Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Crone Report

In recent months I've been grappling with the fact that I am about to turn 60. I handled 50 just fine. 60, however, feels like all those phrases: "long in the tooth," "wizened," "as old as dirt." And there are certainly days when I feel like the phrases, and then some.

But there are other days when it ain't so bad to be experienced, you know? When I was up at VTS, several of the young women clergy there shared their experiences of being demeaned, of being considered "less than" by virtue of their youth and gender, even by other clergywomen. it broke my heart. Some of them have been my teachers in some very powerful ways and have given me gifts that I have taken into my own ministry here and in the larger church. They deserve better.

It also reaffirmed for me the gift of age:
  • I am no longer viewed as a sexual object as I was when I was younger. It often got in the way of good work. I can hold my own when someone says something inappropriate. 
  • I can sort out what is worth fighting and what is not. 
  • I have been dissed by powerful people and have survived and triumphed - thinking here of a time I was yelled at by a Senator on C-SPAN when I was testifying at a hearing, and the fact that he has faded into blessed obscurity and I am happily doing good work. 
  • I don't think dumb stuff is about me when it usually is not.
  • I no longer fear saying I'm sorry when I have messed up, which is a frequent occurrence.
Some people call old(er) women crones. Joseph Campbell in his discussion of the Hero's Journey says that the hero often meets with a characters who offers the hero protection of one sort or another, and one of the most common of these characters is the crone. I rather like the image of someone who has lived a full life and now offers the wisdom and protection learned throughout that life to others coming along the path.

 I'm not so sure how much wisdom and protection I offer, but I'm glad to be reaching a point in my life when I can test it out!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sermon for Sunday, June 24, 2012 (Pentecost IV) 1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49/ Mark 4:35-41 “Trust”

The bride and groom, still tired from the emotional pitch of the wedding the day before, were on the darkened airplane. As is so often the case, the transatlantic flight left shortly before midnight. In the morning they would awaken as they landed at the Milan airport. The plan was half full, so the bride could curl on her side and rest her head in the lap of her new husband and sleep. She was awakened a few hours into the journey. They had encountered turbulence, the captain announced. This pilot must be a master of understatement, she thought. Although she had traveled a great deal, she had never experienced anything like this. The plane was pitching wildly, periodically dropping in a way that made her stomach jump up into her throat. It seemed like this silver bird that was supposed to be winging them smoothly to their honeymoon was being twisted by great hands, as if it were Sunday’s chicken with its neck being snapped by some great farmer’s wife in the heavens. The overhead bins responded to the torque by popping open, and jackets and tote bags began to rain down on the seated  passengers. One or two began to stand, to shut the bins, and the flight attendants announced sharply, “You must remain in your seat. It is unsafe to stand up with this turbulence.” The bride lay curled up, eyes wide as the plane seemed to twist and shudder, thinking, “God, why are you doing this? I finally found the perfect husband, and now we’re going to die in the Atlantic before I even get a chance to enjoy being married to him.” Her husband, sensing her anxiety, patted her gently, but said nothing. There was nothing to say. They could only keep riding through the air on this bucking bronco of a 757, hoping and praying that things would get better. The bride found herself thinking of the pilot, and wondering if he was praying as she was, or if this was not as frightening to him. Perhaps he had gone through this kind of turbulence before. Perhaps he had studied the construction of the plane and its systems so thoroughly that he knew that it was built to withstand what was happening. Perhaps he simply trusted in the plan, in God, in his extensive training. And as she thought these things, a strange calm came over her. There was nothing to do but to pray and to trust. And in a little while, the ride smoothed out to the usual near-imperceptible floating forward sensation that she was familiar with on plane rides, and she dozed off again. They were safe.

Trust. How do we get it? How do we hold on to it, when all the signals say there is no reason to trust?

