleeing reality but holding the creative tension, we are in the spacious place of grace out of which all newness comes.”

Reflect. How are you doing with your Lenten practice? Where do you see the pattern of order, disorder, reorder in your own life? Has the Lord asked you to turn your face in determination towards something that involves denying yourself, looking deeper at strongholds of sin, finding freedom in obedience? Use Psalm 118 as a guide for your own personal prayers.

Sacrificial Grace, Makoto Fujimura.

Practice. Contemplation Using Art. Makoto Fujimura, is a Christian artist who uses a Japanese style of painting called Nihonga. Semi-precious stone is crushed into mineral pigments. The breaking and crushing actually results in finely articulated splendor as the colors shimmer in refracted light. You can read Makoto reflections on suffering and redemption in “Silence and Beauty.” Mako says “ordinary, weak human beings know there is grace operating to catch us as we struggle.” Click the button below to view his works, especially the last series on grace. Choose a piece, such as “Sacrificial Grace” and reflect on the determination of Christ to be crushed and broken to bring us peace and healing.

Another Japanese art form Kintsugi, is a way of repairing cracked pottery with real gold, not only fixing the break, but greatly increasing its value. Through this restoration, brokenness becomes part of the story of the beauty of the piece. Reflect on your own scars and cracks. How are they part of your story of redemption?

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