Hebrews 2:10-18, Matthew 12:46-50
What comes to mind when you hear the word pioneer? Growing up in the Platte Valley near Lexington I can remember seeing the ruts south of town made by the pioneers on the Oregon Trail. Moving a bit north the Mormon Trail was about a mile and half south of our farm. I remember learning and thinking about the pioneers moving across the plains when the only inhabitants at the time were the Native Americans.
I also remember, and this is pretty timely with the 50th anniversary of the moon landing being yesterday, the NASA Apollo program pioneers working to get the first person to land on and walk on the moon. I remember the leadup of Apollo flights carrying those pioneers heading a quarter of a million miles from Earth to eventually walk on the moon and I remember watching it happen on TV.
It’s safe to say that in this context a pioneer is someone who takes the lead going somewhere that is unknown and/or dangerous for the purpose of GIVING SOMEONE ELSE A PATH TO FOLLOW! This is an important distinction. If you’re doing new and dangerous things for the purpose of entertaining yourself or making yourself look good on YouTube reality TV channels then that’s not pioneering because there is no need for anyone to follow. Or any desire to do so. It might be entertaining and you might get rich and famous but it isn’t pioneering, make no mistake about that.
Pioneering is much more than that. Pioneering is like what Christ did across the board for us in his life and his ministry and most particularly on the cross. Christ came to us fully human and in his humanity he experienced everything we experience. He knew joy, he knew heartbreak, he knew happiness, he knew sadness. In and amongst all that reality as a human he still brought us God’s word and God’s desire for how we are to live. Christ challenged the religious and governmental authority when that authority was counter to what God wanted. Which was the excuse they used for killing him by crucifying him on a cross.
The good news for us of course is that three days later he was resurrected, living fully once again. He died and we are forgiven for our sins and he was resurrected giving us the promise of eternal life. It’s almost like he was a pioneer, that is to say someone who takes the lead going somewhere that is unknown and/or dangerous for the purpose of GIVING SOMEONE ELSE A PATH TO FOLLOW.
It is indeed a path for us to follow. A path that makes us new pioneers following in the footsteps of those who did extraordinary things like crossing the plains and walking on the moon? Could we be the new pioneers that set aside petty disagreements for the larger purpose of following Christ’s example? Our Senator Ben Sasse noted on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert in November last year that, “People are substituting political communities for actual embodied neighborhoods.” Somehow, we’ve fallen in love with aligning ourselves with a political narrative, frequently through social media, over being present with and loving our neighbors who are in the right here and now, especially the ones that think and look differently than we do. Somehow we’ve fallen in love with being right, at least in our own point of view, than loving our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Look at how many times the phrase “brothers and sisters” shows up in our reading from Hebrews and the gospel from Matthew. This is not an accident. The phrase is an important one because Jesus and his followers in the early church believed that about themselves. You know there were disagreements. Christ is indeed present when two or more are gathered in his name but you also know there’s going to be a disagreement. The saying in ham radio is that if you ask 5 ham radio operators a question you’ll get 7 answers and a fistfight. No group of people is always going to agree every bit and every detail. That’s pretty well known. What we can’t do is divide ourselves on lines that are created out of a sense of what’s right and proper in our own minds.
That’s exactly what Jesus fought against! Jesus stood against the right and proper rigid adherence to a set of laws and instead reminded the people around him that God’s love is first and foremost over and above being right about following the rules.
Someone needs to be the group of people who turn this around and I think it is the Body of Christ, that is to say, it is us that called to do that. If we, as the church, as children of God, as brothers and sisters in Christ can’t do that then we, the church, the children of God, the brothers and sisters in Christ, have failed, pure and simple. We have let our own ego get in the way of God’s will.
In the spirit of pioneers who have gone before us, we can use this coming week, and all the weeks following, to turn this dynamic around. It won’t happen through some government program. It won’t happen because a city passed an ordinance. It won’t happen because someone posted that inspiration meme on social media. It happens when we take one small step and reach out to someone face to face as we Bring Christ’s Love to Life. That’s our challenge this week. Taking that one small step. Who knows, if enough of us do it, if enough of us take that one small step it could be a giant leap for all of us.