Sunday, November 22, 2009

Finding the Right Place

John 18:33-37

What kind of world would we be living in if we could know with absolute certainty when time will stand still? There has been a lot of buzz lately about the Mayan “long count” calendar that marks the end of an era on December 21, 2012. Discovery Channel and History Channel have both been busy broadcasting nearly everything they think they know about this alleged “count-down”, and there is a movie out called “2012” that is supposedly based on this Mayan calendar. But to know what kind of world we might envision with such certain knowledge, recall the actions of a few during the advent of Y2K, when food and other supplies – including ammunition - were stockpiled as a means of survival.

I don’t know whether or if “global warming” factors into any of this but to hear some “warm earth” theorists tell it, if we would pay more attention to global warming we could actually stop or at least slow this apocalyptic clock from ticking (my sincere apologies to those who earnestly take global warming more seriously than I). I am obviously oversimplifying what many consider to be a very serious problem, of course, but lacking academic or scientific credentials, I can do little else.
This is not to say that I take lightly our duty to responsible stewardship of the Lord’s created world, but there is something much more important that must first take place before we can think about adding yet another item to our plate of “things to worry about today”.

Imagine, then, an idealized world, a world in which the late Mother Teresa used to say so often that it is not the work itself that gives life and hope to the poor; it is the love that comes from the worker. She believed that the work was little more than work and a misguided expenditure of time and energy if we could not do such work with grateful hearts and love toward our fellow man. And she believed this because she believed the greatest poverty man can know – and I would suggest she probably knew this better than most – is that genuine poverty, which is the absence of companionship and love, the absence of knowing, not merely hoping, that someone actually cares, is what man lacks most because even many wealthy people lack this.

So if this lack of genuine, heartfelt love is what is truly lacking in the world, it is a deficiency we have created for ourselves because, while we may worry about global warming or a nuclear Iran or the state of the world or US economy and taxes and all those other things that have little to do with the Kingdom of Heaven, we may have been negligent in worrying about whether our neighbors know that we really care. And it would be in offering that “calling card” by which we would discover that even we are perhaps loved more than we know by people we don’t even know ... yet.

The prayer of the psalmist was: “I will not enter my house or get into my bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord …” (132:3-5). And as Jesus faced His final hours on this earth in the presence of Pilate, He declared: “As it is, My kingdom is not from [this world] (John 18:36c). Is Jesus making a proclamation about the state of the world or the state of faith and religion by saying something as simple, and yet as profound, as “as it is”? Is He saying, “Well, considering how things are now, My kingdom is not here. Otherwise, Pilate, you would have your hands full”?

I think a kingdom without royal subjects (that is, people) over which to rule is not much of a kingdom. So what Jesus may be expressing is not so much a denunciation of what His current reality is more than He may be lamenting about all that has gone wrong so much so that there is no one willing to stand with Him where He is. It is not a question of whether Jesus is right where He was prophesied to be; it is, rather, a matter of His utter loneliness at this very dark hour in His earthly life. The Bible is very clear that even though this Earth is the handiwork of the Lord Himself, it seems equally clear by the persecution of Jesus that His royal subjects (His Kingdom) have all but abandoned Him. The only “faithful” left for Him to rule over are those who are not of this world - because this world made a clear choice.

That’s pretty harsh and may not be altogether accurate, but it goes more toward the state of our existing world as well as the state of the Church as to whether or not the Lord has any sort of claim over what is currently before Him. Or it could be as simple as a rejection of the world as it is although that makes no sense considering what He is willfully preparing to endure and what will come of it in the end. Man seems intent on destroying the very Best Thing that has ever been offered and though Jesus’ enemies may have thought themselves to have been successful at the time, the only ones who discovered what ultimately took place three days later were those whom Jesus believed to be trustworthy, capable of handling, and willing to endure what lay ahead.

“Finding the Right Place” must be much more than a mere sermon title. Such a concept involves not only spiritual “forward motion” but also discovery along the path to righteousness. Sanctification itself is much more than a simple state of being or self-declaration. It is a state of perpetual spiritual growth, a state of conscious awareness in which we become more and more like Christ Himself. The “right place” means understanding where the Lord fits into our lives and where we fit into His calling, His creation, and His plan of salvation for all of humanity and not just a handful of self-righteous individuals.

Searching for that “right place” will not be comfortable nor will it necessarily be pleasing to our flesh by neatly fitting in with our other chosen priorities – unless, of course, we finally find that state of spiritual perfection by and through which we serve one another not with a sense of duty or obligation but out of a genuine sense of what it means to love and to be loved. And I say all this because the “right place” to be is at the Cross – not being grateful that Jesus is bleeding to death after having been beaten to within an inch of His life, but being actively and consciously aware of the indescribable Love that exists in that incredible moment in human history.

It seems to me that if we can find ourselves at that “Right Place” at the foot of the Cross, that place where the King’s “royal subjects” must necessarily gather, we can hear the declaration and prayer from Jesus Himself asking the Father to forgive us in spite of, or perhaps because of, what we have done and what we have become. There is an element of guilt associated with the Crucifixion of the Christ, of course, but we must resist the temptation to wallow in that guilt and shame, understanding that what is most evident in that moment and at that place is not guilt but Grace. Were it to be understood as only guilt, we might reasonably believe time would have stood still at that moment and judgment rendered for that unspeakable act of humanity.

That place, that state of being, that “kingdom” is yours and mine for the taking, but we must be willing not only to go there but also to offer not what we have taken but what we are willing to give as freely and as liberally as it was given.

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