Sunday, May 28, 2017

May 28, 2017
Ascension Sunday
In about a month and a half we'll be celebrating the 48th anniversary of humanity's first steps on the moon -- a real life example of the old Star Trek invitation to "boldly go where no one has gone before." Since then, however, we've not been boldly going much of anywhere else in terms of human exploration. Sure, we're sending probes to other planets and mapping the human genome, but finding real adventure in places where few or no humans have been before would seem elusive.
Then again, maybe it's not that there aren't places left to explore; it's just that we have to be a bit more creative, and even aggressive, in finding them. Sometimes, those out-of-the-way places are as close as the edge of town, on the way to work or even right under our feet.
Enter the new phenomenon called "place hacking." If computer hacking is all about gaining unauthorized access to a particular database or hijacking a Facebook account to pose as someone else, place hacking is all about getting into actual places where access may be forbidden or into areas that the rest of the world has simply forgotten about.
Place hacking is a global movement of young urban explorers who sneak into places like former military bases, abandoned factories, decommissioned hospitals or power stations, sewer or subway tunnels and even skyscrapers still under construction. Look it up on the web or even read a book called, Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City, by Book by Bradley Garrett.
Armed with only a camera, place hackers reveal a whole new world that's rarely, if ever, seen by the general public. "The idea behind urban exploration is revealing what's hidden in the world," says Dr. Bradley Garrett, an Oxford University academic and an apparent renowned place hacker. "It's about going into places that are essentially off-limits and, because they are off limits, have been relatively forgotten. The goal of the urban explorer is not just to explore these places but also to photograph them and share these with others so they can see what they're like."
Despite being questioned by authorities for hacking into an old London bomb shelter filled with old boxes of bank and other records, Garrett still has other places he would like to explore with a team -- places like the Gwangmyeong Ghost Station in North Korea, an abandoned part of the subway system there; Fordlandia, the utopian, rubber-harvesting company town that Henry Ford constructed in the Brazilian jungle in 1928 that's now a ghost town; and the torch of the Statue of Liberty.
Most of us aren't adventurous enough or willing to risk arrest in order to go to some of these places despite the unique opportunity to get a glimpse at the underside of the urban world. But that doesn't mean we can't be place hackers of another sort. In fact, Jesus commands us to "go ... and make disciples of all nations". To do that, we might find ourselves hacking into places and into lives we might never have imagined, even when those places and people are as close as our own neighborhood.
In fact, it's not a stretch to suggest that Jesus' primary way of doing ministry involved place hacking. The gospels are full of incidents in which Jesus was in places that few other "proper" people of his day would ever have imagined themselves.
For starters, he was born in an out-of-the-way barn! He grew up in a backwater town where he got tossed out of the synagogue one day because his neighbors thought he was nuts.
He crashed countless dinner parties where he spent time with people who lived most of their lives in back alleys and hidden places -- prostitutes, tax collectors and a host of other sinners. He ventured into the territory of the Samaritans, where no pious Jew would ever dare to go, and spent time talking at a well with a woman with a checkered past (John 4).
He spent time in the desert wastelands, in small towns and in the big city of Jerusalem. He touched lepers who hovered on the edge of society. He went into the temple and hacked into the commerce system by flipping over the tables of the moneychangers.
He would find himself in an upper room and a garden, and then he hacked into Herod's palace and Pilate's fortress, even though he did it the hard way. He would find himself viewing the world from a Roman cross -- a place where no one wanted to go -- ever.
And then, placed in a tomb, he managed to hack his way back into the world as its risen Savior. Jesus didn't have to go far to explore any of those places, and yet by hacking into them he changed the world.
After his resurrection, Jesus gathered his own crew of disciples together and called them to be place hackers as well. That's what he'd been training them to do all along. He'd already sent them out on a place hacking mission of their own, where they took nothing and left only footprints. Now, he was sending them out even farther: to "all nations". It would be in those places far and near, familiar and not-so-familiar, where they would baptize and teach a new crew of place hackers "to obey everything" that Jesus commanded them. They would then boldly go into the corners of every city and nation to continue the place hacking ministry of Jesus. Not that it would be easy.
It's interesting that when the risen Christ shows up among his disciples, Matthew tells us that "they worshiped him; but some doubted". (Most scholars believe that the ones who doubted, were those outside of the eleven Apostles.) The prospect of being chucked into prison for hacking into the wrong place with the message about Jesus was a real possibility, as the book of Acts reveals. Place hacking for Jesus may be even more physically dangerous in certain parts of the world today than trying to crawl up the arm of the Statue of Liberty. Doubt is a natural reaction when one is confronted with that kind of trouble.
But the early disciples still went as Jesus commanded them, and we are their spiritual descendants. The call of Jesus to "go" is still given to us in a world that still has plenty of dark corners as well as shiny spaces. No matter where we're called to go, Jesus has given us this promise: "I am with you always, to the very end of the age." He's still place hacking and calls us to join him.
Think about where you live. Where are those places that few respectable people would dare to go? Where are the dark alleys and hidden places that shelter people who hide in shame from the rest of the world? Where are the places of need, of opportunity? Have you ever place hacked your neighbor's front porch to begin a relationship that shows them the love of Christ? Sometimes, a simple “hello” can lead to something bigger.
Bradley Garrett says that most people "age out" of place hacking buildings and cityscapes before the age of 40. They get respectable and lose the spark of adventure that caused them to get out and get dirty in the first place. The same could be said of Jesus' followers. After 2,000 years of history, it's become easy for the church to get complacent, to expect people to come to us, to prefer safety and the security of counting butts in pews and bucks in the offering plates. And then we count this as "following Jesus."  (Of course, to be honest, in this day and age even when people are invited – or even commit to coming to church – sad to say, they rarely do.)
But Jesus authorized us to "go," not sit. He asked us to baptize believers, not build buildings. Few people in an increasingly secular culture are ever going try to place hack our churches anyway. The only way forward for the church is to go and get dirty, taking nothing with us but love, and leaving nothing but footprints.
To boldly go where no one has gone before.
Let us pray.
Father God, Your Son told us to go and make disciples of every nation. We are called to spread the Good News to everyone so that they may have life in You. We have been called to baptize them in Your Name, and that of Your Son and the Holy Spirit. Although, most of us believe this in spirit, we do not follow it with our hearts. There should be a sense of urgency to follow this directive You gave to us all. We do not know what tomorrow holds, so we should be ready to meet You today.
Help us, dear Father, to not be afraid to place hack – to speak earnestly and opening about our love for You wherever and whomever we are with. Help us to be courageous in speaking of our faith in You to those we meet. Sometimes, dear Father, we need an extra boost of courage to be open about our faith and we ask that You send Your Holy Spirit during these times so that we will more courageously spread the Good News.
Lastly, dear Lord, help us to be open to “place hacking” in that You created a vast universe with so much to explore. Help us to earnestly love and seek out Your creation and become better acquainted with it so that we can have a better appreciation for what You have created and have allowed us to live in it and have some control over it. May we come to a better appreciation on Your creation and work better at preserving it. We ask all this, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
 +The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.