A Sermon for Year B, Proper 28
When I was a child, during school recess I often found myself perched in a high position—usually atop the monkey bars or sitting in the very center of the geo dome. And while I was doing some self-care, enjoying some personal time alone, I would survey the playground and watch what was happening before my eyes. Sometimes it added a layer of fun to hang upside down from those metal bars, seeing my classmates from a new perspective, examining the world from a different vantage point. It was thrilling, intriguing, yet also disorienting to see the world in such a manner, to observe playground and peers from an unfamiliar purview.
I also felt somewhat limited in this scenario. For a split second my school-age mind could not decipher what was up or down, what was left or right, what was earth or sky, because this new perspective was so drastically different from the reality I had known. As I continued to try to decipher what I was seeing, I soon discovered I had turned myself upside for a little too long. All of the blood rushed to my head. Gravity offered up its resistance. And I could no longer hold the gaze I had begun to cultivate. Turning my world upside down was exciting and also unsettling.
Yet as Christians this is exactly what we are called to do no matter how unsettling it is; no matter how much resistance are culture offers; no matter the forces trying to redirect our gaze. We regularly are invited to reexamine our own worldview, to look at it from different angles, to consider God’s ultimate vision for creation.
The Song of Hannah from 1 Samuel 2 is an example of such a shift in sight. For in her miracle of being granted a child, Hannah catches a glimpse of the divine power at work in the world around us. In a culture where a woman’s significance was signified in her ability to bear a son, Hannah is all of a sudden swept back into society. A woman who was teetering on the margins was again enclosed within the safety of her familial space.
And in her own mystical moment of wonder and awe, praise and thanksgiving, Hannah then is able to imagine all of the possibilities in store for God’s good creation. A place where the weapons of war are no more, and the feeble are empowered. A place where the hungry are filled. A place where the poor are raised up. A place where justice is experienced first hand. Hannah’s view of this realm is no longer as it is, but instead as it should be. Her vision of the world is turned upside down.
Yet although sometimes I myself can catch a glimpse at such a divine dimension, more often than not I find it disorienting and difficult to continually try see the world as God sees it. Because the world that we witness day in and day out, on social media or in our news cycle, is far from such an ideal dream as recounted in the verses of Hannah’s song.
Instead of turning swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, we invent new weapons of destruction. Instead of filling the hungry with good things, we ignore our abundance and fight over resources. Instead of raising up the poor, we deepen divides between the lowly and the wealthy. In our limited purview as human beings, we have an uncanny ability to distort God’s dream for this world. Because seeing the world as God sees it is not easy. Because such a shift in perspective is disorienting, is difficult, is demanding. As our Gospel of Mark reminds us, it is like the beginning of birth pangs.
This image is important for understanding God’s redemptive power. God is in the business of recreating, rebirthing, resurrecting, and not in the business of ultimate destruction. God can use the tragedies of the world, some of which we human beings have ourselves created—such as wars and famines, earthquakes and wildfires—, and instead of causing more harm, God lights a fire inside of us. The Holy Spirit blazes inside of us. The Divine is recreating inside of us. Like in the Exodus account: the bush burned but was not consumed.
Yet such birth pangs are not easy. They cause turmoil and angst inside of our very souls. They tear down the walls that surround our hearts and call us into the world with compassion for all of those our society has deemed unworthy. They destroy not our physical realm, but deteriorate the presuppositions of our limited human scope. And because of such pain, more often than not it is easier to see reality as what has been handed to us, instead of turning it upside down and imagining the possibilities that God has in store for us.
But we as Christians, we as disciples of Jesus the Christ, we are called to strain to see the world as God would see it—even amongst raging wildfires and rising political tension, amidst mass shootings and migration turmoil, amidst economic disparity and discouraging injustices. These tragedies will hurt our hearts, and yet that hurt could be transformed to the beginning of the birth pangs, to the provocation of the Holy Spirit stirring within us, conflicting us, pushing us to try to shift our perspective to see the world as God would see it. To not be complacent, to not stand by in the presence of suffering but to wipe away every tear from every eye.
For our scope as humans is limited. Our imagination somewhat short-sighted. For who on earth could have imagined that our Jesus, who was crucified, died, and was buried would on the third day rise again victorious from the grave? It is a dream that only God could dream up.
And we are called to dream with the Divine. No matter how difficult and dangerous it is, we are called to try to turn this world upside down, to strain to see it as God would see it. We start by seeing the pain and suffering in this world and responding to it. We are called to house those without a home after the wildfires raging through California. We are called to feed those without food on their table during such a time of abundance as Thanksgiving. We are called to respond in love and respect, when our society tells us to respond in hate and disdain.
For my friends, God’s liberating activity can and will work through us if we strive to see as God would see; to dream a dream far greater than we could ask or imagine; to turn the world upside down so that it can finally, once and for all, be right side up. My friends, look. Could the world be about to turn?