Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sermon: "Hide & Seek in the Desert", Acts 1:6-14/1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11 (May 24, 2020--Ascension Sunday)


We’ve all played “Hide & Seek” before, right? Or at least we know the concept? All the players except one are hiding somewhere “out there”, and it’s the seeker’s job to go out and find them. This is essentially what Jesus is telling the disciples to do in the beginning of Acts, and calls us to do still: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” We are the seekers, and we’re tasked to go out into the world and find God’s beloved children, wherever they are, in order to share the Good News of Christ’s love with them. This echo of the Great Commission confirms that we, as people of faith, are engaged in the largest and longest-running game of Hide & Seek ever undertaken in human history. (I wonder if anyone’s called Guinness World Records yet…probably not.)

All too often, though, the Church disregards Jesus’ instructions and decides that we’d rather play “Sardines” instead. If you’re not familiar with Sardines, it’s kind of like backwards Hide & Seek. Instead of everyone hiding, only one person hides and everyone else tries to find them. If you find the hider, you hunker down with them in their hiding place while everyone else continues to seek. This is, at least at first, the route that the disciples chose to take after Jesus’ ascension. They huddled together with their buddies in the upper room and prayed. If anyone were going to be doing any seeking, it wouldn’t be them.

We seem to prefer spiritual Sardines today, too. We hunker down in our church communities or our tight-knit group of friends and wait for those in need of Good News to come and find us. Even when we gather virtually, we still tend to operate under the assumption that if anyone wants to participate, they’ll do the work to hunt us down. I know a few people have shared the link to our worship service with others, but I’m willing to bet that many of you watching haven’t. Generally speaking, when Christians discover that church is a place where they feel comfortable and cared for, we hunker down and settle in rather than going back out and inviting others to share in our joy.

But really, who can blame us? After all, this isn’t just any game of Hide & Seek we’re being asked to play. Sharing the gospel out in the world is like playing Hide & Seek in the Sahara. It often turns out to be an exhausting, scary, and sometimes even dangerous experience. 1 Peter talks about believers enduring “fiery trials”, as if the sun were beating down mercilessly on them for daring to venture out onto the sand. He says the adversary prowls around like a roaring lion…or perhaps to continue our metaphor, a hyena or venomous snake. Either way, danger looms. The epistle compares the suffering of Christians to Christ’s suffering on the cross—which, you’ll recall, included desperate thirst and dehydration. Evangelism may be sort of like Hide & Seek, but this is clearly no light-hearted children’s game.

Now, unlike the early Christians, we don’t generally have the threat of death hanging over our heads when we go out to the “desert” of the world to play Hide & Seek per Jesus’ instructions, but it’s still intimidating, even frightening, to “get out there” and share the Gospel with the world. Even though those of us in the U.S. don’t face systematic persecution for expressing our faith, not everyone is welcoming of conversation with a Christian. Our unique perspective on the world is often met with harsh skepticism and derision. Responses to our efforts at evangelism range from “That has no basis in science” to “It’s not practical to live that way” to “I used to have an imaginary friend, too”. Of course we don’t want to subject ourselves to ridicule and mockery. Of course we become exhausted when continually offering ourselves as messengers of God’s Word. Of course we’d rather abandon the game of Hide & Seek in the desert in favor of a game of Sardines at the oasis. Of course we’d prefer to hang out somewhere comfortable and wait for the desert-dwellers to come find us.

But friends, that defeats the point of a life of faith. That’s not the purpose of the oasis. An oasis is a temporary respite that rejuvenates and strengthens you on your journey. For Christians, this might be Sunday worship or Bible Study or Fellowship time. But while these things give us life, they’re far from the sum total of our faith. The seeking in the desert—THAT’S the part that transforms the world. THAT’S the part that Jesus wants us to remember. THAT’S the part that makes us Christ-followers and not just Christ-admirers. If Christ meant for us to stay in the oasis, he wouldn’t have sought out sinners to dine with and outcasts to heal. He wouldn’t have spent so much time teaching us what it means to love our neighbor. He wouldn’t have ascended to the right hand of the Father and left the Kingdom work in our hands. If Christ meant for us to stay in the oasis, God wouldn’t have bothered with the incarnation at all.

The spiritual landscape is full of people who’ve realized this. Again and again, people of faith make the choice to leave the oasis for the sake of others in this holy game of Hide & Seek. At the beginning of World War II, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer fled his native land for the oasis of the U.S. (which, at the time, was maintaining a policy of isolationism and noninterference). However, he quickly realized that while this may have been the “safer” choice, it certainly wasn’t the right one. In a letter to a friend, he wrote, “I have made a mistake…I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.”[1] He realized that when God called him to follow Jesus, God called him into the desert to be with those who were suffering. He couldn’t stay in the oasis and hope that others found their way there. He had to go out and seek. And in the end, he was willing to give his life for this cause.

Now, this doesn’t mean that we all need to be martyrs, literally or figuratively. Although there are times and places where we should be willing to give up everything for the Gospel, God doesn’t necessarily want us to destroy ourselves for the sake of others; that’s the whole reason that the oasis exists: to revive us. But we can’t reach the Kingdom unless we’re ALL willing let go of our comfort in order to help others. Christ didn’t ascend into heaven immediately after the resurrection; he stuck around in the desert and continued to teach for 40 days. And when he did ascend into heaven, he made sure his disciples knew that they were to carry on his work, seeking those out in the world and bringing them to God.

We still need the oasis. The rest and rejuvenation that it provides is still very real and very necessary. Besides, it’s a foretaste of the Kingdom, and it reminds us why we’re bothering to play this intense game of Hide & Seek in the first place. During quarantine, it may feel like our oasis has been taken away. It’s especially hard if we’re accustomed to living there—if we believe that our faith hinges on the comfort and familiarity of physical rituals and sacred spaces. But in this moment, God is calling us to give up our own comfort for the sake of others. Maybe this is the PERFECT time for us practice playing Hide & Seek in the desert. To reach out and bring the Good News to others, instead of expecting them to find the comfort that we already know. Humanity is in dire need of Good News these days. It’s selfish to keep it to ourselves. No more spiritual sardines, my friends! It’s not the world’s job to find us. It’s ours to find them.

Let’s practice this game of Hide & Seek here in the oasis, before we go back out into the desert. Let’s reach out and share the Good News with each other! Type in the chat where you’ve seen God recently. Offer a word of blessing, or a prayer, in the comments right now…

If you think of something later, email it to me—or better yet, email it to someone else!

It’s time to go. Ready or not, world, here we come. Amen.


[1] Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship, Year A, Vol. 2, p. 312.

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