Over a decade ago, filmmaker Davis Guggenheim followed former presidential candidate Al Gore as he lectured worldwide about the necessity of addressing climate change, specifically global warming. His endeavor led to the 2006 release of the documentary An Inconvenient Truth–“inconvenient” because there’s not really anything convenient about global warming and “truth” because it’s scientifically- and evidentially-based. That the climate is changing is inconvenient to us because it promises to disrupt our routines and demands. If we want to continue living on this planet, let alone driving our cars and eating and shopping like we do, we are going to have to make some significant changes. It’s true that we are part of the solution in preventing a global disaster and that we have the choice to make on whether or not to live into our responsibility to care for our earth. It’s equally true that the endeavor is going to be inconvenient on many levels, not the least of which is figuring out how to handle the recycling when you live in the county. We might reach a point when we ask,
“Is it really worth the trouble?”
This notion of inconvenience stood out to me this past week as the Feast of the Ascension drew nearer. I prepared for our Wednesday morning Eucharist in full knowledge that Thursday was Ascension Day, and I was thinking, “Isn’t the Ascension one of our major feast days?” I tell you this like a confession, because I should know the Principal Feasts forwards and backwards. Thinking about it, I do, because they are integral to our faith and tradition. (Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday are our lunar feasts with their variable dates, and All Saints’, Christmas, and Epiphany are our date-specific feasts.) Obviously needing a refresher, I read more about Ascension Day. It always falls on a Thursday, being 40 days after Easter. Some churches have interesting–though definitely not encouraged–practices to mark the Ascension, like moving the Paschal candle out of sight or not lighting it for the remainder of the Easter season. Quite often, it is not marked by a festal Eucharist on the day, as it is acknowledged in our liturgy the Sunday after, as we heard today. So, through the years, we’ve decided it’s inconvenient to celebrate Ascension Day on Thursday. We’ll give tribute on the Sunday after because that’s just what we do, and besides, it’s what we do for All Saints’ Day, too. We could schedule a special weekday service, but “Is it really worth the trouble?”
When things are going well, this is a question we ask, isn’t it? “Is it worth the trouble?” I enjoy riding my motorcycle or bicycle without a helmet, feeling the wind in my hair. I enjoy float trips without the bulk of a lifejacket. We can live comfortably without a savings account. We’re enjoying the good life. No need to rock the boat. No need to be inconvenienced. Besides, so many people are exploited for sake of fear and what-ifs. I’ll decide what’s good for me and mine, thank you very much, and we’ll make it just fine.
Two friends are on public transit heading somewhere in the Portland area. They are both young women, one in a hijab. Perhaps both women are Muslim. A fellow passenger directs racial and ethnic slurs toward them. While everyone nearby undoubtedly hears, three passengers took particular notice of the aggressive man and attempt to deescalate the situation, only to be met with fatal violence. Who knows what might have happened had the violent man followed the young women with no one to intervene, but we read this summer from our study of Small Great Things how extreme racists truly despise betrayers of “their own kind.” Was it worth the loss of two brave souls to stand up for the young women who may or may not have been in physical danger? Was it worth the trouble?
Nothing about our tradition promises convenience. Nowhere in our catechism is there promise of ease and comfort, accommodation or advantage. Nor does anything about our faith tell us to look the other way when we see a neighbor suffering. Nothing about our Savior says we have permission to sit back and take care of ourselves only. However inconvenient, we’re supposed to go through the trouble, whatever it is, of loving one another.
There are times when we grumble over having to take the high road because we gotta do what’s right and bump up the amount we leave for a tip or fix our tired spouse a nice dinner. But I doubt there was any grumbling coming from Ricky, Taliesin, or Micah as they stood between an angry man and two scared young women. Whether they were Christian or not, it sounds to me like they went into the furnace like Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego–men of great faith, trusting God’s will be done, trusting that love would win.
