10.18.2006

The world in a nutshell

In Luke 10, Jesus sends out advance teams to all the places he intends to go. Their job is not just to make arrangements and get the lay of the land, as we would think based on the advance teams that precede our politicians today. Their work is his work -- sitting at table, bringing peace, healing, and proclaiming the arrival of God's kingdom.

It's a big job, hard work. Jesus makes that clear when he warns them how huge the harvest is. And how much of a wolf-pack the world that he hasn't yet penetrated is. So overwhelming that his primary instruction isn't a technique or a strategy -- it's a prayer. A kind of helpless prayer... "This is too big, God... Send help!!!"

How easy it is to feel like our appointed work is like that -- overwhelming, incomplete, perhaps even futile. And our human wiring responds to these big challenges with preparation. Load up on supplies. Get all the latest tools. Learn all we can -- read books, collect intelligence. Make sure we have the resources. Raise the money. Hire the staff.

When I take an infrequent camping trip, I know that I seriously overpack. It's not my regular environment, so I want to make sure I have clothes for all the weather possibilities, food for meals and plenty of snacks in case I get 11 o'clock-ish far from Wawa, that really nice mat for under my sleeping bag. Last time I filled my slightly-too-big boots with an extra layer of socks, and while hiking got a couple of nasty heel blisters for my trouble.

Contrast my method with Jesus'. Though he is sending his 70 our as "lambs among wolves," he does not prescribe body armor. He sends his advance teams out almost naked -- no purse, no bag, not even shoes to protect their feet along the road. They are to rely on what -- if anything -- is provided when they arrive.

This is not about naive trust, about daring God to supply needs. It's not about surface denial of self. Jesus is after something deeper and more subtle here. More than wanting his workers not to have to worry whether it's time to dig into savings now, or if they should keep the trail mix for worse conditions, Jesus is imparting to them perspective. What's important is trusting God. Only by learning -- the hard way, of necessity -- that wallets and backpacks and boots are not really of value can they learn to cultivate what is important...prayer, and a relationship with the Lord of the harvest.

Mystic and recluse Julian of Norwich learned this in a vision she received from the Lord when she was 30. While having a vivid vision of blood flowing from the thorns piercing Christ's brow, she tells that the Lord then gave her a "spiritual vision" of the entire cosmos as nothing more than a hazelnut, fragile in her hand and in danger of falling away into nothingness. This is how she tells it (in chapter iv of the short text of her "Showings"):
"What can this be? And I was given this general answer: It is everything which is made. I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that it was so little that it could suddenly fall into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God."
Having the world in her hands, and esteeming it not, opened for Julian the immensities of God's love. What God creates, God loves; what God loves, God preserves. That connection, not the bounties of creation, bring peace, she found:
"For until I am substantially united to him, I can never have love or rest or true happiness; until, that is, I am so attached to him that there can be no created thing between my God and me. And who will do this deed? Truly, he himself, by his mercy and his grace, for he has made me for this and has blessedly restored me."
We are created to be advance teams for Christ. Whether we live that out in public ministries, behind the scenes in our homes and jobs, or in spontaneous, organic communites as the ones that developed when the peace Jesus' followers spoke was accepted, what we truly need is not knowledge, or wisdom, or techniques, or even faith. It is to know God, and to be in the spiritual rest of God's kingdom.
"God wishes to be known, and it pleases him that we should rest in him; for all things which are beneath him are not sufficient for us. And this is the reason why no soul has rest until it has despised as nothing all which is created. When the soul has become nothing for love, so as to have him who is all that is good, then it is able to receive spiritual rest."
Lord, have mercy, and teach me to receive!

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