It was Ben Franklin who is attributed with the quote, “Honesty is the best policy.” The state of Nebraska is taking Franklin’s line to heart. Research revealed that consumers don’t consider Nebraska a leisure travel destination. We can likely attest to that. How often do you hear someone say, “We’re headed on vacation to Nebraska!”? Or, “Got to get to Nebraska – it’s on my bucket list!” So, you’re sitting on the Nebraska Tourism Commission… what do you do? You come up with a very honest campaign which was released to the world this week. Its catch phrase? “Nebraska: honestly, it’s not for everyone.” Some marketers are calling this genius. Sort of a reverse psychology notion. The thought that it might not be for you makes you want to know why. Now I have to go! A terrific and tested sales tactic – transparency. When someone asks, “Why should I hire you?” it may be best to answer, “I don’t know if you should. I’m not a good fit for everybody.” All the sudden the person leans in to understand further. The honesty campaign is attempting to change the perception that people will say anything to get the sale… to get you to come to Nebraska. But honestly, it’s not for everyone.
Being “sent” may have some of the same connotation. When you think of being sent, does the thought come with positive feelings? Some may think of being sent to the principal’s office. Probably not the most positive feeling. You might think of a solider being sent to the front line which comes with some dangerous implications. Maybe being sent has the nobility of a missionary heading to a remote part of the world to share the love of Christ but… I have heard many a follower pray, “God I’ll go anywhere you need me to go but please don’t send me to……” [Nebraska]. Sent. Hmmm.
We wrap up our in, not of, but for series today wondering about what it means to be sent. In this prayer of Jesus – a very intimate and vulnerable moment – Jesus offers all of this back and forth word about being in the world but not of the world – praying protection from evil and all that might hold a person apart from a life of faith. It really is a bit of a tongue twister to read. “I don’t belong to the world,” he says, and “they don’t belong to the world,” but “you sent me to the world,” and “Now, send them into the world as I was also sent.” We’ve been wrestling with this reality all series long. This idea that our ultimate allegiance isn’t to city or country or planet but to the kingdom of God but… here we are, alive in this world, a world that we are also told God sooooo loves so we should “get out there and be a part of it.” BUT… don’t let it influence you in a bad way. BUT… you’re not being faithful if you’re not out in it trying to spread the love of Christ. After all, Jesus didn’t come for the well but to heal the sick. BUT… am I well or am I sick? My, my. It’s just all so confusing. When life is confusing, we can become anxious and retract and decide, “I think I’ll just let someone else be sent, thank you very much.”
I felt this way last week when we took the family and a neighbor friend to The Gathering Place. Have you been there? It really is amazing. It has claimed sort of the anti-Nebraska slogan: “A Park for Everyone.” The claim expands to say this: “The Gathering Place is a world class riverfront park designed to welcome all Tulsans to a vibrant and inclusive space that engages, educates and excites!” Well who doesn’t want to be sent there? So we went. Me, wife, dog, four kids (each with a scooter to use in one of several skate parks). What could possibly go wrong? After the kids had a blast with their scooters, we ventured over to some of the playground areas and stumbled upon these amazing, long, slick, fast slides… a kids dream. And so all four kids race to get in line… we weren’t the only Tulsans there believe it or not… there were lines. Carrie decides to slide so I’m left holding the dog and four scooters. No big deal and probably the name of my first book. (Either “Left holding the dog and four scooters,” or “Driving the kids around the Target parking lot while Mom runs inside.” Stay tuned.) But here we were. Beautiful night. Laughter of children. Me, the dog, the scooters. It was great.
After going down the big slide, Carrie comes back to the holding area with me and says, “You should really do the slide!” “Nah, I’m good, thanks. Looks fun though.” “Really, you’ll love it,” she says. “Okay.” So I leave her with the dog and four scooters and run up to the top where the children cheer – “Dad’s gonna go down the slide! Yay!!” And there I am feeling all heroic until… I got sent. It’s really the only way to describe what transpired. I launched myself down that slide and, given my size and the laws of gravity, I quickly noticed my speed seemed to surpass the others I watched enjoy this park with a slide for everyone. I also recognize that the bottom of the slide is coming and there are people everywhere and I’m not sure how I’ll stop myself. And then, Boom! I was sent like a rocket into the crowd. I tried to plant my feet which only thrust me head first into this world of park goers with which I immediately did not want to be in, of, or for any more. It was really a blur from that point forward. What I learned is this: I hit my head on a stroller wheel, snapping it completely off of the stroller (and no, no child was in the stroller thank God). I also grabbed a young lad on my way down, rolling to my back in hopes of not crushing the child but having him land on top of me. Scared the poor kid as you can imagine. (This is one of your pastors, my friends).
And so, I’m trying to comfort the boy and his pregnant mother and father who have come over to survey the situation. The stroller dad is demanding cash for the stroller, two teenage girls give me that scary look saying, “Sir, sir – your head is bleeding.” And I’m sitting there a bit dazed by the whole thing. By this time, the boy’s mom has gone into hero mode and is wiping the blood off my face. The boy is fine (at least physically). I pay the gentlemen for the stroller damages and manage to find my way back to the dog and four scooters. Once assured that I am fine, my wife runs to the restroom and the kids are off to another playground and I am, once again, holding the dog, four scooters, and bleeding from the head. So, of course, one of the kind Gathering Place employees approaches me and says, “Sir, has anyone talked to you about our dog policy yet?” With a bloody face and a hobbled turn as I had twisted my knee upon planting at the bottom of the slide, straddling four scooters and holding my dog, I said to the man, “No sir, no one has shared with me the dog policy.” At that moment I did not want to be in the world, of the world, or for the world at all. If I was going to be sent anywhere, I just wanted to be sent home. It felt more like Nebraska at this point and I had discovered that honestly, it wasn’t for me.
This was a bit of a wild story but essentially just about a little trip I had at the bottom of a slide. When we reflect on the week that was, we know there are much more serious matters tripping us up as a collective of humans. There are bombs being sent. There are those deeming other’s humanity erasable. There are eleven murdered in a house of worship during a baby blessing. As part of that blessing, the baby is brought before the gathered faithful on a pillow. Handled with great care but those who love that child desperately. And upon arrival at the front, the first words spoken are, “Baruch Ha-Ba,” which means “blessed is the one who has arrived.” Isn’t that beautiful? And over such beauty comes suffocating tragedy. Retracting into our own bunkers goes far beyond my desire for home after my being sent off the slide. How often have you just wanted to quit… that job, that relationship, that discipline, that diet, that treatment, that club, that whatever because it was just too much. But life isn’t ultimately lived in a hole of our own making. The challenge has been, and always will be, to be sent into the world with the spirit and tools we each have to make the world more as it is in heaven. We’ve prayed that very thing already today. Don’t we mean it?
And so we swallow our pride, we bandage our wounds, and we are sent back out to see if there isn’t something more Christ-like we can bring into the world today. And Jesus goes with us. Jesus prays in this prayer a longing for protection over us as we go. And to be honest, I think we may often misuse this protection as “traveling mercies” or a “shield of armor” in some physical sense. Certainly, we pray those prayers earnestly but as I see what plays out for Jesus after he prays this prayer, his arrest and ultimately crucifixion, it’s hard for me to imagine Jesus praying to God, “Protect them from ever being harmed.” “Pick up your cross and follow me,” doesn’t sound like, “Don’t worry. You’ll be fine.” Not a single person was mistaken when it came to the cross carrying business Jesus suggested to his followers. They’d all seen it. The cross you carry is the one you’ll die upon. I imagine Jesus’ prayer of protection is for our souls. That we not grow weary in doing what is right and cash it all in. That we might not quit seeing one another as holy, beloved, and made in the image of God. That we might not cast off the stranger or the one we don’t understand because of fear or apathy.
I think when Jesus prays, “As you have sent me into the world, send them into the world,” he is praying for us keep going, living with eyes of faith and hands that heal. There is a Nicaraguan Mass called, Cristo Trabajador, Christ the worker, where Jesus is the “God who sweats on the street, the God with the sunburnt face, who looks and feels as we do.” Here is, in part, how the Mass is shared: I have seen you in a village shop and an Inn on the road; I have seen you at a lottery stall [Mega Millions!] and you were not ashamed; I have seen you at the filling station testing the tires of a truck; and even on the street patrol, in overalls and leather gloves. I believe in you, comrade, Christ man, Christ worker, Victor over death. With your great sacrifice you made new people for liberation. You are risen in every arm outstretched to defend the people against the exploitation of rulers; You are alive and present in the hut, in the factory, in the school. I believe in your ceaseless struggle, I believe in your resurrection. Could that be what it means to be sent? To see Christ in all and to be seen ourselves?
