Living Outside the Walls
February 24, 2013
Much like Jeff’s story of the Where’s George website and the attempt to track dollar bills, Steve Boggan, a British writer came to the United States in the fall of 2010 to begin a similar mission. On October 1 of that year, Boggan showed up in Lebanon, Kansas, which is considered to be the geographical center of the US and began his quest which would become the book Follow the Money: A Month in the Life of a Ten Dollar Bill. His plan was to give away one ten dollar bill to a stranger and then to follow that bill as it changed hands and traveled across the country over the next month. Believe it or not, from the moment that Boggan began by giving away the bill to 55 year old construction worker Rick Chapin in Kansas until his journey ended 30 days later in Michigan, people cooperated with him and his scheme.
Over the thirty-day period, the bill traveled 3,300 miles from Kansas and passed through Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, and Indiana before arriving in Michigan. As you might guess, this one little bill, one of 1.6 billion such $10 bills in circulation, found its way into the hands of all sorts of people including farmers, truckers, musicians, bartenders, missionaries, bankers, nursery workers, army vets and at least one deer hunter over the 30-day period.
At times, it was in the hands of the wealthy such as a stint with a JP Morgan investment banker in Chicago. At other times, the bill shared company with the destitute and very poor as when it was owned for a short period by a homeless man and his daughter who were living in a shack with no indoor plumbing or electricity. Along the way, what Boggan discovered is that the bill made no exceptions and excluded no place—it went everywhere and came in contact with all types of people. How I followed a Banknote 3,500 Miles Across America, Steve Boggan, The Daily Mail, Great Britain, August 15, 2012
I appreciate the stories of the website WheresGeorge.com and of the quest of Steve Boggan across the great American Midwest because both experiences remind me of a central aspect of Jesus’ life. Like the stories of wondering bills, Jesus refused to put parameters on where the Spirit would lead him. Rather, Jesus, ever open to the direction of the Holy Spirit, found his way to the wealthy and to the poor, to Jews and to Gentiles, to the very religious and to those with very questionable ethics, to friends and to foes. He went everywhere and was open to anyone no matter the level of risk or questions of reputation involved. He was willing to have a friendship with all types of people.
Perhaps there is no place in all of the gospels where this reality is more easily seen than in Luke’s telling of the Transfiguration. You know the story well. Jesus, along with Peter, James and John ascends the mountain and there something amazing and unexpected happens. In a moment, Jesus is transformed before their eyes and actually speaks for a time with the long deceased figures of Moses and Elijah. It is a spectacular, holy and spiritual occasion like none of them had every experienced before.
Caught up in the wonder of it all, Peter, as he was prone to do, made a hasty statement. “Let’s build dwelling places for you, Moses and Elijah,” he says to Jesus and what is indicated is that this is such a profound moment that Peter wants them all to stay right there. In other words, the incredible nature of the moment that they found themselves in was simply to wonderful and profound to leave behind. Instead Peter wanted them to camp out right there for an extended stay.
But, Jesus would have none of it. As grand as the time had been, Jesus takes them right back down the mountain, back to the real world and back to work. Simply put, Jesus refused to allow a little time on the mountain to in any way alter his march toward difficult places and lonely people.
There is a rich contrast between the perspectives of Jesus and Peter in this moment that we all need to spend time reflecting on. In the transfiguration, Peter found a place where he felt comfortable, at home and fulfilled. As a result, he wanted to stay right where he was.
Jesus, on the other hand, avoided this temptation realizing that the ministry he was to do could not and should not be bottled up or fenced off. Instead, he must always be willing to go back down the mountain. He must always carry the gospel to all types of situations and to all types of people whether those places and people provided him comfort and great challenge.
Again, there is an important word for us hear. Throughout this month, we have been talking about relationships. As we have, our focus has by and large been on the relationships of our lives that we all enjoy and that make our lives happy and fulfilling. But, the gospel reminds us that we must never camp out there. In other words, the gospel cautions us that we must avoid the temptation that Peter felt to throw up our tents on the mountain and only live where we feel comfortable or at peace. Rather, our call is to build relationships not only with those that make our lives fulfilling but also to always be intentional to build relationships for the sake of the gospel with those who stretch us and try us but who also remain equally deserving of God’s love and care.
Now, don’t hear me wrong. I am not for a moment suggesting that we don’t need time on the mountain—we all do. We all need relationships that encourage us, that fulfill us and that enrich us. And, we need to return to those relationships over and over again if we are going to have the strength and the energy needed to live and to thrive in life. But at the same time, we must avoid the temptation to build a fence and only live within those relationships and thus walled off from the rest of the world.
Yet this is a real temptation and quite frankly it is one that the church over the centuries has been faithful to giving in to. It is indeed so easy and so tempting to live on the mountain. It is so easy and so tempting to only be in relationship with those that we like or that we think have it all together. It is so easy and so tempting to seek to build lives for ourselves that are safe and secure from the rest of the world where we are surrounded by our kind of people. And, it is so easy and so tempting to claim that such a way of living is the biblical and the Christian thing to do—but, the truth is that there is very little gospel truth in such an approach to life.
This morning, I began with the story of Steve Boggan and his quest with a ten dollar bill. The exact opposite is the story of the US Gold Depository at Ft Knox. Have you ever read much about Ft Knox? For good reason, Ft Knox is the ultimate in high security. Built in the 1930s, over $250 billion in gold is currently stored there and at times over $1 Trillion in gold has been kept there. From four security sectors to incredibly thick walls and vaults, to satellite, helicopter and tank protection as well as enough high tech gadgetry for a good James Bond movie, Ft. Knox is virtually impossible to penetrate. In fact, it is said that Ft. Knox is built to even be able to withstand an atomic bomb. Believe it or not, beyond workers, the last outside person to visit inside the depository at Ft Knox did so in 1974—38 years ago!
Often times, when it comes to our willingness to engage with the greater world and to build relationships with those outside our comfort zone, we more closely resemble Ft. Knox than the free flowing movement of the $10 bill in Steve Boggan’s book. But, without question, living as did Jesus means growing relationships outside of our comfort zone that exist more in the valley than on the mountaintop.
Do we have such relationships, and, if not, are we open to them? This morning, who are the people that we need to befriend and what does it look like for us to model the example of Jesus in this way as both individuals and as a church? Are we in the business of building walls or tearing them down when it comes to our relationships with the greater world? Amen.