The Wisdom to Thrive


Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. – Mark 1:14-20

When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Get up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city.’ But he lingered; so the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and left him outside the city. When they had brought them outside, they said, ‘Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, or else you will be consumed. . .

Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulphur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. – Genesis 19:15-17, 24-26

I am part of a lost generation
and I refuse to believe that
I can change the world
I realize this may be a shock but
“Happiness comes from within.”
is a lie, and
“Money will make me happy.”
So in 30 years I will tell my children
they are not the most important thing in my life
My employer will know that
I have my priorities straight because
is more important than
I tell you this
Once upon a time
Families stayed together
but this will not be true in my era
This is a quick fix society
Experts tell me
30 years from now, I will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of my divorce
I do not concede that
I will live in a country of my own making
In the future
Environmental destruction will be the norm
No longer can it be said that
My peers and I care about this earth
It will be evident that
My generation is apathetic and lethargic
It is foolish to presume that
There is hope.– Jonathan Reed
This poem by J. Reed.  Did you read it?

But what happens, if the instructions that come with the poem “All of this will come true unless we reverse it” are actually heeded.  It begins: “There is hope.  It is foolish to presume that my generation is apathetic . . . ”

I.  Poem

Here’s what I was thinking:

We gather for worship regularly on Sunday morning, each according to our schedule.  We park in the same place.  We walk through the same doors and sit in the same pews, perhaps even the same spot.  We get a copy of a bulletin that looks pretty much the same every Sunday.  We sing from the same hymnal and you follow the same worship leaders.  There is so much about what goes on here that is regular that we simply assume, like many of you did with the “poem” that it has to be done this way — that it has to be read from the top to the bottom.

We have three readings today that encourage a serious reversal.  To reverse, of course means to change directions.  I very much dislike encouragements or exhortations to change if I don’t know why, or if the options are arbitrary.

The implicit question is “Which direction to move in is the right one?”

The form of the reading by Jonathan Reed, suggests that this is not an easy question to answer. It’s not easy because everything about our daily patterns conspires to make it difficult to see the hope.

One answer to our question today — what is the right direction towards which we should change, is that the right direction does not come easily and when it does it springs forth hope.

II.  Genesis

Our reading from Genesis offers another suggestion.

I could have chosen as readings from out tradition, a myriad of passages like the ones I chose.  For example, it becomes clear with a little exploration that the first story of our Bible, the story of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden is not a story of conservatism — not a story of punishment because they failed to conserve the tradition — but a story of the necessity of looking forward — of moving on.  God tells Noah after the flood to “Go forth from the ark.”  In chapter 11 we read the myth of the tower of Babel as a warning, the desire to be comfortable, not to be stretched socially or culturally or intellectually will not work — go forth and be multicultural.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah, I probably should remind you, is not a story about sex.  It is a story about the failure to be multicultural, to be open to the stranger.  Again, God aims to end narrow-mindedness and says to Lot and his family — don’t look back.  Keep your minds set on those things you know to be good, for which you defended the stranger.

Lot’s wife is not on board however.  We see that to look back is to fail.

Another answer to our question today — what is the right direction towards which we should change? — is that it will open up new horizons — horizons however which are potentially uncomfortable.  Again the right direction does not come easily.

II. Mark

One more image of reversal.  This one from the Gospel of Mark.

Last week we read from the end of the Gospel of Mark — the story of the women running from the empty tomb — frightened.  Mark doesn’t really have a “resurrection” story.  He has an empty tomb story.  But this is not to suggest that Mark’s reason for telling the story of Jesus is any different than any of the other Gospel writers.

In other words Mark uses different structures to tell the same story — and if Easter is about anything, it’s about reversal.  For those early Christians who cultivated an Easter story they did so to tell about the way Jesus turned their lives about.  They did in order to say that this wasn’t about Jesus — it never was and it never will be — it’s about God — Easter, resurrection, is about an experience of God in our lives that changes everything.

Mark’s Easter story is not found after the tomb — but before it — the whole gospel is set up as an expression of Easter — Jesus came to Galilee and was preaching the good news saying — “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

This sentence is fodder for a full sermon — let me just note quickly that the Greek word translated repent has been burdened with exactly the opposite kind of baggage than it should carry.

Today repent means — “toe the line.  Believe in the right thing.  Stay the proper course.”  Then it meant “turn around — rethink things — get out of the box.”  For Mark, the gospel — the whole of it —  is the Easter story — God is not in the distant future, or up in the sky away from us — but a real and present grace — a love that will never be locked up in a holy book, or boxed up in an institution.

This is not just about believing as in believing in Jesus and all of the thicket of doctrines that sprang up around him, but about discovering life.  This discovering is what, in its best, simplest sense, we call religion — because it re-binds us.  The word religion has its Latin roots in this idea.  In fact our word ligament has the same root.

Another answer to our question today — what is the right direction towards which we should change? is that it is in the direction of this sense of religion —  religion as that force that binds us because it sets us free.


How exactly will this look?

I have my theories — but I know that every worship leader and every institutional leader has theories about how to make it work, how to turn things around.  So, I may be wrong about my ideas.  That’s part of the reason we get together today to talk.  This is not mine to make up.  It is ours.

I do know that it will take some work.  And it will take some willingness to act according to visions and dreams.

Wendell Berry gets it correct I think in a poem called “A Vision.”

If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow-growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
if we will make our seasons welcome here,
asking not too much of earth or heaven,
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
there, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides, fields and gardens
rich in the windows. The river will run
clear, as we will never know it,
and over it, birdsong like a canopy.
On the levels of the hills will be
green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields.
In their voices they will hear a music
risen out of the ground. They will take
nothing from the ground they will not return,
whatever the grief at parting. Memory,
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling
light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its possibility


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