Monday, June 13, 2011

Find your voice . . .

And a tongue rested on each of them! – When this week began, I had in mind a beautiful theological effort for a sermon. Pentecost is one of those days during the church year that a lot of people come. True, it’s not as important to many families as Easter and Christmas, but it still has an important place in our lives, even if we're not quite sure why. And given some of the criticisms surrounding the rest of our Communion’s inability to understand the ministry of the laity, it certainly seemed a good time to spend discussing all our ministries in light of the Comforter’s presence in our lives. Unfortunately for me, God sometimes does not agree with what I intend to do.

I had a gentleman enter my office on Monday. He needed to talk. By virtue of his addiction, he had destroyed his family, his job, and his reputation. Most of his friends had dropped him. His family had given up on him. Now he is getting help for his addiction, but he wanted to know that it was ok to have screwed things up. Imagine his surprise when I pointed out that he had screwed things up even more than he thought, particularly with his kids. After a long discussion, he said “Father, I just want to know that everything will get back to the way it was before, so long as I get help.” Naturally, I could not give him those assurances. What I could offer was that if he finished “coming to himself” using the words of the Prodigal Son, eventually, things might improve. It would depend in large part whether his kids were Christian. “Why does that matter?” I explained that Christians should understand the need for forgiveness and mercy far better than the rest of the world. “Why?” Because that is what He has given us. And as His disciples, that becomes one of our best witnesses to the world. “What if I am not and they are not?” I asked him how he could ever expect to find common ground, given things he had done to them and to those whom they loved? Needless to say, our conversation will be continuing for some time. I think God has called him; the question is whether he will come.

Later this week, I was playing WoW. Now, I have been incredibly busy since Cataclysm came out. I, who used to be one of the best priest healers on my server, have yet to down the first boss on the way to destroying Deathwing. Life around here has been busy. But I was finally in a group working my way down the volcano when I was whispered. It got so deep and involved, I had to leave my raid group. “I am so glad you got on.” Why? “I just wanted to let you know you were right." About what? “About what we were going through and going to go through if dad divorced mom.” As background, you should know that his mom had an addiction to drugs. Her habit was destroying this family, destroying it emotionally and financially. I had told the boy some months ago that, at some point, his dad would probably be forced to divorce her, if for legal reason only. Once that happened, there would likely be some serious emotional explosions within the family. He was thanking me for preparing him for what was to come. “Thank you for listening and thank you for understanding and thank you for caring. A lot of my friends were like, ‘it’s no big deal.’ It was bigger than I thought, or dad or my sister, for that matter. We’re better off for it, but it was really hard.” That’s good to know. “I’m just glad life will get easier now.” Life will go on, but it will still be hard. “Whaddaya mean?” Events will still happen. She is still your mom. A piece of paper doesn’t really destroy a relationship. It changes it, but it doesn’t destroy it. Plus, if you are lucky, she might realize what has happened and come to herself. “Whaddaya mean?” Have you considered that your dad’s actions and those of you and your sister might cause her to realize what she is doing? One day, she might awaken from her fog with terrible guilt and come to you and your sister and father seeking forgiveness. Wouldn’t that mess things up for you guys? “Holy $#@&! You don’t think that can happen, do you?” It can and sometimes does. “I dunno how I would respond.” You have told me repeatedly you are a Christian. Are you? “Of course!” How do you think God would call you to respond to her, were that to happen? “What about the hurt?” He bore it. “What about the financial injury?” He bore that. What about the embarrassment she has caused? He bore that, too. “I hate talking to you – lol. I guess I need to start praying that she does, don’t I.” Not just for her, but for yourself, your dad, and your sister. “Heavy stuff, Father.” It’s far lighter than what He did for us. “I can’t say thank you for this advice right now.” I understand. “I am gonna be pissed if you are right.” I know. But I am around. You can always tell me I was wrong. “That would be fun, but I don’t think I’m willing to cheer against you.” We finished some small talk and then he logged off.

It dawned on me after this conversation, that this was the fourth serious divorce consequences discussions I had been involved in less than two weeks. Plus, as I thought, I had been involved in two serious discussions about survivors’ guilt and the death of newborns. That’s when it hit me. Yes, God gave us this day the gift of tongues to proclaim his Gospel in all the languages of the world. But He gave us tongues in another sense, as well. Each one of us is shaped and informed by our own experiences. Every one of us brings a different background to our faith. Yet you and I are called to proclaim with authority His saving help not just through the ages, but in our lives. In a real way, you and I have been given various dialects in which to speak. I may understand the emotions of the children of divorce or the survivors’ guilt that comes when the newborns of dear friends are lost, but you might better speak the language of addiction, the language of mental illness, the language of financial failure, the language of the felon, or any number of other languages far better than me. I might speak the language of WoW or finances, but you might speak the language manufacturing or hunting. And this day in particular, we celebrate that God has acted in the lives of each one of us and empowered us to proclaim His release to those around us. He has taken what was meant for evil in our lives and used it for good; He has made the common in our lives holy. Who better to hear His proclamation by our lips than those imprisoned by similar circumstances in their own lives?

Pentecost reminds each one of us that He has sent His Spirit, His Comforter, to assist us His redeeming work. Pentecost reminds us that His story is our story and that the narrative of our lives can be used in His redeeming purpose. A weighty thing to be sure! But a purpose worthy of a celebration, a celebration of a people redeemed and sent out to proclaim that redemption to the world!


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