Going Back to Our Basics: The Runaway Bunny

Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away.  So he said to his mother, “I am running away.”  “If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you.  For you are my little bunny.”

But the little bunny said, “If you run after me… I will become a fish… and I will swim away from you.”

The mother bunny said, “If you swim away from me… I will become a fisherman… and I will fish for you.”

If you fish for me, said the little bunny… I will become a rock on the mountain, high above you.”

If you become a rock on the mountain high above me… I will be a mountain climber, and I will climb to where you are.”

If you climb to where I am… I will become a crocus in a hidden garden.”

If you become a crocus in a hidden garden… I will be a gardener, and I will find you.” she replied.

If you become a gardener and try to find me… I will be a bird and I will fly away from you.”

If you become a bird and fly away from me… I will be a tree that you come home to.”

The little bunny replied, If you become a tree… I will become a sailboat and I will sail away from you.”

If you sail away from me… I will become the wind and blow you where I want you to go.”

If you become the wind and blow me away… I will join a circus and fly away on a flying trapeze.”

If you fly away on a flying trapeze… I will be a tightrope walker, and I will walk across the air to you.”

If become a tightrope walker and try to walk across the air to me… I will become a little boy and run into a house.”

If you become a little boy and run into a house… I will become your mother and catch you in my arms and hug you.”

Last time we were together, our story was of the Prodigal son and the little boy named Max who ran away to the land of the Wild Things.  We talked about being stuck, and about leaving home to find something better.  We talked about forgiveness, and that God waits for us to get unstuck.  It seems we’re surrounded by stories of runaways, doesn’t it?   Because the history of being human is a tale of running away from an inescapable God.

But we didn’t talk about who this God is who waits.  Or what else happens while God waits for us.  For you see, God’s waiting isn’t like our waiting.  It isn’t passive.  When we wait, we sit idly and twiddle our thumbs.  We think about our boredom, we dull our senses with meaningless chatter. But God, God doesn’t wait idly, passively.  God doesn’t sit in a corner and hope we’ll figure it all out.  God matches our running away with a running – toward.

In the Psalm we read, we hear that God forms us, searches for us across large, dark, and perilous spaces.  God’s presence is a wonderful work – a process.  God is a knitter, an artist, a weaver – God knows our every stitch  From beginning to end, the psalm paints a picture of God and the psalmist, one on one, so intimate and close that there is nothing hidden between the two.  God’s presence is about making something new happen, creating, overcoming even the most desperate of problems with hope and healing. Showing up in the most unexpected places and redeeming them, even while we run as fast as we can away.

7 Where can I go from your spirit? (says the Psalmist)

Or where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

Even in “Sheol” – a realm according to Jewish theology that is beyond even God’s reach, even there David feels assurance that God is Emmanuel (God-with-Us) – v. 17-18 “I am still with you”.

Even in the darkest dark.

The psalmist entrusts his life to God, inviting God’s searching gaze, open to instruction.  But first, he runs.

What seems to be the problem?  We don’t really believe in grace. I mean, we talk about it all the time – who doesn’t know, “amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me?”  But what is it?

I mean, what is it, this thing we call “grace?”  Intellectually, I know that it is the free gift in which God gives all – eternal life, forgiveness, purpose, meaning, healing – It is the way that God accepts us, the way that God says, “I love you.”  Grace means that I love you not because of anything you do, but just because… I do.  Grace means that you’re my child and there’s nothing you can do that will ruin that and nothing you can do to earn it.” Grace means that there will be something beautiful waiting even when I think I’ve gotten as deep into the muck as I can go.

The problem is, God knows that we can’t just intellectually understand grace.  We can only experience a love in order to really know it.  Until you feel love, it’s like a brick wall you can’t see over.

And so God meets us at the wall, and offers us wings to fly over.

“If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you.  For you are my little bunny.”

The mother bunny said, “If you swim away from me… I will become a fisherman… and I will fish for you.”

God’s said this to me.

I said, “I’m running away.” And God said, “If you run away, I will run after you, Jules.  For you are my daughter, who I love.”

So I said, “If you run after me, I’ll become the smartest kid in my class and go to a fancy school where no one believes in you.”  “If you go to a fancy school, I’ll be the books that you read that will make you think about me.”

“If you become the books that I read, I’ll leave school and work in the inner city with people who’ve been hurt by your so-called “children.”

“If you leave school to work with people who’ve been hurt, I’ll become the women and children you work with so that you see my face every day.”

“If you become the women and children I work with, I’ll  go to seminary and prove that you don’t exist like in the stories I’ve heard.”

“If you go to seminary to prove I’m a fraud, I’ll become a friend and I’ll forgive you and love you anyway, and you’ll find me there, too.”

Only love will go to such lengths.  Only this is grace.  In our United Methodist tradition, we have a special name for this kind of grace: it is “prevenient,” the grace that comes before -“pre”.

You remember that familiar phrase in psalm 23: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life…”

The word “follow” is the word “radaf” which means “to pursue, or hunt.” God pursues us, follows us all the days of our life.

It is this season of Advent, these four weeks before Christmas day, which begin on this very morning, that teaches us how truly God does pursue us, the risky grace God has given.

Advent is not the oldest season of the church.  Easter, the Passover, is far older, by at least two hundred years.  Advent did not begin in Rome.  In fact, the earliest mention of a period of preparation for Christmas didn’t exist until 490 CE, in Gaul, or what is modern France.

We are not here this morning because Christmas is the high point of the church year, and Advent its most profound season.  The church year does not start here because Christmas is coming.  The church year starts here to remind us why Jesus was born in the first place. Because we needed him so badly.

Advent means “coming” from the Latin.  Remember the word we just heard, “Prevenient”?  It is from the combined Latin words meaning “before” and “coming”.  The word Advent is related: it means “to come.”  Vent, venient.  They are the same.

Advent, a four weak period of concentrated waiting for something to come, of looking around for the signs of hope in time and place that seem entirely barren of joy or possibility.  How incredible our lives are that God is so present to us, so here, that God’s very self was living among us on earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Advent, a season that teaches us to wait for what is beyond the obvious.  To see God in Sheol.  To look for God in the dark.  It trains us to see what is behind the apparent.  Advent makes us look for God in all those places we have, until now, ignored or even thought it was impossible for God to be, in the places to which we have run away.

But, life is not meant to be escaped.  It is meant to be penetrated, entered into, tasted and savored to bring us to the realization that the God who created us is with us yet.

When we only find God in the godly-places, we go through life blind to the wealth of life’s parts, of God’s creativity and persistent presence.

Recently, I saw a documentary film called, “Exit through the Gift Shop.”  The director, and subject, are a man who calls himself “Banksy.”  Banksy is a guerrilla graffiti artist.  In fact, he’s the most well-known unknown graffiti artist in the world.  Many people buy his art, thousands have seen it on streets across the world, but no one knows who he really is.  People speculate about his identity, but they can only guess He goes out under cover of night and creates his street art masterpieces in strategic spots.  He takes, boring, drab scenery and adds creativity, beauty, and meaning with his ideas.

On a wall in the war torn city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, he painted a dove wearing a bulletproof vest with crosshairs on the chest.  After Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, Banksy came in and left amazing paintings around the city, sharply commenting on the systemic racism revealed by the storm’s devastation and humorously exposing the hypocrisy of the relief efforts.  While police must, by necessity, consider Banksy’s work vandalism, his art inspires people to think and adds value to their neighborhoods.  It does something to their souls.

What is it that drives Banksy?  He answers this question by telling the following story:

Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Gonin was among the first British soldiers to liberate the Bergen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp in 1945.  Gonin and others who went in to liberate the camp describe the barren human wilderness they found with horrific words.  Corpses lay everywhere.  Mothers carried their dead babies as if they were still alive.  most of both the dead and the living were naked.  Women washed themselves in a a tank of water that also contained the floating bodies of dead children.

Shortly after the British Red Cross arrived to liberate the camp and try to help save lives and lead people back to health, a very strange shipment arrived.  What you would expect is… medicine, food, vitamins, bandages.  but no, what was delivered to the camp was a large quantity of lipstick.  Gonin, who was there to help, says that at first the shipment made him furious.  But soon he saw it as an act of “genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance.  I believe nothing did more for these internees that the lipstick.  Women lay in bed with no sheets but with scarlet red lips… At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm… That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.”

At that death camp, it was lipstick.  For Banksy, it’s some fresh paint on a wall in a hurricane-devastated or war-torn city.

With God, it’s a miraculous child born to a teenaged mom in a backwater town in the Roman Empire.

7 Where can I go from your spirit?

Or where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there;

if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.

It’s the God who pursues us with patient, deliberate, creative persistence where ever we are so that we remember who we are, and whose we are.   To remind us that someone cares, that someone remembers, that someone is working to change this world with us, that someone is chasing every one of us down until we all turn and say yes, until we see that the terrible places are places where God is working, too.

Because we haven’t finished the story quite yet.  When we left the little bunny, he was still running.  His mother told him…

If you become a little boy and run into a house… I will become your mother and catch you in my arms and hug you.”

Shucks, said the bunny.  I might as well stay where I am and be your little bunny.

And so he did.

The truth is that “we cannot move toward God unless God has first moved toward us.”

God does wait us out, but it’s not a passive waiting… it’s an activity, a creative, organic, persistence.

God’s prevenient grace begins the bridging, and despite the resistance we put up, God continually seeks us, enveloping us in the grace, which beckons us back.  And we CAN come back.  We have only to say yes.  We have only to look around and stay still.

This Advent season, in this season of your life, I challenge you to stop running.  Stop and wait.  Look around. See the sparks of humanity, the evidence everywhere hidden showing that God is with you, that God is here, that God is waiting with you.   Know that where ever you are, God is there with you.  That this is a season, a time, a place, to remember that God will pursue you all the days of your life.  And if you keep running, God will be there ahead of you, already present, always waiting, throwing up signs and points of light to remind you, becoming the net into which you fall, when you fall from grace.  This is Advent.

So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ—the life of the world, who is coming, if we can but stay still.

Amen.

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