When I was a youth minister I had the opportunity to do a lot of amazing mission trips and unique experiences with God. Every summer, we packed our schedules with camps and trips and projects to take our teens into a different environment so they can encounter God in new ways.
This experiences rarely disappointed – God was often encountered in fresh and unique ways and assumptions about God were challenged and our kids gained a deeper sense in that week of who God was and how God worked.
But the problem always came when we got back home. The inevitable question was: Now what? How does this make a difference?
It is often really difficult to have a deep and unique experience of God, and then know what to do with them. How do we actually allow powerful experiences with God to change how live and see the world? I think the whole of this week’s readings give us a clue.
I have mentioned before the educational theory of a “disorienting dilemma,” but for the sake of this post, I will briefly touch on it again.
We all run on certain assumptions, worldviews, and narratives which drive our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. Many of these are unconscious, but they are powerful forces which shape how we make meaning of our lives and understand our experiences.
A disorienting dilemma occurs when we encounter something which does not fit with how we view the world. It challenges our assumptions or our narratives and we have to now either ignore the disorienting experience, or we have to reshape our assumptions about how the world works.
In the Beatitudes, Jesus gives us a very upside down picture of the Kingdom. He reminds us that God’s presence and favor are not results of our good behavior or earnings. We find that God is most present in our dark moments, and with the people who society overlooks and forgets.
It is easy to gloss over this in theory or reading it on a computer screen. But when we encounter it in real life it can be quite disorienting.
When we encounter God in a dark place:
We find God in the eyes and words of someone we previously considered a “sinner” or “second-rate.”
We find someone we consider to be “less fortunate” who has a deeper understanding and relationship with God than we do.
We find God to be more present in our own suffering and despair than we had ever encountered God in times of comfort.
The list could go on.
But when these happen we realize (as we always do when we pursue a life in the Kingdom) God doesn’t work quite the way we had assumed. So we have to rethink everything. We have to live life in an upside down way which encounters God in the upside down, dark, and often scary places.
We have to find a new way to be in the world. So we look around for a vision of what life would look like in this kind of Kingdom and with this kind of God. How does this shape how we parent, work, interact with our spouses and co-workers?
We do justice, we love mercy, and we walk humbly with our God.
We walk humbly because we don’t have it all figured out and now expect to find God where we least expect to find God.
We love justice and mercy because they are the way we live out the Beatitudes. Justice and mercy are how we embody this upside down kingdom vision. We take care of those who cannot take care of themselves and we love and serve those who deserve it the least.
Then add Psalms: We heap no contempt on our neighbor, we give without hope of gain and we do not injure the innocent even when it benefits us to do so.
All of this encompasses a very backwards kind of life. It is one that doesn’t make sense in our world.
Our world says God helps those who help themselves (even if helping yourself causes you to tread on the little guy), you give only if someone deserves a gift or can pay you back. It says you complain and moan about all the people out there who drive you crazy and disagree with your ideals. It says you should never have doubts and questions, you need to get life figured out.
The vision we see this week of an upside-down kingdom is foolishness to those who haven’t encountered the cross.
But once you see the beauty and messiness and mystery of the cross, it all makes sense. We no longer pursue having life figured out, and we love and serve all those who are overlooked, forgotten, and undeserving of our attention.
Our disorienting dilemma of God showing up in unexpected places turns us into cross people, even when it looks like foolishness in our world.
And when we begin to ask the question: Where is God in this? How should we respond as Kingdom people? We now have a beautiful paradigm for how we are to be in the world. We accept that we don’t have all the answers, we look for God’s guidance and we ask how to respond justly and mercifully.
And we will find as we take care of those who can’t care for themselves and extend love to those who don’t deserve it, the Spirit of God meets us in these moments and uses them to transform us more into the likeness of Christ.
What a beautiful vision for life in the Kingdom.
I love it when a week comes together.