Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Babies Crawling On the Ever-Shifting Sands of Time

Brad Sullivan
2 Lent, Year A
March 12, 2017
Emmanuel, Houston
John 3:1-17

Babies Crawling On the Ever-Shifting Sands of Time

“They say that these are not the best of times, but they’re the only times I’ve ever known.”  That’s from poet and prophet, Billy Joel, in the song Summer Highland Falls.  That single idea, that these aren’t the best of times, but they are the only times I’ve ever known, that idea holds true for each new generation, doesn’t it?  When we’re first born, the world doesn’t seem crazy and messed up.  It just seems like the world, even if it is crazy and messed up.  Then we get older and the world seems different, and we get older and the world seems even more different.  The world changes more and more, until sometimes folks find themselves living in a world they no longer really recognize or understand. 

New folks move into the neighborhood and the neighborhood changes.  The constant and regular practices of our religion become less constant, not at all regular, and the younger generations don’t do things the way we used to.  Texting replaces written invitations to parties and other events.  The interwebs replace print media.  Star Wars gets taken over by Disney!  Ways of life, unacceptable when we were children are now acceptable decades later.  Whatever the changes, they’re happening all the time, all around us.  We’re often longing for the past, or the good old days, or the way we did things “back in my day,” and into this longing for the past, this longing for some firm footing on the ever shifting sands of time, Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.”     

Well, if you are born from above, then what are you, or what is your spirit, but that of a newborn baby?  See babies and children don’t long for the good old days.  They see the world around them, and they can live in it and accept the world as it is.  They can see God in the world all around them.  The Kingdom of God is not hidden from the eyes of infants and children because they aren’t looking for God’s Kingdom in some longed-for and likely over-romanticized past.  Infants and children can simply live into God’s Kingdom in the ever changing present. 

Our ties to the past are not a bad thing in and of themselves.  They give us wisdom and some grounding in the ever-shifting sands of time, but those very ties to the past, when tied too tightly, end up binding us so that we can no longer move, and we see the sands a-shifting, we see the times a-changing, and we become afraid.  That is how Nicodemus felt when he came to Jesus stating, “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God…”  Nicodemus made a statement, declaring that Jesus was from God, but Nicodemus also came to Jesus at night.  He was curious about Jesus, but he was also frightened.  Jesus didn’t mesh with what he thought he knew about God’s Kingdom, and behind Nicodemus’ statement that Jesus had come from God, was a question.  “How can it be that you come from God, when what you say and do, while like what God taught, seems so different from the religion that I know?” 

Something of what Jesus said and did resonated very deeply with Nicodemus.  In Jesus, Nicodemus could see the Kingdom of God, and at the same time, Jesus was different than the religion of Nicodemus’ childhood and training, and the fear that Nicodemus felt at that difference was eclipsing his curiosity.  Be born from above, Jesus said.  Be a baby again, full of curiosity and without fear, trusting not in the past, but in God and God’s Kingdom all around you.

In these first weeks of Lent, Emmanuel has decided to get curious about God and God’s Kingdom all around us.  On Ash Wednesday, we had our regular services here, and we also changed how we’d always done things by bringing ashes and prayers with us out into the surrounding community for “Ashes to Go,” something churches have been doing close to about 10 years now, actually.  We went out into the world, where Jesus already was, and we both offered moments of grace in the ashes and prayer, the holy things of our church, and we received moments of grace from the people we met.  We didn’t bring Jesus to anyone.  Jesus was already there, and we got to encounter Jesus together.  So, we’re going to hear stories from a couple of the folks who went out for “Ashes to Go.”

Good morning, I was one of the Ashes to Go people who went to the park and ride.  There were about six of us gathered near where people get off the bus, and my main job was to hold the sign up that said, “Ashes to Go,” so as many people as possible could see it, but I was a part of some interactions there, and I found the whole thing to be moving to me and to other people also.  There was one young couple there who drove up and asked one of us to go over to them.  One of our members went to them, and they asked us to pray for them because they wanted to have a baby.  So she prayed for them, not only that they would have a baby, but that God would bless them in ways to make their lives full.
Many folks would come by, and some would look at us like “are you serious?”, and others would give us a big smile, some would say, “I went this morning.”  It was a start, a good start, and I hope it will continue.  Thank you.

