Wednesday, February 17, 2016

It's Dangerous Business...

“It’s dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.  You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” If you’ve read either The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, written by JRR Tolkien, you know exactly what Bilbo Baggins is talking about.  These are stories of two unsuspecting hobbits, as ordinary of fellows as you can imagine, who get caught up in the most amazing and unexpected adventures, adventures that take them from the comfort of their homes and transform them…all because they decided to walk out of their front doors.  “It’s dangerous business…going out your door…there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Perhaps we can say the same thing about church, about living in relationship with the Living Christ.  We don’t know where the Spirit is going to take us.  We don’t know exactly what God is, or will be, doing in our midst.  Like the best kind of Trickster, God is always one step ahead of us. Certainly, we try our best to guess at what God is doing with us.  We try our best to discern a message within the whispers of divinity.  But we can never fully grab hold of God…can never fully grasp what God is doing…can never fully see into the dimly lit mirror.  If in this life of faith we are running after safety and security, then we will be running for a lifetime.  Being a disciple of Jesus doesn’t guarantee us safety or security.  Such a life doesn’t guarantee us normalcy or predictability.  For one of the grand truths of the Christian faith is that those of us who have committed ourselves to the way of Jesus have committed to following the One in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…the very same fullness that set the stars in their courses and remains beyond our comprehension.

When we commit to following Jesus, we ultimately commit to living a life out of our own control.  Perhaps that’s the scariest bit of it all for those us of who so love predictability and control.  2000 years after his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus still eludes our attempts to control and domesticate him…still eludes any reductionistic attempts to box him in and make him serve our agendas.  And this is a struggle that has been going on since he first walked those dusty roads in Nazareth.  Jesus had just taken the scroll from Isaiah and proclaimed release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed.  Declaring this Scripture fulfilled in the hearing of those in the synagogue, all eyes were fixed on him.  The crowd began to speak well of him, having been amazed at the words that came from his mouth.  But then something happened.  A turn, a surprise twist for those listening. "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'" And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown."  He goes on to recount the actions of a few prophets of old, who healed outcast widows and foreign lepers.  It’s as if Jesus was saying to those in his hearing, “Like these prophets of old, I will do things unexpected and unconventional.  I will do things that confound you and all those who would attempt to control the new things God is doing through me.”

And the crowd would have none of it.  They wouldn’t have this eloquent son of a carpenter challenge their assumptions about who would be on the receiving end of the Messianic release from captivity.  Wrestling him from the pulpit, this enraged lynch mob sought to hurl Jesus over a cliff.  But Jesus would have none of it.  He would have none of their attempts to control him and his mission.  As the Scriptures say, “He passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” It’s a stunning image, isn’t it?  A crowd that successfully dragged a man to the edge of the cliff is suddenly unable to hurl him over.  Instead, he simply went on his way.  But that seems to be the way it works sometimes, living in relationship with the Living Christ.  We wrestle for answers, are convinced that we are certain of God’s plans, and then we suddenly realize that we are no more in control of the situation than a dog on a leash whose convinced he’s leading his master.  As a side note, this truth should be especially frightening to me, someone whose graduate degree is actually called Master of Divinity.  A misnomer if there ever was one.

In this scientific and technological age, where we have instant access to more information than we could ever comprehend, when we are trained to rationally observe details and master them with our intellectual prowess, this Gospel story, coupled with Paul’s writing in Corinthians, presents a challenge to us.  For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. As I grow in my relationship with the Living Christ, I become more and more convinced of my inability to comprehend or understand him.  I realize that the Mystery of God grows deeper every time I seem to have glimpsed the bottom of the canyon.  I come to the end of one spiritual journey, only to turn the corner and realize it was just one leg of a never ending march towards the horizon of God’s beauty. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

While this stands as a challenge to the deeply human need to investigate, comprehend, and control, there is actually something profoundly beautiful in Paul’s writing.  Though we are never able to fully understand the mystery of God, God sees us, understands us, knows us fully and totally, and yet still desires a relationship of intimacy with us.  The staggering truth is that, while we see in part and know in part, we ourselves are fully known by God.  God see all of us, our joys and victories, our struggles, secrets, sins…all of this and still desires intimacy with us. So much of what it means to live in relationship with the Living God is the act of giving up on the persistent need to ‘know’, intellectually, to process, to observe, to understand.  By giving up these things, we aren’t giving ourselves over to ignorance.  We give ourselves over to a penetrating mystery.  We realize that intimacy and deep love are not dependent on our ability to intellectually comprehend the mystery of God.

And all of this, it boils down to an issue of trust.  Those in the synagogue, who heard the words of Jesus, ultimately failed to trust in the God who sent Jesus to release the captives and restore sight to the blind.  Their lack of trust, their need to control, blinded them to Jesus’ beauty and prevented them from relating more intimately to the God of Israel.  Hearing this Gospel and the words from Paul, the challenge for us is whether we, as individuals and as a parish, will let go of the need to control, the need to manage, the need to anticipate precisely what God is doing in our midst.  Will we be a parish that trusts in the goodness and love of the God of mystery, who knows us fully even as we know in part…a parish that trusts so completely that our lives will be shaped less by plans and schedules, and more by letting go and sitting intimately in silence before this mysterious God of love? To paraphrase JRR Tolkien, “It’s a dangerous business, uttering a prayer.  You step into the mystery of God, and if you’re not careful, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”  But instead of being a caution, it’s an invitation.  May we be a people who delight in being swept off into the mystery of the Living Christ, the one who resists our impulses to control and domesticate, the one who resists our need for safety, the one who knows us fully, the one who is preparing wondrous things for us, the people of Trinity on the Hill.

*A sermon preached at Trinity on the Hill Episcopal Church in Los Alamos, NM on January 31, 2016.  The texts were Jeremiah 1:4-10, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, and Luke 4:21-30.

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