Monday, July 18, 2016

Step Back and See the Possibilities

The Son is the image of the invisible God,
        the one who is first over all creation,
Because all things were created by him:
        both in the heavens and on the earth,
        the things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
            Whether they are thrones or powers,
            or rulers or authorities,
        all things were created through him and for him.
He existed before all things,
        and all things are held together in him.
He is the head of the body, the church,
who is the beginning,
        the one who is firstborn from among the dead
        so that he might occupy the first place in everything.
Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in him,
        whether things on earth or in the heavens.
            He brought peace through the blood of his cross.

Once you were alienated from God and you were enemies with him in your minds, which was shown by your evil actions. But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through death, to present you before God as a people who are holy, faultless, and without blame. But you need to remain well established and rooted in faith and not shift away from the hope given in the good news that you heard. This message has been preached throughout all creation under heaven. And I, Paul, became a servant of this good news.
Now I’m happy to be suffering for you. I’m completing what is missing from Christ’s sufferings with my own body. I’m doing this for the sake of his body, which is the church. I became a servant of the church by God’s commission, which was given to me for you, in order to complete God’s word. I’m completing it with a secret plan that has been hidden for ages and generations but which has now been revealed to his holy people. God wanted to make the glorious riches of this secret plan known among the Gentiles, which is Christ living in you, the hope of glory. This is what we preach as we warn and teach every person with all wisdom so that we might present each one mature in Christ. I work hard and struggle for this goal with his energy, which works in me powerfully.  Colossians 1:15-29 (CEB)

Grace and peace to you God our Father. Amen.

This past week I was on vacation in Colorado. In fact, I was at a family reunion. My father had thirteen brothers and sisters. Every three years, our family, which is now into its fourth and fifth generations and numbers over 300, gathers together at some place in the U.S. to remember who we are and where we are from. It’s an amazing and moving time as we sit together and listen to the stories of our lives, of the lives of our parents and children, and of the lives of our grandparents and grandchildren.  This year we met for our reunion in the mountains of Colorado for five days. 

While we were there, I had the opportunity to see my niece, who I haven’t seen in a few years. She’s been busy with finishing college and starting work. I’ve been busy with school and internship and moving across country a few times. So, here in Colorado, we had a chance to catch up.

She’s quite a young woman. A mechanical engineer who graduated with honors from Cal-Poly. She has a great job with a start-up biomedical company in Southern California. She loves to hike and camp. And, she loves to tinker with machines. She has three motorcycles that she loves to mess with along with numerous other mechanical and electronic devices.

So, it seemed natural that, when she showed up at the reunion, she brought her new drone along with her. Now, I’ve only read about drones and watched them online. I’d never seen one in person or watched on in action. So, it was fascinating for me to see her operate this and to watch what it could do. 

Here’s an example of what it was able to do. Here, in this video, she was able to take a video of the members of our family who came to the reunion (by the way, this is only about half of my family!) and then to raise it up further into the sky and pan over the entire area where we were able to stay. We were able to see the setting first from a very small perspective and then to see it from a much larger, fuller perspective of the entire place. 

It is this video, taken by my niece from her new drone, that was helpful for me this week in thinking about our texts. 

Let’s first look at our Gospel lesson. I really don’t care for this story. Because it just seems to pit Martha against Mary and vice versa. It also seems to say to me that we have to choose one way of life over another--that a contemplative life is better than an active life of service. That Mary’s attention to Jesus’ teaching is better and more important than Martha’s work to be hospitable. 

But if, like the drone, I pull back and look at the bigger picture, I’m wondering if something different isn’t going on here, something I’ve never stepped back far enough to see from a fuller perspective. What Martha was doing was what was expected of her. She knew that guests were coming and so she got busy to make sure everyone had everything they needed. This is what was--and often still is--expected of women. It was work that was not just expected, but also valued. 

What wasn’t expected, though, is that Mary would take the position of a disciple, seated at the feet of Jesus, listening to him teach. If hospitality was considered women’s work, well, discipleship was considered men’s work. So, perhaps, the intent of this story is to push us out, to see a broader perspective, to see the possibility of something different, to see someone actually acting differently from what would have been expected or even allowed a woman to consider. Perhaps as Jesus repeats Martha’s name, he isn’t expressing frustration with her, but deep affection: “Martha, Martha, it is exactly because I love you that I don’t want you to be distracted or trapped by your work or your expected role, but instead to step back and see all that is possible for you, just as Mary has.” 

To step back and to see the possibilities. 

Perhaps we can take a lesson not only from Mary, but also from my niece’s drone.

To step back and to see the possibilities.

What if, for example, we were to step back and see the possibilities in the recent protests over the shootings in St. Anthony and Baton Rouge?  To not view them only from a close perspective, where they might seem out of control or disruptive or wrong. But to back up and take a broader view. To gain a bigger perspective. To see the possibility of these protests as transformative. That they might be the first step in an upsetting of societal structures that protect and elevate those of us with white skin over those of us who are people of color.  

Or what about the ways in which we deal with young Muslim men and women who go to Syria to fight with ISIS. What if we were to step back and look at the bigger picture? 

This is what crime prevention officers did in a small town in Denmark. On receiving reports of two young Muslim teenagers missing from an immigrant neighborhood outside their town, they, too, stepped back to gain a bigger perspective. After an investigation, they found out that these young men had gone to Syria. They had been drawn to the call put out by ISIS for Muslims worldwide to help build a new Islamic state. 

The police officers didn’t stop with this information, though. They stepped back and began to ask why this might be happening and what they might do to prevent radicalization.

Now most of the rest of the European countries came down hard on citizens who traveled to Syria. France shut down mosques it suspected of harboring radicals. The UK declared citizens who had gone to help ISIS enemies of the state. Several other countries threatened to take away their passports--a move previously reserved for convicted traitors.

But Danish police took a different approach. They made it clear that any citizens of Denmark who had traveled to Syria were welcome to come home and that, if they did, they would receive help with going back to school, finding an apartment, meeting with a psychiatrist or mentor, or whatever they needed to fully integrate back into society. In the process, they ended up creating an unusual--and unusually successful--approach to combating radicalization.

This program came to called the “hug a terrorist” program in the media, but this description doesn’t sit well with the cops. They see themselves as making an entirely practical decision designed to keep their city safe. From their perspective, coming down hard on young, radicalized Muslims will only make them angrier and more of a danger to society. 

To step back and see the possibilities. 

You see, that’s also the point of our Colossians text today. From a close-in perspective, it would seem impossible for an infinite, eternal God who exists outside of time to indwell in one human being who is mortal, finite and who dwells inside of time. 

Unless, of course, it isn’t. 

Unless, of course, we step back and see the possibilities.  See a new way that God was and is at work. As we read in verses 19-20...For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven.

To step back and see the possibilities. To step back and see that, through the event of Christ, God has reconciled himself to all things--on earth and on heaven. That God is at work making a new reality. A new social system. A new creative order marked by peace and reconciliation. Salvation is not about the transformation of our existing reality--the defeat of enemy powers. Salvation is about a radical reconciliation of the entirety of the created order. Salvation here is not about God making an offer and waiting to see who takes it. Here, it is about God just doing it. About God turning all creation on its head and reconciling himself to it through Him in whom all of the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.

To step back and see the possibilities. And to imagine God in a way that we have never imagined God before.

May that be our lesson today.


Preached Sunday, July 17, 2016, at Chatfield Lutheran Church.
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C)
Texts: Psalm 15, Colossians 1:15-29, Luke 10:38-42

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