Easter 5 (A) + The wideness of God + 5.18.14

M. Campbell-Langdell+
All Santos, Oxnard
                                (Acts 7:55–60; Ps. 31:1–5, 15–16; 1st Peter  2:2–10; John 14:1–14)

“Dad is putting together an apocalypse survival plan. He makes me promise to keep it a secret.” Begins author Elizabeth Esther in her chapter “Apocalypse Prep 101” in her memoir Girl at the End of the World. The chapter goes on to describe how her father, obsessed with planning for the second coming of Christ, makes a plan to meet in a family meeting spot in case of rapture. But the “safe space” is an abandoned park where the reader suspects there may be more drug use than picnics going on. Rather than living in reverent fear, this family lives in anxiety.
This book details how Elizabeth Esther survives a childhood lived in a fundamentalist sect so extreme that she calls it a cult, including some very abusive practices, and still, amazingly, manages to keep the faith. But the persistent fears of her childhood, of the way she is taught to live the Christian faith, pursue her. As she grows and heals, she begins to see the spaciousness of God. And, eventually, as she shares in the chapter “I Am Not Afraid,” she can say, that, although she is still in the healing process, that she is beginning to understand God differently. 
She says “You see, the fundamentalist inside me doesn’t know how to give grace or receive it. But me? I’m learning. Slowly. I’m so thankful God allows us the freedom to leave places that scare us and find safe places where we can rest. God is big enough to meet us anywhere.”[1]
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sky.
Or another way to say this is, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.”
Now, something to notice here. An astute observer pointed out to me this week that Jesus says this exactly after he tells Peter that he is going to deny him. “You are going to totally negate everything you believe, but don’t let your heart be troubled?” That sounds a bit hard to swallow.
But there’s the rub.
We are placed in places in our lives when we will, rightly, experience anxiety.
Take our brothers and sisters in Sudan, for whom we pray today. For violence to cease and for a spirit of understanding to flourish between those of different faiths and ethnic groups in the Sudan.
Take our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being written to in the first letter of Peter this week. They are Christians at the end of the first century. Not many are being killed for their faith yet, like blessed Stephen, who rants away at folks, trying to explain, albeit sometimes caustically, his Christian interpretation of the Jewish faith, and who then dies so beatifically. But these early Christians, the recipients of “Peter’s” first epistle, they are feeling the pinch. They most likely live in Rome, and this is way before Christianity was any kind of “okay” with the powers that be. They are pretty much relegated to the lower rungs of society, and yet here is someone calling them a “royal priesthood.” They don’t feel much like that. They feel like hiding, like finding a safe space, an worst case survival plan, if you will. And they are tempted to be afraid of the powers that be. But just before today’s passage the author tells them to live in Reverent fear of God.
A commentator points out that they can only live in reverent fear of God, which really means in awe of and wonder for God and God’s works, if they are relatively unafraid of the oppressive society they live in.[2] Not ignorant of the powers that be, just putting them in their place. Because think about it, if you are really in a state of awe, can you hold fear at that same moment? Wonder tends to negate the kind of fear that holds us captive. And so we are to nurture a sense of longing, we hear in today’s reading from First Peter. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation.” This is longing for God. This is longing for a better, saner world.
Because we know that Jesus is “The Way, the Truth and the Life.” Jesus is life-giving. And so we are to remember that God is spacious, life giving and true.
There are many things we can pull from the wideness of God, but some of them are:
1)     We can remember that God is so wide that we don’t need to be doing everything, all the time. I think understanding the spaciousness of God means remembering that God is in charge. We don’t need to buy into the lies of our culture that tell us we need to work all the time. We can remember that we can and in fact are expected to rest a day a week, spend a day quieting the fears that this world can nurse in our breast. To remember Sabbath wonder.
2)     When we live in the spaciousness of God we remember that God is caring for creation alongside us. That we are not working alone.  Jesus is preparing/creating a space for us, but God’s wideness is shown to us in part in creation, and caring for that creation is a way of reverently living out counter-cultural care for what God has richly provided for us.
Because our hearts should not be troubled, but we must live in a way that gives us life and gives life to the world. We can strive to live in a way that banishes the fear of the powers and expectations of this world and puts work and productivity in its rightful place. To live in a way that allows us to wonder in God, to long for what is to come and to live into the good gift of the now.

[1] Elizabeth Esther, Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of a Faith with a Future (Convergent Books, 2014, Kindle Edition).
[2] M. Eugene Boring, Footnotes (1 Peter), The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 396 NT.


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