O God, because without you we are not able to please you mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Suppose a child said, “Mommy, give me doll that will always please me, will never make my life difficult, and will always make me look good.” We might smile at the child’s innocence, but we would also want to explain to the child that life is not that simple, nor would we want it to be.
That’s even more true about adult human beings than about dolls; we cannot reasonably expect them always to please their creator or anyone else. If God alone made us please God, then we would have no free will; instead, we would God’s puppets, and our decisions would not be our decisions.
The collect proposes that only God can make us please God. The collect talks behind the Holy Spirit’s back directly to God, but presupposes that the Holy Spirit is pulling our strings.
We have little evidence that God wants us to be servile and totally dependent. “I have not made you servants or slaves,” Jesus says in John’s gospel, “but friends.”
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28
In June I listened to Rupert Degas read Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2006.
Jeremiah and Cormac McCarthy are soul mates, as it were. In The Road a father and his young son walk the road trying to fend for themselves after most of civilization has been destroyed.. The few survivors whom they encounter threaten to steal from them, possibly even to cannibalize them. The boy innocently wants to help most of those whom they meet. The father protects him, and they spend much time hiding from or running away from other people. Jeremiah echoes their experience:
I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and lo, …
all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
Still the boy and his son trudge on, staying near the ocean, with no specific goal to reverse the desolation. Yet, as in Jeremiah’s vision, there is no “full end.” Ubiquitous desolation, but no full end.
At the end of The Road the father dies but the boy trudges on, and we the readers cannot be altogether sure that the couple who adopt him are as well intentioned as they proclaim themselves to be.
By contrast, in the post-apocalypse vision of American poet Robinson Jeffers the landscape survives even the people who have laid waste to it: “the same heart-breaking beauty will still be here when there is no longer any heart left to break for it.”
Tick, tock, tick, tock.
My own post-apocryphal meditation:
Poem Found on Cinder No. 3--2000 A.D.
The tree, the sky, and the water were ours,
we presumed, for us to use as we pleased,
as if we had a Visacard or Mastercharge account
in God's name with no payment to make in our generation.
This is a recording is a recording is a recording
is a recordingisa recordingisarec.…
Chronology of publication:
- Negative Capability 3.1 (1982): 58
- Northland Quarterly 2:3 (1990): 36. Used my penname Li Min Hua
- Pennine Ink Magazine 29 (2008): 7
- Poetically Speaking as part of 'Guest Poet' series for a month from May 8, 2002
Note that planet earth is the third cinder out from our sun
Psalm 14 proclaims desolation too.
Every one has proved faithless;
all alike have turned bad; *
there is none who does good; no, not one.
Have they no knowledge, all those evildoers *
who eat up my people like bread
and do not call upon the LORD?
See how they tremble with fear…
Whereas the best hope Jeremiah holds out is God’s statement, “I will not make a full end”, Psalm 19 beseeches for deliverance and creates an expectation that it deliverance will be accomplished:
Oh, that Israel's deliverance would come out of Zion! *
when the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice and Israel be glad.
1 Timothy 1:12-17
Often my adversaries tell me, “There you go telling personal stories again. You need to make your case with scripture. Recently one mocked a post of mine saying, “But we modern and post-modern Xns are SOoo interested in ourselves and SOoo uninterested in Christ and we eagerly tend to talk about ourselves — not the Savior, the Lord, the Image, Reconciler, the Creator.”
Note that much of scripture is personal when it talks about God. Witness Saint’s comments to his disciple Timothy. Saint points out that Jesus did not come to save the righteous, but sinners. Saint recalls that he was once violent in persecuting Christians. Indeed, Luke records in the Book of Acts that Saul (later Paul) was present as persecutor when Stephen, the first Martyr, was stoned to death. “Of sinners I am chief,” Saint tells Timothy.
Saint uses his personal conversion as a show-case of what Jesus wants to do for all other sinners.
It the churches were to become truly safe for sinners, we would pack them at most services. Too often they are the refuge of the self-righteous who pass mean judgments on all who are different from themselves.
Jesus proclaims his preference for sinners when the self-righteous religious leaders complain about the low-life company Jesus keeps. Jesus tells the story of the lost sheep, to rescue which a shepherd will leave the 99 who are safe and venture into the dangerous and hard places. He tells the story of a person who spends more time trying to find a lost coin than in keeping count of the coins not lost.
Ask a friend to tell you a story about how she……, and usually she will comply. Ask a friend to tell you a parable about …. and your friend may well demur, possibly not feeling competent to compete with Jesus.
We minimize some of the lessons we can learn from Jesus about evangelism by calling his personalized stories “Parables” -- a fancy word that belies how simple most of them are.
At General Convention in Anaheim in 2009, deputies and bishops devoted many hours to practicing ‘public narrative’ the art of telling our faith stories in ways that make them accessible .
The Episcopal Church is a secret too well kept. People are dying for lack of the nourishment that daily is our portion. Far too often we behave as if everyone who ought to be an Episcopalian already is.
- my site 365+ Reasons for Being an Episcopalian.
- a collection from that site: 101 Reasons to be Episcopalian. Morehouse Publishers. Compiled by Louie Crew. Harrisburg, PA, 2003. ISBN 0-8192-1925-8 (pbk.)
- my article "Evangelism: How to Do It, How to Stifle It" which first appeared in The Episcopalian 155.3 (March 1990): 26