Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
I don’t know about you, but I’m finding this year’s presidential campaign pretty interesting, or at least entertaining in a Hollywood kind of way. There is Ted, Donald, Hilary, Bernie, and John, sort of. To be honest I am watching it more closely than I’ve ever watched a political campaign, including the ones I’ve worked on. It’s even fun to talk about it. Usually I assiduously avoid political conversations, but this year, just because I can’t help myself, I bring it up. It’s sort of fun in a perverse way.
Here is what I find: that irrespective of who I’m talking to, they are thoroughly perplexed and even aghast that anyone would consider voting for… and then you fill in the blank. Ted, Hilary, Donald, and Bernie all provoke the same kind of response, depending on who you’re talking too. It is really rather amazing.
We are certainly a fractured nation, a divided people, broken; no question about that. That fact may be the one thing our Presidential candidates agree on. But here is one thing I’m pretty sure of: no President of the United States in going to be able to fix that.
I’d like to tell you that the church can. That is what I’d like to say, but if you’re half as educated about the church as I am, you’re not going to buy it, nor should you. The church often has the same problem as politicians: limited vision, which in the church’s case, reflects our leadership more than our mission because the mission of the church is the vision of God, which is: To love God, because God loved us first. And to love our neighbor because God loves them as much as God loves you and me. That is the vision of God: To love God, because God loved us first. And to love our neighbor because our neighbor is loved by God.
A lot of you already knew that. So what I want to do is send you home today with a better understanding of how God’s vision plays out. It has two pillars: particular application and universal invitation. When particular application and universal invitation meet hope wins, real hope, deep hope, the kind of hope that heals a broken world. And that hope isn’t empty. It is actionable.
I want a world that I am proud to pass forward to the next generation, and I suspect you do as well. That what God wants. So to help us toward that end, I want to spend some time today on the particular application and universal invitation that meet within the vision of God to give us hope.
Let me start with the background story. It is the story of how we moved from the big vision of God to the myopic vision of individualism. It starts this way: God made all things. God set us in the world and gave us the things that God made. We started to collect them, and then fight over them. Our mission became acquisition as we claimed what we saw as our own, and as we did our vision got smaller and smaller and smaller, until it was so myopic that we could only see stuff. It got so small that our entire vision became an economic equation built on the premise that stuff is what brings about the good life.
This economic equation became the pinhole through which to see the world, and the God that made the stuff in the first place seemed to disappear. Out of sight, out of mind.
So God came in person, Jesus, Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Jesus is the with God vision in flesh and bone. Jesus is the with God vision in name and personality, on a journey through life, like you and me. And when his journey was halted and his vision rejected on the cross, resurrection happened. Resurrection is God simply punctuating the point: I am here for you, no matter what. You can ignore me, or pretend I’m not here, but resurrection is the promise that I am here, and that is a universal promise that has particular application.
So let’s see what particular application might look like. Tina Fey is helpful here. I saw Whisky, Tango, Foxtrot the other day. It is the new Tina Fey movie, where she plays Kim Barker, a real life news correspondent who spent a lot of time in Afghanistan.
There was this scene where she was embedded with US troops, out doing what troops do when they occupy a foreign land. They were in a village. It was the second time Kim had been there with these troops. The first time they had come to repair a well they dug for the village. It had been blown up, presumably by the Taliban. So they were back, and again found it blown up. They suggested that this had happened numerous times. The US military was building these wells around Afghanistan, as an act of good will, particularly toward women, so they wouldn’t have to walk so far to fetch water. The intention was to make their lives easier, and maybe open up some time for them to learn productive skills, or as least do work that was more economically rewarding.
While digging wells and making more free time for women may be the exact right thing for some women in some parts of the world, that is only the case if that is what they want.
Which leads us back to God’s vision for how to love our neighbors.
Jesus shows us what this looks like. We’ll use leprosy as our Jesus case study. (It is from the Bible, not the Harvard Business Review, but it still has some practical application.) When Jesus encounters leprosy, he doesn’t wave his hand and cure all leprosy. He could, but he doesn’t. Then when Jesus encounters lepers, he doesn’t instantly cure them. He doesn’t make any assumptions. He asks them what he can do for them. He doesn’t even ask them about their leprosy. He doesn’t assume their good health is the most important thing in their lives. It might be for some lepers and it might not be for others. Like a well in a village.
Instead Jesus is really specific. He is really particular. He asks what he can do for you. Which is what the US military didn’t ask the women in the village Kim Barker visited. They may have asked the men. They may have asked NGOs. They may have asked women in other villages, but they didn’t ask these women.
Because it was the women who were blowing up the well. They were finding unexploded Soviet landmines, and then setting them in the well and throwing rocks at them until they explode. Sound crazy? Yes it does! But it wasn’t for these women. What was more important to them was to have time together outside the village; out from under the watchful eyes of the men, so they could pull back their burqas, and see each other and talk. They loved that time, and it had been robbed from them by the well. The well was meant to make life better, and it might have if that is what they wanted. But no one asked.
The with God vision is applicable one person at a time. Jesus asked, he didn’t assume. He listened and then he listened again more deeply, and only then did he respond. That is how we change the world.That is how we love our neighbor.Ask, listen, then listen more deeply, then respond. That is the with God vision applied in the particular.
And that particular application is universally available to all…which means ALL PEOPLE. If you are alive then this applies to you. God had you born into the world for a particular reason. God made you which means God loves you and God has some hope for how you will participate in God’s vision. And what is true for you and me, is true for everybody, universally. Even Jews? Yes. Even Muslims? Yes. Even you atheists? Yes. Do all Christians’ believe this? No. But I do. We do here at Epiphany. That is core to our understanding of God. If God is with me, and God is with you, then God is with everyone else as well. And believing this has impact. Believing this means living this; and living this will change the world, one relationship at a time.
God’s vision is universal and God’s vision is particular and that includes all people, one person at a time. And because you know one person (and I know you know at least one person) then you can be a person of hope in the world. You can ask the particular question: What can I do for you? Then listen, and then listen more deeply, And then respond with what God gave you.
That is the with God vision: God is with you on the journey that is your life. God is with the other on the journey that is their life. And when we meet the other as God meets us, universally and particularly, then there is hope, great hope for this world. There is real, sustainable, actionable hope live in the world.
And that hope lives at the center of the vision of God.