Sunday, July 3, 2016

Phil Kniss: Hurry up and wait

Summer 2016: This is a story full of love...
Luke 10:1-11; Galatians 6:7-10

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The notion that the world is going down the tubes,
    is getting so commonplace,
    it’s almost become common knowledge.
I don’t actually believe it myself,
    but seems a lot of people do.

I don’t know how you actually measure
    this level of global despair,
    but I’d say it’s as high as I’ve seen it in my lifetime.

Whatever common bond it is that provides stability,
    that holds together institutions, systems, nations, denominations,
    political parties, economic alliances, you name it . . .
        in many places, that common bond is dissolving,
        trust in each other as human beings is eroding,
        much of the fabric that holds us together is fraying.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Cherry, of the Church of England,
    who, you might recall,
        preached here at Park View a couple years ago,
        just before he took his current post
            as the Dean of Kings College, in Cambridge,
    commented recently on Britain’s exit from the European Union.

    He wasn’t in favor of it,
        and he’s worried about its long-term implications.
    But the part of his comments that caught my attention
        were his talk of “granular politics.”
    That is, politics that get narrower and narrower,
        down to the individual grains . . .
        always preferring individual autonomy and independence
            over collaboration and community.

Today, on July 3, one day before our national holiday
    celebrating independence from Great Britain,
    and individual freedom in general,
        it might be apropos to listen to the wisdom
        of at least this one Brit.
    Having learned to know Stephen personally
        during his sabbatical among us in Harrisonburg,
        I know him to be compassionate, wise, humble,
            and a passionate follower of Jesus.

So . . . Dr. Cherry,
    in his written comments on the Brexit referendum,
    lamented the “absence of convincing political leadership
        (which is essentiality the art of selling principled compromise).”
    And he lamented “the desire for binary questions
        based on unsubstantiated promises . . .
        [which] panders to the deep desire we all have
            to believe things boil down to a simple yes / no
            and to believe that at last someone as noble and wise as ME
                is making the decision that counts.
        This is . . . foolish (he writes)—but also deeply seductive.”

Put simply, Stephen Cherry is calling us all to account,
    we who favor quick and simple and black-and-white answers,
    we who value individual autonomy over working hard together,
    we who are looking for strong leaders that like to “go it alone,”
    we who act out of ideology, rather than collaborate
        and hammer out a compromise for the good of the whole.

He is warning us all of the dangers of “granular politics.”

I resonate with him.
And it seems to me this rabid desire to “go it alone”—
    and to diminish the value of community,
    gets especially dangerous when you combine that thinking
        with pent-up frustration and anger,
        and a feeling that you are losing control.

All sorts of less-than-virtuous behaviors result,
    that further divide us and inflict injury on each other.

In the church, it gets expressed in all kinds of sub-Christian
    and even violent behavior—
        divisive and manipulative tactics,
        controlling maneuvers,
        mean-spirited discourse.

And in the larger world,
    it comes out in embarrassingly bad politics,
    divided neighborhoods and communities,
    and in the most extreme form—acts of terrorism,
        at home and abroad.

The more granular we get in our thinking and behaving,
    the more violent this world becomes.

No longer do we wonder how many months
    before the next incident of public terrorism,
    where scores of people lose their lives.
We wonder how many incidents will there be this month.

In the month of June we had the Orlando massacre,
    then two more this past week—
        at the Istanbul airport, and a Bangladesh bakery.
    In earlier months, there were the Hesston shootings,
        the Brussels airport attack, and more.

The sense of helplessness is pervasive, and contagious.
    It brings even more anxiety and more fear,
        and more hostile acts committed by fearful people.

The need in this world for the peace of Christ to come and reign,
    is obvious, and urgent.

So I am here this morning to proclaim the Gospel,
    the Good News of Jesus.
    That’s my job as a preacher.
    And by God’s grace I will undertake it, even in these dark times.

Fortunately, the Gospels, in our written form, make it easy to do.
    These Gospels serve as our sacred compilation
        of Jesus himself living and proclaiming and demonstrating
            the Good News of God’s reign of peace,
            in the midst of one of the most fearful, anxious,
                and brutal periods in the history of God’s people.
    Think there is urgency for the Gospel of peace today?
    No more than there was for the people in Jesus’ day.

