Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
If you noticed the title before you started reading these words, did you think that this Edit-O-Earl is going to be about gifts and offerings? Well, I would be honored to help you make a gift to LCMS World Mission, but the title refers to Jesus’ words in the Gospel lesson for Sunday. He says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom.”
Twenty-five thousand LCMS youth recently attended a gathering in New Orleans. The most consistent observations from “older folks” all say that if those youth are an example, Christ’s mission is in good hands.
The incidence among American youth of suicide, violence, drug abuse, and dropping out of school and family has drawn a lot of attention. Most of the research and most of the conclusions begin from a negative point of view. The assumption is that youth are in trouble and those troubles are the center of attention. Some TV documentaries have left us with the questionable conclusion of having to throw up our hands and say, “Ain’t it awful.”
In The Closing of the American Mind, Alan Bloom once suggested that young people today face an indeterminate future while being bound by nothing in the past. He described their condition as that of the “spiritually unclad, unconnected, isolated, with no inherited or unconditional connection with anything or anyone.”
The Great American Dream suggests that we can be anything we want to be and go anywhere we want to go. It sounds delicious on the one hand, but it has its problems. If our horizon is without limits both ahead of us and behind us, we can go in any direction we choose. The problem comes when, as Bloom suggests, “There is no necessity, no morality, no social pressure, no sacrifice to be made that motivates going in or turning away from any of these directions.” Consequently, many young people become preoccupied mostly with themselves and with finding ways to avoid “permanent free fall.”
In a chapel address this week, Pastor Larry Reinhardt pointed out the “I” trouble of the shortsighted rich man in Jesus’ parable from last Sunday’s Gospel. The rich man used the words “I,” “my” and “myself” 11 times in his quick three-verse conversation with (of course) himself! Talk about preoccupied with self!
When Robert Louis Stevenson was coughing out the last days of his life with a lung disease, his wife Fanny walked into his bedroom and said, “Well, I suppose you’ll tell me that it’s a glorious day.” The noted author replied with a resounding, “Yes!” Then, looking at the sunlight streaming through the window, he continued, “I refuse to let a row of medicine bottles be my horizon.”
A far-too-limited horizon seems to me to be a more common problem for people today than the totally unlimited one described by Alan Bloom. I once read that an astonishing number of people living within 100 miles of the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, have never stepped foot on a beach. Some have never driven out even to see an ocean.
I expect that something similar is true of people living near the Great Lakes. When you add in the people who live in the Midwest, the number of Americans who have not seen an ocean or great lake must be phenomenal. A person living in Ohio or western Kansas who has never traveled 100 miles from home has an inadequate mental definition of the word “hill.”
Don’t get me wrong, Ohio and western Kansas are unique in their own way. People who have never ventured out of the Rockies, Smokies, or even Ozarks have an inadequate operating definition of flatlands as well! Words enable no one to experience the Grand Canyon. No travel brochure, no television show or motion picture, no National Geographic can provide even the sights, let alone the sounds and smells that are out there for us in God’s great world.
The more I think about it, the more I wonder if far-too-limited and far-too-expansive horizons in life are not intimately related. Perhaps one way of dealing with the unlimited possibilities of life is to constrict them into comfortably familiar surroundings and very narrow potentials. Whether the two are related to each other or not really doesn’t matter. The tragedy is that we do not venture out because we are afraid.
The world is a mess. There are people killing each other over a few dollars in robberies or a few acres in wars. People are being hurt or killed every minute in accidents. They suffer from horrible diseases, natural calamities, hunger, homelessness, alcohol and drug addiction, mental illness and a host of other things. People foul up all the time with oil spills, nuclear accidents and things we don’t even hear about. We’ve got sunspots, pesticides, toxic waste, greenhouse effects and all kinds of other stuff that we do not understand, let alone know how to control. Stop the world. I want to get off!
We send kids to school to learn the three “R’s.” The reason, of course, is so that they can get into the real three R’s–the Riches Rat Race. As if that isn’t enough, in many places they are then hit with the BIG 3: Right, Rite, and Reward so that they can properly participate in the Religious Rat Race. Here they must follow the right rules and perform the right rituals in order for some god to reward them with something.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for the Father is PLEASED to GIVE you the Kingdom.” The future, which seems so terribly out of our control, is in God’s control. He will freely give us a secure and joyful future and, what’s more, it just tickles Him pink to do it! Jesus talked a lot about the Kingdom. I recently wrote about its now and not yet qualities. It arrived with Jesus and it will be fulfilled when He returns.
Theologians often speak of Christ’s first and second coming. Christians can actually talk about Him coming three times–first, at Bethlehem, third at the end of time, but in between He comes to each of us. His coming to us in Word, Sacrament and His Spirit to grant faith and enlist us in His service is the moment when the Father graciously bestows our future inheritance.
There is a curious fish from Central America called Quatro-ojos, meaning “four eyes.” It doesn’t actually have four eyes, but each eyeball has two lenses. The fish can swim along the surface and see both above and below the water. The upper set of lenses looks up in search of food. The other set watches out for danger from below. The Quatro-ojos is able to see into two worlds–one above and one below its horizon. Christians have a similar kind of vision. We are not afraid to see the world as it is, because we are also able to see the Kingdom above our horizon.
We find ourselves in the curious position of being sons and daughters of the King and yet spending our time with the lost, the poor, the lonely, the aging, the sick, hungry, homeless and dying. We foresee a kingdom where no one is homeless, no one is deprived and no one is robbed of freedom. For us, Christ has already made a second coming. While we await His third, we do what we can to help others into His kingdom and to make our present kingdom approximate that better time and place.
Unlike the people described by Alan Bloom, Jesus was not spiritually unclad, with no inherited or unconditional connection with anything or anyone. As a matter of fact, He had connections in High Places. He also had connections in the lowest places. The first did not guarantee His earthly safety. The second clearly denied it. He was physically stripped. But a naked King, with thorns for a crown and cross for a throne is a King nonetheless. He went to the lowest place in order to work out our forgiveness and to assure our place in the Kingdom.
Like our Shepherd, we His “little flock” are connected–focused and directed. But there are other sheep that are not of His fold and these, too, are His flock. We are called to tell them His Good News: “Have no fear…for your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom.”