One of my dear friends and colleagues, Lee from Chicago, recently said to me: if there is anything you have always wanted to do in ministry but haven't yet accomplished it, make sure you give it a shot before you depart. Wise and even sobering words for me as I consider what would honor the heart of Jesus over the next 120 days. (Who is counting?) I've done most of the big projects over the past 35 years. Consequently, I don't feel a compelling drive to do anything more except... lead a closing worship series based upon Jean Vanier's writings on the mystical blessings found in St. John's gospel.
The light of God... was hidden and yet revealed in all creation... the light of the world, God, is hidden in the conscience of each person, so that we can all become children of God.
If I have learned anything during my days in ministry, it is this: unless we experience from the inside that we are truly God's beloved, we won't live like Jesus' brother or sister on the outside. We will remain trapped in the values and goals of a consumer culture. We will concentrate on ourselves - our anxiety, grief, achievements and status - rather than let love guide us in every moment. We will treat God as an add-on to our busy and even frantic existence rather than our core. We will build lives where we act like we are the crown of creation. Jesus offers an alternative. It is quiet, hidden, rarely discerned at first because the way of Jesus is not flashy. Vanier writes:
Why did the Word-made-flesh (the essence and totality of God's wisdom) need someone (like John the Baptizer) to prepare the way for him? Wasn't it because he did not want to be seen first of all as a powerful person, creating fear and awe in others? Jesus did not come in power and majesty, but as a lamb, in humility and littleness. John the Baptizer was a spectacular person. He attracted people because he lived like a prophet, austerely in the desert... He cried out and challenged people as other prophets did. But Jesus was not spectacular. He dressed simply. He did not live in the desert but in an obscure village with ordinary people like us. He loved to be with people who were poor or sic, people who felt rejected and excluded from society. He became their friend... It is Jesus who will lead us in and through the dailiness of life into something new: a simple, loving friendship with God where we will be free from fear, hatred and violence. Free to love people, particularly those who are weak and suffering.
My mentor, Ray Swartzback, used to say that if we couldn't make the gospel real in our broken urban centers, where human pain was obvious, there was no way in hell it could take root in our suburbs. In our affluent and bourgeois
communities. anguish is kept well hidden. Human suffering is masked beneath distractions, addictions, pretty clothes, fast cars, nice home, manicured lawns and a super abundance of activities. I knew that "Swartzy's" wisdom was true 40 years ago when I served as his pastoral intern. And after 35+ years of ordained ministry as a pastor to the middle class, I have experienced this truth in my bones.
So, I think my swan song will likely be a midwinter series using Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus as my guide. Vanier writes in the introduction:
The life of God which Jesus came to give us through a new birth and growth in the Holy Spirit.. is a life of friendship with Jesus that brings us out of self-centeredness to a centeredness in God and others - into a new (experience) of God. (It is worth noting that) the author of John's gospel refers to himself as "the beloved disciple." He never calls himself by his name and this is significant; he speaks of himself only in relationship to Jesus, as if his real value and identity flow from this relationship... By signing the gospel as the "beloved disciple," perhaps the author wants to reveal that each one of us can identify with him and become a "beloved of Jesus."
That's is my deepest hope as I prepare to close this chapter of a blessed life.
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