Good morning.  For myself, it was also a very spiritual experience.  Like our sister said, we had a sign that said, “Ashes to Go,” and next year we need three signs so we can spread out a bit more.  The first person who came up to us said, “Is this for real?”  During the hour we were there, so many people came up with different outward expressions of the Holy Spirit that had gone into them.  Some were smiling.  Some weren’t sure.  There were people who’d be coming off the bus, and you could see that they were tired, but when they saw the sign, they got a skip in their step, they were smiling at us, and it was beautiful, it was wonderful.  There was one lady who came up, and she had a lot on her mind; she was very quiet, and we asked if she would like to have ashes.  She said, “no thank you,” and she walked past.  Then she stopped and came back and asked for prayer for her son.  So we prayed together for her son, and then she said, “Now I would like ashes.”  So it was incredible to experience this, and I hope we all have the opportunity to do this again, and I will volunteer for next year.  Thank you very much.

Good day.  I was not part of taking the ashes to the street, but Brad gave my family Ashes to Go, a little take home packet and Ash Wednesday service.  For the past five years, I’ve been to St. Mark’s Episcopal for the 7:00 a.m. service since it fit my schedule, but this year, my schedule didn’t allow me to go to make that service, and my wife and I couldn’t make the evening service here, and Brad knew that, so he gave us Ashes to Go for our home.  I mentioned it to a neighbor, who mentioned it to another neighbor, and we ended up with seven people in our home that evening, and we read through the service together.  I started the service, and our daughter wanted to read the scripture.  After she got through about a paragraph, she wanted to read the second scripture, and then the third scripture, and we had a little bit of a tug of war so my wife and I could read a scripture, and we all got our scripture in.  From that, our neighbors were there and participating, and as Brad said, we didn’t bring Jesus to anyone, but we found him together in our house that night, and it was very moving.  I think if anyone can do that and open up, which we all can, tell someone, and I will be part of next year’s on the street.  I think that’s great, and I’ll make time.  Thank you.

We never know where or in whom we might encounter God, for God’s Spirit blows where it chooses, and we do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  Beyond the Church, God’s Kingdom shows up all the time, in all kinds of different ways, from the mystical to the mundane.  God’s Kingdom isn’t overly concerned with the artifices of any longed-for past because God’s Kingdom has been ever present in through and beyond all of our presents and all of our pasts. 

In ancient Israel, when a foreigner, Naomi, clung to her mother-in-law, Ruth’s, neck and said, “I will not leave you,” God’s Kingdom was present.  When Jesus said, “neither do I condemn you,” and “Father forgive them,” God’s Kingdom was present.  In 15th century England, in the birth of the Anglican Church, God’s Kingdom was present.  During that same time, when Europeans began coming to this land, God’s Kingdom was present.  God’s Kingdom was present in this land, in fact, long before Europeans arrived with Christianity, or was God not here yet?  God’s Kingdom has been present during times of darkness in this land and during times of light.  God’s Kingdom has been ever-present in this and every land throughout all time, showing up whenever and in whomever it would. 

Some, like Nicodemus, would see it and think, “that can’t be God’s Kingdom, it doesn’t fit with what I know.”  Fortunately, God isn’t bound by what we know in our ties to the past.   So it is with those who are born of the Spirit.  They are babies once again, tethered to the past, but also free to live in the world as it is rather than as it was, free to be curious about the world, free to explore as all newborn babies do.  Newborn babies, born not of the flesh, but of the Spirit, is what Jesus has formed us and called us to be, over and over again, to enter back into God’s womb and are then born once again.  Jesus has sent us out to live and proclaim God’s Kingdom,
wherever it happens to be, even in the crazy newness of our constantly changing world, and the ever-shifting sands of time upon which we travel.

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