One Who Is Mighty and Brave

Lectionary Text:  Matthew 14: 22-33
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone,24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea.26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

One year ago today, I adopted a rescued Labrador retriever.  He had been picked up in some place downtown where people throw food for homeless dogs.  He landed at B.A.R.C. (For those non-Houstonians, that’s the Bureau of Animal Regulation and Control.  I think they used to call it the “city pound”.) and was there, unbelievably, for three months. On the night before he was to be put down, someone at B.A.R.C. called Scout’s Honor Rescue and told them to come get this “wonderful little black lab” before they put him down.  He was put into foster care and, unbelievably, I found him on the Internet with his own page asking to be adopted.  (Isn’t technology amazing?) Somewhere along the way, someone had named him Vader, which I just thought was odd.  So, I changed his name to Maynard. (Which, admittedly, YOU may think is odd!)  It means “one who is mighty and brave”.  It just seemed to fit for a rescue dog.  He had been hungry and homeless and out in the elements.  He had been caged and deserted and begging.  But when he came home with me, it took a little while.  He was enamored with the dog toys.  He was amazed that there was dinner every night. He thought the yard and the walks were wonderful.  But when I left him, there was a look in his eyes.  I think he always wondered if I was really coming back.  A year later, that look is not there.  He has been swept into my unpredictable life.  He has often been the last one picked up from his weekly daycare outing and a couple of weeks ago, he had to be “emergency boarded” because his owner got tied up at a hospital with a pastoral care visit.  And yet, he knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I will come and take him home.  That is what it means to be one who is mighty and brave—not that fear no longer exists, but that it is no longer the controlling force in one’s life.

Recasting fear is not easy.   Sometimes life is just scary.  Sometimes life changes in an instant.  And sometimes that unknown ending of life as we know it looms larger than we ever thought it would. Yeah, sometimes the winds and the waves pound so loudly that we can’t even hear ourselves think.  Sometimes life is just scary.  God never calls us to leave our fears behind.  They are part of who we are.  But faith empowers us to recast them, to reshape and remold them into something different.  Think about the “recasting” of a thrown pot.  You do not discard the clay; you simply remold it into something that works a little better.

Faith gives us the ability to recast fear into trust.  God created all that is from chaos.  Imagine what God could do with the chaos in our lives today.  God is good at dealing with chaos.  God has done this before.  Our only job is to get out of the boat and trust that, when it’s all said and done, God will take the chaos of our fears and recreate them into trust in what God can do.  “Do not be afraid”, for God has recast your fears into life.  It is knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will always bring you home.

You see, faith is not a shield that we create that protects us from harm.  It is not something that we accomplish or wear like a badge of honor.  I don’t even think it’s something that is measurable.  It’s not something that we check off of our “to do” list.  Rather, faith makes us realize that we’re not in this alone.  Maybe God will pull us out of the storm in the nick of time.  Maybe not.  I think it’s much more profound to believe in a God who will get in the storm with me, who will hold me, allow me to wrestle, allow me to fight against the waves.  I believe in a God who doesn’t demean me or dismiss me for being afraid.  Sure, I’m afraid!  After all, there’s a big wave coming my way right now!  What kind of semi-emotionally-adjusted human WOULDN’T have fears?

You know, Peter had fears.  He admitted he had fears—ghosts, storms, death.  Jesus never said to him that those were unfounded or baseless or stupid.  Jesus just held out his hand and cheered him on.  “Peter, you almost have it, hold on, hold on.”  It is no different for us.  In his 1833 Journals, Ralph Waldo Emerson said that “the wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but for deliverance from fear.” We need to trust our fears.  They are part of our very being.  They are part of the way God made us to be.  But they don’t need to control what we do or who we are.  There is a way to recast those fears into something that is life-giving.