Sometimes we trust because we are too stupid to know that we should not. We might be tempted to say that about David as he faced Goliath. He was just a boy, probably a preteen. The sum of his battle experience was chasing off the wild animals who threatened his father’s sheep. And Goliath, this champion of the King of the Philistines, this man who demanded the ancient tradition of one representative from each side to fight to decide the battle, was almost 10 feet tall. But David volunteered to fight Goliath, one on one. Little David, a shepherd. Perhaps he was barely five feet tall. The passage notes how handsome and ruddy he was, not how tall and muscular he was. One on one hand to hand combat. Did David volunteer because he was too stupid to realize how outmatched he was? Or was there something else going on here, a well of trust that God would make sure he not only survived but overcame the enemy? On the face of it, it was a ridiculous matchup. And King Saul realized that. He tried to get David to put on Saul’s own armor and carry the king’s weapons, but it was clear that David was a lot smaller than the king, so he tossed the protective garments and weapons aside, saying they were much too big for him, and he wasn’t used to them. He faced the might of the enemy with no more than a slingshot and five smooth stones. Goliath tried a little trash talk, to make the boy nervous. But David was not to be intimidated. He trusted that God would help him, and he ran toward the line of battle, pulled back on the slingshot and felled the ten-foot tall Philistine champion with a single stone. The arrogance of youth or the trust borne of a deep faith that God would do what was necessary? Samuel’s account of the battle certainly argues for the latter.

But sometimes in the midst of battle, in the midst of frightening circumstances that clearly seem to portend our doom, we feel the trust draining out between our shaking fingers like cold water. We don’t immediately sense God with us, and we panic. We abandon trust because trusting in such circumstances defies what we see and hear and feel with our own senses. We become like the apostles in the little boat with Jesus out on the Sea of Galilee. The storm has whipped up a terrible wind and waves, and we are quite certain that the boat will be swamped and we will drown. And through it all, Jesus is asleep. How can he sleep through this storm? He’s supposed to take care of the disciples, and they are more than a little upset as he snores away at the back of the boat. So they wake him up: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He looks up, sees what is happening, sees the disciples’ distress, and commands the wind and the waves to cease…and suddenly all is still. He sees that their trust is almost shattered. Almost. They have, after all, awoken him. If they truly did not believe in him, that would have been a pointless exercise. So he attends to their needs by calming the storm. Note that he doesn’t start out by chastising them that they are weak in their faith and trust. No, he fixes the problem at hand, like a parent with a child with night terrors, soothing them until they are calm again. Only then does he say, “I thought you understood that I would not abandon you. When you are going to truly and completely trust me?”

In these two stories, I’m reminded once again that the people that God chooses – David, the disciples in the boat – are the ones who most need to trust. Had the Lord told Samuel to anoint the eldest son, Eliab, the one who already had his father’s birthright and blessing, the tall and handsome lad who was most likely everyone’s favorite, the young man would have sailed into kingship with no doubts, no worries, no struggles…and no need to reach out to the Lord saying “I need you and I trust you to be there for me.”

If Jesus had chosen a King or a Pharisee to be His apostle, a person with privilege and power and status, that person would have assumed that he was called into this role because of his own gifts and power or position rather than because of God’s grace. That person would have felt no need to reach out to Jesus and say “I need you and I trust you to be there for me.” In a boat in the Sea of Galilee, a king would have had an entourage in a following boat who would respond to his command. A Pharisee would have quoted how this was the result of breaking a law. Neither would have placed his trust in the only One who truly deserves our trust.

No, God had Samuel anoint David, the youngest, least favored one. The son who didn’t even merit being paraded before Samuel when he visited Jesse’s house. And he became the one who slew the Philistine giant, who became a great albeit very human king of Israel.

The Lord chose the disciples, ordinary fishermen and working folk. The ones whose names were not engraved in stone over a lintel, who were not even the best-known in their own communities. And they became the ones who were the mighty voices telling the story of the Son of God and his new covenant with all of us.

All because they were people who needed to trust something and someone larger than themselves. We all need to trust. Sometimes it is difficult. Sometimes our trust falters. But our faith in the One who is the giver of all strength and comfort and truth leads us back, again and again, to the place of trust.

