Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Right Stuff

Awe-Filled Worship and Life:  Rethinking Stewardship
October 9 and 16, 2011
Revelation 21:1-5a and Galatians 2:19b-20

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

When I was a little boy, like lots of other little boys back in the 50s and 60s, I was fascinated by the U.S. space program.   My friends and I never missed a rocket launch on TV, and astronauts were our heroes. 

Four of us, when we were all in third grade, even decided to become a team of astronauts….and, so the story goes, I would be their chaplain!

What we little boys didn’t realize, though, was how rigorous the training program had been for our heroes—astronauts like Alan Shepard, Wally Schirra, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong.

We didn’t know, for starters, that all astronauts had to be in tip-top physical condition.  We didn’t know how highly educated they were…how they had gone through basic training in the military…how they had been subjected to a host of intense simulation experiences.  

The reason for all that was that astronauts needed to function in an environment of weightlessness.  They had to survive G-forces of 6 or higher, had to be proficient scuba divers, had to tread water for extended periods of time.   Astronauts truly had to have “the right stuff.”

What might have given us pause—my third grade companions and I—was the reality that many things astronauts went through in their training made them deathly ill.  Simulated experiences of weightlessness caused dizziness, even nausea.  Getting spun around in G-force simulators could make them pass out.  Our heroes were always being pressed to the max!

Here, silly me, I thought reading a book or taking a class might be enough, to become an astronaut. 

But no.  The hundreds of men and women who became U.S. astronauts all had experience a world that they had yet to know—a world so unlike this world—the disorienting, gravity-free world of outer space. 

Here in the 21st chapter of Revelation we catch a glimpse of how God is even now fashioning a new creation—a new heaven and a new earth that we are destined for, that we have yet to experience in its fullness.  

Through our baptism, through being incorporated into Jesus Christ, we are already, in a sense, residents of this new world…though we’ve just started to experience its height and breadth and depth.

God’s new creation is so unlike this world—so very different from our life in the midst of space and time and gravity—that we can only imagine it, in tiny “bites,” and fleeting glimpses.  Truly Paul was right when he wrote that for “now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.” (I Cor. 13:12)

We venture to speak of the “life of the world to come,” only because we are already in training for it even now.   And, as was the case with U.S. astronauts, such training involves so much more than passing a class or reading a book.

You and I are, rather, called to prepare ourselves for God’s new creation now, by experiencing, by practicing intensely the life that God is giving us, the life to which God is leading us.

This analogy of the astronauts and their training is a way for you and me to think about our lives as Christians, as followers of Jesus.  

Indeed, everything we do and are as God’s beloved people is preparing us for the amazing life that yet awaits us.   God invites us to start living now, in eager anticipation of the fullness of life in God’s kingdom.  

God invites us to lean into his promised future, by acting today in ways that will become natural for us in God’s tomorrow.

Hence, all the talk about and attention to “faith practices” in the church.

Think of “faith practices” as what Alan Shepard, Wally Schirra, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong did to become astronauts—rigorously, continually, painstakingly preparing themselves for a world they could only imagine.

That’s what it’s like for us to be “in training” now for the New Creation that God is surely bringing our way. 

We know how to live in this “heavy,”gravity-ruled world that is passing away—but what about living into the freedom and gracious “weightlessness”--of the world that is to come?   That is something else!

So, living in this old world that expects us to fill up every available minute with work and play and  “busyness”….God cajoles us into acting as if our time were in God’s hands, and not our own.  And so we regularly observe Sabbath time, ceasing our killer schedules and intentionally doing nothing productive once a week, so that we might learn afresh how well God runs the universe without any help from us!

Or, swimming in a culture that throws at us all sorts of competing “scripts” and “stories,” designed to claim our complete loyalty…God comes along and draws us out of ourselves, weaves us into God’s story.  God frees us to dwell regularly in another Word, God’s Word, that turns everything upside down.  God helps us master a new script, in which God is all in all, thus giving us a new GPS coordinate to aim for.

Or, instead of only seeking our own self-interest in this passing-away world….God pries us lose from ourselves, uncurls our turned-in-upon-ourselves ways, lures us into seeking the good of our neighbor above our own self-interest…through the faith practice of serving our neighbor.

Or, most apropos for today, living by a code that convinces us we must spend every last red cent on ourselves, a code that says, “the one who winds up with the most toys wins”…God instead catches us up into the crazy joy, the hilaritas of generosity, introducing us to the lightness, the “weightlessness,” the freedom of grace.

Doesn’t this sound great?  

But, truth be told, embracing this training, trying on these faith practices also disorients us and makes us dizzy….because living now in a way that leans into God’s future inevitably causes some motion sickness. 

If we’re really lucky, in fact,  it will kill us.

Faith practices like Sabbath-keeping, dwelling in God’s Word, praying, serving our neighbors, and embracing generosity…these faith practices will be the end of us, the end of the old person inside each of us who clings to this dying, passing-away world. 

We live here.  We die here.  End of story!

But it’s not the end of the story.   This life is just the beginning.

Just look at Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.   All these faith practices are Jesus-practices!  They have an unmistakable Jesus-shape about them.  They imprint Jesus on our lives!

…which is why Paul rhapsodizes about Jesus living within us.   I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul declares in the second chapter of Galatians, “and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  (Galatians 2:19-20)

Herein lies our only hope—that the God who got inside this old gravity-laden world in Jesus, will keep getting inside us in the power of Jesus’ resurrected and unending life.  Unlike the astronauts of the 1960s, we do not embrace “faith practices” as solo performers.   There are always at least two persons embracing these “new creation” practices—you, and Jesus.

And precisely here we see “the right stuff” that makes us new, gets us ready for the life of the world to come.  The right stuff is the Jesus-stuff, getting down under our skins, and flowing out through us into the world around us.

So these “faith practices” are actually Jesus’ own life, being replayed now through you and through me.  

For you see, what Jesus gets a kick out of is this:  Jesus loves dressing up in our flesh and blood.  Jesus loves getting at this old dying world through us—thus refashioning it into the new heaven and the new earth where all God’s children are destined to live.

·       So Jesus in us, re-centers us in God’s own life, in which we’ll never again need to think that our “busyness” justifies us.
·       And Jesus in us, helps us learn God’s script for our lives, marinating us in a Word that re-orients everything we used to think and feel and assume.
·       And Jesus in us gets us turned “inside out” for the sake of our neighbors in the world.
·       And Jesus under our skin inspires in us the sheer delight, the wild joy of going crazy with our possessions, giving generously for the sake of God, God’s mission, God’s people and God’s world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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