Monday, August 25, 2014

Fast Forward: haste makes waste

Ecclesiastes 8:11-13
Romans 8:18-25
Luke 8:4-8, 11-15

"Many are the plans in one's heart, but it is The Lord's plan that prevails."  Jewish proverb

Last weekend we moved Emily (our youngest) back to Fayetteville to get ready for another school year and decided to swing over to Horseshoe Bend to see Gracyn (our first grandchild).  There was no real hurry to either as we had all the time in the world but after Emily was settled and there was nothing left to do and her friend and roommate had arrived, I decided it was time to leave.  Emily understood we had a long drive, but she was not quite ready for us to go.  So we walked around the campus and enjoyed the nice weather while Emily showed us her class buildings, but after the tour I finally decided it was really time to go.  I had a plan, you see, that was not quite finished.

Driving from Fayetteville to Horseshoe Bend is almost all skinny roads with only a few miles of four-lane highway.  Much of the drive is narrow and winding, which means you will go only as fast as the car in front of you.  APPARENTLY there were several folks that day who were not in any big hurry to get anywhere.  I tried to slow my roll, but for me there is nothing worse than being forced to drive substantially below the speed limit - especially when I'm on a quest!  By the time we got to Horseshoe Bend, I had a headache that would have split the California coast!

What really made the drive so incredibly challenging, however, was not strictly those who were obviously enjoying their drive.  What was really bugging me was the remarkable guilt I felt for once again "leaving" baby girl - AND maybe leaving her too soon, leaving something undone.  We didn't have to leave when we did because there was still plenty of daylight and, as I said earlier, we didn't have to be anywhere at any particular time.  But because everything that needed to be done for Emily was done, I marked that thing off my mental list-of-things-to-do and was ready to move on to the next phase of "my" plan.

While I was nurturing my headache, I started thinking about a movie entitled "Click".  A young, ambitious architect who was trying to make a name for himself always put his family aside in favor of work projects he hoped would score him professional points.  When he finally crashed one night due to fatigue and a bad cold, he had a dream that he was given a universal remote control that would control not just his TV but his whole environment.  He could mute his wife while she was yelling at him for neglecting his family, or he could fast forward through a family gathering so he could get back to work. 

An added "feature" of this remote was that once he used it under certain circumstances, the remote would automatically program his future circumstances based on the choices he made.  Long story short, he missed his children growing up, he missed a chance to say "I love you" to his beloved father before his father passed, and he missed all his chances to rebuild his family and his marriage which he had neglected for so long.  Because he was always in such a rush, he missed what were perhaps the greatest moments he would have known in his life for someone else's sake; those who needed what only he could provide.  Oh, he found the success he had coveted at work, but he lost everything else.  He had wished the best parts of his life away.

In keeping with our theme series of "becoming better disciples, and making disciples who make disciples", then, I thought about Jesus' parable of the sower and the seed but not quite in the standard, traditional way.  While each segment of the parable has its own purposes to show us where The Word of The Lord is in our lives and how important that Word is to us, I still get a sense of a sower who is in far too big of a hurry for his own good and for the greater Divine purpose he was to serve. 

This begs the question as it pertains to "making disciples": Are we truly interested in planting the Good Seed in good soil for a good harvest, or are we just in a hurry to carelessly throw the seeds out, convince ourselves we have accomplished something, and just hope for the best?  That is, assuming we have any real concern about and reverence for the necessary sacred work of the Church at all - because if we do not because we are in too big of a hurry in other areas of our lives, I am afraid we are missing out on what could be some of the greatest moments of our lives, to provide perhaps what only we can provide.

I don't know that spending more time in Fayetteville with Emily would have made a difference one way or the other, but she was our primary purpose.  The more I think about it, the more I am convinced we left something important undone because I was in too big of a hurry to do everything else.

We should understand by now that The Word cannot and will not come from a void - it will not spring forth from nothing, and haste will not help.  This means we will rarely make disciples of those with whom there is no real human, relational connection.  They may "make a decision for Christ" in a moment of emotional distress and we may think we got something "done" in that hasty moment but if we are unwilling to nurture that relationship, tend to that "soil", and see it through to fruition, the Good Seed we do have will have been dropped on the rocks or in the thorns.  And yes, dear friends, this includes our children and grandchildren who are not given a proper and formal religious education.  That is very much a part of spiritual nurture.

There are great needs fulfilled in careful nurture and patience.  The Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-37 needed Philip who had been sent by the Holy Spirit to explain to him what he was reading in the prophet Isaiah about the coming Messiah.  The people who joined the new community of faith in the early chapters of Acts needed one another AND the "teachings of the apostles" (Acts 2:42) in order to grow in the faith and in community.  So the world still needs the Church - for the Seed itself is good; it is the soil which must be carefully prepared and nurtured for the Seed to take root.  This takes time and patience - but it also takes effort.

Every effort toward making disciples who make disciples must involve careful planning, purposeful prayer and Scripture study, intentional purpose of nurture, and a willingness to engage these potential new friends and future disciples in a life-altering way.  We know (or should know) we have the Good Seed; it has been entrusted to the care of the Holy Church.  What we may not know is how well-prepared the "soil" is to receive that Good Seed.  And this is our task.

The only way to know of the condition of the soil, then, is to get intimately familiar with the soil, to get dirt under our nails!  We have to get to know our neighbors, we cannot be afraid to get next to strangers, and we must never pretend there will ever be a political solution to the challenges the Church faces.  In fact, our Lord - and history - warn us that politics will always be more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to evangelism; that is what "making disciples" entails - because anyone can "preach" the Gospel, but it takes a disciple to make disciples.  Our Lord did not charge us to 'save souls'; He commissioned His Church to "make disciples".

So we must be patient - BUT - we must also have a sense of urgency about the task which is before us.  We must not be led to believe it is "someone else's" responsibility, and we can never become convinced the task can be "hired out", and we certainly must never, EVER think it will "just happen".  We signed up when we asked to become "members" of the Church.

Looking around at the world we face, dear friends, I am not entirely convinced it is strictly about "getting to Heaven" as much as it is trying to make for ourselves a better world - for our children, our grandchildren, and for others who cannot do for themselves.  As we are taught in the Scriptures, there will always be someone in need, someone in poverty; and there is no more profound poverty than to be destitute of human interaction and of the Living Word of the Living God in His Messiah.

A Jewish theologian once wrote that only when we perform the "desires of God" will there one day be no longer anyone in need.  The entire Torah (what we mistakenly and shallowly refer to as "law") is about relational connections, community of faith, and looking after one another.  This is what makes good soil.  There will be challenges and I guarantee there will be conflicts and heartaches; but if The Church is not after the "desires of God", there is no Church - only a void from which nothing of lasting value can come.

What we fail to appreciate, I think, is that the goodness which is before us is in every one of the challenges, each of the conflicts and heartaches.  We need not try to fast-forward through these moments or even try to avoid them altogether in our haste for "goodness" - for in doing so, we will truly miss what could be some of the greatest moments of our lives, the life of the Church, and the lives of those who will be transformed by our efforts AND the Holy Spirit. 

So let us go about our work as "sowers".  We have the Good Seed; what we must find, what we must develop is the Good Soil so the Seed will grow.  For His Glory, and in His Name.  Amen.

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