At 8:37AM last Monday I was pushed far outside my comfort zone. I arrive at a gas station—one with 22 pump islands—-cars enter and leave the station at an alarming rate—-soon I see why—only one island works. All other islands have plastic bags over the nozzles. A guy screams at me from island #14, “Come here behind me while it’s working.” So I move my car behind him and head inside the store to prepay the fill-up. Big signs on the doors read, “Gas Out. Sorry. Tanker truck did not arrive.” I enter, see a cashier, hand a $20 bill her way with these words, “Bet you are having an odd morning with this gas situation.” She replies, “What situation? We have tons of gas. I just ain’t got off the baggies yet.”
I stood there trying to keep my countenance, trying hard not lose my “pokerface.”
And, I turned to go outside, but not before the cashier chimed, “But you could get them baggies off for me when you go back out to your car.”
That’s how it went down—-that’s how I was pushed immediately far outside my comfort zone.
I was stuck somewhere between wanting to be helpful to a person in need and trying not to be judgmental for feeling like I was being asked to do another’s job, and wondering if this was legitimate or toxic charity—talk about being outside one’s comfort zone.
Jesus had such a skill at moving people outside of their comfort zones! And the Church this Sunday, at least the portion who uses the Revised Common Lectionary, sees Jesus moving people beyond comfort zones—and doing so rather overtly—in Luke 14.
“On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. 3And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” 4But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” 6And they could not reply to this.
7When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 7:1, 7-14 is the Pent 15C reading taken from the NRSV, the gray are the omitted verses)
Jesus heals on the Sabbath—-and people are moved out of their comfort zone.
Jesus offers the “ox-ditch” axiom—and people are moved out of their comfort zone.
Jesus tosses out a parable that draws upon a 1st century societal norm, even challenges the norm—and people are moved out of their comfort zone.
Jesus takes the parable far beyond a matter of seating order by making it also a matter of revising the guest list—and just like that people are moved way outside of their comfort zone.
And, finally, finally Jesus smacks the patronage system that formed the fabric of 1st century Greco-Roman culture by saying do-for-those-who-can’t-do-a-thing for you! In other words, don’t model your life after the pattern of Rome’s caesars—-don’t be princeps civitatis. Talk about being moved way, way, way out of one’s comfort zone. This may be the biggie.
It goes without saying that comfort zones differ from person to person and from entity to entity—but comfort zone is more or less—our “no fly zone,” the space where we feel safe, secure, unthreatened, even satisfied.
So—it also goes without saying that when our comfort zones are threatened, we become reactive. These spaces are our easy spaces, our let-our-hair-down spaces, our must-be-maintained-at-all-costs spaces.
Jesus stuns the crowd at the Pharisee’s house that day by threatening comfort zones.
And this really isn’t terribly surprising is it? After all, Jesus is not one to hang around in comfort zones. And when he did hang around it was not in a place of honor but on a most uncomfortable cross.
This ought to leave us pondering our religious practices, especially the aspects of those practices that keep us comfortable; keep us with those who think, look, act, cavort, and function—more or less—just like us. Perhaps we ought to wonder when we find ourselves centered inside a crowd so uniform, whether we might have accidentally created God and God’s family in our own image. Perhaps we ought to be concerned also if the crowd does not include the people we intensely dislike. And, what if these are both the case? Doesn’t that then indicate that we ought to “get out while the getting’s good?”
Isn’t a threat of the comfort zone that it limits our life? That it confines us even as it defines us?
I’ve been a church-goer for the bulk of my life. And I have been a pastor, God have mercy on the Church, since 2011. And to this end, church life both before and after the “God collar” has led me to conclude there are really two strains of Christian religious practice: comfy and not-so-comfy.
The comfy side seems to realize that Jesus, the very One who takes the least comfy seat of all—the cross—certainly never intends for his followers to take up their own crosses, to deny themselves, and follow. To these, the words of Jesus are only spun in some sort of metaphoric, allegoric sense.
And as a consequence, the comfy crowd is easy to identify isn’t it?
Those “comfy crowders” think they deserve the best seat in the house! They are all about comfort. And they have a silent skill at causing others to feel that those others are quite totally too other to fit. And they’d see that it’s totally fine to practice Christianity in this way, for they are blessed. Let’s call ’em what they are—those who consider themselves to be the deserving ones who’ve deservedly landed themselves within the “crème de la crème.”
In contrast to these is the not-so-comfy side. These “not-so-comfy siders” seem to realize that Jesus, the very One who takes the least comfy seat of all—the cross—-certainly intends for his followers to take up their own crosses, to deny themselves, and follow—-these words of Jesus might be metaphoric but they might truly be actual—just ask the apostles and the martyrs of Japan. These not-so-comfy siders practice Christianity that believes that Jesus means the things that he says!
Which Christian practice looks the most like Jesus? Which seems most assuredly uncomfortably untamed?
Jesus is no tame God. We should not seek to tame Jesus.
So, I wonder something—-doesn’t this mean that those who are the followers of Jesus ought not be so comfortably tame either?
Shouldn’t we be engaged in ministry that takes us out of our comfort zones?
Shouldn’t we be engaged in ministry that makes both us and others uncomfortable?
Shouldn’t we be easily recognized by our untamed following of Jesus?
And, if this is so, and I certainly believe it to be so, how might we step out of our comfort zones and into such ministry.
- seek spiritual direction from a qualified spiritual director
- develop an intentional prayer life
- do service that actually costs us something (give ’til it hurts)
- slow down and reflect on faith
- climb out of our belly-buttons and serve others after the pattern of Jesus
- let the “NO” of Jesus be our “no” and the “YES” of Jesus be our “yes.”
- focus on being faithful rather than being successful
Start doing those, any one of those, and we’ll be well on our way to getting outside of our comfort zones. Sometimes we’ll even find ourselves WAY out of them.
We might even find ourselves being asked, “…could you get them baggies off for me when you go back out to your car?” And if we take “them baggies off” might we inadvertently preach an uncomfortably better Gospel—a Gospel far outside our comfort zone?