What is Worth Dying For?

I’ve told the story before of Eric Elnes, a pastor in Phoenix Arizona. He had this strange idea to walk from one corner of the US (Phoenix) to the other – the nation’s capital in Washington DC. His idea took hold of him and many others gathered around a small group who would make the trip. They were to take a message of love and grace to the nation’s capital. It was a message of God’s love that wasn’t often heard in the public arena as Christianity had become negative, judgemental and harsh. They wanted to tell people that the starting point with God is LOVE and relationship. This relationship is about hope, healing, grace; a place in which to belong and be who we can most deeply be.

In Asphalt Jesus, Elenes speaks of the task of preparing a statement that set forth their vision of a generous, positive and affirming faith grounded in love.  The draft statement was a little long and complex at 19 pages and it was suggested he reduce it to only 1 page – but how?  What to leave out?  His first complex draft contained several principles he considered important but he realised these were too much and too detailed.  Ultimately Elnes asked himself what was so important in his first draft that he would sacrifice something in order to preserve it if he was under threat in life.

He began by considering what principles he would be prepared to give a sizable portion of income to protect. Next, he asked what remaining principles would he do something radical and challenging for – such as walk across the USA?   What principles would sacrifice his job or vocation over?  Each answer condensed the list further.  As the level of sacrifice was ratcheted up, the number of principles was reduced until his final question became: What principle would you be willing to die for?

The question seemed a bit over the top in the context until he realised that walking across the nation came with some great risks – one could be killed in an accident; strangers who had their own obsession might seek to harm them… Elnes thought: ‘Are there principles that are so essential to life’s happiness and freedom that I would be willing to die on their behalf?’

It was a tough question and one that wasn’t easily answered.  There were people – family and friends – and he thought that he would give himself for them.  These were relationships but principles?  As he pondered this deep terrain he realised that no-one he knew was really in any mortal danger and even so this walk across the USA would do little that would resolve any imminent danger that may present itself.  So why do it?  Why walk all that way?  For what purpose, reason or principle?  His reflection went deeper to seek out the most important elements, understanding and experience in his life.  He realised the profound importance to his life of being loved, deeply loved, not just by people but by God. His whole self-being, his vocation, his life was lived in the awareness that he was loved by God. He had found freedom and life in this essential reality – that God loved him unconditionally. Every other love grows out of this and is more deeply fed and realised within this fundamental ‘belovedness’ in God.  Eric Elnes suddenly realised what was worth dying for: ‘Yes, I’d give my life if necessary to help just one or two people truly understand that they are loved, not hated by God. It would be worth it if just one or two people came to know that they are not alone and that they are loved beyond one’s wildest imagination. There are millions out there. I’ll walk for them!’

This is quite a statement from Eric Elnes.  What is it you would die for? What is so important in your life, so precious, so fundamentally important and essential that you would consider dying for it?  It’s a tough question but an interesting exercise as it helps us peel back the layers of demands and distractions in our lives to discover what is truly important.  We live in a society that is increasingly materialistic.  Greed and the endless cycle of accumulation, consumes the lives of most in the developed world. If we stand back for a moment and observe our own lives and those of our society we recognise the power of the addictive pull of material possessions.  Everywhere around us we are told what we need in order to be a complete human being.  We are led to believe that more and more possessions, gadgets, devices, or products will make us feel better, be happy and fulfilled.  Everywhere is a message of what we must have and own in order to be someone and to find true happiness. Without the latest gadget or gizmo we will simply not be whole. We are also told that we must be in absolute control over our lives, independent and strong before the world, self-secure. We are given the tools and techniques (for a price) and industries have grown up around helping people to find financial and other self-security and self-power.

The fallacy in all this is that more stuff, more money, beyond that which provides us with food, shelter, clothing, education (the basic needs), doesn’t make us happier.  All those people clawing their way to the top and accumulating more stuff aren’t necessarily happier people.  Most of them are more stressed, tensed, anxious and afraid – they have more to lose and are under more threat from others.  The fear that we don’t have enough because others seem to have so much more can be debilitating, just as it is completely false and irrational.  Is all this worth dying for?

In this week’s Gospel reading (Luke 12: 13-21) Jesus tells a story of a man who became rich because of his good harvests.  He builds barns to store his grain and then plans to sit back take it easy and enjoy his wealth. Life is about him and him alone.  Jesus asked the question of what it all meant if he died that very day?  Was giving himself totally to his own pleasure and storing up everything for himself worth it?  Did it mean anything in the grand picture?  Was he even happy (is happiness even the ultimate goal?)?

Jesus told his listeners that there is true value in building up wealth in God – it is about the relationship that Eric Elnes recognised as so important he would be willing to die for it.  So many of us have become obsessed with the things of the world around us, living with stress and fear of what might be.  So many of us have been pushed further toward material prosperity and have lost our sense of what is truly, deeply vital and meaningful.

God loves us and invites us into a relationship of hope, healing and grace.  This is a really good (and free!!) place to begin our search for life, meaning, contentment and well-being.  It cuts across so much of our society’s hype, propaganda and false promises.  It reduces the levels of stress, fear and anxiety in favour of joy, love and peace – in God!

By geoffstevenson

The Deep Yearning of My Heart…

I attended the funeral recently, for an elderly woman I have known for several years.  At the beginning of the funeral service they played a song by Aled Jones, one of the favourites of this woman.  It was called ‘Be Still For the Presence of the Lord’.  It is a beautiful song, gentle, peaceful and a lovely way to begin a funeral.  I went back and listened to it a couple of times since.  In the midst of busy-ness and chaos and the various demands of life, it is good to stop and listen and find stillness.

All around me is movement and sound.  Emails or text messages await my attention.  News flows from the radio or TV, advertisements break onto the screen when I am searching for information and sometimes take over my web browser.  Along the road there are myriad poster, signs and attention-seeking displays – all to get my attention.

Within my own mind are the plethora of thoughts and ideas and things I have to attend to or prepare for; people I need to catch up with, check up on, meet or follow up.  There are the various appointments and meetings and plans that compete for attention and their place in my life.  All of this hectic thinking, planning, and doing can be exhausting and I often fail to stop and ‘be’.  When I listened to this song, first at the funeral and then again since, it invited me to stop and sit in the present moment.  I found myself looking out upon the garden and floral colour.  For a few moments, my mind stopped racing and my posture relaxed.  I felt the weariness of life envelope me.  I also felt the presence of peace and gentle joy in the moment.  How often do we stop and be?

I have found that when I do stop and sit my mind, spirit and body slow down and begin to catch up with each other.  I can enjoy the moment and take time to look around and wonder at the beauty and gentleness of life.  Of course things aren’t always peaceful and gentle.  Chaos inflicts itself into my life at various points and disrupts peace and threatens joy.  Therefore to stop when I am able and sit for a time in the quietness is restorative and builds up resilient strength to engage the struggles of life when they come along.

When I sit quietly, my mind is initially filled with activity and words and thoughts that rush around, in and out and through my brain.  It is busy and hard to slow down.  My mind is filled with that which is immediate and close.  It is filled with issues that confront me – concerns, fears, ideas, schedules, anxieties.  Gradually I move from these more obvious, overt and superficial concerns that are at the front of my experience, into a deeper place where I am no longer the centre of attention.  My concerns mould with those I perceive belong to others beyond me, people who are wrestling with the variety of struggles that characterise human life.  As I move deeper I find my own concerns embrace those of the world beyond where grief, poverty, violence and injustice create vulnerability and deny people hope and life.  I recognise that we are all part of this human family and when one suffers, we all suffer and whilst I don’t personally experience the particularity of their struggle, empathy means I respond to their pain in my being.  Prayer, as I call it, takes me into the place where I feel the injustice of the world and yearn for it to be transformed through love, grace and just living.

