Sunday, May 3, 2015

Disciples of Love not Fear




I wonder what it was like- to see Jesus this way, appearing here in Galilee where you came to meet him after his resurrection.  I wonder what it was like to be given this charge, to be sent in this way. Make disciples of all nations. To all nations literally meant to all foreigners – the most unknown and least understood peoples, the ones not like you, not from where you’re from, not looking like you or talking like you or thinking like you, to be sent from your home to the unfathomable reaches of the earth at time when that was almost inconceivable. 

How befuddling this must have been, how overwhelming.  
To think that this is now their job, this monumental and incomprehensible task. One scholar said that today, it might feel like being told to go and cure cancer throughout the world, go and save the bees and stop the polar ice caps melting, go and bring world peace between warring countries.

It doesn’t surprise me that it sounds like that to us. 
We continue to hear this through the voice of the way of fear that has always taunted and misled us  – that lie that it is about you and me. That it is up to you and me. That it belongs to you and me.  That we are the authority. That we are separate from each other, and competing for the same things. 

If this is true then we’re sent to all the earth to recruit for our side. We’re sent to enlighten to our superior perspective. We’re sent not to join or be changed, but to rescue or correct. We’re sent to distribute the Jesus commodity that we possess to those who are without.  The great commission.  
The great omission, perhaps - because we really just have a dead Jesus then. 
A Jesus idea, a Jesus religion, a Jesus cure or talisman, but not a living Jesus. Not a present Jesus. Not God with us and always with us.

But maybe the disciple weren’t overwhelmed with this great commission at all. Maybe they trusted that Jesus was alive, and they wouldn’t be going out to bring Jesus but to meet him who would be with them always. 

Because somehow, this is true.  Amazingly, this is a fact about us today.  You and I are sitting here today, reading this message that was given to the disciples on that day as though it has something to do with us, as though it makes a claim on us.

Two thousands years later and six thousand miles from that mountaintop in Galilee, we sit here as baptized disciples of love incarnate. It happened. This thing they were told to go do, to go share; they were sent and they went, and it happened- through them and alongside them, without them and in spite of them, within and around them.  Because the reality of love is God’s strong inner chord singing throughout all of life, and enduring despite death’s fiercest blows, drawing people to it, filling people with it, sending people in it to love and love and love.

No one has ever seen God, if we love one another God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.  What is it to abide in this reality, to remain in this truth?  What is it to truly trust in this love? this love that casts out fear and makes us brave and honest and real.  Not exempt, not perfect, and not safe, but with and for each other as he is with and for us. Participants, collaborators, beloved, beside one another.

To have been made a disciple means to belong to this whole other way from the way of fear, it means we can say, “we have known and trust in the love God has for us.”
It is never only for you or about you. 
It is never over or against anyone else. Love draws us in deeper and opens us up wider, binding us to those around us and all over the world, sisters and brothers, beloved of God.

It’s a big thing, yes, this great commission, but it’s the smallest of things- the most focused and present and now and real of all things.  
Love this person in front of you. See them. Let yourself be loved.  
Right now. 
Receive forgiveness that is offered.  Offer forgiveness undeserved.  Uphold one another.  See each other’s humanity even when, especially when, the other person can’t see it in themselves, when they are living from shame, or hate, or despair or anger, love means you can see them still as beloved and treat them that way.  
You can witness the real reality in the face of the lie. 

Recognize that we all belong to each other, that we all belong to God.  
Share that truth in every way you can in any moment you have. 
Live and breathe and move from your belovedness – baptize others in love, claim them beloved and name them beloved, teach them to obey this command of love, this life-giving, filling up, breaking open truth that they were made for, that we are all made for.

We are not peddlers of a message, we don’t get to own it or spread it or deliver it or recruit for it; it is not ours to distribute or withhold or convince people of.  
Fear does that, and there is no fear in love; perfect love casts out fear.

This has been a week with lots of fear. 
As the death toll in Nepal continued to rise and the intensity in Baltimore continued to climb, this week I watched a lot of footage online.

I saw the story of a teenage boy, who had been away in college but had come back to visit the orphanage he was raised in when the earthquake struck, leaving no adults around, he pulled child after child out of the building and helped them erect temporary shelter and find food and care for each other as they await rescue.

I saw a group of shouting men whose words I could not understand dig frantically at grey crushed rubble with their bare hands, clawing at it for a half hour and gradually, so slowly, a limb at a time, free a baby who had been completely buried, and weep and holler with joy as they held him up, alive and breathing.

I saw a young boy whose dad took him to the streets of Baltimore with a broom and a camera, to share in and record history in the making, and many, many stories of neighbors cleaning up together, or marching side by side, people who had never spoken before, saying how this is changing their city- neighbors connecting in the streets, joining in purpose and frustration, yes, but also in truth and hope as evil and brokenness is revealed in the light of day and confronted out loud.

