Like many people my age I still feel as slight anger towards stingrays. For those of you that may consider why. Just remember back in 2006 when a stingray ended the life of the beloved Steve Irwin, the famed Crocodile Hunter. His show was a favorite of mine for years. And along with his show I was a child who loved watching the wonder of the animal world. Even now I am someone who takes pleasure in watching Planet Earth and other such programs.
In watching these I always enjoyed seeing the animals of Africa. They seemed other worldy. They were the stuff of pure imagination for me as a child and something of wonder still. In remembering these shows it always amazed me when a lion chase was able to be captured on film. They lionesses would circle round and begin to purse. It would not be long until one could guess as to the success of the hunt. And this would be based on if they were able to isolate an animal from the herd. If they could get an animal, who often was in a place of weakness to start with, alone then they would often get the kill.
Back in the ancient Roman world of the 1st century, sometime in the first 60's AD, St Peter took up a pen and addressed it to the exiles of the Church. Those who lived in this world and yet knew that they were as far from home as the stars of the night and as close as as a single breath. Peter had walked with Jesus, been taught and often rebuked by God Himself. To him was given the charge of the Church and the care of the flock. Though authority was given to all Apostles and the elders of each church. Peter knew that he was called to aid the church. Into this he, through the inspiration of God the Spirit, began to write to those to whom he had been given. Through the book Peter gives encouragement, wisdom, and spiritual guidance. And in the 5th chapter calls for the believers to be sober minded, and alert. He warns them that they have a real enemy, and he searches like a hungry lion seeking to devour. (5:8) This verse takes captive my imagination and runs back to the Discovery Channel shows I grew up watching. He says that our enemy, Lucifer and his horde, prowl like lions seeking to destroy. Remember watching the hunt on your screen, the lions circle. They sit and watch. They look for the young and the weak, and then they charge. And in the confusion they strive to isolate knowing they their success is largely based on this one thing. If they can isolate they can kill. And this is something that I think we can all attest to. We know that when we are isolated from those in the church we become vulnerable. This does not necessarily mean when we stop 'going to church.' We can be in a building every time the door opens and yet never be connected to those who we sit next to. And this has never been easier. We are called to gather together in a way that to neglect it boarders sin, if not crossing over. (Heb. 10:25) But we are called to be people who know each other enough to celebrate wins and mourn losses. (Rom 12:15-16) We are given the model of the Church as a people who live life together around a shared table. (Acts 2:46) And we are called to be people who confess sin to each other and seek to gospel those in our lives. (James 5:16, 1 Cor 15:1-2)
This last one is the hardest for me. Sharing food is easy for me, I love to cook and have people over. At least when the weather is good, for I live in an old house and inviting someone over when the weather is cold ain't loving. Weeping with those I love comes naturally for us who posses new hearts, and who among us isn't able to join in rejoicing. But I honestly wish that confession wasn't added as a place in community, a thing that keeps us from isolation. But it is. For me when I am in a place that needs confession I cover myself, as my first parents did, with cowardly camouflage. I allow the shame of what I believe or what I have done to make me hid when I hear the call of "Where are you?" Three times this week I have been in the place where my thoughts have pushed me to isolate. My head rattles off each reason that I should just 'be tough' and 'get over it'. But three times this week I have been given the strength by God the Spirit to say what I believed. To confess the sin in my heart to people I know to be family. With each time I felt as though if I spoke from my shame and isolation I would be further isolated. If I told these people what was happening in my mind and heart, they would cast me away. I had spoken to gospel to all three of these men. If I was honest, I allowed myself to believe, they would stop listening to me. As if it were I who gave them truth in the past and not God the Spirit speaking through me. I did not want to speak. I wanted to continue my isolation, all the while cursing God for being isolated. But into each of these conversations I softly spoke of the unbelief in my heart. And expecting the first stone to be thrown, I was met with the gaze of grace. In each of these conversations I was gospeled by men who I had before gospeled. In all of these confessions of unbelief, anger, and fear I was met with the promise of the gospel. I was an animal who had forgotten that safety is found in community. I ran away and allowed my own isolation, blaming God that it had happened at all, and in my confession I was surrounded by the rest of the herd. I could feel the breath of him who prowls like a roaring lion breathing down my neck. I felt as though I was as good as devoured. But as we all learned by watching the Planet Earth and the Discovery channel, sometimes the lion doesn't get the kill. Sometimes the prey escapes, becaues sometimes they just aren't able to isolate...