Tuesday, August 31, 2010

For those who have gone before and for those who follow

It's been 15 years since my ordination to the priesthood. My actual anniversary is on June 17, but that isn't cogent to this posting. In fact, perhaps it is: many priests are ordained on a day commemorating a saint or a particular feast of the church. To date, June 17 does not possess any commemorative weight in the Church's calendar. "Don't worry," my mother said years ago when I was lamenting that fact, "when they martyr you, perhaps someone 500 years from now will decide that June 17 is YOUR day....."

Hooray, something to look forward to!

Seriously, though, I was thinking about that heritage as I move through my present state of transition. I am between calls, so to speak. One interim is winding down and a new post will soon, God-willing and the people and Bishop consenting, begin. It is a time to reflect on where I have been and what God has done in my life and ministry to date. It is also a time to dream, plan and prepare for a new chapter in my life's path.
Test me, O Lord, and try me;
examine my heart and mind.
For your love is before my eyes;
I have walked faithfully with you. (Psalm 26, 2-3)
This bit of the psalm struck me, hard, this morning over my prayers. The psalmist is actually ASKING to be stretched, tested and tried. I don't know many people who pray that prayer in the morning, but I am experiencing new respect for those to do undertake a willingness to hand themselves and their personal agendas over to God with a request to have God put it through their paces. Not an easy challenge to embrace, at all. Yet, it is really a necessary one, isn't it?

If being a person of faith is going to mean anything, then we have to be willing-with an ongoing openness-to hand ourselves over to God and to open that way of being to all those whom we encounter as students, heirs and beneficiaries. In a world, and at a time, when anxiety, fear and trial make it easy to take what little we have and try to grasp it tightly, to give ourselves...ALL of who and what we are...to God is like stepping out into thin air off the edge of the roof of a high building. It might work in cartoon land, but in the real world gravity always wins. It is too easy to fall, so hold on to what you have now! Really?

This past week saw a rally held in Washington DC that was designed, said its planners, to help Americans "Restore Honor." But, what honor has been lost in recent years that we have not first set aside or given up to the world's expectations? The core argument was that it was time to turn back to God as a nations and to reclaim our place as a chosen people, but I have to confess that what I heard instead was a desire by people who feel disenfranchised to reframe and reclaim control over the basic devices of governance in the nation.

It was an argument more about cultural control and hegemony than it was about helping people to find their faith, to reclaim their sense of wholeness and holiness in the God who creates, redeems and sustains all things and peoples under the sun.

Moreover, I don't hear these folks speaking to what the psalmist is asking of God...to be taken, stretched-perhaps even broken...so that God's greater glory might be manifest. In a world where prosperity means you have God's blessing, that way of thinking doesn't just not make sense. It is heretical.

Think about it...the only nation that God has EVER chosen was Israel. Look at what they have been through. Do you think that the people of Israel would claim that they are blessed by God? They have endured generations in the wilderness, and when they came to their inheritance in the Land of Promise they had to take it from the people who were already living there. They stumbled and fell away from faithful practice again and again...and God both forgave them and then pushed them into diaspora and exile when their apostasy went unchecked. This is what it means to be a chosen nation? Would the people gathered in the Mall in DC think that this is what they were signing up for when invited to take the country back to God?

Remember that at one point, even God tried to talk the people out of covenant at one point. No human being can sustain a relationship with the absolute holiness of God. God is just too....well.....eternal.

As I look back at all those who contributed, and continue to contribute, to my formation as a priest and my work as a minister of the Gospel, and as I ponder my changing role as a leader in the church in light of that reading today from the psalms, I realize that we all in our baptism (and some few in their ordinations as bishops, priest and deacons), have signed on to be stretched and tried by God.

If there is anything we need to "get back to" or "reclaim," then I think it is a willingness to allow God to call the shots for a while, to discern what God's justice is versus our own agendas and hegemonies and to be willing to step back from center-stage once in a while to see what leadership God might offer in God's good time to us as we humbly strive to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before our Creator.

Now, that is an agenda I would be into supporting.....

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