The film makers worked 5 years in this project to capture moments across the planet that are rarely seen, and sometimes, seen for the first time. It’s an incredible series and I’ve been mesmerized by it.
But as much as the pictures, and the stories they tell, is the stories and even dangers the film makers endured to get the shot they were looking for. Staged and planned, photographers would wait untold hours at times camouflaged in the habitat for the one moment when the subject of their film would appear and do something that we’ve never seen before. And despite their plans, the unexpected and unknown would always present itself.
Their goal was quite simple. They most wanted to get the shot of the indigenous animal behaving in a way that was authentic – without the animal’s knowledge that they were being watched or that someone was in their habitat that didn’t belong.
To capture the innate moment in its authenticity – it’s the quest of this mini-series.
So, too, it is for those of us seeking to discover the true self residing within. And like the animal in it’s habitat for which we must wait, sometimes an interminable length of time to find that moment of truth, we must wait, watch, and go to the places truly indigenous to our spirits to watch something amazing happen.
The larger question for us this morning is one of willingness and patience to catch the true nature of our spirits, and the God-indwelling call that resides there to be embraced and lived.
As we move forward in our conversation of vocation through the lens of Parker Palmer’s book, I want to assert a couple of points and ask that you stipulate with me that they are given. They are what they are – ultimately and universally true.
The first is this – as the Scriptures assert, “You are beautifully and wonderfully made.” That you are God’s child made, imago dei, is no small thing. In fact, it’s everything.
If you were in this sanctuary in February, 2003, we were blessed by the words of William Sloane Coffin, who, although affected and somewhat impaired by a stroke, could still get it done – if you know what I mean. What I remember best from Bill’s sermon (one he’d preached many times across the years), is his recitation of the words of YAHWEH as captured in Isaiah in which the LORD is making the case to the prophet that he has a call to answer, a vocation to live into. – Bill’s voice, slurring on some points of his sermon – was crystal clear with this one:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine. Isaiah 43.1
All of which is to say – your being matters, it has value. You may not fully know it, you may not have fully discovered it, but it is – as Bill would say - "God's love doesn't seek value; it creates it. It's not because we have value that we are loved, but because we're loved that we have value.”
The other given is this – not only is there inherent value in who you are – there is meaning, purpose, call, vocation that comes from the reality of your being.
Palmer talks about this so effectively, and his words open the eyes of our spirits to consider who we are and why we’re doing with our lives what we are: consider the excerpt in the bulletin today.
The upshot is this – vocation “is not a goal to be achieved but a gift to be received.”
In fact, it is your birthright. Palmer says
“It’s a strange gift, the birthright gift of self. Accepting it turns out to be even more demanding than attempting to become someone else! I have sometimes responded to that demand by ignoring the gift, or hiding it, or fleeing from it, or squandering it… and then he cites a Hasdic tale to make the point. Rabbi Zusya, when he was an old man, said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: “Why were you not Zusya?’”
If you entertain the givens I’ve offered, hopefully the beginnings of the conundrum we live in will emerge. If I belong to God and have both value and a calling to fulfill, why do I spend so much time trying to be someone else?
These givens tell us that we each have inherent value – we are in the image of God – we have a Thomas Mertonesque “true self,” or what Palmer reflects on from his own Quaker tradition – the inner light, “that of God” residing in you.
Now I become myself,
It’s taken time, many years and places,
I’ve been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other peoples’ faces…
My God, the poet is so right. We spend so much of life wearing other people’s faces when the one God ever wanted us to put on was the one God gave to us at the beginning.
We don’t need to go out and “find” our vocation out there, the journey to be taken is within.
It can be a hard, arduous journey – sometimes there is wilderness wandering, sometimes we find we are in the valley of dark shadows, sometimes the journey moves us into places that surprise us, others frighten us. Truth is, external realities are tame by comparison – the true final frontier is inward.
But how? How do we know what this gift to be received is? What it looks like?
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus is being asked a “how” question. How do we pray? How do we find that sense of God’s presence so long after sought but so rarely fully known?
Jesus’ answer, of course, included what we know as The Lord’s Prayer. But also other teachings including this – ask. Ask the One who is so eager to reveal the answer for you to discover.
We would do well to make such an ask a part of every prayer we pray – O God, please help me to become myself – that for which you made me from the beginning. Help me be who I am. Help me know what Palmer calls, “my true nature,” because until I know that, I can’t really embrace my call authentically.
Everything in the universe has a nature [he says], which means limits as well as potentials, a truth well known by people who work daily with the things of this world. Making potter, for example, involves more than telling the clay what to become. The clay presses back on the potter’s hands, telling her what it can and cannot do – and if she fails to listen, the outcome will be both frail and ungainly. Engineering involves more than telling materials what they must do. If the engineer does not honor the nature of the steel or the wood of the stone, his failure will go well beyond aesthetics: the bridge or the building will collapse and put human life in peril.
The human self also has a nature, limits as well as potentials. If you seek vocation without understanding the material you are working with, what you build with your life will be ungainly and may well put lives in peril, your own and those around you. “Faking it” in the service of high values is no virtue and has nothing to do with vocation. It is an ignorant, sometimes arrogant, attempt to override one’s nature, and it will always fail.
Here’s the key to the vocational answer we seek. Calling upon another masterful voice of this age in Christianity to point us to the answer - Frederick Buechner – Palmer reminds us that Buechner defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep needs.”
Vocation is not your career – your profession – or anything about “YOU” on it’s own. Vocation – that is, the call of God that is your birthright to be embraced, matches your selfhood with service in God’s creation.
And notice, this vocation is not bound up in the “oughts” of this world. God knows we are far too captive to them. No, vocation bursts forth from the place of your deepest joy – for whatever it is – there is a deep need in the world whose chasm is matched only by the deepest joy of your heart.
In our lives we’ve known those people who have found that answer. They have taken the long journey and discovered the place where their deepest joy matched the deepest needs around them. And when that happens, movements begin, and things begin to change.
When that happens
• we start talking about economic justice and the living wage
• we start talking about healthcare differently and things like Church Health Center is born
• we start talking about the true freedom that comes from understanding that not only does my life have value and meaning in the eyes of God, so does everyone else. Everyone.
Palmer talks about Rosa Parks’ decision to sit in the front on the bus in Montgomery back in December of ’55. She’s quoted as saying that she sat down in that seat because she was tired. And in her autobiography she expounds on how “tired” she was. Physically tired? Sure.
But it was time to embrace her true vocation. “I will no longer act on the outside in a way that contradicts the truth that I hold deeply on the inside. I will no longer act as if I were less than the whole person I know myself inwardly to be.”
Thanks be to God for those whose deepest joys touch the world’s deepest needs. People like Harmon Wray, who taught and mentored me 20 years ago, whose embrace of his deepest joy with the greatest need, like finding community among the incarcerated and sharing with them, some for the first time in their lives that they are loved – such an authentic embrace of who he was both inspires and indicts me - And knowing him as I did, I’d know he’d remind me of that Hasdic tale - God doesn’t want me to be Harmon. God wants me to be Johnny. And simply wants you to be you - because for you there is a deep need only your particular vocation can touch.
And thank God, too, for the vocations in this room – those live out now, and those to be discovered – for when your greatest gladness touches the deepest needs – you are ushering in the Kingdom of God. Amen.