Everyday, I get up in the pre-dawn hours because as an old man that’s what one does. It must be written down somewhere that old men don’t get to sleep in and that’s simply the way things are at this point in my life. So, accept it & get on with life, no sense in griping about for the simple reason who would listen, hey you’re the only up anyway.
Anyway, I get up and put on the coffee pot and while its working its magic, I turn to my computer and sure enough, 9 times out of 10, when I glance at the headlines, the words “How can these things be?’ are my first conscious thoughts of the day.
How can these things be?
Every-time you think that you’ve seen the worst depths that our human society can degrade to, well then what do you know here’s a new one to reset the record books on what are the known limits to our collective greed, depravity, insane violence or simply evil against one another or against God’s Good Creation, which by the way, includes every other human being among the rest of those creatures.
How can these things be?
Our collective response to these “new normal” news items is to shake our heads, utter a imaginative expletive or two, perhaps make an angry post on some social media platform or sign a petition, but ultimately as a society we choose to simply to sigh and move onto the rest of priorities of this new day.
How can these things be?
Is there another option? Is there perhaps a bit of Gospel wisdom to inform our lives this day?
In the 3rd chapter of the Gospel of John, there’s a story detailing how Nicodemus is bringing essentially this same question to the radical new teacher in town, a guy we call Jesus.
“Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” (John 3:1 from the NRSV)
It’s curious to note that Nicodemus waited until nightfall to seek out the wisdom of Jesus. Perhaps his motivation to wait, till he can’t be seen by others who would judge critically of him, is a little bit like our hesitancy to ask these questions out loud. We too hesitate to ask why things are this way for fear of reprisal from the numerous members of the “Make America Great Tribe”. Whether the members of this provocative tribe live next door or occupy the next office or even sit in the next pew, we hesitate to be seen questioning our society’s new normal.
How can these things be?
How did our civilization ever reach the point of unleashing such destructive forces which have placed the future of human civilization very much in doubt?
How did it happen so fast? Were we asleep at the wheel? (Short answer: Yep.)
So, every-day, I start out with a little bit of despair tugging at the corners of my soul.
A much greater confession to make, is that the new question formed out of my despair is “How is it even possible to change our society’s destructive course in time to save the multitudes including my grandchildren?”
Yeah that puts me right there next to Nicodemus saying the same things to Jesus: How is this possible?
Yep me and Ole Nick slinking in under the cover of night wondering the same fate-filled question: How is this possible? How is it possible to have the faith that somehow God’s Holy Spirit will awaken enough people of Faith in time that we can turn our society away from running like Lemmings into the chasm of ultimate destruction?
Jesus says it’s quite simple: you must be born again of the Spirit.
Here’s where all my evangelical colleagues slap their high fives and triumphantly say: that’s what we’ve been telling you all along.
Not so fast, I reply to my evangelical colleagues, it’s not simply sufficient to state “I believe and therefore I am saved”, because you remember in that passage Jesus went on to say: “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?”
You did not receive my testimony… There’s a difficult condemnation to receive this day.
Remember Jesus giving us the beatitudes?
Remember the commandments to care for the poor, to give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, and if you have 2 cloaks you must give one away and then of course there are the numerous commands to love compassionately without limit told to us again and again throughout the Gospels?
We haven’t truly received Jesus’ testimony until we live the way he told us to live.
So, put your high 5’s down because very few of us are there yet.
How can it be possible to turn our society from the path of greed driven violence and destruction in time to save our kids?
So yes, I start my day with “How can these things be?”
How is it possible that we have freely chosen to live in our modern consumerism to the extent that it is destroying God’s Good Creation?
It’s been increasingly difficult wrestling with despair over our rapidly deteriorating situation. It’s hard to see much in the way of progress in the work that I’ve been doing. So, in a period of despair this Summer, I thought that God was calling me in another direction. But I was wrong. The frustrating but critically necessary work of awakening faith communities to the Climate & Sustainability Crisis is exactly where God is Calling me to do ministry.
I have to tell you that my secular colleagues have a tendency to roll their eyes at the prospect that people of faith will rise up to guide our society into an ancient, and yet for us, a new way of living. A way of living that sustains all life rather than wantonly plundering the life systems of this one planet that God has placed into our care. This amazingly beautiful, complicated interrelated but fragile home of ours that we call earth.
How can it be possible to believe that God will awaken people of Faith in time?
Well, go ahead and roll your eyes.
Yeah, you’re right to observe that the pews are pretty empty now and it’s mostly grey hairs sitting there while the rest of society has concluded that the church is no longer relevant to modern day life.
But hey I accept the Gospel truth that God’s Spirit is alive and at work among us, even now, calling us forth.
Someday soon, the Church will heart the urgent Call to respond and will arise to lead our society forth to a new way of life. A way centered in sustaining God’s Good Creation for all generations yet to come. It will happen simultaneously with secular society realizing that they are missing the greatest truth about what is truly important in this life and in desperation they will seek out this truth.
So yes, I still start out most mornings with the question of “How can these things be?”
But on my better nights after a day devoted to this ministry whether frustrating or enriching, I end with the prayer: “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.” In time, a chorus of Faith filled voices will join in this prayer and together we will discern God’s calling us forth to guide our society to a better way to live. A way of life that nurtures instead of destroys, that loves instead of hates and that fills it’s days with acts of compassionate love.
Need some modern-day examples of following the way of Jesus?
Go to www.SustainingCreation.org and pick on the 48 actions towards a sustainable life, chose 2 or 3 and start doing them. Make sure you do these visibly in the bright light of day for all your neighbors to see the Gospel in action.
Perhaps it will help you to: “receive our testimony.” And be born yet again this day and all the remaining days of our lives.
Who knows? Our kids may even cherish our memories for the day we arose to save their future and live a life well lived following our example of the vital lesson that we finally learned before it was too late