When we were younger priests...and full of the grace and pride of being few (in our generation) and young, a bunch of us got together at a seminary in Virginia to talk about being young priests, and about how we might as a generation do our part to form the future of the Church with our pastoral leadership.
A decade and a half later, I and my fellow, former young priest colleagues are by no means "old" now; but the shine is definitely off the apple. Most of us are now firmly ensconced in the middle of life, of our ministry path...and the awareness that we are now more than a decade and a half past that moment in time is sinking in on me today as I complete this morning's Bible Challenge readings. This is true, and reminds me more of something one of my now best friends said a couple of years after that conference..."You know, I used to think in those days that our work on (and in) the Church was important for us. It's not. Sometime, not too long ago, our work became about them, the generations following us."
When it comes to a life's work...it never really is about us. It is about living and doing for others, yes, and for the generations to come that we will never see.
When God tells Abram to get up, leave his father's home and go...so that God can show Abram the land he is going to give him and his descendants, the temptation is to see Abram and his sojourn as the point of the story. It really isn't. The point of the story is that Abram is the prelude to what God is going to accomplish in humanity.
I see the same point in the 4th chapter of Matthew...and the story of the Temptation in the Desert. Jesus is fasting, he is weak and hungry and the tempter seeks to convince Jesus that this is all about him. Go ahead, Jesus...you are hungry, make bread from stones. Go ahead Jesus, throw yourself from the heights...God said YOU won't be hurt and angels will keep you safe. Go ahead Jesus, and let your ambition allow you to lord it over the whole world...make it all about you for always....
And the tempter fails, because throughout, Jesus says-in summary-it's not about me. It is about God working through me for others.
His first act after coming out of the desert? Calling some fishermen-soon-to-be-disciples with an invitation to follow him and learn how to fish for people. His second, to teach and heal-serving those he came to save.
My friend was SO right. It is NOT about us. May God continue to remind us of that truth, and forgive us when we too often forget. May God we with us, in those moments of desert temptation or those everyday simple self-involvements. An Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, once said that the Church is the only human institution whose purpose is to exist for the benefit of those not yet its members. For the Church to grow, to bloom, we are and always will be dependent upon not only welcoming, but living for the benfit of others, particularly for those who have not yet come to their time, in their generations.
We are all going to have times in the desert. That is God's way of teaching us strength, courage, forbearance, hope and self-awareness. When we emerge from those times, may God also be with us. Desert moments form us so that when we see others experiencing their desert moments, we will reach our with compassion, and in us they will have faithful guides and support for their sojourn.