Sunday, July 7, 2013

Helpless hiking

Jesus said to the seventy,
"3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.
 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say,
 “Peace to this house!” 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person;
 but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide,
 for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.
 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;
 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” (Luke 10:3-9)

If you were to go hiking outside of the village you should stop by the village Hike Haus.  At the Hike Haus you could talk to Thomas who would tell you to hike with at least one buddy, to take plenty of water, remember a first aid kit, dress in layers, and remember “cotton kills!”.  You would be encouraged to pack a sack lunch, bring a few snacks, perhaps wear a bear bell to warn wildlife of your passing through and lastly, you would be asked to sign out at the Hike Haus – telling the entire village where you are going and when you expect to return.  If you are late our first response team will be ready to come to your aid on the trail. Because when you go hiking, it becomes the priority of us all to make sure you have safe return.

Now, based on our gospel reading for tonight if Jesus were staffing the Hike Haus, the speech would sound a bit different.  Jesus would tell you to go out with a buddy, but you are to bring nothing – no pack, no extra food or sandals, don't wear a bear bell – although Jesus acknowledges that you are being sent out as a sheep among wolves, and don't talk to your fellow hikers. When you arrive at camp you should cozy up to the first person who is willing to be peaceful to you (the under-prepared hiker) and eat and drink whatever they offer you.  

Given these two options, you better believe that before my next hike...I'm checking in with Thomas.

I realize that does not sound like a very faith-filled thing to confess, but it is my nature.  My nature is to be prepared, to be able to handle whatever may be coming down the hiking trail.  My pride is mighty in my decision making and I prefer to be completely self-sufficient, I do not wish to have to rely on another human being, or worse – be indebt to them! I will be the responsible one who can make my way up and down the mountain without any help...thankyouverymuch. 

Check the pride at the door, because that is not how Jesus is sending his seventy disciples down the trail.  The Savior, who just bade these people to follow him is now sending them forward to do work of healing and sharing love – this means making themselves available, vulnerable and packing light for a life that is tied up in others and dependent on the life we all share.

The pattern should be quite familiar to those of us living and serving here at Holden Village – go off to a village, find a place that will receive you in peace, do your share of work, eat and drink what is put in front of you, heal the sick and proclaim God's Kingdom.  Saying that all in Holden Village terms –
You may, or may not have come up to the village with a buddy, and hopefully to didn't bring too much stuff – because everything you need is provided for you here.  Whether you arrived this afternoon or years ago, I hope you were received in peace, you have been (or will be) given a job to do, you will have a bounty of food and drink before you, in your living in community you will have the power to bring healing to those around you and by being agents of love and grace you will proclaim the kingdom of God.

And you will need your neighbor, and your neighbor will need you.  You will need someone to hear your story, and you need to be still and hear another human's story.  You will need the kitchen staff, the safety officers, the managers, the ops crew, team housekeeping, programming, pastors, baristas, IT, the business office and every single other villager here... and they will need you. 

And that constant interplay is naturally created here in the village, where currency is a rarity and we all come up here ready to serve and no one is walking away with much of a paycheck, or maybe nothing of a paycheck at all.  We all live and miraculously thrive on the common effort and generosity of each other.

Of course, when we are secure and cared for and joy is in our hearts – hospitality flows forward naturally with the systems of shared village life supporting us.  But hospitality is stifled in those times of feeling threatened, alone, or when grief weighs us down or fear paralyzes us that hospitality and a life of dependency is much harder to trust and believe in.

The sending of the seventy disciples is an introduction to the Christian notion of hospitality — except in the church today hospitality is usually thought of as bad coffee and doughnuts, these followers of Jesus were relying on hospitality that would either sustain their lives or end it.

The way Jesus is sending out the disciples is in the way of total dependence, they have no other supplies and so they are at the mercy of the homes they will encounter and the cities that will either receive them in peace or reject them all together.  Given the hostile tensions of this time for those who were following the subversive Jesus, this charge to go out as helpless and under-prepared preachers and healers was dangerous, demanding and required full dependence on strangers they would meet along the way. 

The disciples took Jesus' advice and hit the trail...could we be so daring? Or have we made ourselves too capable and seemingly independent?