Of what are you afraid?  No, I mean REALLY afraid–that terrifying, nail-biting, knuckle-whitening feeling that washes over you like waves.  Take it.  It is your fear.  It is real.  And then trust, trust that God can create even from this chaos that consumes your life.  I think God has done that before.  In fact, I think God is REALLY good at it, sort of has it down to an art (or at least a promise we can trust.)  And when God asks you to get out of the boat, go ahead.  What’s the worst that can happen?  Maybe you’ll sink to the depths of your soul, but God will sink right along with you.  (Hmmm!  God has done that before too!)  And maybe, just maybe, if only for a moment, you’ll walk on water.  And maybe you won’t.  Does it really matter?  Faith is not about always coming out on top.  I don’t even think it’s about relying on God always pulling us out at the last minute.  Maybe that’s not what’s going to happen!  I think faith has more to do with knowing that God is there on the mountaintop and there in the depths of our existence.  And THAT will make us one who is mighty and brave!

Happy “Adoption” Day Maynard!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli        

WALK TO JERUSALEM: Called to this Work

Scripture Text:  John 1: 1-4, 29-42
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people…The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o”clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

The writer of John’s version of the Gospel According to Jesus Christ presents this as a sort of “prelude” to Jesus’ ministry.  This passage begins by celebrating Jesus’ origins, tying them back to the very beginning of Creation, tying them back to the Creator of us all.  Then we are given a witness by John the Baptist attesting to who Jesus is, reminding us that this Jesus Christ is the one whose coming was announced by the angel, the one who was born years before in that dark grotto in Bethlehem, the one who he himself had baptized and who God’s Spirit had entered.  This was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Now it was time to begin the work.  This was Jesus’ calling to ministry.  And what did he do first?  He called others, saying, “Come and see…come and see what you haven’t seen before.”
 
Now I know that often when we talk about “calls” from God, many of us squirm in our seats a little. Calls are something that a lot of people limit to clergy. But as early as the Hebrew Scriptures, we read of a qara, which means to call, call out, recite, read, cry out, proclaim, or name. The word was used both as a summons or a general call as well as a specific election, the calling of someone to do a specific task that needed to be done. And, here’s the point—the call is to everyone. It is that voice, sometimes silenced by our busyness and our preconceptions, that is buried deep within our being. It is that voice that calls us to be who God created us to be.  But you will notice that God doesn’t just throw a blanket over humanity to see who will pick it up. And nowhere in the Bible does God really ask and wait for volunteers. The call to each of us is very unique and specific. God calls us to our own part of God’s creation, our own part of the Kingdom of God that is ours to build.  God calls us to walk this road to Jerusalem.

Note here that two disciples follow Jesus as a direct result of John’s witness. John showed them the light. And then two others are called. One is named Andrew we are told, who then gathers his brother Simon Peter. Both become disciples. But the other one that is called is unidentified here. We are not clear who this is. This anonymity is reflective of the writer’s understanding of discipleship as a broader vision. (In essence, the “other disciple” is us!) Discipleship is meant for all of us. Yes, all of us! And when Jesus calls us to follow, the answer is always “come and see”. You have to come and see for yourself. God calls, God names, and God calls each of us by name. Just, come and see!

So how do we respond? What does it mean to respond to our call from God? What does that look like? That calling is to each of us to become the part of God’s Creation that we are called to be. It is at the very center of who we are as followers of Christ. And nowhere in the Scriptures do we read of calls from God like “Hey, if you’re not too busy, on your way home from work, could you feed some homeless people?”  or “Listen, I don’t want you to inconvenience yourself, but when you have time, could you speak out against injustices in this world?” or (my favorite!) “OK, once you’ve “made it”, once you have all of the money that you need to be secure and you are completely adept at what I’m calling you to do, then, very carefully, so as not to make yourself uncomfortable, could you follow me?”  God does not call perfect people.  God calls us. 

