A Level Field

Vlad Sokhin started an organization called warm waters that focuses on climate change that is affecting nations bordering the pacific ocean. He reported that in the Island Nation of Oceania he has seen whole villages destroyed by high winds and storm surges. Some people have already been displaced and some have lost their lives.  Tuvalu the 4th smallest nation on earth with just under 11,000 people are watching the sea level rise and huge storms are dessimating their ways of life.  Already they have limited space and even that space is beginning to flood and scientists are predicting that this country will one day become uninhabitable.  The rising sea levels are not only shrinking the land size, but it is also cutting off access to local drinking water.  So, 1/5 of the population in this area has already left to seek refuge on larger islands. The Island Nation of Kirubus found a creative solution for their people. The government bought land in Fiji to relocate their people if the sea levels rise to the point that the land completely submerges. As great as this idea is the reality is that if they move to Fiji they will have no rights…no rights to vote…they will always be seen as immigrants and they will be at a high risk of losing their national identity. 

Vlad Sokhin pointed out that this will become a global problem because when resources of land, food and water become limited conflict will arise.

Bringing this a little closer to home, scientists predict that within a century 414 US Cities will be affected by rising sea levels.

Last year, the Biden Administration looked at what is happening regarding climate change and migration and came out with their first report in October of 2021. This report did not offer any solutions or calls to action, but it was the first report which recognized the problem.  The world is also raising it’s eyes to look at the problem, but no one is in agreement on what to call the people who are displaced by climate change. They do not fit the current definition of refugee, so they are a people with no home and no name.

This is a group that I see Jesus speaking about in the beatitudes. I think we would agree that it is to this group of people that God’s turns God’s loving eyes. And in our text this morning, we heard that Jesus raises his eyes and tells his disciples that to follow Jesus we must see life differently. But where we all begin is with a first step and where we all continue is in taking the next step. We don’t have to see the whole staircase or know where we ultimately are headed, but we must take the next step. We are in a sermon series titled Following Jesus and in this study my hope is that we gain clarity on what is our next right and loving step in following Jesus…

Our text this morning begins by telling us that Jesus came down and joined the people “on a level place.”  I love how this sets up not only a visual image, but it also invites us to pause and reflect. What I hear is that Jesus is not only moving locations, but that Luke is telling us that Jesus is speaking on their level and meeting their very human need for healing.  Further reflection for disciples today might invite us to consider how Jesus has come from God to the earth and is now coming down from a high place to meet them, stand shoulder to shoulder with them, ministering with them from a place of empathy, solidarity, and compassion.  Now, what we know about the people is that the people have come from all over to hear him teach and to be healed.

But what is interesting about this text is that Luke gives us words that create a beautiful image to tell us that this teaching of the beatitudes was not directed at the larger group of people  although those in close proximity to him might have overheard him begin to speak. His message was for his disciples.  The text says, “And he raised his eyes towards his disciples.” and began saying, “blessed are you who are poor…blessed are you who are hungry…blessed are you who weep…blessed are you who work for peace and are hated by both sides.” 

And Jesus raising his eyes invites us to pause and reflect on where we might have heard something similar before. Jesus is giving his disciples the reminder that God’s loving eyes are upon those who have no home, those who have no food or water, those who have no name. I like to think that the disciples would have been reminded of the story of Hagar.  Hagar was running away from home. She was forced to flee from male protection, food, water and shelter so that she might be free from the oppressive situation that she found herself in with Abraham and Sarah and God saw her and provided her with water and brought her to safety. And Hagar named God El Roi, “The God who sees.” Yet, Hagar’s name meant stranger. I think that the Good Jewish Boys that Jesus chose to be his disciples would have remembered this story.

And this presents us with the opportunity to pause and reflect. Jesus in this text takes that which we as his followers already know about God from the Hebrew Bible, that God sees us, and Jesus takes it to the next level actually becoming human…seeing, experiencing, empathizing, and extending compassion to those on the margins; to those who are fleeing; to those who have no name.

In Luke’s Gospel, Luke likes to remind us that God has preferential treatment for  the stranger, the poor, the grieving, but that does not mean that Luke thinks rich people, those who are well fed, and those who laugh can’t follow Jesus, but he is reminding us that our wealth, our power and sense of control that comes from wealth isolates us from God.  Those who lack money, power and a sense of control over their lives only have God to rely upon. I think that is why Jesus said that we must come to him like little children…totally dependent upon God.  But now that our country that boasts of the most wealth, power and sense of control over our lives has experienced this pandemic, I wonder if we paused and reflected on our experience if we would be able to follow Jesus by coming down from our high place to lament what we lost. Might we experience a deeper level of empathy and compassion that would lead to advocacy for those who live with the lack of wealth, power and control their entire lives.

I wonder if we wrote our own beatitudes today what we would include post our experience of the pandemic.

Those of us who have wept and grieved the loss of loved ones, the loss of community are blessed. Those of us who have lost jobs and gone hungry are blessed. Those of us who have tried to love on people on both sides of the political divide and experienced hate by both are called blessed.  Stripped of our sense of control over our health, we are blessed. That the virus broke down the barriers of rich and poor, vaccinated and unvaccinated, healthy and unhealthy, we are blessed.  I think we are blessed because we were put in a level field where we were invited to raise our eyes and see each other.

But let’s bring it even closer to home. Our church experienced a huge disruption 6 months ago that forced us to experience a sense of disorientation. This week, during my curiosity cohort, we watched a few videos about churches who were starting businesses or not for profits. My whole body tensed because at least one of the videos did not sound like something that was legal and yet my cohort was promoting it and cheering on their creative way of bringing in more money. Then, when a cohort member spoke up wondering about the legality, the leader reminded us just to sit in wonder and curiosity about the lofty idea.  So, I could not stay silent any longer as I felt protective of this woman whose curiosity was being dismissed.  And as I spoke to my cohort about what our church was experiencing, my anger turned to my voice being choked up and my eyes filled with tears and I ended my reflection with this statement, “we cannot just prize the type of curiosity that leaves its head in the clouds. Believe me that is where I want to live. But our curiosity must extend all the way from the fun, dreamy, big idea into the details.” Now, I could have left that experience and just moved on blaming this cohort for their lack of wisdom.

This week, I met with 3 friends: one is a rabbi, one is a military chaplain’s spouse, and one is a Christian Curriculum writer. They were so generous in listening as I shared my heart and where I am at in my discouragement and misadventures in pessimism. These 3 friends know that at my best I am the most hopeful, optimistic, full of ideas person that they have ever met. But instead of challenging me to be more hopeful or telling me to dig in deeper, pray harder, instead they offered optimism. They took my burden and said let me carry that for a while. They were the idea generators. In our conversations, I began to feel restored. Now, I could have left that experience and just moved on shaming myself for my inability to do these things for myself this week.

Instead, God has given humanity the ability to reflect. Reflection allows us to pause, make meaning out of a situation, learn from our experiences, and recognize God sees us. Daniel Seigel, the author of Mindsight says Reflection is the beginning of our journey to being more compassionate people because reflection brings us to a compassionate state of mind.

As I reflected on my cohort meeting, I realized that I was triggered. In my body’s response and my emotional state, I recognized that the anger I felt was related to my grief. It had nothing to do with the videos or the cohort, but watching them touched a tender part of my heart and caused an exaggerated reaction. But after pausing to reflect, I can say it was a blessing because it helped me see what was going on inside of me. I sat with my grief for a while and realized that the people and videos in my curiosity cohort are another way that God shows that God sees me by providing a way for restoring sight to areas that I was blind. I cannot heal what I will not see.

So I brought that same type of reflection to my week’s meetings with my friends. As I reflected about my week’s meetings with my husband, I realized that I was feeling like what I expect the government of the Island Nation of Kiribus felt. They bought land and found a way to help their people and yet the people don’t want to leave their home. The people don’t want to risk losing their identity; to not be seen and heard in their new land. And so as much as the leaders of the Island Nation of Kiribus want safety and protection for their people and found a creative way, there is the emotional side that must be addressed.  There is sadness and loss. There is uncertainty and fear. As I reflected, I realized that God saw me, that Jesus raised his eyes and sent my friends to be idea generators where I was lacking, to be curious where my curiosity was starving, to be optimistic when I was pessimistic, to offer a way where I no longer saw a way. 

Today our church will take an important vote. No matter what path we decide to walk together today, we must pause to reflect on all that we have experienced over the past 6 months. If we don’t and we just pack our bags and move on, we will carry with us hurt, grief, anger, and sadness along with the good things like our values of stewardship, refuge, service, and faithful living. But guess which things in our bags will be loudest…guess which things will sit in our bodies causing dis-ease…guess which things will come out at inappropriate times and hurt new relationships that we are trying to create. 

Let us begin to name our suffering so that we bring with us wisdom, so that we bring with us humility, so that we bring with a deeper sense of empathy, so that we bring with us an unlimited source of compassion.

And so, may we come to Jesus like the people in our text today. We come to Jesus ready to hear his voice. We come to Jesus to be healed.

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