Easter 7B: How are your doing?

The Readings:

  • Acts 1:15–17, 21–26
  • Psalm 1
  • 1 John 5:9–13
  • John 17:6–19

Sermon

“God continues to tell us the truth that this life can be difficult;
God has promised to be with us amid the challenges so that we not only survive but actually flourish;
God intends to use us wherever we are to work for the good of this world God loves so much.”[1]
– David Lose

How are you doing today?

A somewhat innocent question, innocuous is perhaps a better descriptor, that is meant to open a conversation, or at the very least, get a read on the person to whom you are speaking. But a couple of things happened that made me realize that perhaps it’s not so innocuous as we would like it to be.

A mentor asked me in passing: “How are you doing today?” Apparently, my pause spoke more than I could put into succinct words. This mentor smiled sagely and said: “I once had a parishioner say to me in the greeting line, when I somewhat inattentively asked that question, that if she’d had two hours to explain, she might be able to answer that question. I imagine that if I had two hours and if you had two hours we might scratch the surface of your own answer.”

It put me in mind of another experience when I was in an introduction to German course in University – the professor explained that in Germany one does not ask how another is doing without the intent to listen. One is expected to answer that question honestly and earnestly. A simple “fine, thank you” is considered rude. I’ve never been to Germany so I can’t testify to the truth of this statement, but it makes this typically blunt and forthright person smile a little.

To be fair, I struggle to answer that question almost every time I’m asked. And over the last two weeks, I’ve been asked that very question a lot. It interests me that most people who ask aren’t really looking for the real answer. They don’t want to know how hard someone’s got it. Whether it’s me and my current situation, or that guy playing his guitar down the street with his hat on the ground, or that lady who shuffles unsteadily into the church on Food Bank day, or that other person who avoids your glance and hurries away when you pass each other by.

Life, as it turns out, is rather difficult. Being a human being in this world is hard. I don’t imagine that this comes as a surprise for most people, but it would seem that we are often pushed to keep that bit of information secret from each other. We live in a culture of goal-setting and celebrated successes; a culture that tells us that if we want to improve our lives, and subsequently be happy in life, we only have to work for it – or better yet, buy this thing, or move to this place, or elect this person and your life will suddenly become sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns.

Jesus knew that life in this world can be a struggle. Which is why, I think, Jesus prays today that God protect the disciples and those of us through time who come to be named believers. He is about to leave his followers, and his departure will bring about a time of hurt, despair, loneliness, and much hardship. And Jesus creates a space for his disciples and names that truth. He doesn’t ask that we all be removed from the world – rather that God continue to be present for us as Jesus was present for the disciples.

But our lives aren’t all darkness and despair either. We live on in a world of beautiful and ugly, euphoric and painful, light and dark. It is a world of “both and” so much more. In the midst of this beautiful evening of fellowship and communion, Christ speaks beauty into the gathering space, commands his disciples to love others as he has loved them, and then names the reality of the world. And then names the truth of God in their midst: that living in faith doesn’t mean that life with God means no more struggle, but that life with God, lived in faith, means that there is support through the struggles – God is there, as are countless others who have lived those struggles, are living those struggles, or who simply walk with us as we live each of our own struggles.

Perhaps that is a portion of what it means to be church. Not that we remain in a place to escape the world and the darkness out there, or that we are a place removed from the world. But, perhaps church is rather a time or place where we can stop pretending that we’re “fine, thank you,” and tell each other the truth.[2] Perhaps this is what Jesus is praying for us: that we would know God as he knows God, that we would see God in each other, that we would find comfort, fellowship, and truth with each other. But Jesus’ prayer goes on to be so much more than that, because when we come together and discover God in the midst of us, I think we discover a will to go out again from our gatherings. We are called and moved to go out. We go out into the world to share solidarity with those who are also in the world, recognizing that sometimes the difficult and painful can’t be escaped, but there is comfort and beauty in walking as a light-bearer for others. And while we light-bear, we also bear witness to God’s amazing and unbound grace and love that we have found in the one called Jesus.

Where ever we are, whatever we are doing, no matter how mundane, God continues to abide with each of us. Whether our worlds are beauty or ugliness, challenging or ‘smooth sailing,’ God continues to abide in each of us. God is with us. Because God chose us. God chose to love the world, and we are chosen over and over and invited to set upon a path that is holy and full of love. Readings like today’s gospel remind us of that love and that we are all called out of our static places in sent out into the world. Sent into the world by Christ as Jesus was sent to the world by God. This is incredible news. It is indeed incredible that we are so loved. But it is far more so that we are not asked to be or even become versions of Jesus – it’s not about work – we are asked to know and recognize God so that the love of God in Jesus would also be the love of God in us. We are asked to think about how God might be using us, in even the most innocuous moments of life, to make the world that God loves just like church. Not the church building, but the church I spoke of earlier. A place, through time and space, of comfort, fellowship, and truth.

A third example came to mind of what that “How are you doing today?” question might actually look like in light of today’s readings. At some point, I’d had an emotional week. I’d been on a rollercoaster of ups and downs. And I didn’t particularly know how I would be feeling hour to hour let alone day to day. I found myself sitting across from a person who is in the midst of walking alongside me as I make my way through life. She asked me: “How are you doing today?” And I was about to respond tersely with a “fine, thank you…” and change the topic, when a small and loving voice said in my head: ‘Child of God, share the truth.’ With no words spoken, the person across from me came closer and put a hand on my knee and cried with me. Then she laughed with me. And lastly, she walked with me some more as I went out into the world again.

I sometimes wonder how often we encounter God and miss it. I also wonder how often others see God in us and we miss it. I want to invite you to spend some time in thought this week imagining how God is using you or is present to you. It might be that you simply walk alongside someone else in the days ahead. It may be that you yourself are walked with. It could be that by simply asking with genuine interest “How are you doing today?” and taking the time to listen, you might bring a little bit of God’s light into the midst of that fellowship and conversation. Who knows? Maybe you will find that God is there to bring a little bit of light to you as well. Thanks be to God that we are called and invited over and over again. Amen.

[1] David Lose. “Easter 7B: Called and Sent,” …in the Meantime. (http://www.davidlose.net/2015/05/easter-7-b-called-and-sent/), May 11, 2015.

[2] David Lose. “Easter 7B: Called and Sent,” …in the Meantime. (http://www.davidlose.net/2015/05/easter-7-b-called-and-sent/), May 11, 2015.

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