The “called” life is one of tensions and convergences and wonderful coincidences that God melds together into a wonderful journey of being.  It seems that God is continually calling us into places and times that we’ve never been, constantly empowering us to push the limits of our “comfort zones”, to embark on a larger and more all-encompassing journey toward a oneness with God.  It seems that God always calls us beyond where we are and beyond where we’ve been, not to the places that are planted and built and paved over with our preconceptions and biases but, rather, to places in the wilds of our lives with some vision of a faint pathway that we must pave and on which we must trudge ahead.  Thomas Merton says that “there is in all visible things…a hidden wholeness.”[i]  It is the image of God in each one of us that must be reclaimed and nurtured so that we might take part in bringing about the fullness of Creation, in bringing the Reign of God into its fullness.  Perhaps, then, the meaning of calling is not one in which we launch out and pursue a new life but is instead one that brings us to the center of our own life, one that brings us home, back to the womb, back to God.  T.S. Eliot says that “the end of all our exploring… will be to arrive where we started…and know the place for the first time.”[ii] 

So, back to the story.  This is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  This is the beginning of his own walk and his own work.  We don’t usually think of Jesus being “called”.  We’re more comfortable just imagining him already there, as if he dropped into our lives already formed.  But that’s not the way it works.  God did not just plunk down into our human existence without any connection; rather, God in Jesus inserted the Divine Calling into a long, successive line of called ones–some who were ready and some who were not, some who went willingly to do what they were asked to do, and others who fought the fight of their lives to keep it from happening and lived to tell the tale of encountering God–and it keeps going.  So Jesus had to be called.  It’s what it’s about.  Jesus was formed and then called and then called others who called others who called others…well, you get the drift!  And one way or another, they responded.  Jesus was not the lone ranger.  And those that he called went.  They were nothing special–just ordinary people like you and me.  They were ordinary people asked to take on the work of discipleship and they ended up with a life that they never could have foreseen or imagined.  It is in the ordinariness of our lives that God calls us and asks us to join in the work, to join with Jesus Christ in this work of ministry, to walk with Jesus on this walk to Jerusalem.  Come and see!  It will be magnificent!  And the work has begun…
So, in this Lenten season, listen for where God is calling you and then…come and see!  Because that is the way to Jerusalem…
Grace and Peace,
Shelli 

[i] Wayne Mueller, How Then Shall We Live?  Four Simple Questions that Reveal the Beauty and Meaning of our Lives, (New York, NY:  Bantam Books, 1996), 3
[ii] T.S. Eliot in Pilgrim Souls: An Anthology of Spiritual Autobiographies, ed. by Amy Mandelker and Elizabeth Powers (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999), 146

Let’s Go Fly a Kite!

I saw a kite flying today.  It dawned on me that it had been a really long time since I had seen one.  Do people not fly them anymore?  Is it because I live in the inner city where everything is sort of on top of everything else and there’s no room?  I used to love flying kites when I was little.  Mine was blue and red.  I probably wasn’t that great a kite-flyer because mine crashed a lot.  But I still loved it. I loved running along on a windy day trying to make sure that my kite stayed airborne.

Kite-flying is an interesting phenomenon, when you think about it.  You have to know how to control it against the wind and, yet, you also have to realize that you really can’t control it at all.  It’s more an exercise of response than control.  Really good kite-flyers have to learn that they really don’t have control at all once the kite is up.  Keeping the kite flying is a matter of steering with the wind; in essence, you have to relinquish the control that you have and follow where the wind takes you. 

Maybe kite-flying would be a good Lenten practice!  So much of our lives is about control.  In fact our society implies that if we don’t have control, if we’re not in charge, then we have somehow failed.  That completely flies in the face (cute pun intended!) of our walk of faith.  Walking this walk of faith, this Way of Christ, is not about control; it is about response.  You have to follow where the wind takes you.  Now don’t get me wrong, you still have to DO something or you’ll crash into the ground (another cute pun intended!).  You still have to stay with it and sometimes run to keep up but, always, always, there is something more that will allow you to fly.

So, for one of your Lenten practice, go fly a kite! (cute pun NOT intended!–Just do it!)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli