July 7, 2019
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
This has been quite a week — as I said last Sunday, I was ready, although not quite prepared for the very long ferry delay on Monday evening — the “bomb” scare affected my daughter and son-in-law’s visit and they were caught in Anacortes, not arriving until 11:30 PM on Monday night.
A late night pot of chicken soup and tales of adult temper tantrums at the ferry terminal marked the beginning of the 4th of July week for us — they were mere observers to the tantrums but we were reminded that our human physiology and neurological networks do not always handle change well and many reel in an emotional whirlwind, like dervishes of old, spinning in the wake of disappointment, frustration and delay.
Sandra and Patrick just kicked the dust off their feet and carried on to the next place — Lopez Island. Because it was so late, it was very dark and they did not get to experience the wonder of approaching the island as an entry point into paradise. That was my experience and it took my breath away the first, second and third time I approached Lopez — the road and the forest.
As they left behind the chaos of travel and piled into my car, we were getting ready for a time of grace. The next day was spent in rest and recovery, the rain a welcome treat for my desert dwellers and the fun of the 4th oscillated with times of exploration and discovery on the island. They saw what I see and were reluctant travelers at the end of the week when it was time to depart — leaving was hard but they will be back.
After a month on Lopez Island, I find myself more and more detached from the chaos of the world and loving the rhythm of life here — a place to breathe and, for me, a place to experience anew the arc of the great story of salvation — somehow it is easier to enter into the story with a sense of mystery and wonder when watching you people, the grace-filled citizens of Lopez. Mind you, I’m not looking at, nor for, perfection. I’m looking at a community that is bound together with a profound sense of grace — a way of being together that might be called the beloved community.
In today’s gospel reading from Luke, we remember the sending out of the seventy followers. Jesus sends them out to proclaim the great good news, the Kingdom of God, the Realm of the Holy One, has arrived. They are told to take nothing but this news.
It comes, as Robert Capon shares in the Parables of the Kingdom, in this way. It is catholic, not limited just to the chosen. It is hidden, not plausibly and gratifyingly manifest. It is at work now, present to those who have eyes to see. It operates in the midst of hostility. And it calls for a response — a spirit of gentleness, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, generosity, and self-control. And most of all, it has been given to us, even today, in the madness of our world.
Paul ends his epistle to those foolish Galatians, reminding them of who they are and what they are to be in the world — a sign of the law of love guided by the spirit. They are lifted out of a life that is motivated by appearances — circumcising in this case and challenged to enter the new creation that establishes grace as the floor and paradise as our reality.
We, too, are being sent out with this great good news. We, too, are living signs. I believe paradise is our current and eternal reality, and as I said last week, although I love my country, I am first and foremost a citizen of this heavenly realm, this alternative reality. This rock island is an outcropping of the alternative reality — again, I’m not talking about perfection. I am talking about a collective state of being that is full of grace — it is a manifestation of our best social nature. Edward O. Wilson, the world’s leading social biologist has a clear definition of what constitutes a social species and we humans are among the few living animals that can claim the title.
There are fewer than thirty and most are insects — bees, ants, termites. One of the key elements of a social species is that of the nest — a place of belonging and in the case of human beings, a place where stories can be told, a place where the community can protect and care for the least, the lost, the lonely and the little. A place where the goodness of the many can prevail despite the bad behavior of the few.
Community, at its best, offers a glimpse of paradise — the realm of God is at hand and we see the possibilities for life in a state of grace. We’ve all had those moments of paradise, those glimpses — suddenly there is an unexpected breaking forth of uncommon beauty or joy or wonder — we shiver at the sight and sound of it, we cry out, we leap from our seats, we see with new eyes, we hear in a new way and we are forever changed. Or, perhaps, for you, it is just the sight of the forest as the ferry approaches Lopez Island.
Just a moment in paradise, and then, often it seems lost to us. But the longing remains and with it a memory we cherish. This springs from our unique human capacity to tell stories and access memories. We alone collect those memories and weave stories from this storehouse of memories. No other creature can draw from that deep well within, weaving together stories, images linked in a vast network more complex than the entire universe. It is no wonder we humans long for paradise — for we have seen it, and we hold it in our mind’s eye — and we watch for it to come our way again and again — a glimpse of the reality that is ours to claim, a glimpse of glory.
What keeps us from entering this garden of delight, this elusive reality that lies just beyond our grasp? It is Eden, paradise, a home we long to find, a place we seek to be, a promise we hope to receive. This is the promise given to us by Jesus whom we call Christ — a restoration work that offers a return to paradise. It is not a promise of heaven in the “by and by” but an earthly abode given to all of us — for none are abandoned — it is an alternative world that beckons us beyond empire, domination and control — it is ours to receive — a gift. And therein lies the rub, we can’t quite receive it, we aren’t quite ready for the price — the leap of faith is too great and we are so afraid of letting go of an illusion of control.
At the end of E. O. Wilson’s book, The Social Conquest of Earth, this great social biologist writes: So, now I will confess my own blind faith. Earth, by the twenty-second century, can be turned, it we so wish, into a permanent paradise, or at least the strong beginnings of one.
This is quite a provocative and optimistic statement for a man so profoundly aware of the fragile state of the earth in this moment in time and so mindful of our dual nature, for I, on my own, can be a selfish creature bound to my own survival but we, we can be part of a community capable of great empathy, compassion and love. This is the tension we live with as human beings.
The Apostle Paul speaks eloquently to this point and Wilson has scientific evidence. We are of two minds — and paradise can prevail only when our commitment to each other, overrides our lower nature. The social human community can transcend the self-centered individual human being — that is the good news and it is also the gospel. And if this is true, a kind of earthly paradise is possible. It is the longing and belief of both theologians and scientists.
On Pentecost, we experienced one of those moments where a vision of paradise broke forth. This vision quickened a small band of disciples whose grief had turned to joy and whose despair was transformed into wonder on that first Easter Day. Fifty days later an ecstatic experience of wind and fire filled them with a hope of paradise on earth. And in this season after the Pentecost moment, we enter deeply into the gospel stories that transformed curious followers into saints and martyrs. And when it was all said and done, they trusted Jesus and entered paradise — there in the garden, the vision of a new heaven and a new earth, and there in the center of it all is the tree of life and the risen Christ.
That the message has been distorted and manipulated by individuals and by empires through the millennia cannot be doubted but the message itself lives — love one another as I have loved you. Love in action, service, sacrifice and humility. A spirit of generosity and gratitude flowing into the places of greatest need, relieving the suffering of the most vulnerable.
Love one another as I have loved you — the words of Jesus, whose grasp of Eden unfolded in a time and place that seemed far from paradise. A tiny nation overwhelmed by empire, citizens seduced by power and greed, the marginalized discarded as less than human and unrelenting brutality that used terror and torture to control the populace.
The gate of paradise is the heart of a servant — you and I are called to be living signs. Imagine, you are the gate of paradise and as we cultivate the practice of offering, of giving, of serving we will discover secret of paradise — you and I as followers of the way of Jesus the Christ, we become the gate of paradise to a longing world. It is the most wondrous news for today: We are the vehicles and portals to paradise.
My hope and prayer for our time together is that we will continue to cultivate the fruit of paradise — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control. This is our work in the garden of delight, this island home we call Lopez.