Mercy and awe...

Over the summer I've had the blues ~ nothing debilitating ~ just a deep sense that I didn't know how to best serve and shepherd my congregation.  Not only are family realities profoundly different from when I first started 30 years ago, but the world has changed so rapidly that I guess I lost my bearing.  For a while I had been under the illusion that I was keeping pace, but this summer I had to face the fact that in many ways I was clueless about how to be faithful as a pastor in this vastly changed landscape.  It was sobering, humbling and disorienting.

My angst came to a head when I visited with my hip hopster friends during vacation and found myself wondering, "What does my connection to Christ's grace ~ and my spirituality ~ have to say to their reality?" And truth be told, I didn't really know how to answer that question.  I trusted that as the scriptures say, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8) but... how?  And why did this even matter?  I really didn't know...

So, as I've come to know over the years, whenever I get the blues it is best to sit with them rather than try to force a resolution ~ and that's what I did:  I played the blues, I rested in their aching truth and resisted trying to force an insight or answer.  And then, as is often the case, when I leasted expected it I stumbled upon a book in a small bookstore in the Eastern Townships of rural Quebec ~ Rediscovering Reverence ~ and the language I've been hoping for started to take shape:  Ralph Heintzman writes:

If the concept of belief has any place close to the heart of faith, it too needs to become an action, or a verb rather than a noun. And, interestingly, it's in this form that it appears, almost exclusively, in the Christian scriptures. As a noun it seems to occur only once. As a verb, an action word, it occurs many times, and, even more interesting, it often appears as... an action without a specific object.  For example, immediately after Jesus tells the woman suffering from her menstrual haemorrhage's that her faith has made her well - in fact, while he is still speaking - a message is brought to another person in the crowd, names Jairus, that his daughter had died.  As soon as he hears, this, Jesus says, to him, "Be not afraid, only believe."

Obviously Jesus (or the writer of the Gospel) didn't mean that the man should recite a creed or accept some doctrine or dogma. The verb has no object. Jesus is telling the man to DO something, just as the woman had done a moment before, to be inwardly transformed by doing something, not just with his mind but with his heart and his will also, and to do it with the same openness, the same spirit of trust. To be more accurate, Jesus is telling him to continue doing something, because Jairus had already come to him, seeking his help, just as the women and Baremaeus had done.  The challenge, however, for Jairus was to continue acting with trust... because any rational person would say that the chances of his hopes being answered had been utterly destroyed.
The key, it seems, is that once we have encountered/experienced reverence, faith has something to do with nourishing, acting and practicing the habits that keep reverence and awe alive.  And as the old timers in the back woods of Mississippi used to tell me, "THAT dog hunts!" ~ even in a hip hop age.  "We are led to God by reverence, not the reverse. We don't become reverent because we know God. It's in the practice of reverence itself that we encounter whatever it is that we call God or points to the Lord."

Tomorrow I am going to spend more time in prayer, study and reflection so that I might have something of integrity to share with my people on Sunday.  Tonight at Church Council we spoke of the times we have experienced awe ~ and how it energized us.  We flirted with this idea at midday Eucharist, too. So we shall see... my text for this week is Mark 14.

Jesus was at Bethany, a guest of Simon the Leper. While he was eating dinner, a woman came up carrying a bottle of very expensive perfume. Opening the bottle, she poured it on his head. Some of the guests became furious among themselves. “That’s criminal! A sheer waste! This perfume could have been sold for well over a year’s wages and handed out to the poor.” They swelled up in anger, nearly bursting with indignation over her.

But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why are you giving her a hard time? She has just done something wonderfully significant for me. You will have the poor with you every day for the rest of your lives. Whenever you feel like it, you can do something for them. Not so with me. She did what she could when she could—she pre-anointed my body for burial. And you can be sure that wherever in the whole world the Message is preached, what she just did is going to be talked about admiringly.”



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