Struggle, humility and hope
The other week I was talking to a colleague of mine who had served in parishes that either closed shortly after he left, or that he had to work at closing down. He was feeling exceptionally depressed and lamented that he was ready to quit ministry. I said to him: why do you think you were sent there to keep them open? What if God put you there to help them close? What if God put you there to care for and love the people who are agonizing over the loss of a community where they were baptized, got married, had funerals, saw life’s ebbs and flows? Why do you think that using a capitalist, corporate, measure of success equates with God’s purposes for you being there?
Every business will eventually die out, all the successes of every business person will eventually fade into the wind as time marches on. All that will remain - and remain as it ever was - is the love of God poured out in Jesus. All of us - you and I - and all the super successful ministers with thousand member churches, we’re like cogs in the wheel of God’s chariot, travelling the road of time where he’s gathering people to him. We’re just parts in that gathering process, fundamentally unaware of what role we really play in God’s plan.
“It’s depressing that we don’t really seem to matter, as particular people,” he said to me. “On the contrary,” I said. It’s exactly who we are and what we’ve experienced, that God works through to bring his plans to pass. He could certainly do this without us. But he chose us, the particular us, to work through. And then I cited this passage from our Gospel lesson.
“Think about it,” I said to this colleague of mine. “Jesus calls these disciples who are pretty average joes. They’re not leaders, they’re not philosophers or wisemen, they’re not wealthy, they have real issues, like Peter and Judas who will betray Jesus. They have just one thing in common: they’re willing to jump into that chariot, as it were, and follow Jesus on a mission that starts just where they are, but that extends not just geographically across the middle East, but all the way through time, gathering the past, present and future to him. I mean, you and I sitting here in June of 2023 are reading about dear Simon Peter and James 2000 years later. These very average joes who didn’t do much except follow.
They took a pretty big risk of being rejected by their own people - other Jews - for following Jesus. They didn’t go out with all their ducks in a row. They’re told to go out and heal and cure without many provisions for themselves. They’re told, look you received forgiveness and healing without having paid for it, so don’t ask for payment. God provides for sparrows doesn’t he? So he’ll provide for your needs. God knows they have no power to heal or cure on their own, so he provides the power to heal those whom these disciples encounter.
Jesus even warns them that their testimony that the kingdom of God has come is going to earn them the ire of their own people. They’re likely going to be arrested and brought before temple authorities. They can pretty much count on people, including their own families, rejecting their testimony and them. And you’re going to suffer.
Now most of us have never faced the sort of persecution or rejection the early Apostles would have faced. Yet we share with the disciples the same mission to tell of God’s Kingdom having already arrived in Jesus and of how he is now gathering us all through the Spirit working in his people, the Church. And we face the same temptation they probably did, since Jesus seems to preempt their worries: you don’t need to know what to say, you are not in control of how I gather people; where you experience failure, difficulties, or sense of insignificance or irrelevance, don’t give up; don’t become complacent; don’t turn to other gods and to your own ways as did the Israelites.
Trust that God will provide. Trust that even in the most stark and darkest of circumstances, God is working in you to transform you and the people around you so that you can see him if you are willing to allow his love to overcome your rejecting and paralysing fear. I didn’t learn this in a book. I learned this when, struggling with multiple diseases - type 1 diabetes, ADHD, dissociation, anxiety and depression - I stopped being able to control how others saw me. I stopped being able to project that I had it altogether.
When I thought I’d lost my power and so value, that is when God’s power finally entered the rotted fig tree around my soul. And suddenly there blossomed fruit that I didn’t know existed in me; things that actually grew out of my weakness. I have a fundamental terror of relationships and other human beings. Yet in experiencing God’s intervention into my brokennesses, I could draw on the impulsivity of my ADHD, coupled with a dog who makes me feel much more confident with people than I am on my own, to start whole ministries with perfect strangers. That is not by my power or my organizing or my control. This occurs because God fits the peculiarity of who I am and what I experience, and the peculiarity of others together in a way that effects a calling and a capacity to serve others that I cannot ignore.
I have seen it, my friends. I have lived it and so report to you: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly, for you and I. Because of this, we can boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” AMEN