My confession is that I like to think I have it all worked out. I like to know where I’m going. I like to believe I’m accomplishing something. And the best feeling in the world is a “to do” list and the sound of my pencil crossing something off.
The problem, when it comes to big world problems, is that I think I can tackle those too with a list, a policy, a plan, a deadline, a class or a quota.
I think I can end homelessness
I think I can keep my friends from dying on the street.
I think I can build a village.
And I think I can do it by tomorrow!
I do not like the void of sitting in the chaos of the world, knowing there is something that could be done about it, and realizing there is no box to check or to do list item to close out the problem at hand.
Consider that void in the context of two parallel scriptures.
Matthew 28:16-20 finds Jesus saying farewell to the disciples on a mountaintop, a peak with a decent view of the chasm of their own world problems. Where the Jews thought Jesus had come to take care of business, here he is commissioning them to GO into the great unknown—to make disciples, to invite people into communion with Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to share what they had learned.
Genesis 1:1-2:4 takes us all the way back to the beginning, when the earth was nothing but VOID. Yet, God moved within it, bringing light, water, land, sky, vegetation, living creatures and humanity. None of it happened all in one day. One thing was created at a time, and each time it was good. But there was always more to do. Darkness would fall as if nothing had been accomplished in that day, but the sun would rise again each morning offering fresh light and a new start to keep working on all that God desired to fill the void.
It is from the VOID—that meaningless, empty, unknowing, unexpected place—that goodness emerges. From the chaos is an order. Whatever hadn’t been finished in one day got a tomorrow. And thousands of years after the world was created, the disciples would find themselves on a mountaintop, learning all over again that creation was still unfolding. The world may have been created in seven days, but God never stopped stepping into the latest evolution of the void.
And here we are, all these years later, still finding ourselves with a lot more questions about God and one another, than we may ever have answers.
Welcome to the VOID!
But Jesus’ instructions in the Matthew passage are still helpful as we find our way today. It is less about WHAT we do to fill the void and more about HOW we go about it.
GO with authority, not authoritatively
When we are authoritative we stop learning, we are slaves to our intellect, we are imposters that think we have all the answers. When we are with authority, we are confident in who or what we come in the name of–even if we don’t know the first thing about tackling the problem at hand.
GO make disciples
Make does not mean beating people over the head with rules, it means relationships in which people want to follow because they see Christ in you.
GO bring people into community.
It isn’t about doing something—counting tasks completed—it’s about being something—one with one another. If you are going to do anything, do life together. Listen, learn, love and embrace the goodness that comes from the creation process itself.
At different times in the life cycle of creation, humanity has stepped into the void with rules on stone tablets. We’ve misplaced our priorities and gotten lost in the wilderness. We’ve broken God’s heart and gotten evicted from our homes. After all the ways we’ve complicated creation, Jesus till comes and reminds us that the VOID isn’t going anywhere; and there is no way for us to have it all worked out! All we have do is GO, and remember the principles by which we are sent.
Not unlike the void we encounter in our own lives and work, the world often looks at our unhoused neighbors as a certain kind of VOID. Will they ever stop drinking? Will he embrace his potential? Will she show up when she is expected? When will he break free from his mental health crisis?
None of us know. But when the instructions are “GO,” the details are not for us to figure out.
The better questions might be, what goodness is inside them that no one else can see yet? What images, words or phrases might symbolize who they are in the eyes of God? How might we move within the void of our neighbors lives, as God moved and continues to move within creation on our behalf?
Recently, I invited a group of current and formerly unhoused neighbors to reflect on those questions as we prepare to set up a community garden plot. We were notably late for planting anything; and the big barren plot, among the many others that have been prepared well ahead of us, was clearly void of any TLC.
But we aim to change that. And our first act was sharing signs of goodness on the blank void of stone pavers that will be placed in the form of a cross within the barren soil of our garden.
Our hope is that we grow not only vegetables from our little plot of dirt, but we seed new relationships with people who live in and around the garden.
The beauty of their work may give our neighbors something to be proud of, but also begins to show the whole community that there is no void here. Our Micah community is but one more symbol of the ongoing process of growing and moving toward a perfection that began at the beginning of time and continues even today.
It is still, not just good, but VERY good.