Saturday, December 3, 2016

You Are A Godsend

You Are A Godsend   [Matthew 3:1-12]
If we have not all said it we have all heard it – “You have been such a godsend to us…,” “She is such a godsend...”, “It was such a godsend that we found our way out of the woods.”

Surprisingly it is a rather “modern” 19th century phrase. Not at all theological, so it is un-freighted with any theological baggage. But, while on silent retreat this past week we were asked to consider a deeper meaning for “godsend” – to begin to see ourselves as “Godsends,” with a capital “G” who by our immersion in God and God’s yearning, God’s desire, are sent to bring God’s yearnings and desires to others. We are to be godsends.

This is what John the Baptist is proclaiming “in the wilderness” – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Or, as the older translations have it, the kingdom is“at hand” – just an arms-length away. Talk about freighted language!

Take “wilderness” for instance. This is Bible-speak. Wilderness recalls the Forty Years of spiritual formation, immersion in God, on the other side of the escape from slavery in Pharaoh’s Egypt – an empire of endless consumption, accumulation and violence. There is a tendency to see the Wilderness-experience as a sort of bad thing – a long delay before arriving at a new homeland – but it is a period of total immersion in the Way of God. It was life in the Empire that was a bad thing. Wilderness is the time and place for hearing God’s desires and yearnings for people, all people – with special instructions on how to treat widows, orphans and resident aliens, all people without resources and without a direct connection to a family, tribe or clan who like the rest of us all need the same basic necessities to thrive in this world.

Wilderness also describes the long Exile from home, another period of immersion in God’s desires and yearnings. Dragged away from home to Babylon the children of Israel, a diverse and cosmopolitan collection of people from all over the ancient world, find themselves remembering what it was like to place total dependence on YHWH, the God of the Exodus, the God of manna. Manna – for forty years everyone had enough, no one had too much, and you could not store it or it would go sour. Only the day before the Sabbath day of rest could one harvest a double portion so as not to have to labor on the seventh day. Manna and Sabbath become controlling metaphors for being immersed in God.

How many of us are so busy that we cannot take one day off from labor to rest, really rest, from our work, even from “working” on things like our backhand, or our approach shot – even in our times of recreation – re-creation – we end up working on things! When the one John announces “in the wilderness” is coming is asked how to pray he says, “pray for manna” – “Give us this day our daily bread.”  Manna is bread that is given daily. God initiates an economic system and bread supply which mandates enough for everyone, no one gets too much and when you store it up it sours. God’s season of manna and Sabbath are utterly unlike life in exile in the Empire.

So just how much consumption, acquisition, hunger, joblessness, racism, misogyny, drugs, guns, violence, greed, destruction of the earth, elimination of whole species of life and just plain hatred does there need to be before a society declares itself to be in Exile from itself?

John calls for repentance – to repent from this Exile. At its simplest in the Bible to repent means to turn around, to change direction, to reorient ourselves to the yearnings and desires of God to care for those with few to no resources. To care for those with no family to fall back on. To care for those who travel through our land looking for honest labor and a place to call home – a safe place to call home.

The trickiest phrase in all of this is “kingdom of heaven.” Heaven is invoked not as a place, but as a place-holder for the holy and traditionally unpronounced name of the God of Exodus, Wilderness and Exile – YHWH. And the word most often translated “kingdom” is not really a kingdom like we know in this world. It can mean “rule,” “reign,” “realm,” or “kin-dom.” That last is most powerful – kin-dom, a place where all are “kin,” even those who have no apparent “kin-folk.” We are all to be godsends and kin-folk to one another and to all others. The operant word being “all.”

So John is proclaiming that we are all kin-folk in God, and that this kin-dom is at hand, so close we can reach out and touch it, so close we can take one step forward and be in it. Who, asks John, is ready to take the first step? Who is willing to turn back to being a realm of God’s kin-dom – a realm of godsends to others, all others? Who is willing to leave the Empire behind?

Note carefully the seeming chastisement of the Pharisees and Sadducees who come to join in the ritual on the banks of the River Jordan. The Pharisees represent the lay and the Sadducees the priestly religious authorities of the day. The Sadducees by virtue (?) of their association and cooperation with the occupying minions of Caesar’s Rome also represent the political establishment – they are cooperators with the empire. John’s “do not presume” is not just aimed at them but at all of us of whatever camp we may associate ourselves with. It is not a statement of condemnation so much as a warning that this realm of God’s kin business is serious business. Step out of the Empire and into God’s kin-dom for it is at hand, but it will be hard and challenging work.  

This is all not something we need to “get back to.” It is here, it is now, it has always been here for those who see it, are aware of it, experience it and know it to be real. This is who we are created to be – godsends.

When in doubt, when we forget that we ever knew any of this it is time to reboot. Restart. Hit the reset button. For the realm of God’s kin-dom, the kin-dom of godsends, is always running in the background. We only need to remember.

John calls us to remember. And to announce that soon and very soon God will send God’s self to show us the way – the way to be so immersed in God that we remember the lessons of Wilderness and Exile and be the godsends we already are. You are a godsend! We are all godsends! The sooner we claim this the sooner we will all find our way out of the woods, out of the Wilderness, out of Exile – and that will be a true Godsend!

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