So let’s dig a little more into Luke 10
    and examine this urgency for the kingdom of peace,
    and see what it means for us.

Jesus lived in a period of occupation and oppression by Rome—
    an Empire known for its pure domination of the known world.
His people were ruled by one of the most brutal regional kings,
    Herod the Great,
    who terrorized everyone under his rule, including his family.
    Jesus’ own people, to whom he preached and healed and ministered,
        were under even more stress and distress, I believe,
        than we are under today.
The urgency for peace was obvious
    to Jesus, to his disciples, to all the people.

So Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs, to surrounding villages,
    to preach and proclaim the Gospel of peace,
        the Reign of God.
    And it was urgent.

The fields were white and ready for harvest, Jesus said,
    and the workers were few.
    Many of us have heard that text
        explained by contemporary evangelical preachers,
        as if it were referring to individual souls ready to be saved,
            like ripe heads of grain ready to be plucked,
            and all they need are more available Christians
                to lead them in the sinner’s prayer.
        Now, I’m not suggesting that’s a bad thing.
        If the Spirit leads you to pray with someone
            seeking reconciliation with God,
            by all means, pray, and expect God to do good things.

    But this text is not about that particular kind of harvesting.
        If all we see in this text is a way to advance the cause
            of individual witness and evangelism,
            we have ignored its original context and meaning.
        The fields are ripe, but in an entirely different way.
        Jesus spoke these words in a time
            of wide-spread stress and distress
                among the people of God,
                among the faithful and devout.

    Under the pressure of public persecution and violence,
        God’s people are fast losing their identity and calling.
        They are looking for salvation in the wrong places.
    In this time of social and spiritual upheaval,
        some seek redemption through violent retribution—
            confronting the Romans on their terms.
        Some seek salvation through ritual purity
            while ignoring the cries of the poor and widow and orphan.

    And in the middle of all these differences among themselves—
        different moral visions of how to live in this world,
        different understandings of what God wants of them—
            in the midst of that
                they are acting out their fears and anxieties,
                they are fighting among themselves,
                and they are losing their faithful witness to the world.
        Sound familiar?

    So into this wide-spread social and spiritual upheaval,
        ripe and ready for a new compelling vision,
        Jesus sends out his disciples in pairs,
            and gives them an urgent assignment:
            “Say to the people, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’”

    There is another way,
        beyond answering violence with violence,
        beyond ritual purity, or a spirituality of escape.
    There is the way of God’s Kingdom—and it is near us.
        Close enough to touch.
        God is calling his people to see, and embrace, and enter into
            the new order God is establishing—
                a real, present, and socially embodied peoplehood,
                where God in Christ rules, now and forever.
            And rules in peace,
                and with justice for the oppressed,
                    with healing for the broken,
                    with mercy for the sinner,
                    with salvation for the lost.

    It is a new way of living that few understand,
        and even fewer have experienced.
    It is a message of peace for a kingdom of peace,
        grounded in the life and work of Messiah Jesus.
    And it is available for all.
    It will keep God’s people from utterly perishing
        under the iron hand of King Herod.
    There is another king who demands their loyalty,
        who reigns not with violent threats,
        but through self-sacrificing love.

This is a radical message,
    and it is urgently needing to be shared.
        The time is now.
        The fields are white.
        And there are too few workers.

That entirely explains Jesus’ strange instructions:
    Go, now!
    Don’t get distracted by sidewalk conversations along the way.
    Walk with purpose down the middle of the road,
        turn neither to the right or left.
    And don’t take anything with you
        that will weigh you down or slow you down.
    Get there!

And then, once you get to the place where you are being sent, stop.
    Receive before you give.

In other words, hurry to get there. And when you arrive, slow down.
    Hurry up, and wait.

    This message about the new order,
        about a new way of relating to God as a people,
        is simply too radically different
            for people to embrace it immediately.
        Earn their trust.
        Accept what they have to give you—
            eat what is set before you, Jesus says,
            don’t move around from house to house, Jesus says,
                as if lingering conversations and lasting relationships
                    don’t matter.
        Enter into the life of that community,
            but don’t leave it at that,
            and don’t leave them where they’re at.
        As you are led,
            heal the sick,
            do works of mercy,
            and proclaim the good news that
                “The kingdom of God has come near to you!”
        In other words,
            don’t imagine you can usher in the kingdom yourself,
                by wielding your own power
                    or trying to control outcomes,
                    or looking for some magical inner capacity
                        to be spiritually pure.
        No, the kingdom of God belongs to God alone,
            and to God’s Messiah.
            It is yours to receive.
            And it is, even now, near enough for you to touch.

