Saturday, May 16, 2015

Not For the Faint of Heart

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  Matthew 25:31-46

*****

I tend to be a very introspective and reflective person.  Seems odd to me given that I am such an outward person.  I am energized by the company of others, I hate sitting still, and I certainly detest wasting time.  All of these things that very clearly (allegedly) define me as an unapologetically extroverted Alpha type personality.  Which of course fits, except when it doesn't.

*****

I take very little for granted.  That's what we're supposed to say, right?  At least as it relates to the so called "big" stuff; my ministry, my team, the people we serve.  I get convicted from time to time, that while I certainly don't take the big things for granted, my understanding of the "big" stuff is ever evolving.  I am so busy, such a force of nature, a kinetic ball of energy when that switch is flipped (mostly out of necessity; rarely am I ever those things simply for the sake of being so) that I don't often get a chance to appreciate (good, bad, or otherwise) things as they happen in the moment.  I can be downright oblivious to all but the big stuff going on around me.  So, I do spend a lot of time in the aftermath reflecting on success, failure, and the things that just are.

*****

Big stuff is easy.  I think one of the better compliments I've gotten, which came from a colleague, friend, and mentor, "There's nothing too big for you."  I do worry though, that sometimes there might be things too small for me, important things.  Once again, I take nothing for granted.  The ever elusive quiet times are the times that  I address that fear.  You want a church flipped?  You want it grown in short order?  You want new, contextually sensitive and appropriate ministries started from scratch?  I'm your guy.  I firmly believe when it comes to the "big stuff" of ministry, the things that look good on resumes, I can accomplish it simply based on sheer force of will, size of personality, no fear of failure, and dogged determination.  Bold?  Arrogant?  Pompous?  Nah, just confident.  The scary thing?  I do believe that as a "pastor" I could get by simply on those things...and that really scares me.

*****

I find myself spending a lot more time "inside", exploring, and I think (hope and pray) that I can say as it pertains to these explorations, there are no sacred cows.  I am not and do not want to be defined by my ministry or my title (Reverend still makes me squirm a little bit; while pastor is perfectly cool.  Weird.).  I want to be defined by my relationship with Jesus Christ.  And to those ends, I spend a lot of that inward time exploring my call, my faith, and my motivations for the "big stuff" that I find so easy.  Those are the types of things that I really refuse to take for granted, the things that I turn my very unforgiving microscope (reserved only for me) on those uncomfortable nerves.  Is my call valid?  Does it remain?  Do I honor God with my work and my life?  Do I, as I ask of my congregations so often, do I really believe all of the things that I proclaim?  My greatest fear is dishonoring God with empty words and actions (1Corinthians 13:1-13 and of course Wesley's sermon, "The Almost Christian").  There have been many times and I pray many more to come, where I say to God in complete sincerity and peace, "If this is no longer pleasing to you, I will walk away."  I feel confident that should the time come where God is no longer pleased by me or my service I could walk away still deeply in love with Him.  I know that God doesn't need me and I also know that He owes me nothing.  It is only at His pleasure that I get to do what I'm doing and I have a really bizarre peace with that.

*****

I find so much peace in being able to say that and mean it.  Make no mistake, the inner wrestling, the "sober accounting", the doubts, the fears can at times be brutal.  However, that I can make that simple statement?  Peace.  For most pastors, or anyone who feels called to ministry, our calls are one of our most sacred things.  We tend to be hyper-sensitive about it.  We place barriers around it; going so far as to fearfully, vigorously, and jealously guarding it against any hint of inspection or question.  For me?  The exact opposite scares me; fraudulence.  I flip it over, shake it up, poke, prod, and cut at that bugger.  If ever I find it lacking authenticity?  I will walk.  I would rather walk away than to be part of the problem.