One of the protector’s (Taliesin, 23 years old) sister “emailed a statement to The Washington Post on behalf of their family, saying her brother lived ‘a joyous and full life’ with an enthusiasm that was infectious.” She said:
“We lost him in a senseless act that brought close to home the insidious rift of prejudice and intolerance that is too familiar, too common. He was resolute in his conduct (and) respect of all people. … In his final act of bravery, he held true to what he believed is the way forward. He will live in our hearts forever as the just, brave, loving, hilarious and beautiful soul he was. We ask that in honor of his memory, we use this tragedy as an opportunity for reflection and change. We choose love.”
From the Epistle today, we heard: “Like a roaring lion our adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (1Peter 5:8). I would say our adversary the devil has devoured Jeremy Joseph Christian, the angry man on the train. His last name is Christian. That a “Christian” committed such an act of evil serves as a dramatic wake-up call so that we might find ourselves on the side of the protectors rather than the perpetrator, on the side of love and not evil.
It’s not just the radicals or severely unstable who are at risk. All of us undergo the same kinds of suffering in body, mind, and spirit. And the devil preys upon us, especially our strengths. Take righteous anger and make it hateful. Take talent and use it for deception. Introduce temptations of lust to love, greed to wealth, apathy to intelligence…there are so many ways for evil to occur. In our final weeks of seminary, my peers and I marveled at the variations on a theme of trials and tribulations we were all facing. One friend very plainly, sweetly, and courageously stated that we were all baby priests about to be born and released to the world to do God’s work and that the devil was not happy about it and was trying hard to distract us. I recalled two professors describing the spiritual journey, saying that when we’re on the path of God’s will, there’s no end to hardships we might face, and how when we’re succumbing to temptation or turning our backs toward God, there’s no easier slope to descend. Ultimately, our daily struggles are couched within this larger scope of what is of God and what is not, what we commonly call the battle of Good and Evil. Daily, we have the opportunity to choose love.
God must have thought it was worth everything to show humanity the rewards of being of God. Knowing we couldn’t understand on our own, God gave us Jesus. In ways we scarcely understand, Jesus glorified God the Father in the completion of His work–drawing people to God, delivering a message of love, and showing obedience to God’s will. Jesus lives into his belief in God . . . and his belief in humanity. When I came across this thought in my study, I paused.
Belief in God, I’ve got it. Belief in humanity? . . . Do we have it in us? Because the headlines would have us believe every other person has hate speech at the ready or a bomb, gun, or knife ready for a kill. My faith in humanity? We don’t have a great track record.
But reflecting on my memories of the things I’ve seen and done, places I’ve been . . . thinking of the people I have the privilege of working with and praying with . . looking out at all of you . . . I understand why Christ believes in us. He gave Himself to us. He gave us the Word. He gave us knowledge of God that we experience when we show love and compassion in tenderness and in bravery. He gave us Light and eternal life because in God, there is only life triumphant, even if the mysteries confound us and we can’t understand how. God gave of God’s self to us through Jesus and continues to give to us when we follow his way of obedience to God’s will and live into a life of true Love.
Is it worth the trouble . . . to obey God: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, strength, and soul, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to bear witness to the ends of the earth of God’s enduring love?
Is it inconvenient to follow God’s will? Only if we put ourselves before God. Only if we put our self-interest above all others.
Is following Christ hard and likely to take us into places and situations we would rather not go? Perhaps. Our imaginations can be quite finite and not cover all the potentialities of God’s dream for us.
By following Christ, we participate within the life of God which allows us “to experience here and now something of the splendour, and the majesty, and the joy, and the peace, and the holiness which are characteristic of the life of God.”* We get a taste of the eternal life, and we get a glimpse of what holds us together in God, thanks to Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. What holds us together, what restores us, what builds us up is love. It’s up to us how much we choose to love. It may not be convenient and definitely won’t be easy, but it is true and good and totally worth it.
*William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible:The Gospel of John, vol. 2, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001, p. 242.