As the Psalmist reminds us, “Those who know your Name will put their trust in you, for you never forsake those who seek you, O LORD.” It’s good not to forget that, in a boat, in an airplane, or when facing down the giants that challenge us. God never forsakes those who seek the Lord.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

...and for your viewing pleasure... albino squirrel getting a drink from the birdbath in our back yard this morning. A lovely bold creature!

Saturday Miscellany

Having spent the past week up in Alexandria at VTS for some continuing ed, I am way behind on a whole bunch of stuff. I just finished the sermon, which will be posted here, as usual, tomorrow morning at 6 am.

When you sign up for such continuing ed times away from the office, you may think that you're doing a substitution. A week of the usual work of office, writing, sermonizing, pastoral care, organizing and such is exchanged for a week of prayer and study and conversation and writing.


You are getting a week of prayer and study and conversation and writing ON TOP of most of the stuff you usually do, like pastoral care (only it is long distance) and sermonizing (only you don't have time to work on the sermon during the week - you have to do it on Saturday in the midst of catching up on laundry and food-shopping and such) and tending to assorted logistical things that cannot wait. So it becomes a case of trying to fit ten thousand canaries into a trailer that can only fit about six thousand.

This is something of a sneak preview of what it will be like in the fall when I start the DMin. Yoicks!

It's clear I'm going to have to get better at
  • managing multiple priorities
  • saying no to stuff
  • accepting that the perfect is the enemy of the good
  • letting go.

To that end, I commend to you for your eschatological reading lists the book "If You Meet George Herbert on the Road, Kill Him: Radically Rethinking Priestly Ministry," by Justin Lewis-Anthony. For must of us who come from the Anglican tradition, George Herbert, the 17th Century cleric and poet whose book "The Country Parson" laid out a picture of ministry as saintly, all-consuming, ever-present, has been the model of priesthood that we are compared to, and it is killing us. Ironically, the romantic notion of George Herbert as country parson bears little resemblance to the real man's life and ministry, as Lewis-Anthony details. Herbert was, as all of us in ministry are, sometimes tired, sometimes ineffective, sometimes brilliant, sometimes present, sometimes not. And that's the gift of the book, and the gift of being busy. In the midst of the busy-ness, I usually discover that I have to let some things go (and I pray that I make the right choices in this regard), otherwise I become even less useful and effective in ministry.

I may well take on a new spiritual discipline: letting go of one let-go-able thing a day.

Now I'm going to go sit in the backyard and figure out what it is...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sermon for Sunday, June 17, 2012 Pentecost III/Father’s Day/Baptisms Mark 4:25-34 “The God of Possibilities”

A few weeks ago, we celebrated Mother’s Day, and the children who were in the Sunday School planted lovely little petunias in buckets as gifts to their moms. It was an apt gift – what does a mother do but to help her child grow and blossom? To be fair, we should acknowledge that fathers do the same thing, encouraging, caring, coaching, guiding.  Parents do wonderful things for their children, purely out of love for them.

But there is a mystery in all this parenting business, isn’t there? You never know quite what will encourage your children to do better, to try harder, to explore bravely. What works for one child may not work for another. It isn’t simply a matter of putting a seedling in the dirt, adding water, and then sitting back to enjoy the show. Some marvelous thing happens that energizes a seedling, or a child, and suddenly, there is the blossoming wonder. And doesn’t it surprise us, when we see our child grown and graduating from school, or doing marvelous things at work, or becoming parents themselves? We look at our child and we remember the moment when the child was born, took her first steps, went off to kindergarten. And for all our hard work, we recognize that it is God’s work in that precious child that makes their unique gifts come to fruition.

In a few minutes, we will baptize three little children. It is a beautiful exciting time, and doing this on Father’s Day makes this extra-special, because we are dedicating them to their heavenly Father even as we celebrate their earthly fathers.

