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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Easter 5/24

          There’s something rather tempting and romantic about the idea of escape.  It’s not unusual for us, at one time or another anyway, to have this desire to escape from wherever we are, or from whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, to just kind of ride off into the sunset, off into something different.  In most cases reality and responsibility kind of reel us back in and we don’t act on these desires except maybe to be attracted by the kind of escape that the travel industry offers.

          “Escape into the wilderness of Michigan’s remote Upper Peninsula,” is one example of that.  We don’t have to escape, we’re already here.  For others though, it is tempting; it is romantic.

          It’s been part of the history of the church too.  Part of the reason for the various monastic groups that formed was this desire to escape the corruption of the world and the corruption of the church so they could center completely on prayer and piety.  They thought it was a way to more fully be who God wanted them to be.

I know that part of my fascination with the monks up in Eagle Harbor is that it seems like they have achieved this kind of escape where they really can focus on worship and prayer and their relationship with God and not have to be worried about all the things that we all have to worry about…but as I think more about it I realize that they haven’t escaped completely because they have to be worried about things too, like worried about how much fruitcake and jam they produce and sell or else the escape is over.  They, along with other monastics and communal groups and utopian societies that have come along may find a degree of escape but it’s pretty difficult, maybe impossible to fully escape the world you live in.

The witness of the Bible would tell us that that’s not what we’re supposed to do anyway.  Much of the Bible is about people’s engagement with the world and all that is good and bad about it.  It’s not just a me and God thing, but it’s a me and God and everybody else thing; it’s about how people before us have lived life in relationship with God and each other; it’s about how these people have experienced God and each other, and it’s not all neat and clean in fact it’s brutally and messily honest in many places.

Today’s psalm is neat and clean in that it proposes how we might like things to be.  People are called to obedience and those who are obedient are blessed “like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season; everything they do will prosper,” while those who disobey are like “chaff which the wind blows away.”  Perhaps there’s less desire to escape that world because at least it’s predictable.  But then…stuff happens, life happens and it’s not quite as simple as the good are blessed, the bad are punished and so we have the other 149 psalms along with other parts of the Bible that talk about God and life and relationship in a world where things aren’t quite so predictable.

That’s the world we live in and the part of John’s gospel that we have today acknowledges that as much as escape might sometimes seem tempting, actually we’re right where we’re supposed to be.  This gospel text is part of what’s known as Jesus’ farewell discourse and it is kind of rambling and hard to follow as is the case with much of John’s gospel, but on the other hand it is also full of beautiful and poetic verses and phrases, as is the case with much of John’s gospel. 

In today’s passage Jesus says, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”  That doesn’t sound like escape to me; quite the opposite in fact.  Remember that the Christmas story that we love so much isn’t just a sweet and sentimental story of angels and shepherds and a baby in a manger but it’s the story of God’s full engagement and commitment to this world, not some imaginary, perfect world, but this world of sin and brokenness.  It’s a story of engagement, not one of escape.  It is this world into which Jesus was sent and it is this world into which we are sent.

But just before the statement about being sent into the world, Jesus also says, “They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”  That sounds more like escape, you know I am but a stranger here, heaven is my home, but coupled with the being sent into the world verse, that’s not where this takes us.  Instead what it does is to create some tension.

God did come into the world in the person of Jesus but it wasn’t so Jesus could be accommodated to the ways of the world but so that the world could be transformed in and through him.  He was in the world but he consistently talked about a different kind of kingdom than people were used to; he talked about it and he lived it and it turned out that a lot of it really wasn’t so new, but was a reinterpretation of the way of life that had been revealed in the writings of the Old Testament.  Our call then is not to escape, but to be in the world as witnesses to the alternative of the Bible and the alternative of the kingdom that Jesus lived and taught.

What you could say then, is that we are not called to escape the world but we are called to escape the way of the world but the trouble with that is that it’s is not likely to be the kind of escape we are tempted to make because it might involve changing things that we don’t really want to change; so there’s tension.  It’s a tension that we all live with, the tension between the way of Jesus and his teachings, and the way of the world.  What we really want to do is smooth the two out and make them the same, but you really can’t. 

Being sent by Jesus into the world while not belonging to the world means recognizing the tension and recognizing the fact that none of us wants to have to make a decisive one way or the other choice, and in an echo from last week being told from the pulpit that you have to make that choice and be certain about it probably isn’t going to work; the tension and ambivalence of being sent into the world but not belonging to the world is still going to be there.

So the question then becomes, what do we do with the tension?  We’re a week away from the celebration of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit.  A foundational element of our faith is to trust in the work of the Holy Spirit and the fact that, as Jesus told Nicodemus back in chapter 3 of John, the Spirit like the wind blows where it chooses and we don’t know where it comes from or where it goes.  I believe that it’s in our tension and ambivalence that the Spirit can perhaps best move and work and make new and empower us toward new possibilities.  In tension and ambivalence there is room for the Spirit to work and move.  In decisive certainty, there isn’t much room; everything is settled.

I don’t think that we have to be afraid of the tension created by being sent into the world while not belonging to the world.  It’s not easy tension to navigate; as I said, we all struggle with it but we don’t have to try to escape from it because we can trust that the Spirit is working through it.  Maybe we should even celebrate the tension knowing that we’re not faced with two either/or options but that guided by the Spirit, we’ll move to something that is truly new and life giving for everyone.  It’s in the tension that the Spirit has room to move and work.

Sometimes there are clear choices that have to be made in life, either or kinds of choices, but many times it’s not so clear, there is ambiguity that creates tension such as in being sent into the world but not belonging to the world.  But the trouble is, despite this ambiguity, despite the lack of a clear choice, despite the fact that the situations life places us in don’t always provide clear black and white choices, it seems like the world still wants to force a choice on us.  Maybe that’s what we ought to escape from so the Spirit can work.


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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