During my first year of seminary I enrolled in a cross cultural class that would mean spending two weeks in Mexio City.  During this trip we spent time in communities and agencies that were, in every imaginable sense of the word – oppressed.  Towards the end of trip we traveled to a neighborhood outside of Mexico City called La Estation – a neighborhood that spanned for miles across a mountain side.  In the neighborhood the most stable houses were made of metal walls and had concrete for a floor, the most vulnerable homesteads were simply marked off with rope.  We were split into a couple of groups to go visit with families and my group was invited into the home of Brenda and her family.  We followed our hostess down a small hallway of chicken wire, ducking our heads under the roof of barbed wire and boxes and sat in a very humble dwelling.  The small shelter had a concrete floor and walls and the two rooms were separated by a hanging blanket – it was the home for Brenda, her husband and their seven children. As we settled into plastic lawn chairs in the living room, Brenda's daughter passed around a roll of Ritz Crackers and poured everyone a cup of Coca-cola. 

It was absurd, uncomfortable and unnecessary that this family would give up any of their food or drink and put it before us – strangers, privileged disciples who would leave that neighborhood and go back to the school we were staying at and feast at a banquet. As the roll of crackers came closer and closer I began to feel nauseous, knowing I couldn't pass on the unbelievable hospitality...but I didn't want to take any of their provisions – so I took two crackers and nibbled on them so they would last the entirety of our visit.

It was the kind of receiving and giving that can level even the most proud and self-sufficient individual. It was in the breaking down of my independence that I was being broken open, not just to poverty and injustice --- although certainly my awareness and outrage was tapped...but suddenly, as though scales had dropped from my eyes, I became open to the humanity I had seen all throughout La Estation and inside Brenda's home. In the giving, in the receiving no one was too capable and no one was independent of the other. I saw Christ in Brenda's eyes, in her generosity, in her undying love and fear for her children.  I witnessed a Savior who is enough for us.

And this being broken open happens when we are available and vulnerable and hospitipal to one another, an engagement that happens somewhat naturally in the village…the challenge, the real walls of pride and ego and self-sufficient that we pray will be taken down happen in our relationships, our churches, our cities, our homes…these are the places Christ is sending us as empty, unprepared hikers relying on the strength of God and the grace of one another.

Tonight we will come to the table, with nothing to offer, no gear to protect us, no extra rations, no bear bells.  Because at this table there is one host, our gracious God who pours love and life so extravagantly upon us that there is always, always enough for those who gather.

We come empty and leave filled with all we will ever need to be a faithful disciple, loving neighbor and cherished child of God.

We come to the table tonight with a community of saints and sinners and people starved of love and people aching for healing, we come as disciples of Christ who are sent out to be that healing and proclaiming power for those around us.

We come to the table to experience a hospitality that moves beyond our clenched fists, pride and ego and demonstrates the life of sacrifice, humility and mercy.

May we leave this table, this place, this village available, vulnerable and packing light for a life that is tied up in others and dependent only on the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Amen. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Nelson Mandela, Jesus and all the rest

Across the ocean a man lays dying. His nearly 95 years on earth have been dedicated to the fight for equality for any and all people who suffer oppression – his fight has been one so steeped in the pit of politics, racism and prejudice that those of us having been raised and formed in middle class America may not be able to truly conceive of its magnitude.  Nelson Mandela, former prisoner and President of South Africa is in his final earthly days and has been the focus of a nation and a movement for most of his life, this is still true in his final moments.

To learn about the life and fight of Nelson Mandela is to see a man who has been on the move – not necessarily on the geographical move as much of his life was spent in the same country and over twenty years in a prison cell.  Yet, from a very early age Mandela was moving on a path that always, always pointed toward equality and abundant life for all people.  Through protests and underground organizations, through speeches and letters and leadership – Mandela fought for the life of those who were being oppressed.  And then, through his own imprisonment and finally through a presidency Mandela continued the movement of freedom and creating the free nation, still flawed and broken as any nation, but a nation freed. 

