Numbers 13:25-33; Hebrews 11:1-3
The Rev. Tom Herbek
June 12, 2016
I am amazed at how polarized our society is right now, not so much the political polarization, but the polarized responses to what our future might be. There are people who call themselves realists who see nothing but doom and gloom in our future. There are people who call themselves visionary who see a return to some past utopia as the way to solve all of our problems. I really don’t believe that either of these perspectives are helpful. Neither takes into perspective the choices we have available to us. No, we cannot always choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond to what happens to us. How we view what is happening to us now, and how we see our future possibilities is a key to how we live life, and how we impact the world around us.
For 40 days, the biblical CIA agents checked out the land in front of them. The spies came back with a mixed report: good land, bad people. It’s a great place to live, but the cities are well-fortified and the people are very strong and powerful. So far, their report is factual, but now the spies throw in their interpretation of the facts.
And then their fears come into play: “We felt as small as grasshoppers and that’s how they saw us, too. These people are a lot stronger than we are; they are giants compared to us.”
Sometimes how we see things causes us to hold back; our perspective causes us not to go forward, even when it would be in our best interests to move ahead. Our perspective can color everything about the way we see what is all around us. That is why different people look at the same events and see amazingly different meanings in them.
Each of us must be open to the fact that there are multiple meanings in what happens to us and what these events mean for our future. We must be sure that, even after we settle on a plan of action, we pay attention to the multiple meanings that are still encapsulated in the events of our lives. Some of these meanings can be seen, and some of these meanings will only be revealed as time goes on.
There is an ancient Chinese story of an elderly farmer who had an old horse for tilling the fields:
One day the horse escaped into the hills and when all the farmer’s neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” A week later the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?” Then when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” Some weeks later the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg they let him off. Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?
All of us have events that happen to us that seem awful or wonderful at the time; yet, as time goes by, we see other meanings in these events, meanings that were not imaginable when the events first happened.
We do not have choices over many of the things that happen to us, but we do have choices about how we respond to them. The Chinese farmer, who had lived many years of life, was able to see the events of life with a much longer-term perspective.
The grasshopper feeling is the perception that we are alone and vulnerable, and unable to make a difference. The grasshopper feeling is a part of all of us, but with some people, it seems to take over their lives. We are afraid sometimes, feeling we are powerless. But Nelson Mandela offers an alternative view of why we don’t take risks sometimes.
Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, who spent many years prior to that in a South African jail because he dared to believe that people were people regardless of their skin color, once said:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’
Actually, who are we not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Somehow we must overcome the grasshopper feelings. Seeing ourselves as weak, and lacking in value, helps us not to have to take risks. Seeing ourselves as grasshoppers – weak, insignificant insects – will allow us to avoid risks for a short time. But eventually, we must act. ‘
It seems to me that neither the doomsayers, nor the utopian visionaries, want to do the hard work of taking risks. Simplistic, clear, easy answers would be nice and would require a lot less risk and a lot less energy and creativity, but they are both an illusion, based on a single possible meaning in the events of our lives, and of our society.
We are called to see ourselves as people who are not grasshoppers, and as people who are just as strong and able as the “giants” we face.
As individuals and as a church family, we must find within ourselves the ability to take risks. As we leave worship today, rather than saying “take care” to each other, perhaps we should say to each other, “take risks.” For the church family is not a place to avoid risks, but a place to encourage each other to take risks. As we evaluate the path in front of us, may we be enabled to move forward and to take risks.
And in the obstacles we face, may we realize that we are not alone, and may that fact give us courage and strength. We are together in this church family, a special place with special people, and when the giants seem to be ahead of us, may we feel the strength of having fellow journeyers on the road of life and faith.
And may we feel the strength of the presence of God- in us and the people around us- on our journey.