Lutheran pastors have a penchant for making their confirmation students memorize “pointless” Bible verses. The kids complain, maybe the parents complain, but they retain a certain configuration of words just long enough to vomit them forth on command from the preacher.
Maybe this configuration of words is familiar to you: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” That’s Genesis 3:15, and at least in my circles it’s regarded as a pretty important verse. I read it out loud in front of the congregation pretty much every Christmas Eve, in fact, and refer to it regularly in sermons.
This week we covered the fall into sin from Genesis 3 in my Bible Information Class, which is confirmation review or a membership class, depending on who you are when you take it. This particular day only two women were there. Both were raised Lutheran; one has been at this church most of her life, and the other hasn’t been to church in decades.
And as we walked through, we paused at this verse.
“Who is God talking to?”
“Well, the serpent,” one of the women astutely points out.
“So, what’s this enmity between the serpent and the woman – Eve?”
“Well, they’re going to hate each other.”
“Wait a second,” I interject. “I thought Eve liked the serpent. She believed him enough to side with him against God. So what’s God doing?”
“He’s changing her side!”
“That’s right!” I nod. “And what’s this part here? Someone’s going to crush his head? Who finally crushed the serpent’s head?”
“Jesus,” the other woman chimes in.
“Huh. But what’s going to happen when he crushes the serpent’s head?”
“The serpents’ going to bite his heel.”
“OK. So when did Jesus crush the serpent’s head?”
And the women’s eyes light up. “I’ve heard this verse so many times over the years, but I never got it until now! He’s talking about Jesus dying on the cross! He crushed the serpent’s head right when he died – when the serpent bit him!”
The women look at each other. “It’s too bad [the other class attender] isn’t here tonight! This is amazing! This is a good class!”
This is the most awesome part about being a pastor. Showing someone Jesus… and seeing the Holy Spirit just work. Putting the Word in front of someone and sitting back and seeing the dots getting connected.
It’s sad that it took so many years for the woman to understand. She mentioned having to memorize it back in school… but how many kids memorize something without “getting it”? Heck, how many times do I do my daily Bible reading and not get it? It’s not that she’s a dunce or that the pastor at the time was necessarily a bad teacher. Often enough… we just don’t pay attention.
I wish I could see this moment more often. That point in time where the Holy Spirit turns on the light bulb and someone… just is blown away by what Scripture says.
I’ve been visiting a jail. I’ve been sharing the Gospel with a young man there. And I love it… he’s eating up the Gospel. He loves Jesus. Now, I’ve seen it before that people love Jesus in jail, and once they regain their freedom suddenly he doesn’t matter anymore (shades of Bree in The Horse and His Boy). But for now, I will continue to feed him and strengthen him in what God says. (And no, I don’t ignore the Law… but I know that it is the Gospel that is the power!)
I’ve been teaching at a teen center. And one kid explains, all excited, “Well, Jesus won’t shove him away! Because Jesus is here for the sinners, not the right people!” He never heard of Jesus a week ago. Now he’s excited about everything Jesus does.
It’s not like we’re growing as a congregation by leaps and bounds…. But the Kingdom of God is moving forward forcefully. God is using his Word and blessing it.
And it is so, so cool to be a part of that.
If only every moment was like that, eh?
But it’s not. The Word usually works more like a seed, inching its way into hearts, so that one day you see a beautiful bloom and ask yourself, “How did that get there?”
Often enough it feels more like I’m pouring water on a lawn already dead. And the hose is stopped up. Or I’m standing on it. Or I’m so embarrassed to be using this plain old water and not something flashier.
But God gives flashes… he allows his ministers to see, every once and a while, behind the curtain. He shows us the secret: That the Word really does work. That the Holy Spirit waters the seeds. That people do grow in faith. That my labor in the Lord…
…it’s not in vain?
It’s not in vain.
It’s not in vain!
Oh, Father, show me more like this. Remind me. Heal my heart and remind me that the Gospel is the power of salvation for all who believe! Forgive me for thinking I’m watering a dead lawn, or that it’s up to me to make people grow. Open my mouth to pour forth your praise. Let my actions match whom you have made me to be: A new creation, your son, your adopted child, made new in you. Use me to share your gospel with others. Give me courage and wisdom.