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Steve and I drove up to the big roundabout in the centre of Elizabeth. Steve is a careful driver and slowed to a stop before entering the roundabout. I saw him give way to me and rode on through. He started up again and ran over me.
After we worked out that I was still alive we loaded the remains of my bike into his 4WD and went to the local police station. As we waited to report the accident I told him it was his lucky day, because he'd hit a minister, which meant I had to forgive him. I even suggested he could go home and say, "Guess what honey, I bumped into the local priest today!'
He didn't see the funny side at all. He told me later that after he had taken me home, he went back to the roundabout and drove through it again, and sat looking at it, wondering how on earth he had not managed to see what was right in front of him.
I remembered the time a large bull camel stepped off the Gunbarrel Highway just in time to avoid this crazy whitefella— me— driving in to him. I'd being watching the road very carefully because I had been travelling faster than was safe. I'd been watching him for at least 2 kilometres, and had not seen what was right in front of me.
In the reading today, Jesus talks about something he calls eternal life. It's much more than life that goes on forever after we die. It's life that is now— it has to be now if it is eternal! As John sees it, eternal life is a completely different quality of life, a new dimension, a greater depth and reality into which Jesus takes us. It's a life which Jesus claimed would make our joy full, or complete. (John 10:10)
And we, as someone said in Bible Study on Wednesday, often feel an unfillable, empty spot inside us. A dissatisfaction with life, a desire for meaning, a great grieving at the pain and evil we see around us, and within which we often live. Sometimes it's been dug out by terrible trauma from which we can never seem to be free. Sometimes it seems to be a great cavern of pointlessness about life which can never be filled. Or some inescapable doom. In the long second or so that I saw Steve's truck running me down I lurched desperately away from him, knowing all the time that I could not escape. Life can feel like that.
And all the while, according to John, eternal life is around us, in plain view, a gift to be taken… and yet something we cannot see. We may even have heard that it is there, right in front of us. We may have been told that we are in the midst of this deeper life, and we may even be actively seeking it! … and yet feel lost, and in the dark, and simply not able to see what, apparently, is here in plain sight.
It's not surprising. Eternal life is not like buying the next iPhone. It's not a thing. It is what heals us and completes us, in our life circumstances— Irena's healing is different from Wes's, which is different from mine. I can't give you a prescription.
And eternal life is way outside our present experience: the reason I didn't see the camel was that my whole life experience told me that we don't have camels standing on the road in Australia. So I couldn't see it. Steve was carefully looking for cars— so his mind made pushbikes invisible.
But most of all, eternal life is a life. It is a way of living. That's why Jesus says, "Walk while you have the light..." Eternal life is a learning curve. We all know that when a grandchild asks us to teach them to knit that they are beginning on a journey… you can't buy learning to knit. It takes long practice to be anything other than halting and full of dropped stitches and other mistakes.
You can imagine a little child looking at grandma's blurred needles, knowing grandma is counting stitches while she's watching TV and talking to someone else, and thinking, "I can never do this. I can't even see where to begin. I can't even see what she is doing!"
And all Grandma can say, is "Let me show you. Just start trying."
And we might say, "Well, that's alright for her. Grandma can slow right down, one stitch at a time, and show her. But I can't see this eternal life thing. How can I be shown something one stitch at a time, when I can't see it?"
Actually, we can see eternal life "one stitch at a time."
— Two of us get on a bus, and there is only one free seat. Who will sit down? Will I sit down if I can get there first, or will I ask if you need the seat more than me?
— There's one last coffee left in the carafe at the back of the church. Will I grab it, even though I've already had one, or will I leave it for Leonie?
— I'm in a hurry to get to church. Will I let that person on the side street into the queue at the lights, or close up the gap?
There's a way of life which says, "I will not get through life by taking things away from you. I will try to make sure that you have the same opportunities as me. I won't take advantage of you. I will even give up some of my rights to give you a leg up. I will not insist on having things at your expense. I will not be the cause of you going without."
This is not a comfortable place to be. Today it means I miss out on a second coffee. But tomorrow….
well… tomorrow I will be changed, and I will see more things I am doing at your expense, or could be doing to even up your chances in life. As Aristotle said, "Everything we do is practice for the next time!" So on the third day I will find other things rise up and confront me. I will learn to see injustice, privilege, evil, need, despair, and hope… on a scale I had never imagined. And often… it will seem there is much more need and despair than there is hope.
And yet, in a strange way, this becomes the most comfortable place of all. The pit within me begins to be filled. I begin to see the world in new ways. I have new concerns… some old worries become irrelevant… some old wounds heal… and old scars fade a little. There are days when I am like a five year old saying, "Grandma, I knitted three whole rows without any mistakes!" I realise I have begun to step into the eternal.
And yes, there will be days when it seems I drop every second stitch, and that life has no hope at all.
This practice of loving my neighbour as myself is what Jesus called "hating my life." It sets me free of myself, and it means I gain that greater, deeper understanding of life he called "eternal." If I won't let go of living for me, I will run into the camel. I will be left sitting by the roundabout of life wondering, "How could I not see what was in front of me in plain sight?"
He says "Walk while you have the light…" His life is the light. His life is the one which above all shows us how to be neighbour and heals us to see.
There is a mystery in all this, and a great generosity, which I think is what we traditionally call the Holy Spirit. Sometimes when I see the wreck of people's lives, that poor lost soul in the Lindt Café, for example, I realise how close I was to being consumed by my angers and hatreds. Yes I was privileged by having had better examples of how to live, fortunate to have chosen the Jesus way early on in my life… and yet there is something more than chance and circumstance.
There is a sense of a great depth and joy, and a great wonder about life, which will not let me go. It fills me. It makes life worth living. It heals me. Far beyond what I deserve, I am called into, and given, a new life, eternal life. Amen.
SMIDSY = Sorry Mate. I Didn't See You.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!