Amen

I was reading a newsletter I periodically receive from an organization called Contemplative Outreach. While perusing the newsletter, there was a thought-provoking article on the profundity of the word Amen. The article begins:

If you asked me for one piece of advice about contemplation, I would say to take to heart the meaning of one word: amen. If you asked me how you should relate to God, how you might pray, I would whisper, “Amen.” If I practice only one simple thing at the end of my own life, I hope it will be amen.

As the article points out, amen literally means, “so be it” or “let it be.” It is a way of releasing that prayer “into God with a radical trust that nothing more needs to be said.” In any given situation in our life, it is a way of expressing surrender to God, “Not as I will, but as you will.”

It was not only a needed reminder for me personally, but a meaning that I think needs to be reclaimed by many people of faith.  Consider the ways in which we utilize that simple word, Amen, and the meanings inferred from our usage:

  • At dinnertime, it has come to mean, “Time to eat.”
  • Concluding a prayer, it often means, “I am finished talking to God now.”
  • A friend of mine once described Amen as hanging up the phone – conversation over – instead of simply being a pause until we pick up the conversation with God later in the day.
  • If you grew up in the Baptist tradition, Amen is often a way of expressing agreement with what has been said, often loudly and with enthusiasm – AMEN!  The louder the Amen, the more the person agreed!  Can I get an AMEN?
  • In other religious circles, it has just become another religious expression, spiritual sounding but devoid of any real meaning.

Notice how none of these common uses comes anywhere close to expressing, “So be it.”  Far from being just a word tacked on to the end of a prayer, Amen can be a prayer all by itself – a single word to express what is in the heart, while at the same time deferring our plans to God’s plan.  Since reading that article I have found myself  simply whispering Amen several times throughout the day.  I am learning that when there is so much I want to say to God, sometimes Amen is all that needs to be said.

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The Fifth Commandment, Pt. 2

The following is the second excerpt from chapter six of Ten Essential Words.  By the way, I hope to have the entire book available soon.  Stay tuned!

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Perhaps one of the most difficult passages to understand when it comes to Jesus and his family also holds out great hope to all who desire to be part of God’s family. As we observe Jesus interacting with his own family, we come to realize that one of the more remarkable things Jesus did was that he redefined who belonged to his family.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus had spent his day teaching in the towns around the Sea of Galilee, debating the religious leaders, and responding to growing crowds. While teaching in a house, addressing a particular crowd, Jesus’ mother and brothers came looking for him:

While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”

It must have been awkward to be part of the family for thirty years and suddenly be an overnight celebrity. It had to have been difficult for Mary, who was used to having Jesus around helping out around the home. We do not know for sure, but most people assume that Joseph – Jesus’ earthly father and Mary’s husband – died when Jesus was reaching adulthood. After Jesus’ childhood, the Bible is silent in regards to Joseph and at the cross we see Jesus imploring John to take care of Mary. Being the first-born, Jesus would have been the man of the house.

But suddenly he was away from home, frequently teaching from village to village, and gone for long periods of time. So perhaps his family was growing frustrated at his frequent absences and set out to tell him he must stick around the house more often. Another account tells us that at this time his family was growing concerned for his safety and his current state of mind: “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’.” So it is not difficult to imagine Mary and the boys hearing that Jesus was nearby teaching to a packed house. When they reach the house, they cannot even get in. “This is ridiculous!” they think, “We are his family and we have to take a number to see him. It is time to have a family meeting.”  So in the middle of his teaching, someone interrupted Jesus and told him that his mother and brothers were outside and wanted a word with him. One would think that the “honoring” thing to do would be to excuse himself while he attended to his family. A good son would go clear things up with mom. But this was not his response:

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Shockingly, Jesus responded by asserting that he was already with his family and he was taking care of family business. The people outside would have to wait. In the astonishment of that moment, it would be easy to miss this remarkable assertion by Jesus. It was not who was excluded from Jesus’ family, but who was included.

Pointing to his disciples, Jesus said, “This is my family.” And what criteria did Jesus use to determine who was family? “Whoever does the will of my Father.” If they are following the Father, they must be family. You have heard the saying, “Blood is thicker than water?” Well, Jesus was asserting, “Obedience is thicker than blood.” Notice, this does not exclude Jesus’ physical family, but rather it was a radical inclusion of all who sought to do the will of the Father. Jesus never pitted the two against each other. We are not told how Mary responded, but who could blame her for feeling just a bit slighted? In time, she would grow to value this extended family. While dying on the cross, Jesus comforted his mother with the words, “Woman, here is your son,” and turning to John, with the words, “Here is your mother.”