So, don’t you see that we owe this old do-it-yourself life nothing? There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Revitalizing Spirit gestures us to come nearer. There are things to do, people to see, and places to go!
This resurrected life you receive from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously pregnant with courage, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We awaken to our true self. We awaken to who God is, and we discern who we are: Parent and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—a fantastic inheritance! We are called to live as Christ has lived. We are to go through the hard times with him, and then we’re indubitably going to go through the good times with him!
That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can scarcely wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is dimmed. God maintains restraint until creation and all creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead as our joyful expectancy deepens.
All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult suffering throughout the world are birth pangs. Pain that is not only within us, but also around us. The Spirit of God is stirring us from within. We experience the birthing pangs together and apart from each other. These fruitless and stark bodies of ours long for complete liberation. That is why waiting does not diminish us; any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, do not see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our hope is.
I am not sure if Tracy warned you about me. I feel like I ought to plaster a disclaimer across the pulpit saying, “He is just one expression of a Reformed Faith. It’ll be ok, it’s just 12 minutes.” I am only partial joking. I might offer relief to some in telling you that I have retired from professional ministry and am now a social worker in South Oklahoma City serving a community mental heath center and only moonlight as a pastor when friends and colleagues need someone to stride into the pulpit and offer proof that the radical nature of Christ leads to a life of pregnant adventure.
Ten years ago I was doing something very similar to what I am doing right now today. I was traveling from church to church in Los Angeles trying to garner financial and spiritual support for my upcoming YAV year in Kenya. I would show up to worship and share a bit about the program. YAV stands for Young Adult Volunteers and it is a PCUSA mission service component for youth 18-30 to serve in various national and international contexts in which they explore faith in service to others.
Full of fear and trepidation I approached pulpit after pulpit and delivered my best testimony about how I got to this place in my life. The Lord was calling me to service. The church that I had served as a youth worker and high school youth director had recognized gifts of service in me and challenged me to pray about it. I am not a man of in-betweens or moderation. I am the same man that has been baptized 3 times, been a sandwich board street preacher, witnessed to drunk folks in bars, and never meets strangers. So, I accept their challenge and I pray that God give me a life of adventure and make me dangerous to the ills of the world.
The next year in Kenya brought me to places and people that still shape me in profound ways. I arrived a staunch evangelical conservative Christian and left as a confused and wounded lover of Christ. I started seminary 2 weeks after I left Kenya. I soon found my way to a bottle to mask my suffering. I had no idea then that I was struggling with PTSD. I had no clue where I began or where I ended. My identity was in shambles.
I got a job bouncing and cooking at a bar 422 steps from Austin Seminary. I poured my heart and soul in to that pub. I would read about Tillich, Gutiérrez, Calvin, Barth, and DiForinza and I would share this in conversation with my co-workers and customers. It became know that I was a priest or something. People would seek me out. There I was, a fella with a broken heart, hiding in a bottle, and ministering to the margins. It was the best ministry I had been a part of.
I had to get out of there; my health would not take any more of it. I quit working at the pub and buckled down. I graduated, got married, and moved to Louisville, Kentucky. My wife worked at the Presbyterian Center and I was going to go to Social Work school. I had been dismissed from the ordination process and had become disenfranchised with the church. There was no place for a fella with a broken heart that had hid in a bottle and ministered to the margins.
I soon found myself serving a Disciples of Christ church that wanted me to minister to the LGBTQ community in Louisville. I love this idea, to minister to the community that had gotten me dismissed from the PCUSA ordination process. It was an amazing time of awakening to the beauty and power of God working in and through folks that I had always thought would burn in hell or that at the very least would be hard pressed to be used as instruments of God’s love.
Those three years delivered me to apostasy in the eyes of Pat Robertson and Al Mohler. I received more messages explaining that I was in error and was leading those I professed to love down the broad road to hell. It was an enlightening time of pregnant adventure. It was also a hard time for the church, longtime members became upset when the national news caught wind of things we were doing and when the nation got word that I and the other pastor on staff were not going to act as agents of the State any longer by signing marriage certificates, the camels back was broke. This lead to a slow decline in my support and the niche I had found was no longer supported.
This eventually brought me to Oklahoma. My wife was called to a lovely church in Oklahoma City where her gifts in ministry are utilized in a spectacular display of loving-kindness. I was branded as a liberal, rebel-rousing type and barred from seeking a call in Oklahoma. I mourn that loss still. I crawled through the open window God left ajar and finished my master of social work at OU.
I wrestled with the thought of failure. When we graduated in 2008 from Austin Seminary we were told that in five years 50% of us would not be in ministry any longer. I had made it three years of full time ordained ministry before I burned out of church. I was one of the statistics. I was bathed in shame. The pregnant adventure I had always prayed for had abandoned me. The thing is, the adventurously pregnant life doesn’t leave us. The suffering, the frustration, the difficulty are part of the birth pangs. “All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult suffering throughout the world are birth pangs. Pain that is not only within us, but also around us. The Spirit of God is stirring us from within. We experience the birthing pangs together and apart from each other. These fruitless and stark bodies of ours long for complete liberation. That is why waiting does not diminish us; any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, do not see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our hope is.”
God is not calling any of us to an easy life of leisure. To be a fisher of [men but need a gender neutral way to express this] means we must toil and labor. There is joy in the work but there is never NOT risk. It is a risky and dangerous prospect to put ones life in the hands of Christ and be light in a world that is full of biased hatred of a redeeming and reconciling Emmanuel. The world hates the justice, the peace, and the love that flows forth from the Human-struck wounds of Jesus.