Easter 7, 17 May 2015
John 17 INI
Some of us are moving a little slowly this morning because yesterday was our unofficial beginning of yard season. Johnson’s was packed, and now the early explosion of weeds in our gardens is at least a little more under control. We are reminded just how beautiful creation is, and how satisfying it is to exercise our loving dominion over it.
There’s that old one about the pastor who is walking past a gardener hard at work digging weeds. “Ah, it is lovely what the good Lord can do with a plot of land,” he says. The gardener snaps back, “You should have seen what it looked like when the Lord had it all to himself.” The universe was created with some assembly required, and God gifted us with some of his own creativity to see what we could do with it. Wise move. We feel closer to our Creator when we do a little of what he does.
There is nothing at all wrong with this pleasure we take in creation. We know that when Jesus warns us not to get tangled up in the world he is not referring to the world of creation God made. This is our home. Some day we hope to see it made perfect in the new creation. When Jesus warns us against the world he is describing something very different.
Here’s the easiest way to explain what the world means. It is anything and anywhere that is organized to keep God out and hinder his work. So for example countries that persecute Christians, like Cuba, are the world. But if Cuba’s leader Raoul Castro converts to Catholicism, it might not be the world as much as it was. On the other hand, over the years I have known one or two churches that were more like the world because it was hard to see how God was going to get anything done through them.
Even our lovely spiritual souls can become worldly if for example we get so stuck on our own personal growth and inner journey that we have no time to love the ordinary folks God has scattered into our lives. “You idiots, you need to leave me alone till I’ve finished my meditation!”
The clearest sign you’re dealing with the world is that the place where you are can’t make any sense of Jesus at all. Or they get him completely wrong. But there are other telltale signs. One sign is shallowness. Jesus encounters this all the time. He wants to talk about the bread of life; the people will settle for Wonder Bread. He wants to talk about worshiping God in spirit and truth, but the woman at the well wants to argue about which mountain we’re supposed to worship on.
This is a bit worrisome. After all, shallowness doesn’t seem like a very bad sin. But the refusal to take a deeper look, the rejection of serious conversation, the lack of curiosity about what God is doing, the common contempt for deep or hard thought, our love for easy feel-good and happy slappy clappy, feeds into a culture of distraction that quite effectively uproots faith. When people are utterly fascinated by the latest electronic gismo that lets you locate all the garage sales in a ten mile radius, but have no time to inquire into the depths of life, the world is sinking its teeth into its prey and dragging it off.
You also see the world when you look around and start finding damaged and dishonored people. I don’t just mean people who suffer from the sickness and accidents that can happen to anyone. I mean the tragedies, the damage and the shaming of people that result from human pride, power and indifference; from the way humans organize the world.
God does not want us to identify with this, or let its attitude take root in
us. By contrast, we believe that ultimate reality walks up to us on the feet of Jesus. He teaches us to see everything the way God made it to be.
The world makes sense when he is around. It’s like having a guide in the museum or the battlefield who can explain what all the weird, random details mean. When he is with us, eternal life has already begun and heaven has started soaking through into earth.
He even explains to us how we will know when we are likely to know when we are in the right place. We will experience joy. And the world will hate us. The joy part is a little easier to understand. When you are in a good place, a lot of small stuff doesn’t bother you. If someone you love is coming home after a long time away, you are so happy that you hardly notice what a jerk is in line ahead of you at CVS. Who cares?
To an even greater degree, the peace of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit create a sense of well being that is resilient.
But the hatred of the world is another thing. People tend to fear what they don’t understand, and fear easily turns to hate. People hate anything that calls their beliefs and values into question. People especially hate anything that seems to make them look bad. There are times when we have no choice but to do all of these things. Is it any wonder the world hates us? Jesus does not want us to be overly confused or upset when the faith we hope will comfort us gets us in hot water instead.
But we are not allowed to hate the world back. We are not allowed to be afraid of it. And he specifically forbids any attempt on our part to make life easier by leaving the world. God knows that’s tempting! And I know this temptation as well as anybody, because I have spent most of my ministry living at the edge of my comfort zone, even outside it, engaging the world in hope of showing it a better way.
We have a little experience of that around here. The world comes through our doors now and then in the form of men and women who come to support group meetings because they are trying to get away from the clutches of the world, with greater and lesser sincerity and success. Some of them have rough edges. It is remarkable how little trouble we have had, but every now and again a little problem crops up that must be attended to.
The incentive for fixing these problems as they come up is that Jesus has told us that we must be involved with the world as he was, and is. that we must continue his work of healing and freeing. And even if there are some bumps along the way, he is pleased with us.