Posts Tagged ‘choices’

The Wanderlust

October 27, 2013

The urge is difficult to resist.  And if you are from here, you know that this has been going on for generations.  People of a certain age leave – there is no denying it.  First, it was Ontario, but now the road leads further west – because there are opportunities; there is adventure; there may even be a future.  Occasionally, they leave because they want (or need) a chance to start over.  Some go alone; others take greater risks and move in family groups.  There is a certain charm – a strange appeal – to be able to say “I’m from somewhere else.”  I know, because I am not from here.  I know something of the compulsion that draws people away from the place they were born – ad I know some of the difficulties involved with those choices.

If it were different…if the economy was better, and the government was more sensible and the car-works was still running, it wouldn’t have to be this way, would it?  People would stay, wouldn’t they?  Wouldn’t they…?

 

I believe that the answer is no.  People will always wander – have always wandered.  We are curious, we are ambitious, we need to challenge and be challenged, and so there has long been a certain amount of “let’s see what’s out there!” in our psyche.  A brief study of history demonstrates the truth in this – humankind refused to be bound by boundaries; we were not stopped by rivers, deserts or oceans.  If it could be climbed, we’ve climbed it; is it could be crossed, we’ve crossed it.  There is a relentless restlessness in us, and that is part of what makes Abram’s story so important for us.

 

Abram comes from a family of wanderers[1].  Terah and his family were living in Ur (modern Iraq).  Following the death of one of his son’s, Terah took his family to Haran (modern Turkey), where Terah died.  The plan was to go to Canaan – a mighty journey – and Abram may well have decided that Haran was far enough.  But Abram is given a vision.[2]

 

Abram is a pillar of faithfulness – and, we might argue – foolishness.

He hears the voice of God and chooses, not once but over and over again,

to live the life of ‘stranger in a strange land’.

For his faithfulness, he is given (eventually) a new name [Abraham]

and is lauded as the father of all faith.

 

But his quest – his vision – is important for us to understand.

Abram doesn’t simply strike out in search of a fortune…he is not led west by the promise of big money, or big adventure.  Abram is moved by something he doesn’t completely understand; the promise he follows is the promise of a future.  He places faith in this vision in a way that should instruct us in our urge to wander…

 

That God is concerned for us – that God may be invested in our future joy, or in establishing a legacy of faith through us  may seem hard to imagine, but our traditions – the stories of our faith tell us this is so.  From the very beginning of our Scriptures, through the gospels and the epistles, the message is clear.  God has taken an interest in humanity.  God wants us to claim hope and joy in these covenant promises, made not only to Abram, but through Jesus – Crucified and Risen.  Scripture is about God’s pursuit of us and also God’s urging us to move.

For sometimes we move to escape reality; other times, reality requires us to find new challenges. And the lesson in Abram’s story is this; God’s promises are real and just as persistent as our urge to see what lies over the horizon.

 

Faith does not require us to ignore opportunities to make a living; Abram by all accounts did very well for himself as he wandered west.  But in our current state of affairs, I believe faith can help us navigate the choices that are before us.  What promises prompt us to wander?  Are these the promises of society; of the here and now?  Or are we following a vision and voice whose desire for us is something wonderful?  I believe that God still calls us – every oine of us – to opportunities that we should not ignore.  But God’s voice must first be heard and recognized from among the noise that surrounds us – and that is what faith can do; faith tunes our ears to the voice of God – faith guides our feet on Jesus’ path – Faith can give us wisdom to choose what is best.  In a time of many choices – all seeming so good – Faith is what makes the difference between “job” and “career” – between “survival” and “contentment”

 

Faith is Abram’s legacy to us.  We stand in his tradition – a tradition that includes our Saviour – and we face the same challenges; do we follow our instinct for survival, or the call of our faithful God?  These are questions we must answer every day.  May we be guided by the faith of our ancestors, and the Spirit of Christ, whose Rising reveals the depth and breadth of God’s love for us.


[1] (Gen 11: 27-32)

[2] (Gen 12: 1-3)

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Meditation on Luke 14: 25-33

September 8, 2013

 

According to this morning’s Scripture, I am not fit to call myself a disciple of Jesus.

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father, mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” – Jesus of Nazareth; the Gospel according to Luke 14:26.

Do any of you make the cut?  I hope not, for this is one of those passages that should not be taken at face value – that cannot be delivered out of context, but too often is used as a weapon in the world of religious certainty.

I am afraid that I speak from experience: at my first certification interview, on of the committee suggested that I should be prepared to go to Seminary in spite of any objections my wife may have (for that had been the position he took).  I watched classmates ignore their personal problems because their journey to  ordination “was from God” (as though nothing else in life may have been God’s gift)  It is too easy for a people who claim the Holy Scriptures as their guide,  to fall into a dangerous fundamentalism – this morning, I hope to avoid that trap.

These conditions for discipleship are part of a larger argument Jesus is making about the cost of following him in the ways of God.  He is, after all, suggesting a very personal, very different approach to a life of faith than his listeners have ever imagined.  Direct access to God’s mercy; A child-like reverence for God as a loving parent.  Not only that, this experience will affect the way we treat one another – love thy neighbour, and all that.  Jesus is urging them (and us) to abandon the self-serving attitudes that so often inhabit religious thought.  There will be a cost for this, he says – and that cost is considerable.

 Earlier in Luke, Jesus has warned that he came to start a fire – to bring, not peace but a sword (Luke 12:49 ff.)  He suggests that his approach will set loved ones against one another – and no doubt, that still happens.  But I don’t – can’t – believe that we are called to hate family in order that we might love Jesus;  there is something else at work here.

Everything we do, every action we take, comes at a cost to us.  This is a fact of life.  Love creates a kind of blindness in us – you see it in teenagers at the mall, or newlyweds at the front f the church – there is no one else in the world at those moments, and it is a powerful emotion.  It can also be destructive, and that (I think) is what Jesus is warning against.  The resolution is gently delivered – when compared to his opening statement, it’s no wonder that we miss it.  “So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” (Luke 14: 33)

It is, you see, a warning against what possesses us – a call to mind the commandments, and create no idols for ourselves (and love can do that).  Jesus only task is to keep the image of God before our eyes.  It is an image that provides a model for our behaviour; an image of such generous love, and such tender mercy, that we are fools if we don’t seek the same things in our personal relationships – so comes my insistence that I was called first to be husband, father, brother & son – so long as those relationships don’t seek to replace the relationship that God wants with each of us.

When one informs the other, it is healthy, and wonderful and glorious.

When one replaces the other, we may well hate life itself.

With the love of God guiding us, we are better parents, spouses and friends.  With a sense of God’s limitless love and mercy informing our relationships, we cannot be held captive by the idols we sometimes make of one another.  It is a delicate balancing act, and Jesus shocking words are meant to remind us where that balance might be found.  He calls us to a relationship with God that provokes love – that promotes mercy, and in the end, leaves us free to love in ways we could not have imagined.

It is the thing we say we want more than anything – true love – real happiness.  And here it is, offered in the gospel.  A gift of God, for the people of God.

The urgency of now.

June 29, 2013

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?