To Be In the World and Not Of It
We have arrived at the end of the Easter season in the church calendar.
Throughout the last seven weeks we have once again heard the stories recounting the resurrection and appearances of Jesus, and we read about how the apostles, disciples, and followers of Jesus adjusted to the idea of Scripture fulfilled.
Like the apostles, we have been given time, through the stories, to understand how this journey and especially how the resurrection helps us to be what we have been called to be. The point of 40 days is that this is meant to be a period of discernment as we redefine what Easter means and how it changes who we are and how we live.
Today’s gospel takes it to the next level. This is the point in our journey where we ask ourselves how God is calling us and what God is calling us to be and to do.
So... do you have it? Has this last 40 days helped? Do you now know what God wants from your life? Have you even been thinking about it?
Sorry, I am not trying to be too sarcastic – Just thinking it through – the point of being a follower of Jesus is that we are supposed to be reflecting on our faith. We are supposed to be trying to find a way to follow Jesus “way of life” in our time, and our context.
At some level a question that should always be at the back of our minds is this – what is God’s will for our life?
Aware that these are his final hours, Jesus admits to God, "I am no longer in this world, but they are." This must have sounded horrible to the disciples – what did he mean? Does it really mean that Jesus is leaving and we are left alone?
That’s one of our big problems too isn’t it? Don’t we feel abandoned by God? Is there not a sense that we have no idea what to do next?
Teresa of Avila said "Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out on a hurting world, yours are the feet with which he goes about doing good; yours are the hands with which he is to bless now."
I am certainly not sure that I can live up to that on a day to day basis – In fact, there are lots of days when I think Jesus should have left his future presence down here in more capable hands than ours! We're just not all that special. We feel no miraculous power coursing through our veins, our brains get blurry, we're tired, we're stressed, we're just so very...ordinary, flat--footed, mortal...human.
See- that is my problem with following Jesus; here he is praying the last prayer the disciples will ever hear him say and these are the words: "I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world..."
He keeps going on about how we are to be in the world but not of the world... Ever hear that before? It has almost become the slogan for holiness... a good Christian is “in the world, but not of the world.”
To quote that most popular of psychotherapists, Dr. Phil, “How’s that working out for you?”
I believe in all the things that Jesus did – but I also want to be rich and famous, I need a Harley Davidson and A Dodge Challenger, I own all sorts of electronic gadgets and love good food, good wine, and good times... in other words, I live pretty much in the world.
I would wager that most of you do too.
Do you ever find yourself wondering if you are good enough to be a Christian?
Someone reminded me the other day that Jesus spent a whole lot of time hanging around criminals and prostitutes, making more wine for parties, travelling from town to town, rebelling against authority… in other words, maybe I am more like him than I imagine…
But the main point was never about holiness, it was about the way we treat people – the way we “are” with others who we share this world with. What Jesus means when he says we have to be in and not of is that we are supposed to work to promote peace, justice, love and harmony; we are supposed to live in hope. To be a Christian is to be at odds with this world, which always seems to be forgetting how to live humanly.
Let’s step out of theology for a second and talk about science – the brain is a very interesting tool; but sometimes we let it take over too many routine tasks. The mind has its own “background processes” that are sort of pre-programmed by the way we live “in” the world.
For example, if you spend a lot of time worrying about everything, or watching everyone else and making judgements about them, you are actually programming your mind. Our brain loves short cuts; so the “search requests” we make on our brain most frequently become 'wired' into the brain and the life of our psyche. If we call upon our brains several times a week or a day to figure out what's wrong with those around us and the world in which they work, it's natural for our minds to start performing these tasks in the "background," constantly creating categories and placing people in them.
To live in the world is to expect and actually create a world that is just like everyone fears it is – filled with pain, and anxiety, and worry. In fact, we become programmed to look for that.
Jesus came to show us a different way of ‘viewing’ the world around us. Jesus came to help us reprogram our mindset.
Jesus' prayer was that we would be in the world in a different way - with hearts that are truly open to every last experience around us; with love in our hearts for all of creation and for each other. And with enough joy to break through the dark negativity we encounter.
So what if we took this basic goal as our starting point – Jesus wants us to think about things differently.
What would be different about what you do this afternoon, or how you do it?
It just might challenge us to search for avenues of compassion toward others; to look on the bright side, to be open to the possibility of goodness, to try a little harder with those around us and forgive a little more freely.
In other words, that one bit of advice, think about doing it differently – might just make us more like Jesus.
And it just might give us what we need to change the world, bring healing to the sick, sufficiency to the destitute, freedom to the captives, because our way of seeing the world really might catch on. May God grant that it be so.
11 months ago