Stanley L. Olsen
Thinking Outside the Box
16 April 2004
Chapel bulletin for 16 April 2004
The interesting thing about this puzzle is that we can't solve it unless we think outside of the box. There is not solution within the confines of these four walls. And so we have to look outside of our immediate range of vision, outside of what we know, to find a solution to the puzzle.
So it is with faith, I think...
God often calls us to think outside of our box. God calls us to step outside of what we know, to step outside of what we're used to and what's comfortable, in order to solve a problem or in order to see God more clearly. Four years of college has given me opportunity to discover what my own box is, and to learn to see, to think, to live outside of it.
But it's not easy to think outside of the box. To do so requires a paradigm shift, a complete reorienting of our mental compasses. Paradigm shifts are often marked by difficult transition, uncertainties, and even death. The Exodus story is one of paradigm shifts...difficult transitions, uncertainties, and even death.
In the text for today, the Israelites are on the brink of a major paradigm shift. On this side of the Red Sea lies Egypt, slavery, and the only life they have ever known. On the other side of the Red Sea lies more desert, more uncertainty, and a Promised Land...supposedly. Pharaoh and his chariots are closing in and God's people are faced with a forced choice: Do we stay on this side of the water and go back to being Pharaoh's slaves? Or do we risk life and limb crossing to the other side...of uncertainty? And what do they choose to do? The do what any good college senior would do, torn between the agony of Senioritis, and the looming reality of becoming a part of the real world...they complain!
"Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?" The Israelites ask Moses... "What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, 'Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness."
The Israelites are experiencing the anguish of a paradigm shift. They are caught between two things, neither of which seems desirable. It is a scary place to be. Their grumbling is understandable. It stems from a fear of going back, a fear of going forward, and the impossibility of standing still.
After Moses' attempts to calm the hysteria, God speaks to Moses:
"Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward."
Essentially, God is telling Moses that it is time for he and his people to get off of their butts...and take a leap of faith, both literally and figuratively. No longer can the Israelites remain in their old paradigm, no longer can they stay in the place where they are familiar. It is time to get off of their butts and think outside of the box!
As I said, college has been a time of profound paradigm shifts in my own life. Most recently I've been forced to think outside of the conventional box of what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be "saved". I've had to think differently about who God is and how God works in the universe. And this way of thinking outside of the box, this paradigm shift, isn't easy. Because, while you're not comfortable in the place you were, you're not yet comfortable in the place where you're going, either...and, like the Israelites, it is impossible to stand still.
And so where does that leave us?
The lesson that we learn from the Exodus story is found in the command that God gave Moses: "Tell the Israelites to GO FORWARD." Just as the Israelites had to trust God's promise of a land "flowing with milk and honey", we, too, have to take a leap of faith and trust that God will be outside of our box...we have to trust that God will be on the other side of, maybe even in the midst of, our uncertainty.
Easter, it seems, is a season of paradigm shifts, a season of thinking outside the box. The new paradigm is Christ's resurrection. We celebrate that, and in our celebration we remember that this new life was not attained without suffering and death. Such is the case with other paradigm shifts of our lives. The truth that is to be gained by thinking outside of the box rarely comes without suffering, as we put to death old mentalities. Our hope in the midst of these sufferings is knowing that the truth which is to be gained in the midst of and on the other side of our confusion and uncertainty is far better than anything we could have attained, had we stayed in the place that we were.
I challenge you to think about what your own "box" is. Perhaps, like me, you box is a certain way of thinking about Christianity, what it means to be a Christian. Perhaps your box is the world of academia, perhaps your box is the Church. Perhaps you box is conservatism or liberalism. What your box is, I can assure you that God is greater than your box...God is greater, even, than our idea of what it means to "think outside of the box".
So, this Easter, this season of paradigm shifts, get off of your butt, take a leap of faith, GO FORWARD, and think outside of the box. Amen
Chapel bulletin for 16 April 2004