“What Are You Doing Here?”

Scripture: 1Kings 19:1-16

The Story

Well, that’s our story this morning. Looking back to the preceding context, we learn that:

On account of the King’s injustice and unfaithfulness, God has worked through Elijah to bring a drought to the land…… hoping to get their attention before things get worse.

As things do get worse, Elijah has confronted the government and its manipulation of religion for its own purposes of power and control.

Elijah has confronted that religious construct—the prophets of Baal—and effectively hamstrung it…… demonstrated its falsehood, and rendered it impotent.

From this triumph, Elijah goes again to the king and ends the drought, providing further proof of the power of the One True God.

And for his labors, Elijah gets death threats from the queen [1Kings 19:2]—threats so grave and so serious that he becomes genuinely afraid [1Kings 19:3] and flees to the wilderness to escape.

 

But it is all too much for him. 

Elijah is exhausted.
He is depressed.
He cannot see a way out of this predicament.
He cannot envision a future wherein he even survives. 

So he wishes himself dead [1Kings 19:4b], asks God to do the deed, and falls asleep to dark and fell dreams.

He is awakened by what the text calls an angel [1Kings 19:5b-6], which is how the Old Testament tells of a human-like form that essentially manifests the words and presence of God. Some stories are a bit ambiguous as to whether the angel in question is actually God-in-human-shape, or just some heavenly being representing God. But I don’t think it mattered much either way to the one actually having the experience.

The angel seemingly manifests a cake and some water—and it does this not once but twice, recognizing that Elijah has clearly endured more than he can handle [1Kings 19:7b]. Still, never underestimate the value of a nap and snack.

So nourished, Elijah journeys for many days until he reaches to Horeb—also known as Mount Sinai, and explicitly here called “the mountain of God” (1Kings 19:8b).

“What are you doing here?” Elijah is asked. And he vents [1Kings 19:10]: I’ve done all the right things; I did everything God told me to do; and now I’m alone and about to be killed and it’s just awful.

Based on where Elijah has come to (Mount Sinai), and based on what happens next in the story (an encounter with God), it seems that at the heart of Elijah’s question is one that is still familiar among us today, especially during hardship: “Where are you, God?”

Where are you, while these bad things are happening me?

Where are you, while people are out to get me?

Where are you, while I despair and lose hope?

Where are you, God?!?

 

So the angel tells Elijah that God the Lord is about to pass by…… 

But not in the wind so strong it tore the mountains themselves into the sky.

Not in the earthquake that threatened to rend the foundations of the very earth apart.

Not in the fire that consumed everything before it.

God was not in any of those. God was in the “sound of sheer silence”…… the “still, small voice.” And when Elijah heard it, he knew it was God [1Kings 19:13a].

 

In his despair and nourished by God’s own provision, Elijah has journeyed to the place where Moses spoke to God…… where Moses looked upon God…… and where Elijah has now had an equally profound encounter. 

But it was still not enough. God is more attentive and attuned to us than we can even imagine, so God asks again—this time verbally: “What are you doing here?” (1Kings 19:13b). And despite the moments-ago encounter, nothing has changed for Elijah. He offers the same ranting response—verbatim. 

So God changes tactics; that’s what God does—God adapts. Instead of giving him what Elijah thinks he wants, God gives Elijah what he needs: direction, purpose, and the means to matter…… all of which make life worth living once again.

It is worth adding that in the immediate aftermath of this episode, a youngster named Elisha becomes Elijah’s disciple. It is clear from the story that part of what gives Elijah purpose is training the next generation of faithful leadership.

The Haunting Question

Ultimately, that’s the story. But what hangs with me—what haunts me—is God’s question: “What are you doing here?”

It’s a question that God had to ask twice. The first time, God’s response suggests that Elijah thinks he is there in this wilderness place for God—for an encounter. So that’s what God gives him, even though—I suspect—that God knew full well it will not satisfy. God likely knew that Elijah had not run away to this desolate place to find God, but to escape……and maybe (like Job) just to be heard. 

God’s response following the second asking proves more fruitful—it demonstrates that Elijah could not imagine a future anymore. Why is Elijah there? Because he needs a job to do, even if he thinks (in this moment) that he can never do another job ever again. 

Note too how Elijah uses the same words both times; like God’s question to him, Elijah’s response is identical. He—incredibly—isn’t sufficiently shaken from his depression…… even by so direct an encounter with God. The only change that comes through this story is his willingness to “go back in” and keep doing the work.

