Monroe Congregational Church, U.C.C.
August 12, 2001 - Diane Schmitz
Scripture: & Luke 12:32-40
Last Thursday I was driving home to Seattle from Monroe during the evening rush hour. It was about 5:30pm as I approached north Seattle traveling on a busy 4-lane arterial full of rapidly moving cars. I was shocked to see up ahead, in the lanes opposite me, a man in a wheel chair zoom across those two lanes into the middle turning lane. He quickly turned his wheelchair sideways in the middle lane so that he wouldn't continue into the oncoming traffic of the two lanes of traffic on the other side. He seemed perfectly aware that he might have to wait some time to cross the lanes to get to the other side. I was amazed at the courage of this individual and as I got nearer slowed to a stop to let him cross our side of the street. The car next to me did the same and the man crossed the rest of the road, tipping his baseball cap to us.
It's difficult to find the words to express what an amazing scene this was. This man, wearing a t-shirt and shorts (it was one of those 80+ degree days) seemed so vulnerable surrounded by huge lines of fast-moving cars, SUVs and trucks in all four lanes. When he crossed the first direction of traffic he knew he was going to have to stop in the middle lane. There was not a crosswalk for many blocks on this stretch of urban highway; he was dependent upon others' goodwill, his own willingness to risk and the hope that the timing of the lights several blocks away would create a space in which he could move.
As I had left the church that day I had been contemplating what it means to be in the middle of things. To see this incident on the way home gave me more to ponder.
I don't know how long the man had waited to get an opening for the first part of his crossing. I don't know when his journey began that day or what he had experienced up to that point. What I do know is how striking it was to see this single man in a wheelchair in the middle of all the cars whizzing by him. He didn't seem anxious but he was focused. He also had an air of confidence about him; he fully expected to eventually move across the other two lanes of traffic.
Wouldn't it be grand if we all experienced that kind of faith and patience as we traversed the rushing traffic of our lives and culture?
Most of us are not that fond of being in any kind of middle; the middle of a job change, the middle of family squabble, the middle of decisions about our health, the middle of where we were and where we want to be. But, the truth of life is that we are always in the middle.
We come into this world out of a mystery; our beginnings are not just our own. The endings of our lives are most likely out of our control. We are middle people, says theologian John Shea. He notes, "In the matter of human existence the sensible advice of the King of Hearts - `Begin at the beginning' - cannot be heeded. We have no choice but to begin where we are; and where we are is the middle."
If we are to see ourselves as middle people then the question becomes not so much about where we are going but how do we live faithfully in the middle places in which we continually find ourselves.
In our Hebrews reading this morning we hear a lot about faith: Faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see. This kind of faith is concerned with not only the future but also the present. It enables us to interpret the present - our middle times - in terms of a promise by our God whether or not that promise comes to full fruition in the way we expect or in the timeframe we expect.
Let's look for a moment at the lives of Abraham and Sarah referred to in the Hebrew reading. It's easy feel comfortable as we hear this story for we know the outcome. But, imagine being asked to set out on a journey to another land, to submit to living in tents for an extended period, to leave the past behind for an unknown future. Surely there had to be many nights when Abraham and Sarah stood outside their tents looking at the stars wondering what in the world was going to happen to them. Yet they held fast to God's promise to them. Then as they were in their aging years they hear the preposterous notion that they will become parents. Once again they are in the middle of a story that's ending has yet to be revealed. In fact, God tells them that even though they will not be around to see it, many descendants will follow them, as many as the stars upon which they had often gazed. This becomes possible only because they are willing to trust in God's promise enough to respond as people of faith to God's requests - no matter how outlandish they might seem.
Some other verses, in the middle of our reading from Hebrews, which were not part of the lectionary, remind us of other faith histories about Noah, Abel and Enoch. All of these stories show that faith conforms to no fixed pattern. One person offers a sacrifice, one builds an ark, one becomes a wanderer and one has a baby in her old age. Faith flows through the middle of these peoples' lives in unique ways. The commonality is that all of these people expected and believed in great things from God.
To live faithfully in middle times is to continue to believe in great things from God.
This is a time of turmoil for Christian churches. Christianity is not the center of our culture anymore. It is no longer a given that going to church is what you do on Sundays. Traditional mainline churches are losing members and newer nondenominational churches are growing. We look back with fondness at the days when our churches were full and we hope for a time in which they will again be so. But, perhaps God is calling us not to look at the future but to look at the now - these middle times between the church as it was and the church as it will need to be if it is going to survive. What radical things are we called to do at this time by God that will provide the foundation for the church that is to come after us, perhaps not even until after we are dead and gone? What questions is the Spirit nudging us to consider anew? In the midst of this middle time for churches we are called to continue to believe in great things from God.
Our reading from Luke this morning this morning tells us to be dressed for action and have our lamps lit: blessed are those who remain alert for they shall hear when God comes.
We often miss hearing how God is calling us to be right now, in the middle time. We focus on imagining a future that is limited to our own vision and all the while God is standing in front of us beckoning us to engage in the present moment in particularly important ways. Sometimes, even as we hear the whisper of such ways, we turn away from what we hear for it seems too frightening, too risky, too unknown.
Many of us have experience with bifocals and know how awkward it is to get used to seeing one way in one direction and seeing another way in a different direction. Even more unsettling, however, is to have our eyes pass through that middle zone, that bifocal line where things waver and are out of focus.
Perhaps being middle people living faithfully means we willingly enter into the space where things waver and are out of focus with a faith that God will guide our next steps. Living faithfully means resisting the temptation to go back to the safety of what we've known or to rush into a future just to ease our discomfort with the unsettledness of middle time.
Like the young man in the wheelchair we have to risk going into the middle of confusion and being willing to stay there confident a space will be made to pass through when the time is right. It is an awareness of living in the middle that causes us to contemplate our comings and goings. When we do that we are forced to ask the meaning of it all. In the midst of such pondering an awareness of Holy Mystery grows in us.
We all have things that handicap and challenge our lives, even if they are not as visible as that of the young man in the wheelchair, but God calls us to faithfulness and the risking that entails, even in the midst of such challenges.
Like the young man, we also live in middle times relying on the support of others. He was dependent on people choosing to stop to make room for him. It is well for us to look around at who appears in our lives during middle-time transitions. God works through others to help us navigate middle time wanderings.
Middle times are times of disorientation and ambiguity. We become disenchanted and we think such a time is worthless and unproductive. But, John Shea disagrees. He says, "Disenchantment is an experience of Mystery reasserting itself."
What a different response it would be to proclaim a time of disenchantment as a time of celebration for God is reasserting God's self in our lives. It may be that at a time we feel the most lost we are actually most able to find an authentic engagement with God. When we release expectations of the future and let go of the past we are freed up to be completely with God in the present moment.
We are a middle people. Let us give thanks and be glad in it. For God is among us doing great things. Amen.