As I think about this crazy, over-stressed,
    and fragmented world we live in,
    that sounds like Good News.
    The kingdom of peace, the Kingdom of God, is near.
        Receive it.

    It doesn’t immediately answer all the questions
        about how we live in this world, in light of the kingdom.
    But it does provide an important, and necessary,
        spiritual posture of dependence.

    It might lead us to relate to current events
        in a dramatically different way.
    As a matter of fact, I’ve been pondering my own habits lately.
        Ways I habitually take in and process events
            that unfold in the larger world,
                in our political arena,
                and in the church.

    I have choices how to relate to these events,
        and how to respond.
        I can obsess over them.
        I can let anger and fear dominate.
        I can listen to every anxious voice straining to be heard.

    Or I can choose to stay informed and aware,
        while grounded and reflective,
            and dependent on God and God’s people
            for my sense of well-being.
    I can choose new practices and habits.

Recently I decided to limit—not eliminate, but limit—
    my exposure to network news and internet feeds,
    and other 24/7 sources of news and commentary and opinion,
        all of which are aimed at intensifying my emotional reactions,
        because that’s good for marketing.
    Sound bites, hyperbole, over-the-top reactions from talking heads
        stoke irrational fear and anxiety,
        more than provide meaningful information.

So I’m reading the newspaper more than I did,
    yes, the one made of paper.
    I’m sitting on our front porch more.
What do I really gain from being the “first to know”
    of the latest disaster or outrageous political remark?
Do I need continuous, real-time access to news,
    in order to be a good healthy citizen?
    Might I benefit just as much if I find out after a night of rest,
        from a more reflective and nuanced written piece
            by a thoughtful reporter or commentator
            (while sipping good coffee, of course).

Another intentional practice, lately, when driving in my vehicle,
    when it’s important to my own safety and to others
        for me to be grounded and attentive to my surroundings—
    is to listen to the news less, and to music more—
        jazz, classical, singer-songwriter, any good music.
    I let myself be moved by the art of song, the beauty of music,
        which often uplifts and inspires me.
    It’s not rocket science, but I think I finally figured out,
        that I function better when I arrive
            at my next meeting or appointment or hospital visit
            in a state of uplift and inspiration and gratitude,
            than in a state of tension and anxiety and despair.

And it kind of goes without saying
    that how we start off our day matters.
    I think and feel (and probably act) differently,
        when I begin in a quiet space,
            read some scripture, pray, meditate—
        before checking email, online news, and Facebook.

What we feed our minds with matters.
    As our Galatians text said this morning,
        “you reap whatever you sow.
        If you sow to your own flesh,
            you will reap corruption from the flesh;
            but if you sow to the Spirit,
            you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.
        So let us not grow weary in doing what is right . . .
            whenever we have an opportunity,
            let us work for the good of all.”

Limiting or delaying exposure is not denial.
    I can be fully aware of the brokenness and horror in this world,
    but still choose to move through life
        with love and gentleness toward everyone,
        and in confidence that the future belongs to God in Christ.

    That is not denial.
    That is a choice to live in light of the kingdom of God near us,
        the kingdom of peace that is within reach.

    Yes, there is an urgency today
        to get a fresh glimpse of that kingdom
        and by the grace of God in Christ,
            to proclaim it, demonstrate it, model it,
            in a world where the fields are ripe,
                and more than ready for Good News workers.

    We are blessed to be recipients of Good News,
        that God is on a mission to restore, redeem, and reconcile.
        That what we see, is not all there is.
    Now, more than ever, the world needs this kind of Gospel.
        Let us do whatever we need to do, and do it quickly,
            to get to whatever place God is sending us.
        Let us rid ourselves of whatever distracts us,
            or weighs us down.
        And let us seek out persons and places
            who are open to our proclaiming peace,
            open to receive the peace we pronounce.

        And Jesus Christ who sends us, will also go with us.

—Phil Kniss, July 3, 2016

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