Easter’s hope is not only of life resurrected after Christ’s death or the death of loved ones or even ourselves in the hereafter; I believe it is also the profound promise of life - our lives – in the here and now, resurrected from fear filled dead ends and transformed through love forevermore.
Look, everything about Jesus’ earthly life, from prophecies to his birth, in his words and actions, and through his death and resurrection was and is a testament to God’s love. And Jesus summarizes all the law and prophets in a single, Great Commandment: to “Love;” “Love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls; AND to love our neighbors, strangers, those we are estranged of find strange, our enemies, poor people, people from all nations, nationalities, widows, orphans, the outcast, cast out and even ourselves.
And our story could end there, but the naked truth is that it has never been that simple. We live in a world that is anything but loving. Our hearts, minds and souls; worldviews, self-views, behaviors and attitudes are fragmented by fear, burdened by worries and regrets, preoccupied with perceptions and expectations and populated with all kinds of messages that intentionally and unintentionally distract, disconnect and deceive us from seeing, being, believing and living for who we truly are. And the naked truth is that a small number of hurtful words and negative experiences to feel unwanted, unloved and so vulnerable we want to hide who we truly are on the inside.
Several years ago in a congregation that I served which had experienced significant conflict and decline I’m in fellowship hall following worship one Sunday and there is an elderly congregant peering over a fork full of fruit cobbler. She has been in the community for a dozen years or so and comes most Sundays. Early on she says she asked a lot of questions and had a few suggestions, however after one too many “we don’t…, we can’t…, we never…” she decided it was “best” not to get too involved. And so there she is, peering over this forkful of cobbler, deciding whether or not to risk asking a question or making a suggestion once more. “Could our congregation do something together as a Christmas gift to others?”
I respond, “I’m sure we could, how about you ask around and see what you come up.” Questions are asked, conversations multiply, walls come down, and soon the whole congregation begins to wonder and wander together once more. A jar is put out. A poster put up in the front of the church, which reads “Let’s have a Cow for Christmas!?” And soon individual nickels, dimes and dollars become so much more together. We don’t buy one cow – we buy three! Three cows sent to three families in three villages in three regions of the world providing enough income to break the cycle of poverty and prevent the sexual exploitation of three young girls. And just like her question began to change the perspective, culture and attitude in the congregation and together we changed three small corners of the world. And our story could end there, but it isn’t always that easy…
Here is the naked truth: we live in a culture where certainty and control are valued, which is why we often do not like change, seek to preserve our safety, control and comfort, and avoid being seen as vulnerable at all costs. And yet it is in our questions, challenges, conflicts, and crisis – those times when we are faced with difficult choices, don‘t know where things are heading and may feel vulnerable and no longer in control that we are freed to let go of the burdens, false assumptions, fragmented stories and fear. There on the edge of chaos is the very place where we experience the deepest growth, greatest connection , and transformative power of love renewing and resurrecting our lives in ways we never hoped or imagined!
As the story goes…
In the beginning God creates in a playful, imaginative, collaboration – Light shines. Water flows. Emptiness ends. Amid chaos a space is carved out and made safe for life to thrive in all its many shapes, forms and diversity. It is well. And it is Good. Good. Good . Good. Good. And finally Really, Really, Really, GOOD!
And our story would end right there, but then – well we get dropped into it.
There is this tree. It has this fruit. It is pretty and shiny.
Questions go unasked. Rumors unsubstantiated. Suspicions unconfirmed. Judgment clouds over. A seed is planted… Temptation enters… conflict emerges… first within and then all around. They wonder and worry, as we all do deep down in our soul Who are we, Why are we here? Do we matter? Are we worthy? Have Value? And Worth?
The 20th Century Spiritual sage Thomas Merton says that as stress and pressure build, “our capacity to calm anxiety, eliminate fear, and tamp down worry” gets destroyed and we choose scarcity and fear rather than grace and gratitude.
They take. They eat. Eyes are opened and they are in for a word of change! They feel vulnerable and exposed because - as the story goes - they are naked. Really, really, really naked - physically, emotionally, and spiritually naked.
Barriers go up. Trust goes down. Leaves and lies; shame and blame attempt to limit their exposure.
God approaches. WHERE ARE YOU?
Silently they hide – we hide.
Even when we want connection, want community – want deep and abiding friendship – want relationships that matter – with self and neighbor and GOD… and we approach and they approach and even as our God approaches – we try to limit our exposure with fig leaves and façades, actions and words to hide our vulnerable true selves.
And the good news is that the story does NOT end there…
You see, even as they hide, and we try hide because we feel vulnerable, anxious, overwhelmed, worried or afraid – our God remains – and from out of the depths of these challenges God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is calling us out of our fear, our hiding and our silence. And what is that God might say? “Where are you?!”
They respond, “We heard you coming and were naked and afraid”… and God’s response is like “Who told you that you were naked? Who made you feel so ashamed” It is like God is saying, look I know you and who you are, you are not your mistakes, mess-ups, or misunderstandings! Do not be afraid, for you, you are my child, I get you and know you, and you are beautifully and wonderfully made!”
Author Peter Block says communities have the power to transform when we focus on “possibility, generosity, and gifts;” rather than problems and making individuals less unhappy. Believe that collectively, we have the “capacity, expertise, and resources” to create an alternative future; and a better way emerges in us and through us because it begins with us. And it happens one conversation, question, conflict, and challenge at a time.
In another struggling congregation, a nervous teenager stands on the threshold before me, “I am. Umm. I’m looking for, I was told there might be some sort of youth center here.” “The LGBT youth center moved a while ago and closed last year.” I share.
“What about here, could we start something here?” he asks hopefully. I respond “Well, we’d need leaders like you and community support.” And just like that he is on his way. Questions invite others in. A bigger vision emerges. And in less than two months, connections captivate imaginations; corporate sponsors come forward; free advertising is offered; trained counselors volunteer; and professionals, parents and youth form an advisory board.
And You see?! Just like that, questions connect community to God’s unfolding story, shift our focus from the inside out, a And we find ourselves thriving on the edge of chaos having no idea where these questions, hopes or challenges might lead.
With so many in our world are challenged by unjust systems, compassion–less policies, unloving prejudice, an fear-filled violent words, acts and deeds, the God who creates out of love and for relationship is calling to you and to me. Calling us out of silence, beyond our fears and past our broken, fragmented stories, and what might God say - WHERE ARE YOU?!
There are people hungering to find themselves swept up in the Mystery of God’s love, starving for a community seeking justice like Jesus rather than being JUST US; and longing to reconnect with a faith and spirituality that speaks to the realities of our day!
The God who knows us before we are born is longing for our return. We are not our mistakes, mess-ups, misunderstandings, fears or vulnerabilities; for we are people who are created to be God’s love made real - a people called out to live differently; a people who live love’s hope resurrected; a people so rooted and grounded in love we find ourselves blessed in blessing others in surprising, daring ways once more!
In the words of the apostle Paul – may we “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you.”