 

“What are you doing?” is a haunting question for me because I don’t think it’s intended only for Elijah: Why are we here? ……right here; right now. Why are we here?

Most of us are here because we think we want an encounter with God. 

We hope that the music we sing will enrapture our soul. 

We pray with the desire to feel God “pick up” on the other end of the line.

We listen to scripture and sermon hoping to discover some hidden “key” that will help us make sense of things.

But I suspect that most of us are actually here because somewhere deep inside us (as with Elijah), we intuitively know that we need a commission—we need to hear God say: “I still believe in you. I want to accomplish great things through you. Now hold your head up, get back in there, and let’s get some things done together.”

That’s a pretty powerful gospel right there.

Demons

In a lot of churches this morning, a New Testament gospel text will be read alongside this Old Testament reading. According to the lectionary schedule, that happens to be (what we often call) the story of the Gerasene demoniac, found in Luke 8. 

I think you’re probably familiar with this story too.

Jesus crosses over to the far side of the Sea of Galilee. As he literally steps off the boat, he is confronted by a filthy, naked man who reeks of death. A man whose condition has driven him from the city…… to the countryside…… to the isolation of caves and tombs. 

Through this encounter, the man will be purged of his demons (which go into some nearby pigs) and he is restored to life. But the folk of the city will not be able to handle this rebirth—”they were afraid” (v.35); and they will try to drive both him and Jesus away [Luke 8:37].

This man—often called “Legion” after the name the demons gave for him—he is introduced in the story as “a man of the city who had demons” (Luke 8:27 NRSV). If you think about it, it seems to me that reference could describe a lot of us. When did they descend upon him (I wonder?)…… and on us…… (who knows?). Most of us didn’t even recognize their presence until we were somehow under their power, and desiring to be free. 

 

My brain comes up with all kinds of connections and questions here:

It’s hard to not draw parallels to the simultaneous addiction and isolation that comes when social media is abused.

It’s difficult to not think of the ways the “talking heads” of our culture infect us with divisive ideologies that do harm to our neighbors, ourselves, and our planet.

Legion’s demons go into some pigs that end up drowning; where do our demons go when they leave us? And what do they destroy along the way?

And perhaps most importantly: How do we so encounter Christ that he can cast out our demons and restore us to health and life?

But recognize too that healing and restoration to life does not solve all the man’s problems. Those who knew him from “before” can’t accept the change in him, even though it is for his wellbeing. This stands as yet another important reminder to us: It is a lot easier to be the person the people around you expect you to be. But it’s a lot more fulfilling to be the person that God knows you can become.

Being Found

In the midst of this conversation, it is also worth remembering that God does not stand aloof or far off from us. The “heavens” in which God was believed to live were not a place somewhere out in space, as Jesus often reminds folks. The word he uses refers to the air that is all around us…… the atmosphere both near and far. When Jesus says the Kingdom of the Heavens is “at hand” [Matthew 3:2 NIV], he is saying that it is right there, all around you, presently available to be experienced—just like the air that encompasses your body each moment.

That is how far—or rather how near—God is to you. And even in the Old Testament, God is trying to be found by us. I love the opening verses of Isaiah 65, situated nearly at the end of that book. This chapter speaks of the judgment and justice that God will oversee in the lives of the ancient Israelites, but the initial verses paint a picture of God as the father of the prodigal, eager and even desperately trying to call his child home. God through Isaiah says:

“I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask,
to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
to a nation that did not call on my name. 

I held out my hands all day long
to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices” (Isaiah 65:1–2 NRSV)

Connecting this to the stories of Legion and Elijah…… God is trying to be found by us…… 

whether we are nearly suicidal from isolation and exhaustion, 

practically torn apart from the demons that control us, 

rejected by those who know us best, 

or whatever state we may be in. 

God is trying to be found by us.

Outro

What are you doing here?
What are you doing here?
What are you doing here?

There’s work to be done. God still believes in you. God wants to accomplish great things through you. Now hold your head up, get back in there, and let’s get some things done together.

Yeah?

Access to Grace

Scripture: Romans 5:1-5

Mythbusters!