And when you pay attention to these stories it feels like death is being beaten – as big and horrible and ongoing as it is, it feels exposed this week, ugly and wretched in the face of so much vigorous with-you-ness, so much love casting out fear.

Whenever something big and tragic happens far away, this little lie begins to creep in again, the way of fear, dead Jesus kind of lie, that it is up to us, that somehow only we have what is needed, and that if we don’t act nothing will change, so we send money, and forward or write, compelling articles, and we pray, but in the face of something so huge we feel largely unable to make a significant difference – like we’re facing down the assignment to cure world wide cancer or “make disciples of all nations” – it is befuddling and overwhelming, so we gorge ourselves on 24 hour news, ingesting the fear, perhaps figuring that feeding on the heartbreak is almost like helping in some way.  

And we forget the living Jesus. 
We forget the love that has no opposite that pulses through it all claiming each one of us.  We forget that we act freely, instinctively, of course we act, and we pray, and we send money, and we write articles, and we stand alongside, because we all belong to each other, but it’s not up to you and me. It doesn’t depend on you and me; we are not the only people on the planet God has called.

In fact, God has called every single one of us
There is no one who is not sent, no one who is not called beloved and called to love. And in any given moment, any single human can be, and is, responding to that love, from that love, standing alongside another, lifting up another, offering or receiving forgiveness, or hope, or tears of grief, or shrieks of joy.  In every single moment, this is happening, through us and alongside us, without us and in spite of us, within and around us, and even far away from us, because love is moving, brothers and sisters, because Jesus is alive, God is with us all.

You can witness the real reality in the face of the lie. 
Live the truth doggedly alongside those around you, and don’t consume the lies of fear, instead, like Mr. Rogers says, look for the helpers… Perhaps the most faithful and needful of all things to do in the midst of any kind of far away crisis or national struggle, is to bear witness to the love- watch for and share about the places the real reality is breaking through.  Because it is; it always is.

As Frederick Buechner said, “Resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing.”  All authority in heaven and on earth is now in the hands of love incarnate, so go therefore into all the world, wherever you are, however you find yourself, and make disciples of love –people who know themselves first and foremost as beloved, and who are compelled irreversibly to see others that way as well. 
That is what it is to be a disciple. That is what it is to be a human being who knows God.

Trust, then, that God with us is with us all, in every time and place, because, as human beings love one another they meet Jesus, who is, right now, and always, with and for us all, to the end of the age.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Meet me in Galilee





I asked a friend this week, what do you want for Easter?
What would you like Easter to do for you?
She paused and pondered a bit, and then she answered, “I want to know that God is real. If Easter could do that for me, that would be fantastic.” 
Now, this friend is a Christian. She is someone with deep belief and conviction, and believing in God is not what she meant. I want to know it, she said, to live like it is true.  “I believe that it’s true; I want to trust that it’s true.”

We are all about belief in our rational, scientific modern world.  When Easter rolls around we get to this moment which is super central to our Christian faith, and we immediately engage our heads-  what does this mean? How does God save us?  Why do we need saving? What exactly do we believe?

And I suspect we come to church on Easter and this belief thing is kind of the elephant in the room.  We are here because we do believe, very passionately, or we come because we love someone who believes and who wants us to be with them on Easter, so we sit here aware that we don’t really believe but maybe we used to, or we want to, or we feel a little sorry for those who still need to.

Some of us bring decades of church baggage interpreting all of this in helpful, but more often unhelpful ways, so we sit here kind of believing, and filtering out the things we don’t really believe, and it becomes almost entirely an intellectual exercise or a cultural tradition, with things that are fun to sing about, perhaps, but so far away from our real selves and real lives.

In church we remember Jesus and talk about belief in Jesus or being like Jesus, or what his resurrection means. We ask what Jesus would do and try to do that, and study what Jesus said and try to obey that.  We like the idea that he was raised from the dead but, to be honest, we often act as though he is still dead.

I saw a church advertise yesterday, “Tomorrow we will gather around the empty tomb…” and I thought, it’s true, isn’t it? All over the world we will gather around the empty tomb and we will commemorate Jesus’ resurrection and we will celebrate that he was no longer dead, and we will talk about what it means and how it defeats death and changes things and try not to think too hard about the things that feel the same, or the ways death seems just as powerful as ever.

But in all the different gospels’ telling of Easter day, not one of them has any people gathering around the empty tomb.  In Matthew the angel shows up in cinematic drama and moves the stone aside from the already empty tomb, not for Jesus to get out – that’s already happened, but for the women to look in, just to show  them – see? Come closer and look.  He’s not here, got it? There’s nothing to see here. Don’t linger here. This isn’t’ the point.  He’s already gone. He’s alive, just like he said would be. Now go. Quickly.  Go where he will be and find him there.

