I realised recently, with bit of a shock, that it’s been almost 25 years since I graduated from my seminary, The Church Divinity school of Pacific in Berkeley California, in 1989. That last semester I was training as a chaplain in a psychiatric ward in a nearby state hospital but managed to find time to take part in the annual CDSP follies. I wrote the Senior Song (actually adding lyrics to Bob Hope’s theme song, “Thanks for the memories”) and I wrote and performed my own comedy monologue where I said, that while working on the psych ward, I suddenly heard the voice of God calling me to a special ministry.
“Oh Lord,” I said, “I am not worthy.” and God said, “Yes, but that’s not the point.” But what exactly is the point?
The reading translation of Isaiah might point us there:
“The fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”
That’s not really easy to deal with, that kind of call. And it might be easier and very tempting to say, “Lord, I am not worthy”. But it really isn’t the point.
We have all fallen short of the glory of God: what else is new? We have done those things which we ought not to have done and we have not done those things which we ought to have done and there is not a lot of health in us. But, really, could we not turn aside, turn around, move into some new place with a new word, maybe a very small word, of holiness and healing and hope in our daily life and ministry?
So maybe the deeper truth is, “Lord I am not worthy, and I like it that way, Lord, I may be called to do great things, large or small; but I’d rather not, so thanks but I am really not worthy, and the whole idea is — let’s face it — inconvenient.”
In my 1989 comedy routine I said that God had specially called me to return to the seminary and tell the people to construct a stained glass window, something like a flatscreen TV, to stand behind the altar. It would be a picture of Jesus, but looking different according to the seasons of the year: first a bump in Mary's belly, then a baby and a youth from Christmas through Epiphany. Following that, we’d see Him faced with temptations, trials, betrayals; turning towards Jerusalem as Lent moves to Good Friday, and maybe the window would go dark after that day: finally breaking into a sunrise that changes everything. Then all those Sunday's post-Easter windows with the risen Jesus getting us ready for the coming of the Spirit, ready to learn the language of grace, to be a new language of gift and grace in the season of Pentecost. That might be the point too.
For St Paul says by God’s grace in Christ we bear a secret wisdom, the mind of Christ; and the Gospels tell us we are at heart, by grace, a gift, a light, a city on a hill, the salt of the earth. So, with that hope, how can we not loose our grip on what we cannot do? How can we not open our hands and our hearts to take up the task of being a window into God as well as being God's window to the world?
Here are three easy actions to open up: to simply stop, look, listen: that might lead to three not-too-small graces: sanctity, sunrise, and silence.
The world we live in runs so fast, and to simply stop, to make an empty place, to let a new answer come to you that could be larger than any question you can quickly put together, is to recall the deep grace of the world God creates, redeems and sanctifies in every moment of time.
So stop, then look. Look for more than you might immediately see, look for that hope which is in, with and under everything that is; look to see the sunrise of Christ in the middle of the world God loves. Look for the hidden lights of repentance, reconciliation, renewal in the dim places, look to see Jesus’ light-filled life shine over the darkest death denial the world can muster: and look, watch closely for resurrection right there!
Stop and look and then listen. Listen deep for the song, the music, the inner alleluia of all that is worthy to be praised. Look for God's word of love in a world which is noisy with so many slogans, so much propaganda, anger, fear, diversion, division and death. Listen for that holy love song calling to live in you, in all of us, in the heart of all God’s creation. Listen for that love singing everywhere God makes and mends and meets us in every moment of time.
At the end of the '89 comedy routine I said that God told me that one day we would each see our own face on the man on the cross in our brand-new stained-glass seminary chapel. And I said, “God, that's too much!” I said, “I know you are, Thou art, if you like, God and all, and I'm just a chaplain, but I really think you need help!” And God said, “Yes I do!”
It got a good laugh then and people recognised there was good humour and a bit of a bite, a point to it. There still is, it’s still true, God still does.
In one of CS Lewis's Narnia books, a young horse meets this Aslan, the Christ figure who is the “Son of Emperor Oversea”. At first she thinks about running away because he seems so large. But then she looks on the lion with love and runs to him saying, “Oh sir, I’d rather be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.”
St Augustine wrote: “Behold what you are; become what you receive.” We are all sinners, generally unready and often unwilling raw materials for sainthood. Yet we’re called here to stretch out with all the contradictions between our limited will and God’s unlimited grace. At least to start; stop, look and listen, at least, here and now, to begin to share the mind, to be the body, to take up the ministry of christ,
Jesus says, “I am willing to be eaten by you. I am willing to nurture you in that place between what you know yourself to be, with all that you have done and left undone, and who you, by grace, are called to do. I am willing to be with you there, that you may be one with me.”
And what will we say to that?