On this Trinity Sunday, I’ve prepared a special-edition, Mythbusters sermon. I’ve been inspired by the way some of you have wrestled with big questions and issues of late, and today’s scripture text gives me the excuse to explore a few untruths (or half-truths) that far too many Christians believe about the life of faith 

On this episode… [introduce, perhaps with fancy animations for the PP]

“Does being a Christian mean that life will be easy?”

“Do you just need to try harder to succeed in faith?”

“Is the so-called “spiritual life” best left to experts and weirdos?”

But first: “Isn’t getting “saved” enough?”

 

Myth #1: I’ve walked down the aisle, prayed the prayer of salvation, and was baptized. I don’t have to do anything else but wait for Jesus to take me to heaven.

False.

Faith—as the text from Romans makes clear—is not a static thing. We grow. We mature. We evolve. We are transformed. ……or at least that’s the way God intends us to be.

Paul clearly outlines a progression here [Romans 5:3b-5a]. 

The difficulties we experience (our “sufferings”) may be redeemed by God, who transforms them into endurance within us. 

As we grow in endurance, our character changes.

As our character changes, we become people of hope.

And as people of hope, we will not be disappointed, but rather: will rest in God’s love.

We do not jump directly from “justification” (v.1) to the “hope that does not disappoint us” (v.5). There is a process involved. And that process is not merely something that happens to us, but rather something we partner with God in bringing about. 

The nature of God, and the great value God places on our free will, are such that God does not and will not force this transformation upon us. It must be requested. It must be pursued. It must become a disciplined part of our life. And as we grow in this way, we learn to trust God with our lives, and we discover a liberating and abundant hope. Because who is better able to lead our lives for good, than the One who created us for goodness?


Myth #2: I thought following Jesus was supposed to mean I wouldn’t have these problems and struggles.

False. (And perhaps we should have attended to this one first.)

There really, truly is this pervasive deception that the life of a Jesus-follower is supposed to be all rainbows and unicorns and fresh donuts and warm sunny days. Maybe you think this is a problem that other people have, but I would ask you to consider how you have responded when life shifts off-kilter and everything goes wrong. Most—even most people of faith—end up asking: “Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve it?”

Now these questions aren’t wrong to ask. They are very biblical questions—just read the Psalms if you doubt me. They may also reveal that some of how you’re thinking about God and life isn’t very biblical. But as the scriptures testify, it is always better to bring your concerns to God, without fearing that you’ve gotten your theology wrong. If you have erred in doctrine, I trust that God will clear that up in good time. But to God, the conversation matters more than getting theology right.

The astounding thing is that we ever became convinced that following Jesus would somehow shield us from the problems of this world. Because that is certainly not the image we see in the bible. 

Here in Romans 5, suffering is the starting point for faith development; without it, we would never find our way to endurance, character, or hope.

Remember too that Jesus said: “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man” (Luke 6:22 NRSV).——not if, but when. It’s going to happen if we really learn to live like Jesus. 

As Jesus was led toward Golgotha to be crucified, he told his followers who were weeping for him that if they thought things were bad then, just wait until he was gone: “For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:31 NRSV)

The early church certainly found that their faith put them directly in the crosshairs of difficulty. 

Peter [1Peter 4:12] urges his flock to “not be surprised” at the intense troubles that they face; such is not strange but the normal consequence of following Jesus.

In a passage remarkably similar to our text in Romans 5, James [James 1:2-4] writes to Jewish Christians to consider each difficulty they face to be an opportunity to grow—something worth facing joyfully.

And let us not forget the frequent refrain from the Apocalypse of Jesus, as recorded by John the Revelator: “those who overcome” [Revelation 21:7].

Myth #3: We need to just try harder.

Oh boy. This is a big one, isn’t it?

Especially in this country, we believe so strongly in the myth self-reliance that we cannot imagine discipling Jesus could work any other way. If life and faith is not the way it is supposed to be, then we just need to do more, right? More prayer, more bible study, more self-deprivation, more mission trips, more money given to the church……

Trying harder to be like Jesus just doesn’t work. If it did, then churches would be filled with very Jesus-like people, because the folks who participate and contribute in their local churches are among the trying-hardest people I know. You give it your all. You overextend your already busy lives. You do the best you can. 

But it doesn’t really get us where we think we should end up, does it?

 

As I offered last week in the Sunday School group I’m leading, I think some of this is rooted in a misunderstanding about Jesus. I want to be incredibly open in admitting that I don’t know how all this works, but the gospels are clear that Jesus did not have any innate power to do what he did. I repeat: Jesus did not have the inherent ability—within himself and in isolation of outside forces—to do the things he did. Jesus had to rely on God. 

