PRAYER OF CONSECRATION
Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
Jesus, I belong to you.
I lift up my heart to you.
I set my mind on you.
I fix my eyes on you.
I offer my body to you as a living sacrifice.
Jesus, we belong to you.
Praying in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.
Acts 14:14–18 (NIV)
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.
I get the sense Paul and Barnabas didn’t see any of this coming. They had been accustomed to working in a God-oriented context; not gods. They had spent most of their time with Jews and with God-fearing Jews, which is another way of saying Gentiles who pursued the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These people assumed monotheism—only one God. This incident in Lystra was blowing their minds. These people were not monotheistic Jews and Gentiles. To be sure, they were God-seekers, but they were open to gods of all sorts.
The scene was getting out of hand. The crowd was about to cut the throat of a bull to sacrifice it as an offering to Paul and Barnabas. Remember, though, why all this was happening. Paul had performed a miracle, calling the man born lame to rise up and walk. They had clearly done a God-like thing. The people’s response was not wrong; just misguided. The apostles didn’t know what to do. So they did this:
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Friends, why are you doing this?
So far so good. I believe they made a misstep with their next statement:
We too are only human, like you.
There is a nuanced concept I would like to convey today but fear I will be misunderstood. I need you to stretch with me today. Please also know I do not mean to criticize apostles. It’s not my place. All this said, here’s my beef: They over-identified with the crowd. It is one thing to renounce the attribution or claim to be a god. It is another thing to renounce or in any way denigrate the status of a human being. It is one of the biggest problems almost all of us have—we do not know what we are. Christians focus a lot on whose we are and who we are but not nearly enough on what we are. So what are we?
We are gloriously fashioned, miraculously created human beings; which means we are bearers of the divine image. We were made on the sixth day as the apex act of creation. Yes, we are dust, but almighty God has breathed into our lungs the breath of life and we are unbelievable, inconceivable, unrepeatable miracles of God. Behold the psalmist’s revealed depiction of what we are:
You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet: (see Psalm 8)
We are miraculous God-like beings, and as such, we are able to do miraculous God-like things. We possess the capacity to live in union with the God of the cosmos and we carry the commission to bring other human beings into that communion. We possess the capacity to confer inestimable worth and dignity—even glory—on all of creation and especially upon our fellow divine image-bearers. This must be fully embraced; never abnegated. Never mistake self-abnegation for humility.
We too are only human, like you.
To say, “We are only human,” implies we are not enough; that perhaps we should be more; that perhaps we should have been gods or at least like unto God. It also feels ungrateful. Again, self-abnegation is a poor counterfeit for authentic humility. Humility is the full embrace of the fullness of what we are and the rising up into the fullness of the responsibility that goes with the authority of carrying such glory.
We too are only human, like you.
They went even further in their declamation.
Yes, we understand what they were trying to say, but in saying it this way it had the effect of under-identifying with Jesus and over-identifying with the crowd. Yes, they were human beings and of the same species as the crowd around them, but in a greater way, they were not human beings like the crowd around them. They were the blood-purchased, redeemed, Spirit-filled, sanctified sent-ones of Jesus Christ. They had been sent by Jesus to this city and to these people to welcome them into the kingdom of God and the new Holy Spirit–filled humanity who live for the glory of God. They were there to invite the people to become human beings—like them—indeed like Jesus.
Can you imagine Jesus ever saying, “I too am only human, like you”? Jesus was a human being like us and yet also very unlike us. He was also very God. Herein lies the gospel: Jesus came as a human like us in order to transform us into a human, like him.
I lead the confirmation class every Sunday at the Gillett Methodist Church in Gillett, Arkansas. It’s one of my favorite things so far as a pastor of this church. It’s a group of five young women and one young man between the ages of eleven and fourteen. Amid all the toxic messages they are receiving from the world, I am trying to teach them what they are as human beings. We repeat this affirmation weekly, and then I text it to them throughout the week.
“I am an unbelievable, inconceivable, unrepeatable miracle of God.”
That’s what it means to be a human being transformed and transforming into the image of Jesus. I want you to repeat it too.
THE PRAYER OF TRANSFORMATION
Lord Jesus, I am your witness.
I receive your righteousness and release my sinfulness.
I receive your wholeness and release my brokenness.
I receive your fullness and release my emptiness.
I receive your peace and release my anxiety.
I receive your joy and release my despair.
I receive your healing and release my sickness.
I receive your love and release my selfishness.
I receive your transformed humanity and release my deformed humanity.
I receive your humility and release my self-abnegation.
Come, Holy Spirit, transform my heart, mind, soul, and strength so that my consecration becomes your demonstration; that our lives become your sanctuary. For the glory of God our Father, amen.
Do you struggle with self-abnegation, unproductive self-deprecation, and otherwise denigrating yourself and your humanity? Would you rather become gloriously humble instead? Will you invite Jesus to lead you into this process or deeper therein? Will you repeat after me? “I am an unbelievable, inconceivable, unrepeatable miracle of God.”
Today we will sing, “O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done.” It is hymn 244 in our Seedbed hymnal, Our Great Redeemer’s Praise.
For the Awakening,
J. D. Walt