There is no – “Come venerate the empty tomb, resurrection is where it’s at,” there’s no, “go back to Jerusalem to the center of power and the Temple and we’ll take up the cause of transforming religion.” There is no answering back the rapidly spreading lies that his followers stole the body, no defending what really is happening or avenging his reputation or making sure people are believing the right thing about him.
Instead he shows up briefly and greets them and then says, meet me in Galilee, which, as my insightful friend noted, is like saying, Meet me in Saint Louis Park.
Go to the ordinary place where we first hung out: the diner where we were introduced, Go to the parking lot of the Dairy Queen off the freeway where we exchanged cars that one time, and I’ll be waiting for you there.

If I could hit a button and adjust our English translations of the bible to make them more truly read what they actually mean, I would run a “find and replace” to change every place where it says “Believe” into “Trust”.  Believe – as an intellectual agreement – something that happens above the neck, is a Latin idea, not there in the original texts.  The Greek word most often used is pistis, faith, which means trust – it’s an action, a gut reality, that actually means “to be persuaded by God.” 
You can’t manufacture trust or fill up on it before you act. The only way to trust is to trust.  To act as though it is real, so that in acting on it, it can become real.  Trust, faith, is a gift from God, grown inside you by God, and replenished by God.  It’s not mustered up from fiercely clung to certainty, but born gently and continually from open-hearted, vulnerable risking to step into what you long for.

For Easter, my friend wanted to trust that God is real.  My friend wanted to live as one persuaded by the Holy One that Jesus is with us right now.

Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to believe he’d been raised, he asked them to meet him. 
I don’t expect any of you to believe in resurrection today. I don’t expect you to believe in God, even.  I expect God to meet us.
I expect us to experience resurrection in our own lives.
Can you hear the difference?  
In every single resurrection account in all of scripture not one person believed it, even those who saw the empty tomb or talked to him face to face didn’t believe.  It was not until they experienced him, until he met them and they met him – in their doubt and disbelief, in their fear and their joy, in the total reality of whatever they were in at the moment – it wasn’t until they went to Galilee, or watched him break bread, or touched his wounded side, or heard him say their name, or felt their hearts burning within them at his words, that they knew, trusted, in that deep, gut reality, life action kind of way, that Jesus was indeed alive.  And then resurrection was just a part of the story, it was just the way God did it, the means by which the living Jesus is here with us. 

Because resurrection is not an idea or a belief. It’s what comes after death. It’s the new life that comes after we’ve let go.  It’s the hope that is born from a place of loss and despair. It’s when tragedy is shot through with overwhelming love and inexplicable peace, when patient grieving abates and washes away and something new and unexpected wakes up and yearns to be born in us.  It’s when you find that fear’s hold on you has been broken and you are free.  It’s when you find yourself able to love, able to reach out and be with and for another despite all the risks of heartbreak or failure.  It’s life, life, life. They believed he was dead. And then he met them, alive, and they too were resurrected.

God came into all of it, completely, everything that defeats us and breaks us and kills us, God came into that, and was defeated and broken, and killed, and buried in a tomb.  And it was all over.  
Until an angel that looked like lightening shook the earth and terrified the guards into unconsciousness and announced to the grieving followers that Jesus was no longer dead, but out there in the world, alive, looking for us to join him in resurrection life, in enduring, unquenchable, not to be stopped by anything, life.
And with the risen Jesus right there in it with us, the end of the story is decided: and there is no death so great that life is not greater, no evil so powerful that love will not prevail.  And Jesus keeps on moving, keeps on calling us to life, alongside God and others, keeps on sending us into the world, into our lives, to find Jesus there. 

Even when there is the scary broken relationship, or the internal beckoning we’re hesitant to follow because we know it will change us, or the boring, familiar, ordinary routine.  Even when there is the thing we most fear facing and spend our energy avoiding.  Jesus, whom death could not contain, the very resurrection and life himself, has already gone there ahead of us to our own Galilees and is waiting to meet us in the place where trust grows. 

My friend who wants to know God is real - if she were sitting here today, I would feel pressure perhaps, at first, to convince her with my eloquence or my sound doctrine or my compelling arguments that God is indeed real.  To point to the empty tomb and wax eloquent on the meaning of the cross and give her some killer quotes from smart folks and great reasons for belief.  But likely that would do nothing for her.  It would engage her in an intellectual exercise that might helpfully interpret things, but not really change things. 

But if I were brave, what I would say to her, to all of us, is this: There is not a thing I or anybody else can say that can make you know that God is real.  God has to do that.  
If you really want to know that God is real, invite God to persuade you. Expect to be met, try out trusting.  It’s going to feel different than believing – it’s going to happen less inside you and more between you, around you, through you; it will be centered less in your head and more in your hands and your heart, and it will change you. 
Don’t be afraid, I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified – but he is not here.  He is alive, out there in the world, wreaking resurrection all over the place. So go to your Galilee; and there you will see him.

Amen.