November 18, 2012
I moved to Oregon in 1993 and went to see an insurance agent who asked if I wanted earthquake insurance. Coming from Georgia, I could not conceive of that and said, “no thank you.” At least I hope that is what I said rather than what I really thought, which was, “Are you kidding? That’s ridiculous!” I didn’t think about it again for a whole week until I was sitting on the second floor of my home when I felt the house shake. And then it shook again. Earthquake.
It is hard for us to imagine the destruction of places we love. In August of 2011, an earthquake in Virginia lasting 5-10 seconds did significant damage to the National Cathedral. We hear Jesus say, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” He was referring to the temple in Jerusalem that took about 80 years to build. Roman armies later destroyed the temple in 70 a.d. I hear those words and I see the image of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Eleven years later, we are painfully reminded of the shock and horror of that devastating day. It reinforced the belief that we should be afraid. Life is uncertain. People are not to be trusted.
We heard those messages throughout the election. If the other candidate is elected, it will be the end of all that is good and secure. Be very afraid and vote.
Why is it that we try and motivate people by playing on their fears? If you don’t buy the extended warranty, your car will collapse in a heap of steel. If you don’t eat this brand of cereal, you will have a terrible day. If you don’t do it my way, you will find yourself all alone. Sidewalk preachers scream that the world will end if we don’t repent.
That is NOT what Jesus said. Jesus DID warn his followers to be wise, but he did not tell them that life is to be feared. Instead, he left them with the words, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” He wasn’t focused on the destruction as much as he was what would come after it. The prophet Isaiah put it this way, “[God] is doing a new thing, now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?” (43:19) This new thing God is doing is already in our midst.
I hear an invitation to be present to what is…to notice God here and now…rather than to fear the horror that lurks in the shadows. A life based on fear seems to say that we cannot trust in God’s goodness, but must do all we can to save ourselves. If we can just know when Christ will come again, we can be ready. It reminds me of Y2K. We’ve got a date, now we can stock up on supplies. Or as the comic said, “Jesus is coming… look busy.” But that kind of fear isn’t faith. Faith is living as if Jesus is among us now, all the time. It is tuning into the presence of God in the most ordinary of moments. It is paying attention. It is being present right now, rather fearing what hasn’t yet happened.
I wish I could tell you that I’ve got this one figured out and I’m ready for the next lesson. I just came back from the final week of my yearlong Soulcraft program in Utah. It was a powerful experience to connect with creation in such intentional ways. The lessons I learned were many, but one of the most significant was being present. It’s much easier when we are camping in nature and we don’t have weeds to be pulled, bills to be paid, laundry to be done, and all the other things that fill our minds. It was such a relief for me to be away from my lists. I love my lists. I feel so mighty when I can throw a list away because I have done everything on it. I have lists in my work portfolio, lists on my phone, and lists in my head. They all ask me to put them first. They instill fear of what will happen if I don’t pick up the clothes from the cleaners or send that email.
I came home from this powerful final week and started on my list. At first, I felt great as I checked everything off and then I began to feel empty. Where was the wilderness? Where were the lessons of the massive rainbow that filled the sky on that rainy, blustery day? Where was the sound of the owl in the early morning? Where was the rhythm of the river that ran through the campground? God was so clearly in each of those. But it was a bit harder to find God in my lists.
My lists function like a security blanket for me. Somehow they lure me into believing that I am really living because I’m being productive. They show me that I can rely on myself. But that security isn’t real. Each day, as I lean back into my deepest longings and offer my prayers, I am turning to God to hold all that I am. The invitation today is to trust in God who is greater than all the things that give us security: our bank accounts, our stuff, our relationships, our heath, the list goes on and on. Security is found in God alone and only in God can we make room for the birth of something beautiful and new among us.
The gospel lesson holds the tension of endings and beginnings together. We see this paradox wherever we go: in the larger world, in the church, and in our own lives. Life is ending and beginning. Just this week, we welcomed a new baby into the St. Michael’s community and said goodbye to a wonderful saint. We are experiencing birth pangs as this vibrant congregation grows and reaches out to the community. Birth is beautiful and painful.
Who is My Neighbor? continues as volunteers have weekly conversations with food pantry recipients to share their life struggles. They are developing relationships with those we are serving and learning more about the particular issues that they face each day. We have a team doing research to discover what resources are available. We don’t know where all of this will lead, but we believe the answer is found in deepening relationships with the people we serve. We are listening for the voice of God in the people we feed each week.
Hebrews calls us to “provoke one another to love and good deeds, to meet together, and encourage one another all the more as we see the Day approaching.” (10:25 paraphrase) In the most difficult moments of our lives, when all has come crashing down, in the loss of those we love, we are called to deepen our investment in our community. It may seem counterintuitive. It is so tempting to hibernate until the storm passes. But, we are all in this together. I have been touched by the stories of those from the food pantry who are showing up and opening their hearts so we can glimpse their pain and struggle. The volunteers are sharing their hearts and stories as well. Those relationships of compassion go both ways. God is there. Something is being born from that pain.
Apocalyptic texts are often misunderstood and plunge us into that place of fear that the sky is falling. But “an Apocalypse is an unveiling, a revealing, a vision that grants its recipients a glimpse beyond what is going on to what is really going on.” (Preaching Through the Christian Year, p. 472) Can we look beneath the surface to see that God is indeed doing something new? Can we listen beyond the pain we see around us to hear the hope of God giving birth? Can we trust that God is beyond our vision weaving a tapestry of healing from the broken threads we witness daily?
God is in the most painful moments of our lives. God is in our suffering. God is doing something new. Our task is to be present and we will witness God’s creation of life in all things. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said, "All around us, to the right and left, in front and behind, above and below, we have only to go a little beyond the frontier of sensible appearances in order to see the divine welling up and showing through." (The Divine Milieu)
The texts today sound threatening and it is tempting to lock ourselves in our houses in response to such ominous words. I believe that we are being called out into the world to witness to God’s presence, to notice signs of God everywhere, and to be part of what God is doing. It means stepping toward fear rather than away from it. God meets us there and shows us the new thing being born.