Reacting vs. responding to what comes next
Are we ever ready for what comes next? The next job, the next adventure, the next diagnosis, the next political controversy, dare I say it educators? The next school year? Maybe it matters how the next thing happens. If it comes as expected – the date and time given well enough ahead that getting used to it is a process. If it comes unexpectedly with no time to process or prepare, then we’re left to make our way as best we can. Sometimes it brings a response, most often before the response comes a knee-jerk reaction that is sometimes less a reasoned decision and more fight or flight, all based in acute fear. For some things that’s simply the way it has to be because we’re humans and that’s how we’re built. I’m not certain if age, or wisdom, or life experience makes all the difference, some difference, or no difference whatsoever.
If you had said to me while in college that ministry would be what would come next in my life, I would have laughed and laughed. Not because I had no background in faith or faith communities, but the thought that an English and History major, and a woman to boot, would end up spending a lifetime in local church ministry is rather unreasonable and unpredictable. What are those moments in your journey to where you have arrived today in your life’s work, your family and friends, your travel and experiences that in looking now, surprise you no small amount?
This new sermon series for August has been working in my thought process. I’m doing a riff off of one of Marcus Borg’s last published books: “Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most”. He speaks in the beginning of the idea for this writing in his turning 80 years old and understanding, for him, that season of life felt like the extra time that was never guaranteed. Neither of his parents had lived that long. And in that realization, he wanted to write of his life’s journey, most particularly his faith journey in connection with his academic learning about matters of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Christianity, what he calls the “big things.” As he traces his life footsteps, he speaks to how he came to understandings that he holds loosely but most dear and with great strength in his last season on this earth.
It engages my mind and spirit in a way that is intriguing. How have we come to the convictions in our own lives of what matters most? How have those and how are those changing given the massive changes in our world over the last two or three years most specifically, but even going back to the last 10 or 15? It seems from a general perspective that we as a species have become more passionate, I’m not certain more knowledgeable, but more passionate about what we are certain is right for us, for those around us, for the world. And in that passion, it seems perhaps we are more reacting to crises than responding in process. The anger and rage feels like it comes more from the fight or flight response that often stems from a fear . . . for our lives, for losing what we think is ours, for the world changing so fast that those things we hold most dear are going to or already have disappeared. And maybe we wonder what we will have left, or even if we will or have been left behind . . . unseen, unknown, unimportant. That is such a difficult place for most of us to be.
The gospel reading this week is from Luke and Jesus being in his home town and home synagogue and announcing not only his ministry, but that the vision of God is to invite more people in than what his neighbors and friends are used to – people that are not considered or wanted as part of the community, let alone the people of God. His friends and neighbors with whom he grew and matured become so enraged, literally the scripture calls it rage, that they decide to drive him out of town and throw him over a cliff.
In the 21st century our means to the ends are different, but maybe our rage is a bit the same. For some engaging in violence to make their convictions of what’s right be that which becomes a forced or mandated right for everyone is not only their solution, but their resolution to the point of death – for self and too often, for others. I wonder if the dis-ease of gun violence that plagues our nation doesn’t finally stem from our fear of being left out, left behind, left without power, privilege, and importance. Just an amateur old pastor’s wondering and bit of heartbreak of how we treat one another in our current broken and too often hate-filled context.
Jesus’s home community did not want to hear that they weren’t the only ones God considered beloved – not because they were bad people or hateful people, but because it meant change – the kind of change that rocked their foundation to the point of passionate reaction rather than reasoned response. Fight or flight and fear are an expected and a God created way of helping us survive. AND they are not meant to be our modus operandi for every situation where we are invited and challenged to think about what comes next for us, for our communities, for our world.
I don’t know what will come next in the challenges our world will face. My conviction is that whatever it is and wherever it takes us, God is both with us and ahead of us giving us what we need to move into that what’s next, with grace, mercy, and a peace that passes understanding!