Have you ever had that nudge, that inkling to do something good, but you never end up doing it? To send a card, a note or letter – of thanks, or of congratulations, or of sympathy to someone – but you never do it?
We see or hear about a need in the church – a need to update the website, or a need to invite a friend to church, or to have an extra homebound visitor or make a casserole – and the idea pops into our head: “Hmmm, maybe I can do that…”, but we don’t do it. We put it off, and it never gets done. Other concerns overwhelm us, and our good nudge never translates into action, into the doing of it.
And there may be a whole host of reasons why we don’t act on a good thought, a good idea.
Sometimes it’s because of fear. We fear failure, humiliation. We fear we’re not good enough. We’re afraid of our own inadequacies and imperfections.
We’re so aware of, so self-conscious of these things, that we freeze into non-action.
Self-consciousness is a particular affliction for identical twins. I know, because I am one.
From the earliest years, by twin brother and I were often held up under the microscope for close examination. Not out of any malicious intent or hurt on their part, but nevertheless our school friends and neighbours and others would compare and point out every last little detail between my brother and me – our personality traits, our facial expressions, our physical features, and mannerisms.
This is just what happens when you’re an identical twin.
And so, over the decades, this has built into my psyche a huge self-consciousness, a kind of hyper self-awareness and self-watching, to the extent that through my younger years and in school, and later, I’ve had to do huge battle against that crippling self-consciousness.
But I’ve discovered that I’m not alone. Non-twins, or “singletons” as you all are referred to, can also suffer a crippling self-consciousness for a host of other reasons – a sense of chronic shame, a poor upbringing of hardly any, or no basic encouragement or affirmation offered by parents, and so on.
But even simply getting older, and becoming more aware of our aging and not-so-beautiful bodies – you know, those growing pouches, and extra flab, skin spots. We hide behind excessive amounts of make-up, and cosmetics, and expensive clothing. Our crippling self-consciousness immobilizes and restricts us.
And yet, God calls us, despite ourselves. God gives us the Holy Spirit to cast off the yoke of fear, to walk through the valley of the shadow of fear and death, and into new hope, new life, new joy.
When we take our preoccupation off of ourselves, and throw ourselves into the needs of others, or the tasks at hand, or appreciating and enjoying the world around us, there is a real beauty in that, a joy and freedom that shines from us.
St. Iraneaus of the 2nd century said: “A person who is fully alive is a reflection of the glory of God.”
To be fully alive…
Have you ever met someone who struck you as fully alive, joyful, focussed, and passionate about life and others? Someone who didn’t seem hindered by fear, doubt, or a crippling self-consciousness?
Author Anne Lamott writes about a friend she has, who, as Anne describes, isn’t exceptionally physically attractive, who has “a big pancake face and feathery brown hair, with patches of scalp showing. She is “too tall and totally inelegant.”
But, Anne writes of her friend: “She loves her life. She’s chosen a life of prayer, service and travel. She’s always in a sort of infuriating state of wonder, of appreciating what is, instead of fretting about what she wishes was.” And … “she’s great-looking – everyone thinks so – because of the expressions on her face and the way she looks at you. She is radiant with spirituality and humour.”
Someone fully alive …
Jesus, in a similar way, is just as alive, focussed, single-minded, and passionate about his purpose and mission – to teach and embody the compassionate, forgiving, non-violent love of God Nothing would detract or deter him from travelling to Jerusalem, and completing his life’s mission there.
Even when along the road,
Jesus and his disciples encounter the Samaritans – a group long hostile to the Jews – who snub and refuse to offer hospitality to Jesus and his disciples,
the disciples James and John, out of their anger and desire for revenge, want Jesus to reign down fire and lightening to destroy these Samaritans,
it would’ve been so easy and tempting to do this,
Jesus would have none of it. Jesus refused to abandon his mission, and give in to violent behaviour. He “rebukes” James and John, the text puts it, and wants them all just to move on, and persist with the mission.
And I think that’s what Jesus is really saying to those whom he invited to follow him along the way, but who seemed to have more important things to do in that moment, like burying their relatives, or saying good-bye to family members.
Jesus isn’t devaluing or dismissing the importance of caring for and loving family. What he’s saying, is that nothing is more important than trusting in God, and following God’s ways of non-violence, compassion and love for all people, whether that’s practiced among family members, or in the world.
Michael Harvey, who’s been touring the Eastern Synod over the last years, encouraging this ministry of invitation, of personally inviting family and friends and neighbours and co-workers to church, he would say, as others have, that “failure is an option.”
It’s ok to try something in the name of Christ’s missioin, and then have it flop. Gloriously. No shame in that.
We remember that Jesus, as devoted and of single-minded purpose and mission as he was, he ended up on the cross. For any outside observer, Jesus’ life, mission and movement seemed an epic, catastrophic failure, ending in the death of its leader.
But God surprised everyone, by turning crucifixion into resurrection, by turning death into life.
As followers of the risen Jesus today, our job is simply to do, to act on that good nudge, to risk, and to follow that gut feeling to do something good … however small or insignificant it may seem. And then, to leave the rest to God. To leave the work of final resurrection to God.
To be prepared, yes, to learn from our experience, however successful or not, but through it all, to trust that it’ll be God who, eventually, will bring about the ultimate good out of our simple actions, and cause the good to grow, out of the small seeds we’ve planted.