My people could us a little mercy now...

This morning I went over to our Sanctuary to spend part of Memorial Day in silence.  We decided to open our doors for the morning in case people walking about wanted a quiet and safe place for prayer.  Candles were lit and a few people came by to see what was going on.  It wasn't anything big or life changing - and that is as it should be.

Last night I found myself wrestling with one of those paradoxical truths that sometimes slips into my awareness:  mostly in ministry, I don't have anything to offer people who need peace except my time and presence.  I am thoroughly inadequate and really only have a ministry of presence to share.  Yes, from time to time I can make a referral; and I know how to pray with someone and even offer a few minor suggestions when they seem to fit.  But mostly, there is really nothing I can do to take away an other's pain except share it. 

Eugene Peterson, in his book the Contemplative Pastor, writes:
We set out to do something quite different (from playing a part).  We set out to risk our lives in a venture of faith.  We committed ourselves to a life of holiness. At some point we realized the immensity of God and of the great invisibles that socket into our arms and legs, into bread and wine, into our brains and our tools, into mountains and rivers, giving them meaning, destiny, value, joy, beauty, salvation.  We responded to a call to convey these realities in Word and sacrament. We offered ourselves to give leadership that connects and coordinates what the people in this community of faith are doing in their work and play, with what God is doing in mercy and grace.

And, at some point in time in ministry, we notice three things:  a) most people are too busy to listen for God's quiet word of grace in their lives - they want quick answers - that make life easier; b) when the pastor refuses to buy into this deception, some people get angry;  and c) there's nothing we can do about even that anger because ministry is not about us, but waiting upon the Lord.  I bump up against this all the time:  people want me to help them get better.  So I listen for a while - sometimes a long while - and then I wait.  In silence.  "Do something - helpful - and do it now!" is the unspoken plea that hangs in the air.  The tension is palpable.
So I ask, "Do you pray - do you make time to be still - quiet - so that you can listen for the Lord?"  Nothing.  "Do you understand that I'm not a counselor," I continue, "I am neither trained in that craft nor have any desire to practice it.  I know some good counselors... and they might have a role to play... but my work is different.  I have been called by God to point to the Lord - and mostly that can only happen when we stop - when we're quiet - and know how to ready our hearts for God's mercy."

I can't tell you how many people over the years reply:  Yeah, ok, I know I should pray but I need help now - as if that will push me into action with some secret, hidden solutions.  Damn, if I don't WANT to help them out.  I can feel their anguish.  Part of me wants to make it all better and take it all away.  But I know that I can't.  What's more, I know that the only thing that will last is if they learn to do... nothing.  To wait.  And rest.  To nourish trust.  And faith. One of the first passages of Scripture that I memorized as an adult comes from Romans 12: I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Peterson continues:
Most of the people we deal with are dominated by a sense of self, not a sense of God. Insofar as we deal with their primary concern - the counseling, instructing, encouraging - they give us good marks in our "jobs" as pastors. Whether we deal with God or not, they don't care over much.  Flannery O'Connor describes one pastor in such circumstances as one part minister and three parts masseur  ...  (So I ask myself) Is my primary concern (in ministry) m orientation towards God's grace, his mercy, his action in Creation and covenant? And am I committed to it enough that when people ask me to do something that will not lead them into a more mature participation in these realities, I refuse?

Yesterday in worship, I tossed aside my prepared sermon notes and spoke about the Holy Trinity - mostly that this is a sacred mystery that we can only grasp in community - and then went on to talk about how we in the church nourish community.  The last quarter of Sunday worship has to do with "blessing" - receiving and sharing blessing - so I asked:  What do you do in our ordinary, everyday life that brings a measure of blessing to the world?  How do you partner with God to advance blessings in your part of creation?  The reaction on many faces was fascinating:  what the hell are you talking about their faces said to me?  I'm too busy to even think about blessing?  Get real, man, and tell me something that will help!

But, for whatever reason, I kept at it:  don't look confused - and don't tell me some vague, abstract generality - think about how YOU share blessings.  WTF - was I speaking Russian - who knows?  In time, a few lights started to shine on select faces, but most still seemed to sit in what felt like darkness to me - and my heart ached for the rest of the day.  At the same time, I remembered that there is nothing I can do except ask the question, offer the invitaiton and wait until the Spirit is ready.

I think that's one of the reasons why I create so many musical opportunities - and other artistic ventures - in worship and beyond:  bumping up against beauty and truth can sometimes awaken a soul out of the darkness long enough to realize that alternatives exist.  What's more, seeing very different kinds of people share the creation of music and beauty during a concert offers another way of living beyond our solitary obsessions with getting ahead and making it all by ourselves. Music - and the creation of music - can be an embodied metaphor for living in a new way. 

It doesn't change much, I know:  how could it?  But, at the same time, it offers a taste of grace and a gentle invitation beyond the darkness - and that's enough.  This coming Sunday we're putting on "Beats 4 BEAT" - a musical benefit for the Berkshire Environmental Action Team that will simply be a Sunday afternoon of groovin'.  In fact, the old Rascals' song by the same name is how I feel this day will unfold.  For who knows:  maybe as we settle back in the beauty and the groove... a bit of mercy will be experienced? 



Phil Ewing said…
Great post and it's years since I've heard this one- one of my favourites ! Thanks and blessings

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