The urgency of now.

Our house has been full of giddy graduates this week.

And in the way of all young people,

there has been the usual amounts of dreaming and planning

(that is to say – lots of dreaming, very little planning).

 

Since these gatherings are always co-ed,

there have also been plenty of those casual displays meant to impress;

smiling and jesting and indifference that hides real affection.

 

In the midst of one of these,

I was moved by some memory to demonstrate

that even the young at heart are eager to impress –

I tell myself it was to “impart knowledge” –

so as certain young men, acting as young men do when in the company of young women,

offered up competing examples of personal strength

(who else can you lift with just one hand?) –

I stepped in to show them that, impressive as it was, it was really an illusion –

a clever trick, all in the legs; leverage is everything –

I’d like to think they were amazed (I was quite please with myself…)

but the real lesson was lost to them.

 

The real lesson is one  that experience teaches –

there are lots of ways to  make easy things look difficult (and thus, impressive);

 but the difficult things are harder to fake;  they remain difficult,

 and no amount of trickery (or flattery) can alter that fact.

 

Jesus is trying to tell his disciples this same thing.

 

He has ‘set his face towards Jerusalem’ –

which causes some concern in Samaria (they will not receive him) –

but he will not let his disciples anger divert them from the task at hand;

it is easy to give in to righteous anger, much harder to just walk on by…

 

“Teacher, I would follow you anywhere” –

a gratifying statement, to be sure,

but Jesus reply suggests that he will be going in a direction that no one expects;

Jesus is leading us toward and uncomfortable conflict –

a clash of culture that means the unravelling of expectations.

“the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”,  he says;

a metaphor for the current relationship between the church and the wider world –

and it occurs to me that the promise to follow Jesus

must be made in the context of the certainty of challenge that our choice will present .

The way of God that led Jesus to the cross was not the easy path.

The work of God that Jesus promotes in the cause of the kingdom Jesus represents

requires determination, patience, and a willingness to forego the easy choices,

thus we are lastly encouraged to “keep our hand to the plough”

and avoid the over-the-shoulder admiration of what has been.

 

What is, is far more important in Jesus’ eyes than what was, or what may someday be…

 

We are drawn to spectacular solutions that are made to look easy

by the self-help guru and the secular celebrities  who sell their success stories

as prescriptions for all our troubles.

The things that seem to make us strong, or brave, or good

are in fact nothing more than sleight of hand;

a flick of the wrist, leverage exerted in a favourable way.

 

Jesus offers no tricks, no leverage – just the Kingdom, hidden in plain sight –

and we are invited to seek and find and proclaim and discover along with him –

and he says that there are some difficult choices to be made along the way…

 

So does this mean we must abandon all hope?

For although the idea of Christian culture has long been abandoned,

we cannot escape the imprint of our past,

nor can we ignore the hopeful promises that speak of a glorious future.

 

Jesus was too compassionate

to suggest that our past is unimportant,

Or that our dead don’t deserve our tears –

And he longed for a time when the people of God might recognize their divinely endowed potential.

So what do we do with this tough talk from the one we are pledged to follow?

 

I will suggest that present experience is teaching us the truth:

The hocus pocus of new programs or alternative approaches to worship

have become our current distraction.

 

New music and new ways of ‘doing church’

offer an impressive display, but little in the way of substance –

and while there are changes that will come to us naturally

and new approaches that we might welcome,

none of these things address the problem whose symptom is numerical decline.

The problem is that the Kingdom of God is not bound by the charisma of the leader,

or the effectiveness of the program, nor the style of the music.

 

The activity of the church – of all the people of God, gathered and separate –

Must spring from the encounter of God in the ordinary moments

of lives that have been touched by mystery and majesty in worship together.

 

The problem cannot be solved by a wistful return to our imagined past,

nor by a headlong rush into an idealized future –

the answer waits in the mystery of the moment;

In the prayers and petitions of this day –

in the work that presents itself

in the current needs of our friends, our neighbours, our family and community.

 

Jesus sees the present with God’s own eyes, and invites us to do the same.

He warns that the vision will disturb and unsettle us, but that is no reason to turn aside.

God’s grace to us in the moment is sufficient (so Scripture says)

And Jesus acts according to that conviction.

 

No tricks are necessary –

just the belief that God acts in the present tense,

That the kingdom is being revealed in our moments of searching

That our risen and present Saviour is neither a slave of the past nor an blind idealist,

But as a companion in this day – at this moment.
His offer to us is straightforward enough

Follow me, he says, and be prepared to be overwhelmed

by the potency of God and the urgent needs of all God’s people,

or turn aside and continue to make socially safe, and seemingly simple choices

that amount to nothing more than religious sleight-of-hand.

 

The pattern of Christian history suggests to me

that the challenging path is the better choice.

On that path we have discovered both growth and strength;

tears that heal, and work that fulfills.

In times of challenge, we have been aided by the Spirit of God;

We have encountered the Risen Christ in stranger and fellow sufferer,

And the choice is presented fresh to us every day.

 

The Kingdom of God awaits; which choice will we make?

 

 

 

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