1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 (11-13) 14-17; Mark 4:26-34
I refuse to live like a character in a dystopian novel.
More and more, I hear sentiments of defeat, cynicism and hopelessness. I understand such expressions of fear, grief and frustration. Each day brings with it grim news of exploitation, suffering and injustices. Each day dawns and still, disease destroys, children bear burdens not of their own making, human beings destroy one another and creation itself. It takes little effort to look around, shrug our shoulders, and say, “We’re doomed.”
We’re doomed and there is nothing we can do about it, so why bother getting engaged, giving resources, working for change? Let’s hunker down, keep our heads down and try to avoid as much of the mess as we can. Or, let’s protect what we deem as ours at all costs. Who can blame us? It’s a dog eat dog world, as the saying goes.
I look at the news, read the paper, see images of children in cages, hear a translator on the radio echo the small voice of a child telling of being given a teddy bear and taken from her mother after they crossed our country’s southern border and wonder: What kind of people have we become? The little girl says she used the teddy bear to wipe her tears. I cannot hold back my own as I listen.
I overhear a conversation in the gym locker room. Two women talking about the “karma” that swept an elderly couple away in recent floods, killing them both. One says, “No one ever liked them.” The other apparently had cared for the couple’s animals and said, “Maybe they left me something!” They both cackle with laughter. I think: What kind of people have we become? We are doomed. I am living in a dystopian novel.
But these texts for this Sunday say that God does not see as we do. They say that God looks upon the heart, not outward appearances. The texts say: We walk by faith and not by sight. The texts say: We are always confident. The texts say: The love of Christ urges us on. We don’t live to ourselves. We regard no one from a human point of view. Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The texts say: That the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, tiny, insignificant, vulnerable, useless from all outward appearances, but explosive with potential and the promise to nurture, shade, hide, protect, give respite to all the nations, every bird of the air and the beasts of the land, too.
I refuse to live as if I am a character in a dystopian novel. I won’t give up that easily. These texts won’t let me. There is a miniscule mustard seed of faith that won’t die, that keeps sprouting through the cracks of my hard-heartedness and fatigue and cynicism. The story of which I and you and all of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ – our story – is not one of fighting to the death, but fighting for life, abundant, beautiful, explosively and insidiously good.
The verses in 2 Corinthians that come just after the ones appointed for this Sunday tell us: We have been given the ministry of reconciliation. We are ambassadors for Christ. We are chosen by God to lead — not because we look good or are good, but because God is good. We are small kingdom seeds that easily get trampled, eaten, washed away or overtaken by weeds, but seeds that God will nonetheless bring to bud and flower, to expansive, irrepressible, growth.
The story of which I am a part is a tall tale, of magical trees, that grant shade and shelter, food and respite. The story I am going to tell is one of a mustard seed kingdom where the last will be first and the first will be last, but thanks to the grace of God, everyone gets a seat at the table. I am going to tell the story of the texts for this Sunday, this day of resurrection, this eighth day of creation: New life is surely coming, we see with the eyes of God and what we see is beautiful and true and just and lovely and kind and grace-filled and so glorious in its flora and fauna that you are going to look up and look out and burst into tears for the seer goodness of it all and God will wipe every tear from your eyes, not with a teddy bear, but with the very hand of the Most High.
I refuse to live as if I am a doomed character in a dystopian novel, determined to do whatever it takes to survive, the rest of the world be damned. We walk by faith and not by sight. We live not for ourselves, but for the sake of Jesus Christ. The love of Christ urges us on and we regard no one from a human point of view, but see each and everyone as made in God’s image, called good and beloved.
I attended a panel discussion on immigration this week. The panel included three lawyers, an activist and a poet. To a person they were joy-filled, not optimistic, often discouraged, but ever hopeful. The poet, Seth Michelson, worked with youth in one of two of our nation’s maximum-security detention centers where some of the unaccompanied minors who have crossed the border are held. These children have been through hell having witnessed or been forced to participate in horrendous violence. The detention facility in which they are held is being sued due to the horrendous conditions within it. These children are still going through hell.
Seth Michelson has edited a book of poetry written by these kids, “Dreaming America: Voices of Undocumented Youth in Maximum-Security Detention.” Of all the panelists, the poet relentlessly urged those of us in attendance not to give into the narrative of hopelessness.
He read some of the poems from the book. The poems have no name attached, because revealing the identity of the author was forbidden. He read poems that expressed dreams, hopes, loss, beauty. Most of the youth are illiterate. They are not guaranteed legal representation. They have no idea when they will be released and when they are, where they will go. Some, so despondent, have taken to cutting themselves and banging their heads against the walls and floor. And yet, as the poet said, even here there is beauty, goodness, hope.
One of his young poets wrote:
I Want to Support
I want to support the
poor and end
hunger. I’d like to give
a great place to live
without one, and also
to the animals.
I do, too. I refuse to live as if I am a character in a dystopian novel. I am going to lead a mustard seed life until all the birds of the air have a place to make a nest, every single nation supports the poor and hunger is no more and there is a great, beautiful, shaded, lovely place for all to live, the animals, too. That’s the story of which I want to be a part.
- What are the narratives you hear? How are they like or unlike the narrative of the gospel?
- How do we regard no one from a human point of view? How do we walk by faith and not by sight?
- Notice beauty and signs of hope. Pause to give thanks for them.
- Why does Jesus talk and teach in parables? Are there ways we could do likewise?
- When have you been surprised by someone or something and realized that there was more than what you initially saw, thought or assumed?
- What is the narrative you are living and how is that story evident in your daily living?