Jesus himself says as much in John 5:19: “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.” (John 5:19 NRSV)

And what we see throughout the gospels is an intentional and disciplined pattern of practices in which Jesus engages with the express purpose of “seeing what the father is doing.” 

So there are frequent references to Jesus praying, and these are framed as habitual practices at least every morning [Mark 1:35] and every evening [Luke 21:37-37; 22:39]. 

Jesus routinely fasts [Matthew 4], most notably but not exclusively at the beginning of his public ministry. 

He often engages in the practices of solitude and silence, especially before and after major engagements or miracles. 

This is his pattern of life. Jesus neededNEEDED— to regularly and purposefully engage the Kingdom of God in order to have the strength, the clarity of vision, and the power to do the things that he did.

Even though Jesus says [John 14:12] that we will do greater things even than those that Jesus himself does, he does not mean we will do them by our own power—for Jesus did not do them by his own power. He means (rather) that we will do them the way Jesus did what he did—by learning to utilize the power of the Kingdom of God in our daily lives.

There is work we are required to do to help make this happen, and that is the same kinds of “work” that Jesus engages in: meditation, prayer, fasting, solitude, silence, and so on—the “spiritual disciplines” as they are usually called. But these things do not change us simply because we do them; it is not by human efforts that our hearts are changed. The disciplines only open us up and position us where God can do the work of genuine transformation.

Myth #4: I’m just a simple person; all that “spiritual” stuff is for pastors and people who are specially gifted and have too much free time.

This is the last one, and oddly—one that I perhaps hear most often.

Somewhere along the way, many Christians began to believe the untruth that the spiritual life is only for special people. Sometimes, this comes out with the assertion that “I’m not spiritual enough.”

What surprises me about this isn’t that folk are intimidated by following Jesus. We—the church—have done a pretty lousy job of actually training people how to be a disciple, and it is genuinely overwhelming to just be thrown in the deep end and expected to figure it out.

What surprises me—rather—is how opposite this notion is to the content of Jesus’ actual teaching and life—-and that of the early church.

Think about the Beatitudes, for instance: “Blessed are the poor, the sad, the humble, the hungry and thirsty, the merciful, the simple, the peacemakers, the persecuted……” These are the people believed to be incompatible with living the abundant life of God. Against all cultural and religious teachings and precedents, Jesus declares that they have equal access to grace. Everyone has equal access to grace, no matter your economics, your gender, your religious background, your mistakes, your successes, your education, or your sports affiliation…… No matter what your mother, your neighbor, or your parole officer thinks of you—you have equal access to grace. The Kingdom is among us. The Kingdom is available. And the King stands ready.

Paul affirms the same thing in Romans 8 when he talks about the flesh and the spirit. 

Ditto for 1Corinthians 13 in describing the love of God that we are to reflect towards one another. 

Ditto for Galatians 3 in declaring that “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV) 

Ditto for Galatians 5 as Paul calls believers not to consider the freedom of Christ to be cause for personal indulgence, but rather “an opportunity…through love to become slaves to one another” (Galatians 5:13 NRSV), and then he illustrates this contrast through lists of “the works of the flesh” and “the fruits of the spirit.” 

We cannot forget that the most radical part of Jesus’ teaching—and the part he got the most flack for—was that he dared suggest those discounted by the world counted tremendously in God’s eyes…… that those categorically unfit for the good and bountiful life were equally—or even more easily—able to access it. Why is this so? #becausejesus.

Outro

One further thought. As human beings, we are often disappointed in ourselves. God knows I am. We feel we should do better. We want to do better. We try to do better. But we do not often manage it. This is disappointing, to say the least. And it easily leads many to despair and hopelessness.

And that—as Paul frames it here—is one of the big differences between doing life our way and doing life Jesus‘ way. In doing life Jesus’ way, “God’s love [gets] poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5), which enables us to achieve a hope that does not disappoint.

This is not life making the same resolution each New Year

This is not punishing your body at the gym or with a diet that fails to produce results.

This is not that mundane, crippling sameness that we desperately want to break free from.

This is life and life abundant. This is hope that does not disappoint. This is love without strings attached. This is how we were meant to be…… and how we can be…… 

Because with a little intentionality and a whole lot of Jesus, this is what God will do.

