Radical Joy & Pants-Seat Aviation

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From Inherit the Mirth.

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

One of my favorite churchy cartoon strips is called “Inherit the Mirth.” Of those, one of my favorite iterations is one where a group of angels is gathered in heaven, and one, the lead angel, presumably, is giving instructions. The lead angel says, “For this mission, we’ll need someone who’s good at flying by the seat of their pants.” For a moment, your eyes wander around the cartoon, trying to find the joke. Then, you see it: there’s one little angel in the corner with wings on their butt. It’s glorious. And you all know I love a slow burning joke. 

I hung it in the pastoral care office when I worked as a chaplain at a hospital in Atlanta, because if there’s one thing chaplains have to do a lot, it’s improvise.

Today, in the Gospel text, Jesus essentially commands the disciples to fly by the seats of their pants… or their tunics, I guess. He commands them to go out ahead of him in pairs, carrying no bag, no sandals, no food, no purse. 

Let me tell you: as a control freak who loves planning, this text gives me anxiety. I need lead time for just about anything. With enough lead time, I can conquer the world for you. At the last minute, I’m not even very good at tying my own shoes.

This love of planning has often given me anxiety in churches — and not just this one — because seemingly no one (save for a few of you) loves planning and preparation as much a I do. This isn’t a dig — it’s because few of you are as insane as me. 

But also, I know, and you know, that you can’t always plan ahead. Life has a way of surprising all of us. This is why the aforementioned cartoon worked so well in a medical pastoral care office: medicine has a way, as a profession, of throwing things at you that you can’t plan for. This is also true of teaching and a bunch of other professions, including probably yours. See also: life itself.

Life has a way of making us all fly by the seats of our pants sometimes, even those of us who love preparing. 

In this Gospel text, it’s Jesus who tells them to go sailing off into the sunset with wings on their butts. Don’t prepare, just go, he says. Find people who will listen and form relationships with them. If they don’t listen, move on. Don’t stand there and argue; just go.

A side note here to note that, often, this “shake the dust off your feet” text has been used as an excuse to abandon arguments in churches. To take our toys and go home. You’ll note that Jesus, here, is talking about interactions with strangers, not those we’re in relationships with. There are often good excuses to walk away from an argument with someone we love, but this text isn’t one of them.

With that out of the way: back to pants-seat-aviation. 

Jesus tells them to strike off ahead of him, meet people, form relationships with them, and depend on them. He also tells them to tend to the sick. Our English translations often say “heal,” but that’s not a great translation. The Greek word is “thera-pyoo-o,” the root of our modern word “therapy.” Turns out, it means a lot of things: heal, care for, restore, tend, or just to serve. 

Essentially, Jesus is saying, “Go out, unprepared, and pay attention especially to those who are sick or otherwise vulnerable.” First, he says, whenever you enter a house, bless it with peace. 

If there’s anyone there who shares your peace, he says, they’ll be heartened; if not, “your peace will return to you.” 

This is all quite antithetical, I must say, to the way I operate. I love preparing, first, and second, I love being right. I’m in the back of this whole scene trying to justify arguing with the person about why I’m right and why they’re cranky for not accepting my peace. 

But what I really think is happening is that Jesus is sending them out, two by two, and telling them to pay attention to what’s actually important. Don’t worry about your packing list. Don’t worry about arguing with people. That’s what flying by the seat of your pants can do for you: realize what’s actually important.

In this case, Jesus says, be most concerned with a singular message: “The kingdom of God has come near.” 

Another Greek lesson you’ve probably heard from me before: “kingdom” also isn’t a great translation, because a “kingdom” is a place, but the Greek word, “basilea,” is an active noun. A better way of saying it is, “The reign of God has come near.” 

We might be able to think of the “kingdom of God” as a place, maybe up there, somewhere. But the “reign of God” is how things are supposed to be. And that can be right here, as near as our next breath, if we only pay attention to what’s actually important.

A place where there is actually liberty and justice for all on this Fourth of July weekend. Where the huddled masses can actually breathe free. Where those who are sick or vulnerable are tended to and not ignored or cast aside. Where those that we look down upon are lifted up. Where we realize that our enemies, regardless of who they are or what they have done, are still made in God’s image, just like us. 

I know, it probably sounds unrealistic. It is. If you want a God who is realistic, I certainly don’t recommend Jesus. Dude drives me crazy with his lack of logic sometimes. He tells all these crazy stories and he sticks up for all the people I’d rather avoid. But here we all are, proof that faith is a gift, even to the cranky.

Maybe, in telling the disciples not to prepare, he calls their attention to what matters most: the humans around them. He calls them to go out two by two, probably for safety, but also for relationship. This faith thing has always been social; it’s never been our own personal solo venture. The disciples’ only two assignments are this: travel light, and spread peace and healing. Wherever there is peace and healing, the reign of God has come near.

Maybe, especially when the future is unclear in our own lives and in our church’s life, that’s still the assignment: travel light, and spread peace and healing wherever you go, so that folks will know one thing — the reign of God has come near. Because wherever there is peace and healing, the reign of God has come near.

Don’t get caught up in stuff that doesn’t matter. Don’t carry around extra baggage (literal or emotional). Pack light and focus on what matters: the humans right in front of you, and the reign of God come near.

If you’ve checked your email or our Facebook page or website recently, you know that we have a new mission statement: “Radical joy in action: responding to Christ’s love with abundant joy and overflowing generosity.” 

In other words, as one of my gym’s coaches put it recently: get out there and jazz someone up. Jazz up your friends. Jazz up strangers. Make a random stranger smile. 

Spread peace and healing and joy wherever you can. Don’t worry about the stuff that doesn’t matter. Get out there and be radical joy in action. Spread peace and healing wherever you go. It’s what we’re good at, as a congregation: being generous and spreading joy. We’re good at making people smile. For goodness’ sake, every couple of months, we convince actual strangers to come to a bar and sing hymns with us. 

Then they will know this: the reign of God has come near.

Often, we get stuck in what our bishop calls “a paralysis of consensus.” We worry about everyone agreeing. Everyone wants to add their own thing, including me, and we can get a little stuck. This is as true here at church as it is in our own families and friend groups. We can pretty easily get stuck in the details and lose sight of what’s really important: actual relationships with actual people. Spreading peace. Spreading joy.

Yes, I still need lead time. I still need preparation. This text will always give me anxiety. There’s a lot here, and it’s all a lot to live up to. But here’s what I find livable about this text, and here’s what gives me joy: we can spread peace and healing in spite of ourselves sometimes. Even when we aren’t well-prepared for the future.

So do me a favor and attach a pair of (metaphorical) wings to your rear end. Stop worrying about stuff that won’t matter in a year. Get out there and spread some joy. Be that little angel at the corner of the cartoon and get a little better at pants-seat aviation. 

Folks may think we’re ridiculous, but they will  know this: the reign of God has come near. Radical joy in action lives at 319 Granby Road and isn’t afraid to be a little ridiculous, even if it means flying by the seats of our pants.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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