Getting Out the Door
We have a rule in our house: always wash the dishes before we leave on vacation. This may seem ordinary enough, I’m sure many of you may do the same thing. But for me, the mere act of getting out the door on time is difficult enough—you can’t imagine how tempting it is to say, “leave it, just leave it. We will be back soon enough.” But the person who leaves the house is never the person who returns to it. We become a new person because of the journey and nobody wants to come back and clean up someone else’s mess.
An Ordinary Hobbit
Our kids have grown up on Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. This month the last Hobbit movie–Battle of the Five Armies–came out on DVD. In the first movie we meet Bilbo, who is fussy, tidy, predictable, and enjoys all the comforts of Hobbit life. He is an ordinary hobbit who delights in the simple pleasures of being at home. In short, he is just like us. Bilbo wants no part of the adventure the wizard Gandalf offers to him. Bilbo considers all the reasons not to go–risk of death, loss of comfort, uncertain outcome, and says, “I can’t do it”. Gandalf exclaims, “When did dollies and your mother’s dishes become so important to you!”
“You will have a tale or two of your own to tell when you come back.”
Bilbo asks, “Can you promise that I will come back?”
Gandalf then replies prophetically, “No, But if you do, you will not be the same.”
And still he refuses.
Bilbo falls asleep wishing the wizard and dwarves would all just leave so he could get back to life the way it was. He awakes and finds the party of dwarves gone from his home, and everything neat and tidy as if they had never been there. But something from the rabble rousing dwarves remains on his heart. He has been impacted by their joy. He longs for something more than the comforts that his home can give him. Even though it goes against all his instincts, Bilbo leaves his home and community to help these displaced refugees reclaim their homeland.
The Journey Transformed Him
My favorite two scenes of the 3 movies is the first and the last. When Bilbo leaves home he is fussy and tidy and cannot stand these dwarves. When he returns, all the things that he valued have been auctioned off leaving his home an empty mess. The man returns home carrying a helmet, sword, shield, a chest of gold and the experiences of having made unexpected friends along the way, coincidentally of the same people whom he could not tolerate in the beginning. Bilbo could not recognize his friends when he met them, nor could he recognize himself when he returned. The journey to the Lonely Mountain and back again transformed who he was.
Taking the Unexpected Journey
So many of us have yet to test our courage or our faith. We have grown accustomed to the comforts of they way things used to be. In the meantime our congregations are dealing with neglected buildings, declining memberships, and empty pews. And yet our communities are hungering for hope and looking for real hands on the ground to make a difference to impact poverty, transform institutionalized discrimination, and see equal opportunity for all. Unlike Bilbo our Faith Leaders tended to not walk out the doors to take on new adventures in ministry. In the process, like a slow motion film, we have seen what we held dear decay and loose its power to transform lives. When Gandalf yells at Bilbo, “When did dollies and your mother’s dishes become so important to you!” I feel the sting of these words each time our congregations argue over the color of our carpets and the size of our parking lots, while missing out on the adventures in peace & justice going on all around us.
The Road to Emmaus
Bilbo reminds me of a story in the Bible in the book of Luke called the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-34). Two followers of Jesus, one named Cleopas and the other we will call Nicolas, left Jerusalem full of grief after their leader Jesus is crucified by the leaders of the Roman army who occupied their country. When Cleopas and Nicolas entered the city, they were full of hope that Jesus would redeem their people. Now leaving the city on this lonely journey, their steps are labored and full of regret and confusion. The future they imagined was gone, and in its place are the lost hopes and dreams of their people. In their grief, it is no wonder they did not recognize Jesus as he joined them along the way.
A New Image of Leadership Emerges
While walking on the road toward the town of Emmaus, Jesus takes the time to explain all the scriptures to Cleopas and Nicolas. While they are walking he shares how these things that happened in Jerusalem were to fulfill the scriptures. They did not recognize Jesus because he was not the leader they were looking for. It wasn’t until they sat together at the dinner table and Jesus offers a blessing over the bread and wine that their eyes were opened to who he really is. With burning hearts and transformed minds, they run back again to Jerusalem with a new purpose and share with all their friends what had taken place. Is is possible that we are having a hard time recognizing today’s faith leaders because they don’t fit our pictures? Maybe #Hashtags, TEXTS, TWEETS and FaceBook POSTS are where faith and everyday life meet-up and find connections. Maybe we need to do things just a bit differently.
Daring to Do Things Differently
How often are we convinced that staying put, remaining comfortable, being set in our ways is the safest option for our future? In our desire to keep things the ways they were, are we failing to see the opportunities God puts before us? Gandalf knows something about Bilbo he doesn’t know about himself. He is resourceful, resilient and loves home. Bilbo cannot see these things in himself. It will take leaving the comforts of home, to think of the needs of others outside of the community to open his eyes to the kind of leader he can be. In our own communities, somewhere deep within our Faith are we longing for something more? If we are, then we must dare to do things differently to renew our connection to God and one another.
The Faith We Have Been Waiting For
Study after study, article after article is telling us that our congregations are out of sync with the next generation. When did the way we used to do things become so important? When did the songs we sing, the way we pray, and place where we sit become more important to us than the outreach ministries of our congregations? Connecting to the young people of our generation isn’t quite as hard as we may think. They are connected, committed, and courageous. They want to be part of a movement that makes the world a better place. They do not shy away from injustice thinking, “I can’t do this.” They use the tools of their generation, Twitter, FaceBook, and YouTube.
Did you notice that the media started out last week calling what was happening “riots” but by the end of the week they were calling it by other terms like “rebellion” and “uprising”? What we are witnessing is a new prophetic movement emerging in Baltimore, Ferguson, & Chicago and around the world. Just last week we saw CNN and Fox News getting their news from Twitter using the hashtag #BaltimoreUprising. People like Deray McKesson @deray and Lindsay Comstock @lccomstock were giving on the ground accounts of the protests in Baltimore. They and other young leaders are moving their faith into the streets calling into being a New Movement for Wholeness & Human Rights. Instead of trying to convince them to join our communities, maybe its time we joined theirs. It’s time to step out the door and learn something new about ourselves. This is the Faith we have been waiting for.