truths, questions, & stranger danger

Christ is Risen

So for the Easter season we are spending some time exploring the resurrection stories in the Bible and asking some of the best theological questions we can with each one:  
“So what?” 
"How is this story my story?” 
"What do these stories can tell us about God, our world, what it means to be human?"

They are question we should ask of any story we read, and really about any aspect of our faith and spirituality, because they help us embrace the idea that our faith and spirituality isn’t simply about coming to church on Sundays, but trying to become particular kinds of people living in a particular kind of way.

So on Easter Sunday we talked about how we’re called to embrace the ridiculous.
Last week we talked about using peace and breath to overcome fear. 
And today … 
today we’re going to talk about:

the point they are all trying to make
and
two truths and the questions they leave us with. 

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So let’s start with this: 

Within the Jesus Tradition there is a really core and foundational idea that goes something like: 

God meets us where we’re at. 

What we talk about when we talk about God isn’t a God whose far away, indifferent, and detached, but a God who is present, connected, and invested;
we talk about a God who doesn't expect us to come to Her, only showing up the moment we climb up the right mountain or say the right prayer, but a God who first comes to us, showing up in the ways we need and can understand. 

It's another of those upside down things Jesus shows us, this thing that's the opposite of what we usually think: 
"Oh God being God must require a lot of us in order to show up." 
Nope! 
God meets us where we’re at. 
God shows up in the ways we need and can understand. 

And when we look at all these Bible stories we’ve been talking about for the past 3 weeks, it’s one of the points the writers are trying to make. 

Mary, unsure of who she was anymore after Jesus’ death, needed to hear her name spoken and be reminded of who she is. 
Thomas, untethered by everything that happened, needed to be able to see and touch so he be pulled back and grounded. 
The two disciples, half way to Emmaus and feeling so alone, needed that intimacy of friendship you can only find by sharing a meal. 

It’s also something we can see when we turn it back on ourselves. 

So take a sec and ask yourself:  
Where has God met you? 
What are the ways God has shown up in your lives? 
How has God shown up and drawn you deeper into life? 

Sometimes its obvious, sometimes it takes a bit of squinting. 

Maybe for you it’s in the peace of the mountains that God’s shown up. 
Or maybe in the laughter of a kid that God has spoken. 
Or maybe it was in your doubts or in your wandering that God showed up. 

Whatever it is, we all have stories about God meeting us where we’re at.

It really says a lot about the kind of God we believe in:

that God always makes the first move,
that its in the ordinary we can find the extraordinary,
that God changes and bends as we change and bend.

And while that’s definitely a take away from these stories we’re talking about,
there’s also another point the writers are trying to make,
and that’s this:

the way that God meets us is just as important as the fact that God does meet us. 

See, the writers of these stories knew that we can learn something about God, ourselves, and what it means to be human and alive in this world from how God shows up. 

They knew that we can learn from Mary’s story about Jesus showing up as the Gardner that Jesus is one that helps us cultivate a life of beauty, purpose, and meaning.

They knew that we can learn from Thomas’ story about Jesus showing up with wounds that, as my friend Matt put it, sometimes our hope will have holes; sometimes the things we hope and long for aren’t always going to be as perfect and complete as we may want. 

And so when it comes to this story,
this story about God showing up on the road to Emmaus, 
as people wanting to learn about God, ourselves, and what it means to be human, 
one of the questions we have to ask is: 

Why a stranger?  
What does that have to say to us about being particular kinds of people living in a particular kind of way?  

I think there are two answers to that, each one a truth we need to hold on to and each one offering some questions we need to rumble with. 

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So the first truth this whole stranger thing offers us. 

On one level, what’s a stranger?

It’s just someone we dont know, right? 
It’s just, well, it’s anyone really.
It’s could be you or me or any of us. 

And the truth we can find in here,  
is that we all, 
regardless of who we are,
regardless of where we come from,
and regardless of what we’ve done or or where we’re at, 
could all be that stranger on the road,
we’re all strangers to someone. 

Which is to say that Jesus showed up as someone just. like. us. 

We all have the capacity to be the stranger that God shows up through. 
We all have the ability to be Jesus to someone.
We all have the ability to bring light and love into someone’s life and world.

And so the question that this truth opens up for us,
and I’ll just leave this with you to each to rumble with, is:

If God’s Spirit can show up through people like us, what do we need to do to let that happen?

How can we be Jesus to others? 

How can we be that stranger to others?

So stick those in your pocket and spend some time wondering what you can to do to allow God to show up through you. 

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So thats the first truth in here,
and now the second … 

Who was taught some version of “stranger danger” while growing up? 

Yah, we all got some of that. 

And while there's certainly some wisdom in teaching our kids that,
“stranger danger” also exists on a more fundamental and pervasive level in our world and culture … 
it’s that idea that those who dont look like us,
those who dont sound like us,
those who dont think like us,
should be treated with suspicion and and probably even avoided. 

Anyone know what Im talking about? 

And we probably know the kind of life and world that ‘stranger danger’ creates:
a life and world of us vs. them, 
a life and world of looking after our own, 
a life and world of ins and outs. 

And we don't have to look far to see this at work. 
Just look at our societal attitudes towards immigration, gentrification, or NIMBYism and we can see that life and world taking place. 

And while Im sure there are all kinds of evolutionary things that cause us to act that way,
here’s the challenging thing we need to hear as people trying to live differently: 

That Stranger Danger mentality? 
We dont see it anywhere in our faith tradition. In fact, we see quite the opposite. 

There’s this story in Genesis where God is about to say something to a guy named Abraham when suddenly two strangers show up at Abraham’s door Abraham basically goes “Oh, God, can you wait a sec? Some strangers just showed up at my door.” 
The story is often spun about how Abe got his priorities wrong. 
"You dont put God on hold! God’s our priority! God’s first, people second!" 
And sure, we get that, 
we’re taught to always put God first, 
but here’s the thing:
the ancient midrash,
the rabbinic commentary on these stories,
says something quite different.
It says Abraham actually had his priorities right.
God didn’t go: ‘What?! You cant put me on hold!’ 
but went: ‘Of course! Go and welcome them in! I’ll wait.’ 

What we see in our faith tradition isn’t a call to avoid the stranger, but to welcome in and embrace the stranger. 
As one of my Jewish friends would say, “our hospitality to the stranger goes before our worship of God."  

When it comes to our faith and spirituality, 
when it comes to being the church, 
when it comes to that kind of particular way of living,  
our tradition teaches us that strangers, 
those who dont look like us, 
those who dont sound like us, 
those who dont think like us, 
they aren’t meant to be feared and avoided, but they are meant to be embraced and served. 

So if this is a truth at the heart of our faith, some questions for us to rumble with:

Who are your strangers? Who are the people you fear and avoid? Whose ‘the other’ for you? 

How can you welcome in, embrace, and serve the stranger?

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So two questions for you to sit with:

how can you be a stranger to others?

and

how can you welcome in, embrace, and serve the stranger? 

May you sit with them and struggle well.

Amen.