This week is our service Sunday in our rotation. Serving is an important part of how we embody our faith, but is also an essential part of our existence. Clearly we were created to be in community, among others. We need each other to varying degrees at different times in our life. Perhaps we don’t like to admit that. It’s counter to our culture. Our culture tells us to make your own way, to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. But the reality is we all have leaned on or needed someone else in our lifetime. In the animal world, we are one of the neediest species for the longest amount of time after birth. And who hasn’t called a friend for help with a move, or to borrow something or whatever. The point is, we need each other.
Missing Peace is full of exceptionally capable, strong, intelligent, successful people, and I am proud to count myself among you. But let us not make the mistake of thinking that leaves us without need of each other. Let us not be above the humbling experience of asking for help. And let us not shun others for doing the same.
There’s a whole branch of theology that is dedicated to exploring the unique perspective needy people, oppressed people, minorities, poor, deprived people have on God. It’s called liberation theology, and it argues that coming from the perspective of the oppressed gives you unique insight into who God is, and puts you in unique position for blessings.
For some perspective, if any of us has experienced great pain…like labor or gall bladder or kidney stone type pain. Are you not grateful for the most minute, even momentary relief? Or what if you’re hungry…like missed breakfast, no time for lunch, busy day hangry, and you find a few old m&ms in a desk drawer. Rejoice! It’s amazing the way need and gratitude partner to show us how blessed we are. Maybe this is part of what’s behind the first will be the last and the last the first. Those we would generally categorize as “the least of these” or “the needy” or “the bottom 1%” or whatever categorical designation you desire, are in a unique position to be in touch with the kingdom of heaven.
Now let me be clear when I say kingdom or heaven, I don’t mean some place up in the clouds with angles that we go when we die…if we are good of course. Not even close. Jesus taught not about a three tiered understanding of heaven…meaning up there, here, and down there…he said the kingdom of heaven is among us. He seemed to imply that those little glimpses of heaven that we get in the eyes of a child, or a beautiful sunset, or being moved to tears by an act of love or kindness…that kingdom…the one among us.
So in some dramatic shift from the expected, the ones we count as the worst off among us, the ones we pity, the ones we lump into some category of least, them…those guys…they have the best view or best seat or best position to experience the kingdom.
But let us not use that as an excuse not to be participants in that kingdom. Two weeks ago we talked about how God works through people due to the nature of non-coercive, unconditional love. You can’t love and force someone, you can’t bribe hearts, you can only love them until they get that the love is pure and the trust is built. Relationship its called. So it is by our relationship with God that we become God’s hands and feet in the world. That we bring the light in the darkness…that we offer hope. Who doesn’t want to be a part of hope…its the only thing in the world that can bring you out of the darkness when nothing else can. hope.
I’ve heard sermons like this one before. They get to this point and then make some impassioned plea to “love thy neighbor” or “care for the least of these” or “be a good samaritan.” Don’t get me wrong, those are important, but really…those are things we already know. We already really know how to do the right thing, it’s built in to us, and as long as we only appeal to the Bible as a book to tell us that, we have little need of it. We know these lessons, and my gut tells me that focusing on them is just another way to…avoid a deeper question. See there’s a bigger question that few want to talk about…shoot, I don’t really want to talk about it…but we will never fully be able to embrace our faith or our relationship with God unless we do.
Here’s the question… Why God? Why God did you create people with disabilities? Why God does that person suffer? Why do I not? Why God? Why is there death, disease, destruction? If you love us and the world so much, why? That’s the question we don’t want to talk about, but unless we do, there will always be an awkwardness in our relationship with God. That un-talked about thing that keeps space between. So let’s talk about it.
Ready? Do you think God gives people suffering, disability, disease?
Alternatively, do you think God chose not to give you those things?
Do you think God uses disease or disability to punish people?
Do you think you deserve the good things about your life?
Do you think you deserve the less desirable parts of your life?
Have you ever experienced darkness, trials, troubles in your life?
How do you view that past experience now?
How did is shape you?
What got you through it?
I want to share with you part of an article about a mother who had two children born with microcephaly. If that sounds familiar, its the diagnosis associated with zika virus. Children with microcephaly never fully develop their brains and have mental and physical limitations, as well as a unique appearance with significantly smaller skulls than average children. Hartley, a 41 year old mother, has two daughters born with microcephaly. Here are some of her words.
“Part of me is grateful for the awareness of something we’ve been dealing with for 15 years, part of me feels sad for the families because I know what they’ve been through, twice. It’s been really emotional,” Hartley, 41, said in a phone interview. “At the same time, I know the joy that can come from having these kids. I wouldn’t purposely want another child to be affected, but I’m happy that they’ll know what I know. I would not have chosen it prior to my girls, but I didn’t know what I was missing out on.”
For the first year of Claire’s life, Hartley said, she and her husband lived in a state of perpetual panic and sadness. The vision of their perfect life had been shattered, and they had no idea how long they’d have their baby girl. But Hartley’s priorities shifted in those 12 months. Perfect was in the eye of the beholder, and to her, she still had the perfect family. She was going to stop mourning the life she didn’t have and celebrate the one she did.
“This is the baby I’m supposed to be a mom to,” she said. “I would be missing out on a gift that had been given to me.”
A gift she calls it. We say disability or disease. We say “how sad” and “why did God do this.” But Hartley doesn’t. She calls it a gift. She sees, with a bit of time and perspective, how this life event is not a curse but a blessing. She sees the light in the darkness, dare I say because of the darkness.
It would be too broad to paint all the pain and suffering in the world with this brush. However, it gives us a glimpse I think, into a different way of understanding. We can’t see the light without the darkness. I think this is the ultimate middle finger to all that is evil, and horrid in the world. The badness just highlights the good…it makes the light and goodness all that more apparent.
But that doesn’t dismiss our call to love our neighbor. That doesn’t dismiss our responsibility to be the light in the world that casts out shadow. I read a little comic this week that shows two figures talking. The first says, “Sometimes I’d like to ask God why he allows poverty, famine, and injustice when he could do something about it.” The second says, “Why don’t you?” And the first responds with, “I’m afraid he would ask me the same question.”
We’re afraid. We’re afraid to interact with the other. We’re afraid to risk ourselves for radical hospitality. We’re afraid.
Well…if you want to know what scripture says about that. The most repeated phrase in all of the bible is “be not afraid.” It’s in there 365 times…one for everyday. Do what’s right, be not afraid. Befriend the other, be not afraid. Listen to the quiet urging inside, be not afraid. We can and will make a difference in this world, be not afraid. You are a bearer of hope, be not afraid.