I realise that as I pray I share the very same prayers and concerns as millions of other people reaching out to the Mystery we call God with broken, maybe shattered hearts and hopes and fears and crises that overwhelm us and crush our spirits.  As I enter into praying, as I go deeply into my being and listen to the prayers of my heart they connect deeply with the prayers of others and our hopes for this fragile world and the vulnerability of life.

Perhaps my prayer is the space of transformation and change in the world but that change is in me.  I am being moulded into the way of God as I listen to my own vulnerable hopes and they morph with the hopes and pain of other people, those know or unknown.  I am changed and gradually my attitude and world view are reoriented towards the Reign of God, the way of justice, love and grace.

This week I am drawn into this deeper way of being and understanding as I read the prayer of Jesus in Luke 11:1-13, which contains a short form of the so-called ‘Lord’s Prayer’.  It is a prayer that doesn’t name God, Christian, Jewish or otherwise – there is a reference to ‘Father’, a metaphor for the Divine Being who is the One who cares for us as a householder cares for the household.  A father in antiquity was the one who had the power, authority and responsibility to care for the family, the household and ensure their complete well-being and security.  The Father in the prayer is a Divine Householder who cares for the household of the world, ensuring just distribution and access to resources and security for all.  Everything is there for us to have enough across the breadth of humanity but some choose to accumulate more than necessary allowing others to have too little.

In the prayer there is the yearning for the reign of God to come across the earth and bring justice and hope for all – just as it is in heaven.  Biblical scholar Dominic Crossan suggests that heaven is in good order, run well and well organised.  Earth, however, is a bit of a mess and the prayer yearns for the coming of God’s reign to restore justice, order, life and peace to all.  The movement is then to petition this Divine Father/Householder for the bread we need for this day; that which we need for sustenance and life, today.  It isn’t asking for security ten years hence or even next week, but for everything we need to live and be in this day.  For many in our world, the prayer for daily bread is the cry of their heart’s – and bellies!  Bread for their family, their children and themselves occupies their daily hopes and needs. Many of us are ignorant regarding the need for bread each day and we eat far more than we need for sustenance.

Close to the need for bread is release from indebtedness.  Too many people are indebted beyond what they will ever be able to pay.  The processes of injustice across the world condemn them to eternal debt, depriving them of life and hope.  Release of debt, monetary and otherwise is a rare and significant gift of grace.  We pray for release of our own indebtedness, whether real or through guilt and shame and we submit to the way of forgiveness, release of debt to those who owe us.  This is a gift of freedom, peace and life and unites us together to share, trust, depend upon each other and to live peaceably and vulnerably before each other in confidence and trust.

This is a vision of a world that is fair and just for all people, a world that cares and is generous.  This is a world where all have enough and have the same opportunities to fulfil their potential.  This, as I discover, aligns with the prayers deep in my heart – and the prayers for which others pray and yearn.  In the stillness God speaks this dream to us!

By geoffstevenson

Being and Doing – Contemplation and Action…

I travelled by bus the other day, a seldom activity, that took me into Parramatta for the requisite hair cut from one of the competing cheap places vying for business in Macquarie Street.  I sat and watched, as is my want, as the bus rattled and rolled along the T-Way.  People got on and off and all the time held tightly to their phones or other devices.  Ear buds in and switched on to the sound of the day.  Some heads bobbed and others stared impassively, bored, switched out – were they alive?  I’m not sure?  They moved but there was no real sign of living.  Others tapped at keys, watched the screen and the words that materialised; they smiled and typed some more.  A couple spoke in hushed tones, a one-sided conversation I couldn’t quite make out.  No-one spoke to each other.  No-one communicated and everyone seemed distracted, switched onto their devices and personal sound forming the background to their day, existing in isolation from the few occupying the same bus and sharing a similar destination.

Some continued this activity as they moved to the trains, a journey of individual space into the day ahead.  It made me wonder.  What do they think about?  Do they think?  Are they aware of others around them?  Do they have questions about life and meaning?  Where do they connect with the world – or which world?  What stories do they hear and of what do they care or feel concern?  Is there, in this little space inhabited by good citizens of our planet, any sense of the world beyond where people hurt and cry out?  Do they care for the planet wrestling and struggling beneath the weight of human existence – and greed?  Do they hear the cry of refugee or battered bride, the sweatshop worker who makes their cheap clothes and shoes?  Do they hear the cries of struggle in their coffee cup, the cries from the poor who are ripped off by multi-nationals who pay pittance for the beans?  Do they know the effects of poverty and deprivation or see the people whose faces are anonymous and hidden lest we feel a sense responsibility?  Are these the ones who have bought the whole propaganda story that greases the materialistic machine and keeps the deity ‘Economy’ happy?  Do they really believe that more is better and those with the most toys when they die are the happiest?  Do they believe in raw ambition or McMansions in the Hills or the power to lord it over others and feel strong and mighty?

They don’t look like those sort of people but then I’m not exactly sure what ‘those sort of people’ look like.  They look ordinary, like me, but many also looked switched off, tuned out and distracted and I wonder when or if they, we, I, all of us find the time to go deeper and connect with people, meaning, purpose, hope and life?  Do we connect with the Divine, the Sacred, the Holy in the world, in ourselves, in our lives?

There are others I might describe as being like bulls in a china shop.  They live at great pace and never seem to slow down.  Their ‘to do’ list is ever lengthening and they are eternally busy.  A few go well but most end up burnt out and confused, depressed and lost amidst the ravages of life lived in the fast lane.  There are activists that I admire from the safe distance of passive inaction, who engage my imagination, even as they cry out for help in the cause of saving humanity from itself.  They run in outstanding ways back and forth, achieving much until their lives run down and energy depletion leaves them gasping for breath and in need of that which they sought to provide for others.  Too few are engaged in living the life of hope, truth, peace and justice – of love in deep and profound expression.

So I come to read a story, a little story from the distant past – another world in another time and place; different people and customs but a story never-the-less and one with truth emanating from its simple phrases.  It revolves around the rabbi from Galilee who turned the world upside down and called us all into the Holy Adventure – called life!   Luke (10:38-42) tells of Jesus visiting the home of a pair of sisters – perhaps a brother as well?  Martha greets him warmly – his entourage as well, presumably, and how many were they?  Her sister jumps up and sits down before him bathing in the words she rarely has the opportunity to hear.  She greedily laps up the teaching ordinarily reserved for men.  Her place, in the kitchen preparing the meal, is occupied by Martha who struggles to feed the group or crowd or whatever it was.  Serving is a holy calling in the story of Luke, one to be done joyfully and with a sense of honour and fun but Martha is steaming from her ears.  She is fuming from within and growing more angry and frustrated.  Her sister is playing at being a male, listening to the rabbi.  Her sister is ignoring the need and the business at hand.  Her sister is not sharing the work, the drudgery of this work and Martha is angry!

Finally she explodes and approached Jesus, in a more gentle manner than her distracted inner being would suggest possible.  She isn’t peaceful, enjoying the act of serving others, of fulfilling any sense of calling.  She is plain mad – perhaps a tad jealous?  ‘Jesus’, she says, ‘tell my lazy, good-for-nothing sister to get up and help me!  Don’t you care that she has left me to do everything?’   Jesus gently but firmly affirms her but puts her in her place.  ‘You are distracted over many things and Mary has chosen the one necessary thing, one that will not be taken away from her.’

Martha chose the path of service, a noble and honourable calling but one that should be completed with joy and love, not distraction, anxiety, worry and trouble.  Martha is also limited by the age-old notions of gender roles that ought to be conformed to – women in the kitchen and men learning from the rabbi.  Says who?  Why do girls across our world, especially in developing nations where poverty and work around the home limit them, receive less opportunity to learn and receive education than their brothers?  Why is it that women constitute a great slab of the world’s workforce but receive a minimal slice of the net income?  Why is it that Mary cannot listen to Jesus and learn the way of love and life-changing hope, peace and justice?  This story also invites me to a balance between contemplation, listening to the voice of the Sacred in my midst, and the path of activism and action in the world around.  It is neither one nor the other but both.  If I don’t listen, how will I know where to act, to live, to do?  If I don’t discover who I am and ‘be’ in the midst of life, how will I ever be able to ‘do’ in a manner that matters?

When will I stop to listen to God?  How will I listen?  Can I risk putting phone or device or people aside for a bit and listen to the Holy voice that comes in quiet attentiveness?  Do I risk hearing what God might actually say to me?  Do I really want to hear what Jesus might have said to Mary and the others?  What if it calls me into something different or confronting or challenging?  What if it disturbs my beliefs?  Will I then act?  Will I be able to follow and ‘do’ and even ‘be’?  Will I awaken to live and be before God?

By geoffstevenson

Building On Solid Foundations!

Near our home there is a flood mitigation wall along Toongabbie Creek.  It protects lower lying streets along the creek from the occasional flooding.  The wall lies particularly around a bend where fast-flowing water rises up the bank and pushes out over the road.  When the creek flooded last year the levels of water rose up very high and washed away the sub-structure on the creek side of the wall.  The path along the wall became dangerous and was closed to pedestrians until it was repaired.  Over the last year various surveyors have come and made measurements.  They have left brightly coloured stakes in the ground on either side of the creek to indicate levels and markers of height.  We have watched them measure and record and presumably go away to make plans for the rebuilding of the wall.

Nothing has happened as yet, in terms of repair, but it is clear that whatever they do requires a strong, solid, level base.  The previous structure wasn’t solid at the bottom and washed away.  The new one needs a firm foundation if it is to hold up and fulfil its function.  The foundation needs to go deep into the sub-structure and needs to be very solid against fast-flowing water.

A solid, deep foundation is vital in maintaining integrity of the structure above it.  Near my father’s home a neighbour set about building a house on vacant land.  He discovered why the land had never been built on when they began to dig down to pour peers for the foundation.  Being close to the lake a they dug the usual depths they found the water table but no solid rock.  Ultimately they had to bore down very deeply and use steel rods as peers to support the foundation of concrete.  It was a huge, but vital, task (with no doubt a huge price tag!) to maintain the integrity of the structure to be built on top of it.

It isn’t only buildings and physical structures that benefit from solid foundations.  Societies, communities, families, organisations and people need good foundations in order to live well, remain healthy and fulfil their potential.  Too often the foundations provided for people are insufficient.  Some people are deprived of good nutrition, clean water and sanitation and their bodies suffer through ill health and their development is affected.  Families and communities also suffer through malnutrition and poor sanitation and their lives are restricted and limited.  For other people, various forms of poverty impact their lives in other ways, depriving them of opportunities that most of us take for granted.  When lack of education, learning difficulties, dysfunctional families, discrimination, disability, mental health issues all have a deleterious effect on people’s lives, depriving them of the solid foundations for growth and well-being.

The foundations we need are also spiritual and emotional such that we feel a sense of self-worth, purpose and meaning in life, along with a sense of hope and joy.  Not everyone is joyful or hopeful and many feel they are little more than cogs in the machine of societal consumption.  Many have mistaken material wealth for prosperous living and are deceived by those who over-emphasise economic pursuit and material gain.  The complications, stresses and busy-ness of life take their toll and wear away at life’s foundations.  When the deep struggles and painful moments of life come our way, our foundations are surely tested and sometimes fail us, like the wall along our local creek through the significant flood.

What provides a strong and solid foundation to our lives?  What will sustain us in the difficult moments but also keep us firm and strong in the cut and thrust, the temptations and stresses of everyday life?  What do strong foundations for individuals and communities look like?  What will nurture healthy and strong communities where all people find a sense of fulfilment and meaning, purpose and hope?  In our recent Federal Elections, the economy and economic issues prevailed and major parties emphasised that our well-being totally depended on the economy.  Is this true?

In reading through the passages set out for this week (Psalm 82, Amos 7:7-17 and Luke 10:25-37), I recognised this theme of building on a solid foundation.  Intriguingly, Psalm 82 is set in the council of the gods in the heavens.  It speaks of the flourishing of injustice and its impact on all people.  The author cries out to Yahweh (the Jewish God) to bring about justice in the highest places because the wicked continue to benefit and the deprived and abused experience a lack of justice in their lives.  The result is chaos on the earth as the very foundations of the earth shake and totter.  When injustice flourishes, when our societies are built on injustice, the earth becomes chaotic and all is threatened.  When oppression and war are embraced and held up, the ensuing suffering of deprived people brings the earth to its knees.  We can see this unfold time and again as we use violence and warfare to ‘resolve’ our problems and deal with each other.

Amos, an ancient prophet spoke out against the people living in the Northern Kingdom of Israel several centuries before Jesus.  He held them to account for their injustice and cried our against their worship and religious festivals as outward shows that were hollow because they had no love, no justice.  They didn’t care for the poor and abused but drove them further into the ground.  Amos speaks of a plumbline against which to measure how straight and true the people’s individual and communal life is.  He holds up a plumbline of God’s justice and love to compare the people’s lives against this truth and wisdom.  He finds that they fall far short of God’s expectations of love and justice.  In consequence he describes how their communal and national life is coming apart, of how chaos reigns and their society is failing because the foundation is weak and found wanting.

In the Gospel story, Jesus encounters a religious lawyer who wants clarity around what kind of life he needs to live to have the fulfilment and richness of God now and always.  When pushed he offers two commandments from the Old Testament about loving God with all we are and our neighbour as ourselves.  Jesus claims that these commandments are all that is required if you really want life in its fullness!  The lawyer pushes him to further define the limits of loving – who is my neighbour (who do I have to actually love)?  The ensuing story of the ‘Good Samaritan’ is well-known and offers a profound challenge that there are no limits to who we can and should love,  The Samaritan, as an enemy of the Jews, loved the Jewish man enough to bind his wounds and care for him generously.  Love, says Jesus, is the foundation on which we must build our lives.  It is the only foundation that will sustain individuals, families, communities and nations.  Love!  Justice is what love looks like in public and so love and justice together for the solid foundation for living well, sustaining our own lives and those of our communities through all life brings.  Love and justice will bring hope, joy and peace to all when they are our foundations for life!

By geoffstevenson

When the Promise of Peace Comes… What Will We Do?

For seven weeks we have heard our two major parties speak of the differences we will experience if they receive our vote.  Both they, and the other parties and independents, want us to believe that the world will be different if we elect them.  We will be safer (from whatever threats may exist or emerge), more prosperous, in better hands, ad infinitum.  I’m not sure how many actually believe this rhetoric or how we sort through the spin to know the truth.  It seems that many, perhaps most, Australians feel lost in a milieu of low expectations and disappointing leadership.  They have lost us.

I wonder if this wasn’t really the message so many Brits gave the authorities in the recent referendum.  It seems that most people in regional Britain felt they were no longer taken seriously by the city-centric leaders.  They feared the changes and felt the weight of those changes but no-one seemed to be listening.  They wanted out – not necessarily from the EU but from whatever direction the leaders were taking them, a direction that felt all wrong; where they felt lost and left out.  Of course the negative and fearful images used in the campaign didn’t help but people stopped believing the supposed rational voices of national leaders.  They wanted a different world.  They may not know what that is really like or how they will get there; they just knew they wanted something different from what leaders were delivering.

I wonder what kind of world most Australians truly want?  I wonder what we would get excited over if someone made a  promise?  Do we get excited over the promise of tax cuts or the hope of more money in our pockets?  Some most assuredly do but many seem to prefer reasonable amounts spent on health and education or supporting the more vulnerable of our society.  Many people don’t seem to mind paying tax providing it is used well and for the greater good.  I am always heartened by the response of people when there is a genuine need and they feel that a contribution can make a difference, a real difference to people who are less fortunate.  When we organised a jazz concert at Ebenezer Church earlier this year to raise funds to build clean water wells for our poorest neighbours in West Papua, we were absolutely overwhelmed by the support.  Last weekend another of our congregations, Pitt Town, organised a ‘Massive Market Day’ to again raise funds for these same poor neighbours of ours to the north.  There was an amazing response and it was simply wonderful to see people volunteer to help out in so many ways.  It was a wonderful day and all proceeds go to the poorest of the world.  I constantly experience people whose hearts melt and are filled with deep compassion when they hear the stories of desperate need and see the profound gratitude of those helped – our northern neighbours speak out with joy, wonder and are deeply grateful for the access to clean water they receive.

So I wonder: For what kind of world do we yearn?  Is it the world of equality and community that Martin Luther King spoke so movingly about?  Is it the ‘world peace’ that we imagine every Miss World to wish for or that fill the prayers of churches?  What might we actually mean by world peace?  What might it really look like?  Do we yearn for an end to the hatred and violence so prevalent in our communities and in the vast world beyond?  I imagine that many of us may yearn for enough for everyone in such a way that we would not have to make the immense sacrifices we imagine are required to give everyone enough.

So this week’s reading has me intrigued.  It comes from Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 and speaks of  Jesus sending 72 people out on a mission before him.  They are to proclaim in their lives, in words and actions the peace of God to homes, people and communities.  They are to move about amongst towns and cities declaring God’s peace upon people.  Where they are welcomed into homes – the customs around hospitality were very different in their culture, they were to stay and do their work, receiving the care of people.  They were to offer Shalom to all they met.  Of this Shalom, one commentator suggests: ‘It should be understood, however, that this “peace” is the Hebrew “shalom,” not the mere absence of conflict or the presence of warm fuzzies.  “Shalom” casts its net broadly, over the whole community, and includes abundance, security, and spirit.’  The peace that Jesus offers through these people is well-being in the deepest, richest way.  But here’s the rub:  Not everyone wants it!  It will not feel relevant to everyone.  They will reject it, along with the people bringing it.  Jesus warns them that they are to go and proclaim, to love and offer peace but if they are rejected to leave.  Not everyone will look into the depth of this grace.  Not everyone will see the wonder or significance for their own life or that of their community – it won’t seem relevant and they will reject it.  But those sent aren’t to try and couch it in nice terms, to compromise the power of the peace of God by making it seem more palatable or easy.  They are simply told to offer it freely and lovingly.

Perhaps not everyone wants world peace.  Perhaps not everyone is switched on to egalitarian hopes.  Perhaps not everyone dreams of enough for all or peace ahead of personal material wealth.  Perhaps many people are engrossed in the promises and drivenness of our culture to have, attain and be affluent, powerful or famous.  I read this the other day – it scared me:  ‘How to keep moving and be relevant should normally be the major concern of any right thinking person who likes to stay afloat in the global society. The only way to keep living is to keep moving no matter what one’s present economic, political and social tide of life may be. This means that no matter what is your level of attainment and success at the moment, if you do not keep moving at quite a faster pace than anyone else, the tendency is there for you to be overtaken by another person in your field of endeavour.’

I thought back to a recent visit to an old friend of 20 years.  He has dementia and failing health.  After a few falls and a head injury his life expectancy is very short.  There were a few moments of recognition and some remembered stories with his wife there as well.  He can’t walk or move much so does that imply he is irrelevant and meaningless, as the above quote implies?  He certainly won’t be attaining success from here but he is a human, a person who needs care from society and to be loved and respected.  So do the poorest of the poor and those who live with mental illness or disability or chronic illness or who are vulnerable or the rest of us ordinary people who want to live well and peaceably with each other and the world beyond.  We don’t need more than we need but want to be safe and experience well-being.  That is Jesus’ offer and invitation.  He wanted to change the world into one of love and peace – that dream is still alive for anyone who wants to get on board and join the adventure.  But beware, not everyone wants this!

By geoffstevenson