Monday, June 06, 2016

Where We Are - 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

Ezekiel 3:1-9
1 John 3:10-15
John 15:18-25

“There are just some kinds of people who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”  Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
It has been said there are two important moments in every person’s life; when we are born, and when we finally come to know why we were born.  That idea has been attributed to Mark Twain, but I heard it in the introductory monologue to the series, “Roots”, which played on the History Channel this past week. 

I cannot wrap my mind around the idea of being captured when we could not really know we should have been running, branded as livestock to eliminate any sense of self, and then thrown chained and shackled into the hold of a ship with no idea of what was to happen next – certainly with no real idea about why any of this was happening.

White Europeans had been coming to trade in western Africa for at least a couple hundred years prior to the 18th century, so white men were not so strange to these Africans.  Some had even learned to speak some English but only for the purposes of trading.  How did this friendly trade relationship morphed into an idea of buying and selling human beings on so large a scale? 

The reality is slavery had been around for a very long time – the nature of which usually revolves around power and dominance.  Rival clans not only gained power by trading members of other clans for guns; they also gained territorial power by simply getting rid of rival clan members who posed a potential threat to them.

So author Alex Haley had been trying to make sense of this whole thing by wondering if the capture of “Kunta Kinta” and so many millions of other Africans could serve any useful purpose beyond the profit.  Later in America when “Kunta Kinte” was whipped to within an inch of his life for refusing to embrace his new American name, his friend and mentor “Fiddler” was tending to his torn back.  While he was dressing the deep wounds, he told “Kunta”, “This ain’t your home, but it’s where you got to be”.

How could something so evil ultimately serve a useful purpose, even a Divine purpose?  Recall that Joseph, Isaac’s beloved son, the “dreamer” had been sold by his own brothers and for much the same reasons!  They got a little coin but more importantly perhaps, they got rid of this nuisance who kept dreaming that one day his family would be paying homage to him!  Power.  Dominance.  Doing whatever is necessary to eliminate a potential threat.

Joseph came to know later it was The Lord who had a hand in everything in keeping Isaac’s family from starving to death, The Lord protecting His Covenant with Abraham.  Coming to know this, Joseph was able to forgive his brothers for having done this terrible thing to him.  He came to fully appreciate that while Egypt was not his home, it was still where he had to be: to serve a much greater purpose beyond himself

Because it was not about Joseph.  It never was.

So here we are in 21st-century America, often wishing we were back in the 1950’s when things seemed so idyllic.  In post-war America, families went to church.  Men were men, women were women, and many families made do on one salary.  Children were not latchkey kids.  They were supervised and protected even by neighbors.  Gangs and gang warfare were the stuff of big cities, and it was almost unheard of to see a teacher’s photo and name splashed across the front page of the daily newspapers for having had an inappropriate relationship with a student.

And we seem to have lost all that as the “Greatest Generation” slowly fades.  What they helped to build is crumbling around us, and it seems beyond our control to do anything about it.  Perhaps we wonder if we will somehow be destroyed along with everything and everyone else. 

Why can’t The Lord just end it all, take all us “saved” folks Home where we think we belong, and restore all things as The Word has assured us will one day certainly happen?

We are more compelled to ask, however: why should He?  Why should The Lord intervene when we won’t?  Why should The Lord concern Himself with the “greater good” when His own people are concerned only with themselves?  Indeed how could The Lord intervene if we won’t, we being concerned only with having a “good life” and protecting what we think is “ours”?  

In Jesus’ discourse with His disciples in John’s Gospel, it may have occurred to at least a few of them to ask why they must stay if things really are going to be as bad as Jesus tells them it would be.  So when we talk about pain and suffering and fear and helplessness and uncertainty, asking the unanswerable question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”, we fail to make the connection between what Jesus told His disciples then … and what He still tells His disciples now

The disciples then had a purpose that would extend beyond Jesus’ time on this earth and certainly beyond themselves as individuals.  How have we managed to convince ourselves we should somehow be immune from what they had to endure?  Because we think we’re “saved”??

“Saved” for what?

Their world was falling apart, too.  They could not seem to round a corner without the potential of meeting up with “Judiazers”, maybe even coming face to face with the likes of Saul of Tarsus himself.  And I have no doubt they all, at one time or another, questioned why.  Why do things have to be so bad for “me”?  Why does my family have to live in fear?  What is the point of my “salvation” if it gets me nothing in this world?

All these, of course, are the wrong questions for a disciple to ask.  There is nothing, absolutely nothing written in the whole of the Bible to suggest in any way that we should expect to be immune from what the disciples before us endured – not strictly because they were “Christians” but because they were active witnesses to something greater than any moment, greater than any person, greater than any personal desire or demand.  They were “testifying” to what they knew beyond this world, not demanding this world to respect their “rights”.  It wasn’t about “me” then, and it isn’t about “me” now.

It is ok to pray for peace.  It is even ok to pray when we are afraid, but above all else is our duty to pray for clarity.  We are where we are – and when we are – for His purposes.  Though there are certainly unplanned pregnancies, there is no such thing as an accidental or incidental life that serves no holy purpose … not in Christ, and certainly not by the Hand of the One who created us so “fearfully and wonderfully”. 

I think, though, the reason we get so caught up in all that’s wrong is because we are almost completely oblivious to all we must be doing that could be so right.  It is the atheist who believes his life has no meaning, no purpose beyond himself.  It is how “children of the devil” (1 John 3:10) are revealed – when they are only concerned with themselves.

Yet we “must not be astonished that the world hates us, for we [should] know we have passed from death to life because we love one another” (1 John 3:13-14).  We are not “victims”.  We never have been, and we never will be as long as Christ is in us and we in Christ.  “We ain’t home, but we are where we got to be”. 

Because our Holy Father needs us here.  Because the world and those who live in darkness have been entrusted to our care.  It is why we are born, and it is why we are here.  To the Glory of Almighty God and for the sake of His Eternal Word.  Amen.

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