June 25, 2017 – Proper 7
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)
Spring is the season of new beginnings. This is on full display all around us. Everywhere we look we are treated with signs of rebirth from the winter’s sleep and new growth. What is true in nature is also true for the human family. Spring and early summer are the seasons of graduations, weddings and all sorts of new endeavors. I am certain most of us have known our own spring new beginnings as well.
The season of my graduation from high school, more than five decades ago, was filled with one solitary ambition. I wanted to make something of myself. Of course, at 18, I had no idea of what that meant or how to go about it. In the end I did what seemed natural at that time in our nation’s history; I enlisted in the service. That was the first of a lifetime series of choices, all of which I imagined were steps along the way toward my “making something” of myself.
As choices and steps led to subsequent choices and steps, a truth began to become clear to me. That was that at the intersection between my choices and actions, those of others around me, and of the broader society, combine in ways that were often unpredictable and beyond my personal control. I realized that all of us are caught up in the fabric of folks doing their best, trying to make something of their lives. What takes place when these lives come together follows its own direction. The collective dynamic seems to have a will of its own. In other words, my life’s one plus one did not always equal two. It frequently amounted to more or less than that.
As the last five decades have passed I have become convinced that the project of “making something” of myself is hard work. Sometimes it has seemed too much for one person to tackle. Many years ago I realized that instead of trying to be my own “maker,” I would benefit from someone’s help. I am convinced there is good news here for all of us as we continue trying our best.
I hope you have noticed that I cherish the Collects (collective prayer) that are prayed each week by many of the churches of the Christian faith. Most of these prayers have very long histories. All of them have been smoothed by time and use to express great spiritual truths in very few words. This coming Sunday’s prayer is no exception.
We begin that prayer with these words, “O Lord, make me, …” I’m certain that my first reaction to these opening words is no different from many of your. A feeling of visceral resistance and rebellion rises quickly within me. My heart wants to shout “you can’t make me!” Most of us would rather make our own decisions even if they are wrong. At least the consequences would be all ours. When we step back from those first words, and pray a little farther, we discover we have reacted to a meaning that is not contained in the prayer.
When the church prays, “O Lord, make me, …” the community of faith is referring to God’s act of ongoing creation, not an act of coercion. This prayer acknowledges that the initiative in “making us” is first and foremost in the hands of the Master Maker, God. Our prayer asks God to continue to shape our hearts in such a way that they love and long for the best, truest, and most glorious of possibilities in life. The most marvelous of which is to have a love and reverence for God’s Holy Name. These become the compass needle of all our hearts desire.
We are partners with God in the shaping of our hearts, and lives. Within this partnership we can be emboldened, knowing that God’s strength and wisdom are walking with us as we find our way. With God by our side we can reach for our dreams, build our lives, and to try to make the world a little better place than it was when we came into it. Beyond that we are called to trust The Creator to watch over and guide the shaping of the entire human family.
These are sure signs of a new spring and new life.
Proper 6; Sunday closest to June 16
O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your lovingkindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 230)