Monday, October 10, 2005

After the "clenchy no"

A couple of weeks ago, I preached a sermon that has since been titled "the scary yes." The idea of the scary yes centered around the idea that when God calls us, we face the responsibility of answering with a "yes" that means moving beyond what we safely expect and enjoy in life. It meant being willing to work without the proverbial net...Not the one God offers us, that whole "regard the lilies of the field" thing...But the one we try to set up for ourselves.

Call it what you will, but too often I try to hedge my bet on life. I stress about that, too. In trying to make sure I have a roof over the heads of myself and my family, I might overextend my credit...Because I want to make sure all my stuff is safe, too. I don't have time and energy for anything new, because I have filled my existence with noise and effort that center on sustaining my own consumption rate, over and against the needs of others. Sound familiar? Standard guilt trip...And yet there is always an element of truth to it. We use social, economic, cultural and theological buffers to shield us, as best we can, from the scary realities of the world "out there." Anyone who has locked their car doors on reflex as they drive through a questionable (read lower economic/transitional) neighborhood can claim a share in that attitude. Turning away from the news that people are dying due to the earthquake in Pakistan or the hurricane in Guatemala, while instead railing against God for causing people to die in Louisiana or the Gulf port communities is another form of making those choices.

Suffering is all around. Want is all around. Worry and fear and grief press in all around. No one has the greater share in this life...And the only GREAT sin is when we turn our backs on each other when need is expressed.

And so, how do I as a priest in Bucks County, PA, keep it all in perspective and answer God with a "scary yes" to where, how and to what I might be called?

By avoiding the "clenchy no."

This past Sunday, I preached a stewardship sermon on the fifth question in the Baptismal Covenant:

"Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?" (I will, with God's help.)

The Propers were tough, with the Gospel Lesson being the parable of the King's wedding feast. In that story, a man who does not have the proper garment at a wedding feast is challenged...And stands mute. I interpreted that as an illustration of the "clenchy no." He is so bound up, clenched up that when challenged, all he can manage is mute silence. There is nothing to say. There are no words or actions to offer up to justify his own inability to participate in the festivities. There is no greater distance he can travel away from a "scary yes" than what he does. He offers up nothing to his host...And for that he is expelled from the feast.

What paralyzes me? That same clenchy no. I get all caught up into the things that might go wrong. I get angry with people who should do more. I get resentful of the world, of human society, of God when I can't get my own way...And forget to easily that my way doesn't much matter if it contradicts what God intends for me. God promises to make paths straight and level, if we listen. Mind you, the paths is not easy, just straight and level. It might feel like scrambling uphill over loose, sharp rocks. It might feel like trying to swim through quicksand...But in the end, if it is of God, then God's will be done.

Even Jesus wrestled with that scary yes and clenchy no. When he prayed in the Garden before his arrest, he asked for the cup to pass from him. In the end, though, he said quite famously: "Not my will, but yours be done..."

Wish I could be that holy. Mostly, I manage "OK, God...What now?"

At best, I hope I can unclench enough to let a little of that generous grace that God is offering up to flow out from me. At most, I can pray for the ability to hear, see, taste and smell just how glorious life can be for myself, my family and the people of God I am pledged to lead with time enough to act before the opportunity passes me by.

That means letting go of the clenchy no, and it means embracing the scary yes.

What would have happened if the man without the wedding garment offered up that he had forgotten his suit? Or had been able to ask for directions? Or help?

Giving up the clench is the hardest part of being human and fully alive.

On another note, I had a strange dream last night. In the dream, my property chair came up to me at church to let me know that a large delivery for a new floor had just come in. I walked out into the hall, and saw flat after flat of wood planking. Neatly wrapped and sitting on palates, it looked like enough wood to redo every floor in the place.

"This should solve our problems," I heard a voice say. New floors solve a financial crisis? Odd thought, I said to myself in the dream.

I woke up and told my wife about the dream...And my waking thought:

"Planks don't pledge."

Another meditation in dream talk on the experience of walking with Trinity through this crisis. We can fill the church with furniture. We can fill it with faces, even...But if we don't to the work to turn those faces into participants in the life of Christ, then we are all but equivalent to a stack of wood planks. Useless until the builder is able to do something with them. Passive until that scary yes removes cover and puts to use the resources that are literally piled in the corner. Finally, if we put those planks to the right use...If we put ourselves to the right use...Then that material which was off to the side becomes quite literally the ground beneath the feet of the servants of Christ. Lifting, upholding and enabling the work of ministry to happen.

After all, what is Church without a floor, where no one has a place to stand? Empty.

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