I was 19, a junior at Memphis State, two years into my candidacy for ordination – that’s right, I started this when I was 17 – and my first church job – “let go.”
It only lasted six months – a youth director at a church just south of the state line. I wanted to be relevant, and they wanted a glorified baby sitter, or at least some template for youth work back then that I didn’t fit.
Something about that in my make up - I guess. Don’t fit the mold? For better and worse, I am what I am.
Anyway, feeling the abject failure that I’m sure I was, I holed up in my bedroom for a couple of weeks wondering – what the heck am I doing and am I going to do with my life. I’ve declared my intent to be an Elder in the Church, and my first chance to express that call – I get canned. Hmmm. Time to give a serious thought of sending my vocal résumé to Chicago because word was that Peter Cetera was about to venture out on his solo career – and they were going to need somebody who could handle those high vocals for ‘em. I was their man. No doubt.
Oh, who was I kidding. So, in the midst of my ontologically angst-ridden, flights of fancy pity party, my dad came to see me – which is to say he opened my bedroom door because I lived with my parents in the parsonage of Grace Church in Whitehaven.
And I’ve never forgotten what he told me – when I deserved a kick in the backside – he shared something so stunningly grace-full it took me aback. – “Son, you have no idea how many times I have failed in ministry. . .” And I didn’t. And what I had observed was a deeply gifted and committed pastor all my life – to hear of failure was stunning. It is truly a means of grace to share your failures with someone - it is honest, and it makes our common humanity all the more real.
I obviously got through that season, thanks to a call I received only a few weeks later from Harrell Townsend, and I went to Whitehaven Church and experienced one of those moments in which call (joy and deep need were joined) was validated.
So here we are with part three of this sermon series on at Parker Palmer’s “Let Your Life Speak,” let me offer this reset on where we’ve been –
Each of us is made in the image of God – and we each have value because we are loved by God. What’s more – we are each have a calling to fulfill. This calling is our birthright to be discovered and embraced. It is not a matter of our will to make ourselves become something – it is a matter of receiving that gift and be good stewards of it.
Building upon our previous conversation – we know we have Divine value, we are beautifully and wonderfully made, we know that we have a calling to fulfill the determining factor of that call is discovering our deepest joy in life and matching it with the deepest need we see around us.
It all sounds so good – it’s almost too simple. “It’s easy for you to say that, preacher, you’ve already found yours.”
Which is not entirely true – See, there is a kinetic nature to this call, this gift. It is not fixed once for all – it evolves, its character moves as does the seasons of life and the needs of the world to which my deepest joy might fulfill. So, it is more accurate to say of those whom it would be far too easy to say “they’ve found theirs,” is that we are finding ours.
One of the greatest fallacies in the spiritual world is that knowing you are called and living into that call will be easy. And if you’ve ever found it troubling, frustrating, anger-making, to discover who you are and what you are to be – sister, brother, you’re in good company.
Palmer talks about this out of his own life’s experience – the disconnect between the inner stirrings of what he sensed he was to embrace as God’s call, and the “jobs” he had dabbled in as a “professional.”
Seeking the wisdom of his Quaker community, Palmer tells of Ruth, a woman who heard his quandary and offered this advice to have faith, and “way will open.”
His response was so typical – he has waited, in prayer, for “way to open,” and it’s just not happening – and she said to him, “…in 60 plus years of living, way has never opened in front of me…but a lot of way has closed behind me, and that has the same guiding effect.”
It’s one thing to know you have value, and a calling, it’s quite another to know just what the heck it is, especially when the way we’re headed closes. Isn’t God supposed to clear the path for us once we figure it all out?
When Way Closes – is more than a pithy saying, it is true, and we’ve all known it and been stung by it’s reality. It reminds us to be honest with who we are, what are true natures are. When we don't do that - we live in the false illusion that we are someone we're not - we live lives that are not ours, and in concert with the bulletin excerpt today, we will burnout from that simply because it is not our life to live.
But the way that closes, if we’re hearing the wisdom of Ruth, is a means of God’s leading, and it shows us a way.
“…we arrive at the heart of a paradox, each time a door closes, the rest of the
world opens up. All we need to do is stop pounding on the door that just closed,
turn around – which put the door behind us – and welcome the largeness of life
that no lies open to our souls. The door that closed kept us from entering a
room, but what now lies before us is the rest of reality.”
And that reality is of God, too – The Psalmist knows this too well –
4Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; 5hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; 7he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town. 8Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.
Make no mistake about it, way will open and way will close – will we have faith until way becomes clear?
When way closes – People of the Way of Jesus of Nazareth - we know about this, don’t we – the life of Jesus is a continuing witness of what happens when way closes – there is still a way for the truth of his message to be made known.
- No room at the inn - another way opened, and here came the Christ, the promised one of God.
- Magi – fail to report back to Herod what they found - they went “home by another way.”
Herod enacts the “slaughter of the innocents” with hope to silence this talk of the new King being born - Mary, Joseph and Jesus flee to Egypt where those of us who heard Bishop Ken Carder were reminded that Jesus lived his first couple of years on this planet as an undocumented alien.
- Religious leaders conspire with political leaders (can you believe that happens?!?) to end Jesus’ ministry – and yet the truth of the Kingdom of God would not be silenced – “even the very stones would cry out” this truth.
- When way closed – Their conspiracy would lead to Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion – and his followers thought it was over – way had closed –
- But then came Resurrection day – and way opened once and for all, and way will open for you - it may not be what you expect, or want, but it will be.