Monday, February 6, 2012

Jesus, Garrison Keillor, and Highly Trained Dogs

5th Sunday after Epiphany

The first question of the lesson from Isaiah seems to especially fit Mark’s gospel.  Isaiah asks: “Have you not known?”

Last week we noticed that, as Jesus was preaching in the synagogue, the people were amazed, but nobody knew who he was.  This week, it’s more of the same.  The people know that something amazing is happening, but they’re not sure what to call it.  They don’t have the quite right words.  The demons have words, but Jesus commands them to keep quiet, not to tell, which only makes Jesus all the more mysterious to everyone else.  Who is this guy, exactly?

All the while Isaiah’s question echoes like a whisper: “Have you not known?  Haven’t you heard?”

Mark’s gospel and Isaiah’s question name a truth that you and I already know:

The truth is that it’s possible to hang out with Jesus without knowing Jesus.  To rub shoulders with Jesus without knowing Jesus.  And not just for the first followers of Jesus.  It’s true for folks who come to church on rainy Sunday mornings, it’s true for Vestry leaders, and God knows it’s true for clergy.
A reminder for all of us: you can hang out with Jesus without knowing Jesus.
The situation brings to mind the Garrison Keillor quote: “Anyone who thinks (that) sitting in church can make you a Christian must also think that sitting in a garage can make you a car.” But it also brings to mind, for me, another image:
The truth that it is possible to hang out with Jesus without knowing Jesus calls to mind the image of a parent I was talking to a while back.  The family was just back from a camping vacation, and I had asked about the trip:
“Terrible,” Dad said, getting straight to the point.  “It was hot and then the bugs...so, so very dry.  The tent was a disaster to set up, we fished without luck.  I don’t think we’ve ever been so glad to pack up and go home.”

Separately, I interviewed one of the children.  Without hesitation, and without knowledge of his father’s answer, he said matter-of-fact-ly, “Mom and Dad, camping in tents, best vacation ever.”

How is that, within the very same space, some can know and some can not know?

Have you not seen?  Haven’t you heard?

It happens to the best of us: John the Baptist, you’ll remember, sends word to Jesus one time.  Asks Jesus, through friends: “Are you the one?  Or did I get us all worked up for nothing?”  And Jesus says go tell John what they have (what?)...seen and heard.  There it is again, that echo from Isaiah.  Some folks can see it.  Some folks, they can’t.

Jesus talks a lot about having eyes to see and ears to hear, but the gospels tell us that not seeing and no hearing is far, far more common.  Not seeing, not hearing, is the norm.

This is not surprising, I think.  We live in a world of bright lights and loud noises.  Jesus has some competition.  Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” and, “Father, forgive them.”  The world’s bright lights and loud noises say, “Come November, the defeat of your enemy in the polls, by any means possible (no matter your politics), is your only hope.  Jesus says, “Peace, I give you, my own peace I leave you.”  The world’s bright light and loud noises say, “But who’s looking out for you?  Nobody.  Fight for yourself.”  Jesus says, “Love your neighbors; love one another.”  The bright lights and loud noises say, “Are you really so naive?”

The gate to the Kingdom is crowded outside it with corporate commotion, loud noises wanting to sell you one more thing before you go.  Here, take this remote - it’s your key to something more interesting than the people around you.  Here, put these in your ears - nothing worth hearing out here anyhow.

Some people manage to sneak in the gate anyway.  They see and hear the Kingdom, even now.  We call them saints.  These are people who see and hear the first-fruit possibilities that the Gospel has opened for them, even now - the love and grace and mercy of our Savior. 

The rest of us, on our bad days, get rubbed out: the commotion consumes us.  We either give in or give up, despairing of finding a meaning that matters.  But the still, small voice remains; the whisper that echoes across the generations: “Have you not seen?  Haven’t you heard?”

There’s a wonderful quote that comes from the apocryphal writing known as the Acts of Peter: “Unless you make what is right left, and what is left, right, what is above into what is below, and what is behind into what is in front, you will not learn to know the Kingdom.”

This conversion, this re-orientation, this learning to see and hear the Good News that is already present to us and the world, is very much the heart of what it is to be a Christian.

We Christians are learning day by day - sometimes suddenly and sometimes exceedingly gradually - to make left right, right left, up down, and down up.  We are learning the dance of the Kingdom of God, step by step, until our instinct is mercy, our heartbeat forgiveness, our delight and desire the worship of the God who is Lord of the Dance.

Can I be ridiculous for a moment?  If it’s true that you are learning the dance of the Kingdom of God, seeing and hearing the things of God, even the God at work in this world, do you know what that makes you?  What that makes us?

It makes us, the Church, the world’s seeing-eye dog.  Guide dogs for God.

It means that the things you see and hear are not seen and heard by all.  Don’t take your eyes and ears for granted.  It means that you are in a unique position to name hope to the hopeless, speak power to the powerless, new life to the lifeless.  It's not that they don't care; they don't SEE the hope, power, and life that you see.  It means that you are called to go to people and places without hope, power, or life and look for God there.  Remember, you can see what they can’t.  Help them see God at work in their lives.  Help them name the quiet joy of the Spirit. 

I remember a youth leader who told me about his experience listening to a girl who told him about a moment of discernment in which she decided to forgo a high paying job opportunity in order to serve the underprivileged in her community.  After listening patiently and interestedly, he gently offered: “Do you know how you’ve told me how you want to hear the voice of God’s Spirit?”  Remembering their previous conversations, she nodded.  "That was it.  That’s God speaking to you; working through you.  I hope you see that."

You are called to be seeing-eye dogs for a world that cannot see.
I wonder if you could take a moment just now to think of a person in whom you've seen God at work, but maybe they haven't seen it themselves.

I wonder if cherishing your ability to see changes your approach to people who just don’t get it.  I wonder if it gives you other options besides frustration. 

And not just for the world, out there, but for one another, in here.  I’m not talking about the blind leading the blind; I’m only noting that we all have our blind spots, despite our fields of vision.  A friend of mine, talking about the fact that others seem to know him better than himself sometimes, remarked of his blind spots: “I don't know what they - that's why they're called blind spots!”  We all have them - both for our flaws AND for God's working in us.

But you, the friend who stands outside of the action, are uniquely positioned to see what your brother or sister can’t see; to speak the hope in a voice, a frequency, her ears can hear.  And equally to receive your sister or brother’s touch on your shoulder, his or her attempt at direction, as a kind of blessing on the days you can’t see for yourself.  This is what it means to be holy friends to one another in the community of faith.  This is what we commit to in the promises of your baptism.

“Have you not known?  Haven’t you heard?”

Because Mark’s gospel and Isaiah’s question name a truth that you and I already know:

The truth is that it’s possible to hang out with Jesus without knowing Jesus.  And it’s true for folks on Sunday, it’s true for Vestry leaders, and God knows it’s true for priests.

But if it’s true that you are learning the dance of the Kingdom of God, seeing and hearing the things ofGod, even the God at work in this world, then we are seeing-eye dogs for a world that cannot see.  We are trumpeters of Good News; speakers of truth; ambassadors of a Kingdom whose glory has begun.

Amen.

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