I find the arch of Nelson Mandela's life inspiring – but not in that glamorous, romantic sense of the word.  The man spent decades imprisoned in horrid conditions, he saw multiple marriages end in divorce, he toyed with the notion of violent resistance – this is not a life I envy or desire for anyone I know...yet he is inspiring! The truth of his message, the insight he had to say it clearly and keep on moving towards what he knew to be, that is inspirational.

In our gospel reading we heard of a man on the move.  His face steadily set with determination towards Jerusalem.  The man, Jesus, knew that his movement towards God and life for all would be costly – he and his followers would pay the penalty of rejection, persecution, injustice, prejudice and death. This pilgrimage towards Jerusalem was so costly and yet so inevitable that as others offer to follow Jesus he laid out the terms of travel, erasing any romantic notions of would-be-followers. To the nameless one on the side of the road who yells out, “I will follow you anywhere Jesus!” our Savior responds, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Not much of an invitation, certainly not encouragement either, but it is real and honest and there is something compelling about that kind of upfront answer.  The next would-be followers ask for a moment, one to bury a father and the other to say farewell to his home and Jesus, with brutal honesty tells them, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God. No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Urgency, steadfastness, forward motion – this is the call to the followers of Jesus this day.

And there is nothing easy about this call, the life of a Christian is not romantic or glamorous.  The life of a Christian is one that continually, day after day sheds off the old skin of yesterday and moves towards God.  Nelson Mandela once said, “There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountain top of our desires.”  As people on this earth, we are walking on the road of life and on our walk there will always be times and places where the road splits and we will always have the choices of walking in the way of life or death, in the way of health or destruction, the choice of spreading the love of God or hoarding it…and that is the very question Jesus puts to his followers.

Sisters and brothers, the words of Jesus are asking us a profound question tonight, the gruff and blunt words of our Savior are posing a questions to all would-be-followers, “Where are you going?”.

Jesus is moving towards the cross of suffering and the promise of new life for the world...where are you going?

Jesus is telling all would-be-followers we need not remain attached to histories of death and allegiances to the tangles of the, where are you going?

Every day God grants us life and mercies that are renewed with the morning, will we be changed by these gifts? Will our lives look different because we are following Jesus? Where are we going?

Or, maybe we are not even moving at all.  Has the Christian life become stagnant, routine? Has living been stalled by fear, grief and loneliness with its paralysis? We can look back in faith, over the decades of Mandela's life and spot the points of movement and victories, his brave fight for equality and freeing the nation of South Africa.  Yet, I am sure – if we were closer, we could also point to the decades of no movement, years spent imprisoned and whole decades of a warrior being buried under the weight of injustice. Where are we going if we’re not moving at all?  

The difficult reality of the Christian life is that we do not know – we pray that God will lead us through on paths never yet taken, through perils unknown – we pray because we do not know where we are going! Jesus' words to the people in the gospel story tonight certainly do not lay out a road map, his words are the equivalent to “shut up and get in the car!”, perhaps asking such a difficult question as where are you going is asking too much of the Jesus-follower.

So, let's change the question to something sure, something that we know has movement, a movement that has carried the story of all people through all histories to this movement: where is God going? Where is God going that Jesus was sent to this earth? Where is God going that Jesus was so determinedly marching toward Jerusalem?

God was moving and is moving towards you, beloved children of God.  God has always been moving towards the people who stand paralyzed with fear and grief, God has always been moving towards the people who sit alone in the darkness, God has always been moving towards the people who suffer oppression and injustice and so God called upon Jesus to move, too.  God called Jesus to move all the way to the cross of rejection and suffering and then, miraculous gift of grace and life we were introduced to freedom, to blessing, to life in God through Jesus Christ. 

God is still moving, the grace of Jesus is still here with us...and with that assurance we can be so bold and so free as to look at our lives and ask the difficult question where are we going? We, followers-of-Jesus, will we move and live in a way that others will know we move with God, too? I hope so, because there is still freedom to fight for, there is still oppression that needs uncovering, there is still sin that needs grace and darkness that waits for the light of God’s children.  

So, we remember the mighty saint of God, who lies dying and his truthful, prophetic words,

“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountain top of our desires.” 

All you followers of Jesus…get moving and follow Jesus. Walk on, with the demands and grace of our Savor, for we walk with a God who is forever and always walking towards us.  Amen.