The Conspiracy of Life--February 20, 2020
"But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you." [2 Corinthians 4:7-12]
Sometimes the greatest act of courage is simply putting both feet on the floor and facing another day.
Sometimes the fiercest sign of hope is just to put one of those feet in front of the other, and to take the next step.
Sometimes the most important thing you can do in the face of what seems like a world full of rottenness is to keep going, to keep offering whatever small kindnesses, whatever acts of integrity, whatever reflections of light are yours to shine into the dark corners around you.
And maybe that "sometimes" is really just about "all the time." Because Paul certainly found in his experience that it was often all he could do to just keep going one step at a time, despite all the million things that were swirling around him and threatening to snuff out his flickering flame. And yet Paul discovered that it was right there, on the verge of feeling overwhelmed, that glimpses of resurrection happened. Paul knew it was not within his power to overthrow a hostile empire that hounded him, or the angry mobs that seemed to run him out of one town after another. He knew he couldn't magically wave away the other traveling religious snake-oil salesmen who tried to turn God into a product to be peddled or a prize to be earned. And he knew that he couldn't wish away the deep loneliness he often felt when it seemed like it was him against the whole world. His head knew he wasn't alone, but sometimes his heart had a hard time believing it. And in those moments, Paul says, he just kept putting one foot in front of the other in what seemed like a completely ordinary action, and in the midst of that ordinariness, God's power for life was seen.
Paul knew, too, that God's power for life might not always look like triumph in his day-to-day activities. He might go to a new town and share the news of God's gracious love in Christ and get booed off stage. He might go to a group of skeptical intellectual Greeks and be dismissed with a shrug. He might preach the bold news of the resurrection of the dead in a synagogue and be heckled by folks from his own Jewish faith who couldn't dare to believe it was true. He might try desperately to encourage a new congregation to welcome outsiders, only have them dig their heels in and double-down on their policy of "We don't want THEIR kind here!" There were days when it was all Paul could do just to put one foot in front of the other; there were probably days it was all he could do just to make himself get up in the morning and get both feet on the floor in the first place.
And, yet, precisely there, in those small, almost-unnoticeable choices to keep going, there were the signs that the living God was--and is--real, alive, and up to something. In Paul's small but persistent work over here... along with, say, a Barnabas doing his thing over there.... and Simon Peter in another place over there... oh, and of course, Junia fulfilling her apostolic office in yet another place, and Priscilla pastoring a house-church in her community... and presumably Mary Magdalene and Martha and her sister Mary and Joanna and James and John and Andrew and Timothy and Titus and Apollos and a whole host of others... there was a conspiracy of life. Each was a little spark God was kindling. Each might have seemed tiny alone, and always on the verge of being swallowed up by the darkness. But God kept breathing the Spirit onto them to make the embers glow and the flames climb higher. God kept bringing them to life... so that they could keep bringing life to the world around them.
That's always how it is among the followers of Jesus. We don't get to wield big power and influence for our own benefit--at least, we shouldn't, and we shouldn't try. We are always sent out in ways that look small and vulnerable, weak and foolish, always on the brink of death, so that when God pulls resurrection out of those deathly places, it will be clear that it wasn't our power that made it happen.
Today, maybe what you and I are called to is what Eugene Peterson (borrowing a line from Nietzsche, curiously enough) called, "a long obedience in the same direction." That is, maybe all we are called to do is to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to keep moving, even if it feels like the progress is just one step. Maybe some days all it feels like we can do is just to get up out of bed and put our feet on the floor--but that, even that by itself, is an act of resistance against giving up or deciding not to care anymore. Maybe even some days, even standing up seems precarious. But like Fannie Lou Hamer said so powerfully, "Sometimes it seem like to tell the truth today is to run the risk of being killed. But if I fall, I'll fall five feet four inches forward in the fight for freedom." Sometimes even just falling forward is all we can contribute for the day. And then we'll get up again and rise... and rise... and rise. The conspiracy of life that we often call the "Kingdom of God" is made up of such small footsteps, such getting up to put our feet on solid ground, and such falling and rising again.
There is the work for today. That is more than enough for God to use to bring life to the world around us, in all its obsession with self-destruction. That is enough for God to kindle a light in us for the dark places into which we are sent like sparks rising up from a fire.
Lord God, give us the courage to put one foot in front of another, to keep doing good, to keep showing love, to keep telling truth, to keep showing Christ. And let our ordinariness be enough for your extraordinary power to be seen.