*****

The passage at the beginning of this piece has become defining for Grace and Heathen Church.  It is who we are.  Everyone on my team is intimately involved in living out that passage.  We don't have to wonder if we are serving Jesus; we stand in His presence multiple times a week extending a hand, a sandwich, a bottle of water, clothing, and diapers to Him.  But here's the really cool thing; we don't wait for Jesus to come to us, we go looking for Him.  We look for Him in the places we suppose that He hangs out; under viaducts, homeless shelters, on the street, in bad neighborhoods.  And you know what?  We've yet to find Him missing.  People spend so much of their lives and energy "looking for Jesus".  Trust me, He's not hard to find.  My team and I tread some of the most foul, sometimes dangerous, sometimes scary territory in this city that has completely and utterly captured my heart, though I will probably leave her someday.  We walk over used needles, urine, feces; we fall through decaying floors, we go into hostile neighborhoods to move families to safety, we serve in a neighborhood that scares people, we quite literally hug the "unclean", and we count ourselves blessed.  Not just the pastor.  Not just a few "Super Christians".  All of us.  It is who we are.

*****

I am so busy, such a force of nature, a kinetic ball of energy when that switch is flipped (mostly out of necessity; rarely am I ever those things simply for the sake of being so) that I don't often get a chance to appreciate (good, bad, or otherwise) things as they happen in the moment.  I can be downright oblivious to all but the big stuff going on around me.

*****

Yesterday was one of those days; a thirteen hour sprint.  It's hot now in Louisville.  My clothes and my hair seem to be perpetually soaked in sweat.  These are the type of days that I am thankful for my weird aversion to the title "Reverend".  Being "Pastor Corey" allows me to wear torn up jeans and to rep my Hawkeyes in a ratty t-shirt in the land of Wildcats and Cardinals.  Reverend Nelson feels the need to wear suits.  I am dirty, I am tired, I look ragged; probably good that I'm constantly in motion lest someone notice that I look even less like what the world thinks my ilk ought to look like.

*****

10pm last night, I had a 6'5" man who had been homeless just that morning (and for the past year), come up behind me to drape his arms around my shoulders as he gave me a bear hug, "I love you man."  I surveyed the apartment he and our other friend had just moved into.  It was a place that I guess was oddly kind of like me.  On the surface, probably not what anyone would expect or want.  Worn, a little wild, a little dirty, and maybe just a little smelly.  But what it offered when you get past all that?

I find peace in weird places.  However, it wasn't in the apartment, or even in our friends who finally had a home of their own.  It was in the young men and women that stood in that apartment with me.  These kids (truly a term of endearment on my part; plus I'm old enough to be the parent of them all lol) have left behind the comforts of home and comfortable churches to celebrate in a run down apartment at an hour no reasonable person would endure.  I watched, my heart soared, as each one of them received hugs from our hosts.  None of them recoiled, but rather they received the hugs with joy and love.  They love the men we serve and they give so selflessly of themselves; I saw Jesus so clearly in each one of them.  In that moment, one perfect moment in time (I am blessed by this team with many of these moments) all of the answers to my wrestling, introspection, and reflection are revealed.

*****

Stuff like last night has become so routine for us, that I fear sometimes we take it for granted.  I think about this often every time a group of us disappear into the city.  I remember the first time that each one of them joined me.  I remember the first I went.  How unnerving, unsettling, and even scary it was.  Being Jesus to Jesus is not for the faint of heart.  There is nothing easy or glamorous about it; but goodness is it ever beautiful.

As we drove away from the apartment complex, not wanting any of us to take for granted what had just happened.  I never want the "routine" to become too routine.

"How many of you would have ever thought before joining this adventure that you'd be standing in an apartment like that, in this part of town, at an hour like this?  And being okay with it?"

*****

It is nights like that when we can all walk away knowing that God is well pleased, when the reflection is a little easier, but never simpler.  One thing (of many) that I absolutely love about this team is that they, like me, seem unwilling to take things for granted.  They aren't worried about the so called big things, they know that ministry is done in the trenches and in the streets; and that to find Jesus sometimes requires going where you're most likely to find Him.  They are not the faint-hearted; which fills my heart.

No comments: