Last fall I started a series on my blog. It all started with a feeling of dis-ease. Of unrest. It all started with a sense that there was a lot I had yet to deal with and wrestle to the ground when it came to my faith.
I’ve been a part of the church for even longer than I can remember. And as best as I can remember it, it was in the back seat of my parents’ car, in a suburban parking lot, that I had a conversation with my mom that led us to pray together. It was a prayer of openness and yearning for God to more fully enter my young life and to infuse it with his grace. It was the day I asked Jesus to become more fully present in my life.
I must have been five or six – and my mom can probably fill in the details better than I (you can ask her how accurate my memory is after the service) – and we were parked in front of the Family Christian Bookstore in Burlington Ontario.
I don’t remember much about that day. But I remember that such a day took place. And even if I’m making all of this up, it’s a memory layered with meaning and emotion that accompanies me to this day. It was a turning point. A memorable conversion. Or perhaps, like Paul in his letter to the Galatians, less a conversion, and more a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Revelation. I think I like that terminology better. Somehow, unexpectedly, in the back of that car, I was overwhelmed by God’s spirit, by what God had done through Jesus in his life, death and resurrection, and I couldn’t help but respond to the call that had become so clear, and so compelling that nothing could stand in the way of declaring that I was God’s, and God was mine. Even at such a young age.
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God all my life long.
So writes the psalmist. And there are seasons that I have lived with such fervour. There have been seasons that I have passionately sung and proclaimed my praises to the Lord, as if I had a choice, as if I could do anything but shout from the roof tops that everything has changed. That everything’s been made new in Christ.
And there are times and there are moments when it actually feels that way. Like the electric crackle in the air when you look across a crowded room and find your eyes locking with your beloved. Like the passion of young love. Like the ecstatic joy of new birth. Or like last year at Pentecost when I experienced the untethered excitement of my own child’s baptism. It’s everything that smells of newness and vitality and possibility and hope.
It’s beautiful. Yet in the immortal words of Taylor Swift, “nothing lasts forever.”
There are seasons to the Christian life, aren’t there?
The fires of Pentecost have come. And I wonder, as we move further and further out into this long stretch of Ordinary Time – the summer months right through to November – I wonder as we move out into Ordinary Time how we will fare.
How will we count the days and weeks and months? How will we count our work as co-creators in the Kingdom of God?
What do we expect to give and to receive in our relationship with God and with each other in this season?
There will be days, to be sure. There will be days filled with laughter. Nights sitting around the campfire, times when the defenses come down and we allow – if only for a moment – our real, vulnerable selves to make an appearance.
There will be opportunities to climb mountains, or hike through fields. There will be afternoons spent lying on the grass, listening to the sounds of creation buzz and chatter and call – the songs of recreation and delight that we miss out on in the struggle and clamour of daily life.
And then there’s the night – perhaps at the top of a building, out on a boat, or in the middle of a field to lose yourself in the wonder and the beauty and mystery of the universe, and the God who from the beginning has called it all good.
But our experiences of the night, our experiences of darkness aren’t universally good. There are sometimes the night closes in. There are times when like John of the Cross, like Mother Teresa, or lately like me, we experience that which we might call a Dark Night of the Soul.
There are days when The Way The World Appears overwhelms me, and it is hard to put my trust in the fact that God has set all things to right in and through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection
Do not put your trust in princes,
In mortals, in whom there is no help,
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
On that very day their plans perish.
Our world and its systems of oppression demand allegiance. Whether Moses and the Israelites under Pharoah, whether Naboth under Ahab and Jezebel, Jesus and the early church under Roman occupation, or whether it’s the lot of us living under the rule of late capitalism, the warning remains the same:
Do not put your trust in princes, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Governor General or in Justin Trudeau, his policies, or his hair.
In these ordinary, numbered days of summer, we experience the reality of life. Not just its highs, but every valley too. It’s the time of year we put our hands to the plough – or whatever the modern, urban equivalent might be for you.
And while these valleys may one day be lifted up, we struggle as we move from one hill to the next. Our journey more deeply into the Christian life of faith, hope and love, is not static. As we participate with God in bringing the kingdom of justice and reconciliation more fully to life.
The life of faith in the Jesus way is not a one-time-and-then-you’re done kind of life. It’s a life that invites us deeper. Deeper into faithful, self-giving relationship with God and with one another.
Sometimes that relationship brings joy. Other times we enter deep sorrow brought on by our own inner wrestlings, brought on by the feeble state of the world, and our conflicts in it.
The life of Christian faith – Christian faithfulness, really – is a life that invites us to see beyond what the rulers of this world would have us believe.
It invites us to struggle with what faithfulness looks like beyond the current moment of doubt. In this life there will be people and circumstances that cause us doubt in God, ourselves, our church.
But Faith. true fidelity to the God who knows us by name, and who calls us Beloved can absorb and encompass and walk us through those valleys of the shadow of doubt.
Today we welcome a number of new folks who have chosen to become members of this Cathedral community. And they’re not doing it – I don’t think – because we’re perfect (no matter how winsome we are).
They’re doing it because of what God is up to in their lives, what God is up to in this place, and the way in which those two things will help them to root more deeply in the life and practice of Christian faith.
Which is good. It’s good that such things run deep. Because the reality of this community is that we will disappoint you. I will disappoint you. Marnie might, too.
But luckily this story, and this ever-growing, ever-evolving community isn’t about me. It isn’t about her. It’s about God working in and through all of us to do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
This Community, as one expression of Christ’s broken, resurrected body, is, at the end of the day, all about the God revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. And the thing that’s beautiful about that is simply this:
That God, through Jesus has reconciled, and is reconciling all things to himself. That God, through Jesus, is making place at the table for all members of creation. For all who would be united to Jesus. That’s Paul’s central contention in Galatians – that by God’s grace we are all reconciled to God and to each other.
And, when he starts to sound a bit testy, defensive, maybe a little bit perturbed. When he lists off all his crednetials and tells us to listen, he does so because he’s angry at those who – perhaps like his former self – would deny a place at the table for all of God’s beloved children. For all who are being reconciled to God through the work of Jesus.
For Paul, all truly means all. There’s no question. Don’t mess with him, lest he write another impetuous letter to tell you what’s what.
The God Paul knows is not one obsessed with increasing division in the world God, the world God declared good, the creation God names as beloved. Paul takes us back to and grounds us – like the Psalmist – in the story of God’s faithfulness.
Both Paul and the Psalmist remind us of what kind of God we’re talking about, and what kind of community ought to sprout up, if this is the God they worship.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord their God.
What God is this? It’s the God
Who made heaven and earth,
The sea, and all that is in them;
Who keeps faith forever;
Who executes justice for the oppressed
Who gives food to the hungry
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
The lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down
The lord loves the righteous
The Lord watches over the strangers;
He upholds the orphan and the widow
But the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The God of all creation, the one who made the earth and all that is in it, the God who entered into covenant with Israel for the very purpose of extending God’s blessing through this people to one and all. The God who is faithful forever – who takes our feet out of miry clay and places them firmly upon the rock.
The God who brings about justice, who extends mercy to one and all, who helps feed the hungry and comfort the lonely, the God who lets the captives go free and opens the eyes of the blind, proclaiming the year of Jubilee.
That’s the kind of community, and people God is calling us to be.
This is a God who enters history, who sees that the world is corrupt and unjust. A God who offers forgiveness when we humans hurl our worst in God’s direction.
This a God who weeps at the death of a friend, and who enters into human suffering on behalf of us all. This is a God who – in the midst of poverty and sickness and injustice – provides strength to those who cannot bear that weight alone.
That’s the kind of community, and people God is calling us to be.
This is a God who reigns on high, and who empties God’s self to enter the ordinary reality of life’s muck and filth. And he does so in order to show us the way of peace and reconciliation.
And this God, the God who cares for us sends us out, inviting us into lives of praise, not (perhaps) as we ought, but as we are able. So that we may say feebly, or with great gusto:
The Lord will reign forever,
Your God, O Zion, for all generations
Praise the Lord!