stitched up and unplugged.....

One of the true consolations of doing ministry at this later stage of ministry is knowing (most of the time) when to pull the plug: from my own inner insecurities (which are legion), from the drama that others insist upon dumping (over which I have no control), from the craziness of schedules that can only be managed, or, in the words of Stanley Hauerwas, from the expectation and/or practice that the pastor should live as "a quivering mass of availability" to whoever chooses to call. (I love that man's vocabulary!)  And sometimes I even manage to practice this unplugging in a timely fashion. More often than not, it is more like St. Paul's confession in Romans 7:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Unplugging, it would seem, is a life-long learning encounter that requires vigilance and practice. As I was thinking and praying my way through a recent attack of insecurity earlier this week, two insights came to me:  I can't do a whole lot about drama dumps except to refuse to participate; and, the best antidote I know to getting caught up in the muck is to make sure I spend time more time doing the work of ministry that I cherish. I rejoice in being still and listening to the wisdom of the Spirit in midday Eucharist. I am filled to overflowing at weddings and baptisms and funerals. It does my soul good to visit those who are lonely and reconnect with their lives. This week I am celebrating a marriage liturgy in a friend's barn - and after speaking with the bride on Wednesday I found out there will be a few baby donkeys wandering about with flower baskets. Next week I will baptize a young family - adults and children. So, like Paul said, rejoice in the Lord always. 

My life is changing. My ministry appears to be changing, too. I am not in control of very much these days so it is better to simply rejoice than fret about those things that are beyond my pay grade to control. Ministry continues to become for me an encounter with more and more small acts of presence and sharing acts of sacramental love. The late Paul Tillich, a truly wounded soul who still had wisdom to share, once concluded a sermon like this:

One of Luther’s most profound insights was that God made himself small for us in
Christ. In doing so, He left us our freedom and our humanity. He showed us His heart, so that our hearts could be won. When we look at the misery of our world, its evil and its sin, especially in these days which seem to mark the end of a world period, we long for divine interference, so that the world and its daemonic rulers might be overcome. We long for a king of peace within history, or for a king of glory above history. We long for a Christ of power. Yet if He were to come and transform us and our world, we should have to pay the one price we could not pay: we would have to lose our freedom, our humanity, and our spiritual dignity. Perhaps we would be happier; but we should also be lower beings, our present misery, struggle and despair notwith-standing. We should be more like blessed animals than men and women made in the image of God. Those who dream of a better life and try to avoid the Cross… and those who hope for a Christ and attempt to exclude the Crucified, have no knowledge of the mystery of God and humankind. The way of the cross is a commitment to faith (but not sight); to hope (but not consummation); and to love (but not power). 

I have noted before and will likely again: I am a very, very slow learner when it comes to applying the grace of Christ to my own heart and soul. Often I do the very opposite of what I know to be the path of love and freedom. But at least over these past few days, that has been less so and that is a gift. I went out and listened to one of my favorite local jazz masters last night - and that was pure grace, too.  So now that my Sunday notes for worship are complete - and the ordination sermon I will be preaching later that afternoon, too - it's Miller Time with a quiet supper with my lover as we move into Sabbath rest.


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