One of the things that always strikes me as we celebrate baptisms is how little we know about these children. They are at the beginning of their lives – how could we know anything about them? We can only guess at how they might develop over the years and what kind of people they will become. One might be a soccer player. Another might be a nuclear physicist, and another might write the great American novel. Or they might do something we can’t even imagine, because it hasn’t been invented yet.

Each precious child is like one of those mustard seeds that Jesus talks about in the Gospel we heard today. Who knows how they will grow? Only their heavenly Father, who sparks their souls. If we try to imagine what we will become, the full breadth of their possibilities, we most likely will underestimate them, as those who were around the toddler Jesus probably did. But God knew what Jesus was about, just as God knows what each and every child is about. God is the God of possibilities, the most expansive and surprising and exciting possibilities.

We don’t know the mechanics of how a child develops into the adult we will see twenty years hence – that’s some of the mystery of the God of possibilities working in us. It’s like the seed that sprouts and grows and eventually becomes a full-grown grain of wheat, ready for harvest. We don’t know how they grow. We do know, though, in plants and in children, that growth and development is inevitable, and that the child we now see in diapers or in little light-up sneakers will one day be an adult that contributes to a better world.  

In a way, the story of that growth is like a parable. Each of us is a parable, a retelling of the love of God for every one of his children. Each of us shows how uniquely God has gifted us, and how miraculously He has shaped us into the people that we become over time.

We learn this from Jesus, the teller of parables.  Jesus not only tells parables, he becomes a parable, a pattern for relationship with the Heavenly Father who formed us all. Think about it: he was a child whose beginnings were less than auspicious. He was born into a simple family, under difficult circumstances. And yet he grows into someone we could never have imagined if we had been present in the Galilee in the year of his birth.  He shows us through his life and death how we should live our lives – bravely, with great love and concern for all of creation, recognizing that the things that truly matter are not earthly power or wealth, but love. He is the mustard seed which grows into a mighty bush sheltering all the birds. He is the child of possibilities grown into the one who redeems all humanity.  

We are the seedlings, still striving upwards toward the sunlight. These children who will be baptized are the smallest and most fragile of seedlings, and in their baptism we will ask God to continue to spark their spirit with love, to wash away any misdeeds that they may do, to hold them close. Just as a plant needs water to grow, so too do we need the water of baptism to help us grow.

But unlike those little plants the children gave us for Mother’s Day, once we have been watered in baptism, we never need another watering. We are infused by God’s love and protection. We will continue to grow and blossom, each in our own unique way. May the water which washed and fed us in our own baptisms sustain us and enliven our hearts, to be as generous and in love with God and each other as Jesus taught us. May we be more than mustard seeds…rather, may we be the most vibrant and luxuriously leafy as the greatest garden.

Bless these children, and all children who are baptized today around the world. Bless those of us who are given the charge to care for them, to water them so they may grow. May the blessings of the Heavenly Father, the God of all possibilities, be upon us all.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday meanderings

Lots of good stuff going on right now, but there just aren't enough hours in the day.

  • A wedding of two delightful young people on Saturday night. This will be a Big Production wedding, but nestled in the middle of all that fuss are a man and a woman who deeply love each other, understand what a blessing and a challenge marriage can be, and want God to bless them. 
  • Remarkably, the wedding consultant is a delight. A little obsessive-compulsive, which is probably a job requirement, but she clearly understands what is her job and what is mine, and asks the right questions. Would that all wedding consultants were like this....
  • Three baptisms for Sunday. What better way to celebrate Father's Day than to ask for our Heavenly Father's blessing on these three beautiful little ones?
  • Time to take PH out for a Father's Day brunch...there is no thing as "only a step-father." He helped form my children into the wonderful adults they have become, and helped me keep perspective when I needed it, especially during their teen years. He loves them as if they were of his own body. We are blessed.
  • Next week, a week of continuing ed courtesy of the Lilly Foundation. I'll be up at VTS for the final session of the Second Three Years Program. It is a nice punctuation mark at the end of this part of my formation. In the fall, I will commence a DMin program at Columbia Theological Seminary, where I am really looking forward to working with Pamela Cooper-White. I'm looking forward to seeing a bunch of my seminary peeps, and I'm also looking forward to making new friends with my DMin cohort.

 Quote for the day, courtesy of my good friend Ben, from the wonderful Evelyn Underhill: 
"Try to arrange things so that you can have a reasonable bit of quiet every day and do not be scrupulous and think it selfish to make a decided struggle for this. You are obeying God's call and giving Him the opportunity to teach you what He wants you to know, and so make you more useful to Him and to other souls."

From Evelyn Underhill's "Letters", p. 141.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sermon for Sunday, June 10, 2012 Pentecost II Mark 3:20-35 “Structures”

We human beings love to build structures that we define as “normal.” We do this so that we can feel like we are in control of our world. We do it in so many aspects of our lives.  We say that religion happens in buildings like this one, and that liturgy has certain words said in certain order, and certain kinds of music should be played.

We have structures at work, as well. There are ways that bosses relate to their employees, and vice versa. There are annual performance reviews that drive whether or not we get a bonus or a raise. There are unofficial rules at the office: how often you can go out for a smoke break before your coworkers grumble, how everyone kicks in to a fund to pay for birthday cakes or for flowers for a coworker who is suffering a loss. Some places take it as a hard and fast rule that you never know what your colleague earns. In other places, you know exactly what pay grade she is.

School is no different. In some ways, it’s even more regimented – what grade or class are you in, what are the assignments, what do you have to know to pass this year’s SOL, which teachers grade easily, which not so much…it is all part of our human desire to make sense of our little corner of the world by categorizing, organizing, setting rules.

And that is something that faces Jesus in today’s Gospel.

Now this is quite early in Jesus’ ministry. As he heals and teaches and preaches, more and more people run to him, pressing on him to help them. The story opens with him in the midst of all these sick and broken people who are literally crushing him, trying to get close. So he steps into a house belonging to a member of his family – we don’t know whose house it is, but it is clear that the family members are starting to worry about this situation. It only takes a glance at all the crazies and sick people outside the door for them to wonder if maybe the problem is Jesus – maybe he’s a little crazy too. Maybe he isn’t able to do what they think, maybe he’s possessed by a demon – the stock excuse for any strange behavior back then – maybe they need to do some sort of intervention. They’re worried. Meanwhile, the conventional religious structure of the day, scribes, priests, are saying that he is operating outside of the normal religious tradition and rules, and suggest that he’s possessed – also a stock excuse to dismiss anyone with whom they disagree – and that any power he has comes from the demon within him, Beelzebul. Satan. They may not simply be jealous of his popularity, they may genuinely worry that what he is doing is sinful or evil. They, too, may be thinking that he needs the first century equivalent of an intervention.

What he is doing, after all, is outside of the normal structures of religion, law, family. And when you do that, people get uncomfortable.

So the story is set up. Desperate people, huge crowds of them, are begging Jesus for healing. Most of them would be categorized in that society as people who are possessed by demons that are harming their bodies or their minds. The family and the religious leaders are nervous and wonder what is going on here, and they say something to him about it.

And what does Jesus say?

He says it is not a demon in Jesus that is doing this healing. A demon cannot drive out a demon – that is a battle of equals, and no one can win in that kind of battle. It is as if the power of a demon is split in half, and the two halves are warring with each other. It doesn’t solve the problem. Something or someone stronger has to conquer a demon. And what is stronger than a demon? Jesus describes someone called “the strong man,” the one who can conquer the power of evil in people and in the world. And he offers words of warning: if people tie up or obstruct this strong man in his work, his house can be plundered. All those who are in the house are at risk.

It doesn’t take a biblical scholar to realize that the “strong man” is Jesus himself, and that his words of warning are a prescient view of how some are trying to obstruct Jesus in his work of supplanting the structures that are of human making, that take us away from a right relationship with our God.

Jesus’ words against those who speak against what he preaches – and here he is talking about those religious leaders who are obstructing his work and saying he traffics with demons – are harsh. He says these are unforgivable sins. Those who fight him as a way of preserving their own structures of power and influence are not destroying him – they are destroying their own souls.

But then Jesus turns back to his own family, his mother and brothers who have arrived. It doesn’t seem like they were a part of the family group inside the house who thought Jesus needed an intervention, but they are concerned, and they call out to him.

And some of those there say, “Your mom and brothers are here and they want to talk to you.”

Jesus then says something that lands very hard on our ears: "’Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’"

It sounds like he is rejecting his own family, that human structure that supported him as he grew to manhood, that helped him, fed him, prayed with him, walked with him. It sounds like he is choosing this crowd of crazy people over his own flesh and blood.

Why would Jesus reject them?

Did he reject them?

Or did he do something very different, redefining the structure of the family in a new way? Instead of excluding his mother and brothers, was he instead including all the people, including all the crazies and broken ones in the crowd as his family? Did he demonstrate a very different response than was the expected one of honor to family by saying the same kind of honor and loving relationship was not just for blood kin, but for the whole of humanity, what would be later named the whole body of Christ?

Here’s the thing about Jesus: he knew all about the structures that humans create to make themselves feel comfortable and safe in the world. He also knew that such structures are in fact harmful if they get in the way of relationship with God. So the crazy, scary thing that Jesus did was to upend those structures, to redefine them so that they were life-giving, a fulfillment of God’s promise in Creation.

Was Jesus denying religion? No. He was denying a religion that had become so encrusted with rules and concern for human power that it forgot that it was about divine-human communion. Was he denying the traditional family, whatever that is? No. He was denying the human construct of the family that kept people in a place of “them” vs. “us.” He was denying the things that exclude, that judge, that separate. He was about breaking down the walls that keep us apart from one another as part of the Body of Christ.

To the scribes and the priests and the Pharisees, this was demonical anarchy. To some members of his biological family, this was a disrespect to his family’s honor. But to us, it is something very different.

It is the opening of the possibility that we can be in communion with God and with all of God’s people, without the structures that keep us apart. That’s a scary thing, because we like our safe, snug little structures that keep us with folks who think like us, who believe like us, who look like us. But those aren’t the people whom Jesus identified as his family. It was the crowd, that messy, hungry, sick, frightened crowd.

That crowd? We may resemble them more than we know. Be grateful for the Christ who broke down the walls that divide us, and follow him.


Sunday, June 03, 2012

Sermon for Trinity Sunday, June 3, 2012 “It Ain’t Me, Lord”

If there is one word that can link all three of the Scripture passages that we have heard on this Trinity Sunday, it is this: confusion. It’s an apt word, because this is the day we ponder the Trinity, and there is no doctrine that is more difficult for us to grasp than that of the Trinity – three persons, one God. Not one person changing into another person at a given time, with a specific agenda at that point. Not three people taking turns at being God. No, all three existing always. And that’s a hard one for us to understand.

But that is not the confusion I’m speaking of today. No, the confusion is a little different. Take a look at the passage from Isaiah: it is the story of God’s call to Isaiah to be a prophet in the midst of a disastrous political environment for the people of Judah. There is a strange and violent appearance of God and his heavenly host. The building shakes, the room is filled with smoke. God is looking for someone, namely, Isaiah, and he wants to make sure that Isaiah knows whom he is dealing with. And what does Isaiah say? It sounds a little like an old Bob Dylan song” No, no, no, it ain’t me, God. It ain’t me you’re looking for, God. I am not worthy. I am a man of unclean lips.” God’s response is to fix those unclean lips in a way that sounds unpleasant, even though it is effective: one of the angels touches Isaiah’s lips with a hot coal. God says, “Okay, whom will I send to be a prophet to my people?” At that point, Isaiah seems to accept this call – perhaps he was afraid he’d get something worse than the hot coal if he said no – and says, “Here I am. Send me.”

God turns Isaiah’s self-doubt and sense of the way the world is supposed to work on its ear. Isaiah’s confusion at this strange call is converted into affirmation.

It works like that sometimes when people are called to do something for God. Confusion is an expected part of the deal.

Turn now to Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Once again, God has called his people to do things for him. Paul says we are debtors to God, because of Jesus’ death on the cross. Now that should make us nervous – no one wants to be a debtor. But Paul says we should take on this indebtedness gratefully, because it is not based in fear, but in love. God’s people are to serve in a new way, as God’s adopted children, co-heirs with the very Jesus Christ who was responsible for our salvation. And the service we should provide to bring God’s kingdom to fruition on earth will require suffering, but will also mean eventual glory.

Talk about confusing! First he says we are debtors and should serve because of that. Then he says we are debtors because God loves us. That’s a new idea – usually debt and love are not two words we hear at the same time. Then he says we are equal with Jesus as heirs to the kingdom. How can that be? Jesus is God and we are most certainly not. Then he says that we’ve got to do stuff, and it will require suffering. Wait a minute…weren’t we supposed to be heirs to the kingdom? What’s all this about suffering? Oh, yeah, we’ll get glory – the suffering is just part of the deal. My head hurts from Paul whipsawing me back and forth.

It works like that sometimes when people are called to do something for God. Confusion is an expected part of the deal.

And then we get to the heart of the matter, when we hear the Gospel. Here comes Nicodemus, in the middle of the night, and he’s a little like the smarty-pants kid who always sits in the front row waving his hand saying “Teacher, teacher, I know the answer, I know! Pick me!”

He says, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” And before Nicky has a chance to actually ask his question, Jesus says, “Hey wait a minute, you’re close but that’s not quite right. No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Nicky is confused. “Wait. You’re telling me we’ve got to be born from above? That’s how we get to know God? But we are already born, and some of us have been born for quite some time. Are we supposed to climb back into our mamas and get born again? That doesn’t make sense, particularly since our mamas wouldn’t be too thrilled about it.”

And Jesus sighs and says, “Not that kind of being born, Nic. It’s the kind of rebirth that happens when you are baptized in water and the Holy Spirit. I thought you were a smart guy. How could you get so confused?”

But Nicodemus is not the only one who is confused…Jesus speaks now not only to him, but to all those who are struggling and having doubts. He is saying, “pay attention now. I’m talking about things that are hard to understand, not just earthly things, but heavenly things. You need to understand these things as best you can: I am here to help you, indeed to save you, not punish you. I am here so that you can finally understand this God who loves you so deeply.”

And implied in that explanation is the realization that this teaching from Jesus, even though it beggars our ability to understand it, is something that Jesus is asking us to embrace and to share, each of us in our own way.

And we hear that, and we wonder, as Isaiah did, “why would you choose me? I am an imperfect person, no particular skills for what you are asking me to do.”

We hear that, and we wonder, as Paul suggests, “how can I be a suffering debtor and a co-heir with Christ of the heavenly glorious kingdom?”

We hear that, and we wonder, as Nicodemus did, “how am I supposed to understand this rebirth that you speak of and how am I supposed to convey this to others?”

Confusing. But the good news is that even in our confusion, God provides us what we need to do what he calls us to do. As a spiritual director once told me, “God equips the called, He doesn’t call the equipped.” God expects that we will occasionally be confused. God expects that we will need divine help. And that’s why the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we talked about last week, those gifts that helped the disciples understand each other’s languages, are also bestowed on us as God’s adopted children.

We are all called by God. Each of us is called to different tasks, at different times of our lives, but we are most definitely called. And in the midst of the shock of the call, as Isaiah was shocked, we might be tempted to say “It ain’t me, Lord. It ain’t me you’re looking for.” But we are gifted by what God have us in Creation, by what Jesus washed from our sinful souls through his death on the cross, by what the Spirit imbues in our souls.

We may not understand the Trinity. We may not understand God’s call for us. But we can accept the gifts of the Trinity that empower us and equip us to be God’s heirs and God’s debtors, to bring the reign of God to its full flowering, each in our own way.