Sunday, October 1, 2023

Waking Us Up

 Matthew 21:23-32

Friday afternoon Maisy and I were standing in line at the doctor’s office waiting to check in for our flu and covid vaccines, when a young man sitting on a chair in the waiting room slid off his chair and began having a seizure on the floor. Easily 25 people were watching this. Me included. I saw right away what was happening, recognized it as a seizure, and stood rooted to the spot. 

I felt conflicted and also numb. Should I do something? By what authority would I intervene? Why me and not someone more qualified- we’re in a doctor’s office! What would people think if I just rushed over like I knew what to do, which I don’t. I am one of dozens of people here.  So, I just stood there. We all just looked on in silence.  Nobody moved.


Finally, after what felt like an eternity but was probably only 20 long seconds, a tall young man stood from his seat and rushed over. He turned the seizing man onto his side while his body tremored and shook, and then announced, loudly and clearly, “We’re having a seizure here. We need a doctor.” He was not a nurse or doctor. He was a fellow patient waiting for his appointment, just like the rest of us.


His action shook a few of us from our stupor. Another woman stood and joined them. I told the front desk what was happening; they paged for help. It took a terribly long time for nurses and doctors to arrive, but then they all seemed to descend at once. Maisy and I checked in for our appointment. The incident hung over us as we got our shots.  As we left the building, we watched the ambulance drive away with the young man inside.


Maisy said to me afterwards, “Mom, we all just consumed it, like it was on TV. We all just watched it happen instead of being people in the moment. We’re so desensitized; we weren’t even present.”


And I think she’s right. But our screens in front of our faces as modern people is just one way we get lulled into complacency, accepting lies as truth, which is to say, accepting that other people are none of our business, have nothing to do with us. Accepting that we are separate and unrelated, that we do not belong to one another; that we do not belong to God’s work of love and healing. That division, or isolation, or scarcity, or competition, is just the way it is. 


Just the day before this charged conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees, Jesus came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey in what we call “the triumphal entry.” (We’ve skipped ahead because we save these stories for Lent).  He went right into the temple—where the people are to gather in God’s presence—and saw in front of him a whole industry built up for putting barriers and hurdles between God and people. And he smashed it all to bits, throwing over the tables and scattering the money. Then he brazenly distributed healing to all who had need. He left the chaotic scene and spent the night elsewhere; but the next day he returned, and now the leaders are seething. 

Nobody likes to get called out. That whole table-turning thing was a real PR disaster.  It’s time to assert the upper hand, reestablish their rightful place in power.  So they question Jesus in front of a crowd. “By what authority do you do these things?” 


We all get caught up in comparing and competing. We think life is filled with scarcity and judgment, and our worth is earned, and can be lost. That’s life in the Way of Fear.  But, really, we all belong to God and to each other. This life is for receiving and sharing; we’re claimed by love and created for joy.  Jesus lives completely in the Way of God. In his very being, he is the conduit of this reality, holding all it is to be human together with all it is to be God, embodying in every moment our connection to God and one another.


So it’s a pretty funny question for them to ask him: “By what authority do you do these things?” 

Actually, by the authority that spoke creation into being and breathed life into the earth creature in God’s image. That spun the galaxies and flung the stars, filled the deep oceans with mysteries yet to be uncovered, and infused the earth with regenerative abundance. By that authority, Jesus brings healing and wholeness to people. By that authority Jesus calls out the Way of Fear and calls us back to the way of God. 


Standing there, with that authority pulsing through his veins, Jesus also has bottomless love for every human being, for even these angry, scared, adorable men standing here puffing their chests and weaving their word-traps. As he takes in their posturing and plotting, compassion and pity, longing and love fill him.  

But Jesus has no tolerance for their games. They want to act like ranking and earning and division and the things that stand between us are the real things, and he will not stand for it. Not for a second. He turns their question back on them, and they’re too afraid of upsetting their constituents to answer. You can’t answer about John? Jesus responds. Then I won’t answer about me.


Then he shares a story about a son who tells his father he’ll help in the vineyard and doesn’t do it, and a son who says he won’t help and then changes his mind. Which one actually does the father’s will? he asks. The answer is obvious.  If you trust you are part of the household, then act like it. Don’t talk like you do but act like you don’t. Behave as though you belong to this reality, because you do. Take up your part. Join in.


These people who are supposed to help others see it and live in it, the leaders in the temple, they talk about God’s reality, but they don’t recognize it in front of them. They’re so caught up in the fear and sin that they stay untouched, unaffected by the suffering of others, even by the hope and healing unfolding in front of their eyes when they witness what God is doing through John.  


The one who rode into town on a donkey yesterday ushers in a new reality. One of freedom. Those trapped in broken bodies are set free. Those trapped in a broken system that exploits and oppresses are set free. Those trapped in hypocrisy and self-protection are set free.  And, as Jesus tells the flummoxed and defensive leaders, some people experience and embrace their freedom sooner than others.


On Friday, when the tall young man dashed over and knelt down in that doctor’s office waiting room, tenderly turning the seizing man onto his side, his words and actions said, This man belongs to me. We belong to each other. And when he called out loudly, with authority, “We are having a seizure.” He asserted that the separation we act like is between us- is false. He put himself right there, alongside, with and for. He acted with what Bonhoeffer called “Stelvertregung” or “place-sharing.” When he said "we" he was living from our true humanity. When he shared this stranger’s place, we all saw Jesus.    


By what authority did this young man act? By God’s claim of love on us all that gives us to each other to love.  You and I carry within us the authority to forgive, the authority to step in and speak up, the authority to release burdens and speak words of grace and truth, the authority to kneel down beside a suffering stranger and command the room to wake up and see each other. 

We move through the world with Christ’s life pulsing through our veins, and access to Christ’s bottomless love for each human being. And when we assume the inner stance of least resistance, we’re open to hear God’s Spirit call us. We’re available for the power of God to move through us. We’re willing to be awakened and brought back into the real reality of love.  


Jesus comes in to share the darkest and most terrifying moments, when our weakness and helplessness is on full display, with the word “we.” We are in this together. You are not alone. I am here. I will not leave you or forsake you. And he does this through us.


Seeing someone act from the real reality while I stood motionless, revealed sin’s grip on me, which is to say, it showed me how I am trapped in the Way of Fear. I, who am supposed to help others see God and live in God’s reality.  Also, I, who teach about sabbath, but resist resting. I, who say all the time that God will lead us and provide for us, but feel surprised when it happens. I, who tell others to trust God with our lives and loved ones, but get pinned down with worry.


I could have let that moment when faced with my own hypocrisy and lack of faith send me into shame and defensiveness. I could have compared and condemned myself for my paralysis. Let it burrow me deeper into the Way of Fear. But I witnessed the Way of God in front of my eyes, and I choose instead to receive that gift.  


We belong to each other! That man on the floor belongs to me! The man who helped him belongs to me! All the people in the waiting room, with our own illness and fears, our own insecurities and worries, whatever stopped us from getting up, or compelled us to stand after he was already being cared for – we all belong to each other.  None of us deserves it, and none of us is denied it.


Someone living out what I believe in front of my eyes invited me back into the Kingdom of God. Live like it’s true. Live it and trust it. Don’t just say you do. Live the belonging. Take up your part. Join in.  


Jesus is about waking people back up to love.  Sometimes the summons is gentle; sometimes the summons feels harsh. Whatever invites us back into the way of love and connection and belonging is what Jesus brings. 


I am grateful for this weekend’s wake up call.  


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