Amen.

“Seeing” Jesus

Scripture: John 14:8-17

The Presumption of Philip

“Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (John 14:8 NRSV).
“Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” (John 14:8 NIV11)

I am amazed by this story. By Philip. And especially by this request.

I am amazed that yet again the disciples did not have eyes to see what was right in front of their faces. 

I’m amazed at the presumption of Philip that asks—and seemingly expects—that Jesus is going to somehow roll back the curtain between the heavens and the earth and give them a “sneak peek.”

But I’m most amazed at the audacity in believing that the fulfillment of this one desire would somehow bring lasting contentment and change.

That is what he is saying here. 

If only Jesus would “show them the Father,” then their confidence in him would be complete.

If only Jesus would “show them the Father,” then they would really believe.

If only Jesus would “show them the Father,” then surely they would grow into mustard-seed-sized, mountain-flattening faith.

Here’s the thing about enough: it’s never enough.

Pentecost

Today is Pentecost. Today our collective and historical memories are drawn to the events of Acts chapter 2, fifty days after the resurrection and ten after Jesus ascended into the heavens.

Do you remember the story?

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:1–4 NRSV)

As told both at the end of Luke [24:49] and the beginning of Acts [1:8], Jesus promised that they would encounter in his absence a Comforter, an Advocate, a Teacher—One who would empower them in God’s Love beyond their wildest imaginations. That was a reiteration of Christ’s promise at the end of today’s scripture lesson: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth…” (John 14:16–17a NRSV).

Pentecost is the day that promise began to be fulfilled. The presence of the Spirit was marked by a suddenly roaring wind, by floating flames, and by the disciples’ ability to speak and be understood by people who did not share their native language. It was a remarkable occurrence that drew a crowd [Acts 2:6-7] and caused bewilderment, astonishment, and amazement. “All were amazed and perplexed,” as we read in Acts 2:12. 

But…… “But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.'” (Acts 2:13 NRSV). 

All these signs, these wonders—and witnessed by so many people—folks from all throughout the known world. I mean: surely that would be “enough,” wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t that be “sufficient” to convince those present of the power of Christ and his Kingdom? Of the reality that Jesus really was the Son of God…… or at least the Messiah?

No. Because enough is never enough. No matter how much “proof” you have, it is never sufficient to conclusively convince.

Contemporize

I don’t think this is all far-off-in-ancient-times stuff we’re talking about today.

What is the “one thing” we think we need to “see” in order to believe more fully?

What is the “one thing” we think we need to know to solve the mysteries of life and faith?

What is the “one thing” we think we need to have to be content?

What is the “one thing” we think we need to accomplish for our life to have mattered?

We often idolize the disciples and are jealous of the human-to-human time they got to spend with Jesus. But the testimonies of the gospels over and over is that they didn’t seem to do any better than do we. Confidence in Jesus came no easier. Belief in the invisible Kingdom of God was no simpler. They were not more readily liberated from the slavery of culture and sin. They did not better understand what Jesus was talking about. They completely missed the boat…… over and over again they just didn’t get it. That they did not do better is proof that we would not have done better in their shoes. 

Being with Jesus in physical form would not have been “enough” for us.

Seeing Jesus

According to Jesus in our scripture lesson, there’s really only one thing that will ever be enough. Do you see what that is?——It is seeing Jesus…… or to put it another way, to really know Jesus.

I’m not talking about seeing Jesus from across the room, or knowing about Jesus. To “see” Jesus is to have gained the ability to realize the comprehensive reality of Jesus the Christ. It is to know him deeply, and fully—even if not completely. 

Jesus suggests here that if they have seen him and known him in this way, they would realize thinks like:

his likeness of God the Father [John 14:9b]

his closeness to God the Father [10c-11a]

the limits of his power [John 14:10b]

the source of his power [John 14:10c, 11]

These are not the kinds of things you discover while speed-dating. These are deep knowings. These are the kinds of things that we guard from one another, fearing vulnerability and its destructive capacity when abused. 

But Jesus does not fear us; Jesus loves us. As 1John 4 proclaims: “perfect love casts out fear” (1John 4:18 NRSV). So Jesus offers his deepest, most intimate self to each of his followers—way back then all the way up to today.