Jesus did not pray that his disciples should be taken out of this world. He never prayed that they might find escape. He insisted that faith is one lived out among the world. And if we are going to do this… if we are going to be for the world as Jesus is for the world… we are going to need each other. This is why Jesus prays, “May they be one as you and I are one.” Jesus prayed unity for his disciples. For us. “Where there are divisions,” says the biblical commentator William Barclay, “where there is exclusiveness, where there is competition between the Churches, the cause of Christianity is harmed and the prayer of Jesus is frustrated.” Have you ever imagined being the source of frustration for Jesus’ prayer? I’d never thought of my life in that regard, but it didn’t hurt to put a little fire in my soul to say, “Pull it together, Briley. Don’t be a divider. Don’t be caught up in the fray without being heart checked, gut checked, Christ-checked ahead of time with a commitment to be sent into the mix with a Spirit of love.” To be sent without love is to be sent empty spirited… without resurrection. You don’t bring the love, you’re not going to bring new life to anything. You’re not going to heal anything. And what good is our witness if we only bring signs of death and no proof of life?
A few years back, a news story was released about an Army veteran named John Crabtree. He had been receiving permanent disability benefits from the government after being wounded in the Vietnam War. One day, out of the blue, he received an official notification from the government of his own death. It goes without saying that John was a little shocked. He wrote the government a letter stating that he was indeed very much alive and would like to continue receiving his benefits. To no avail. Then, he tried to call the government. Have you ever tried to call the government? It’s like standing in line at the BMV or trying to order pizza on Super bowl Sunday… only worse. The phone calls did no good. Finally, as a last resort, the veteran contacted a local television station which ran a human-interest story about his situation.
During the interview, the reporter asked him, “How do you feel about this whole ordeal?” John chuckled saying, “Well, I feel a little frustrated by it. After all, have you ever tried to prove that you’re alive?” I wonder if that may be a reasonable question for us to consider for ourselves this morning. How do we prove that we are alive? Really, genuinely, deep-down alive? When was the last time you had an alive moment? Not the last time you took a breath or had your heart beat inside your chest but the last time you felt your life at a soul level… so connected to your spirit, to another being, to the transformative task in front of you that you could claim: “For this I was created.” “For this very moment, I was sent to be alive.”
That’s sort of a deep question, I know. And, in my experience, it is an ongoing discovery. It’s even a daily prayer, “Lord, how will you send me today?” Some of you may be thinking, “Eh. Sent? Not happening.” Some may be thinking, “Yes. Sent. I’m in. Where do I go next?” And some of us are teetering somewhere in between those extremes. I’m not sure what you’re truly thinking in this moment… what you feel hopeful about… and where skepticism is winning out. What I do know, however, is that even before some of us put on our seatbelts in the parking lot after worship, we’ll start scrolling the social media feeds again. We’ll turn on Fox News or MSNBC or whatever your flavor of news may be and jump right back into the fray of the Gospel according to billion-dollar production companies. And we give those voices so much power… and the small voice within you… of this very moment … that’s trying to find a way to the surface of your soul can quickly rescind into the depths until next Sunday.
But there’s a chance – always a chance – that something will be different for you today. Nebraska may not be for you. Honestly, it’s not for everyone. BUT… being sent into the next critical decision, moment, situation, relationship… is for you and will be happening next. If you’re ready for that step – to be sent as Christ was sent – not in fear but in love then, “Go! My friend.” We need you out there. Love needs you out there. Christ has, in fact, sent you for just a moment such as this…
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 From “Thinking About God,” by Dorothee Solle. Kreuz Verlag Stuttgart. 1990. Pg.114-115.
 From Barclay’s Commentary on the Book of John. Westminster Press. 1975.
 R. Scott Colglazier, Finding a Faith That Makes Sense. Chalice Press. 1996.