Followers

And when we followers—we disciples—find that seeing Jesus really is enough, then the power of the Kingdom will rain down through us. Look again at v.12:

“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12 NRSV)

I find this astounding. “Greater works than these.” I can’t meet Jesus’ standard of activity, let alone exceed it…… Yet Jesus insists that the Spirit enables us to do greater works even than those of Jesus. He seems almost disbelieving that the disciples don’t immediately understand all this. Yet Jesus believes we are capable of this. He believes that the power of the Kingdom to do “greater works” than his own stands ready and available to each and every one of us.

Now, my preacher ego doesn’t need to do greater works than Jesus, but there are some people I would sure like to see healed.

A few weeks back we read from later in John’s gospel. We witnessed the risen Jesus encountering Thomas and the disciples, and we saw him display the wounds of crucifixion to them. At that time, Jesus proclaimed: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29 NRSV). 

That “beatitude” of Jesus seems like something we ought to consider today as well. Because…… well…… he’s talking about us! We haven’t seen Jesus in the flesh. We haven’t put our fingers in the nail prints or our hands in his side. We haven’t eaten grilled fish with him, or any of the other things the disciples do with the Risen Christ. 

And yet, Jesus seems to suggest that to be to our credit, and a handicap to them.

That, too, is worth deeper thought.

Pentecost, redux.

One final word about Pentecost in the context of all this seeing and knowing.

The miracle at Pentecost—though often described as “speaking in tongues”—is not really a miracle of speaking but a miracle of hearing. We can be sure of this, because this is the testimony of the crowds who witnessed (and indeed benefitted from) the miracle. Reading in Acts 2, verse 7, we find them “amazed and astonished,” marveling: “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” (Acts 2:7–8 NRSV). 

And then they list fifteen or so different people groups who were present and experienced this phenomenon—people of fifteen different cultures, of fifteen different dialects and languages, of varied religions and ethnicities—fifteen different groups of people who had the uncommon and miraculous experience of actually hearing someone who was different than them. 

That’s a heck of a miracle. And one we desperately need today.

There are so many people talking, and so few listening.

There is such aggression to get your own voice heard, while never pausing to hear another.

There is this unconscionable denial of the reality of our varied experiences as human beings. 

All experiences of life and the world are not the identical, and can be quite varied on account of geography, economics, religion, and (yes) even race. Your experience of the world is not the same as my own, yet the impulse in all of us seems to be to deny anything that is different than what I experienced—that’s the vice of pride working itself out in our lives.

A Miracle of Hearing

How desperately we need a miracle of hearing today! Immigration, abortion, health care, racial privilege, systemic prejudice…… even things like the frequent terrorist shootings like the one recently in Virginia Beach—I really do believe that all of these would come to a natural and just resolution if we could only hear one another—genuinely hear one another!

To say nothing of the ways we fail to hear one another within the church—the body of Christ. These, I find, are among the greatest tragedies, because we in the church should be most ready to listen, hear, and advocate for each other. Even if we disagree. Even if we can’t stand one another. 

Because as Christians—as followers/disciples/apprentices of Jesus—our whole life is about learning to see as neighbors even those who would harm us…… to see even our enemies as friends with whom we can stand. The person who is being transformed into Christ-likeness will naturally pursue even their enemy’s well-being, and we cannot know what is good for them until we hear them and know them deeply, just as Christ invites us to know and “see” him.

 

Just as with everything else, Jesus stands as a model for us. 

How do we learn to hear and see people as they are? What did Jesus do?—he entered into their lives even though it cost him dearly.

How do we show love to people who believe and act differently than we do—or than we think they should? Well, Jesus’ strategy was to simply love them so completely and to live the Kingdom life so fully that it simply became irresistible to them.

How do we engage our enemy? Well, how did Jesus engage us when we were his enemy? How does the verse go? “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NRSV). 

Even though we didn’t want it.
Even though we didn’t understand it.
Even though we didn’t know we needed it.
Even though we thought it was against our best interests.

Even though we were the enemies of God—too ignorant to even know this is what we were!—God engaged with us by loving us fully, discovering out of that relationship what we really needed, and creatively pursuing our well-being even though it cost Jesus his life.

If the world is going to learn to hear one another, it will have to learn to do so from us—it will be on account of genuine apprentices of Jesus who have learned so from Jesus.

 

I’m not saying it’s going to be quick.
I’m not saying it’s going to be easy.
I’m saying that this radical path of love and understanding is only way forward if we’re even going to pretend to be following Jesus.

Let us pray.

Communion