I wish you could come to church with me and hear H preach. Clearly, I’m biased. I think he’s one of this generation’s great preachers. It’s true, he’s been called to a specific ministry, and he serves a specific church. The Holy Spirit has uniquely fitted him and his message to meet the needs of this downtown, eclectic, diverse, transitioning congregation. H not an evangelist. He doesn’t go from city to city, preaching a message for the masses. He’s a pastor, called to minister to and to love a specific gathering of misfits. He does it well. Not perfectly. But well. And some days are just so-so. Just like the rest of us. Some days, we are all just so-so.
Some days, I sit in the pew, and think to myself, “Is this the man who just left his socks in the middle of the floor at home? Wow!”
Currently, H is preaching a series about how we, this rag-tag group of people — people who come from different countries and races and customs, and who speak different languages and like different types of music, and who clap and say “Amen” and who also sit quietly without saying a word — can do life together in a way that honors God and makes people wonder what we’ve been drinking. You probably already know the answer to that. You read those words about our congregation and think to yourself, “That’s not easy.”
Here’s the thing that paralyzes me when I think about this specific church to which we’ve been called. Actually, there are two things.
First, when I think about what it will take to move forward and to make any sort of progress, I am dumbfounded by all of the layers. I don’t even know how to begin telling you about all of the layers. And I’m sure I’m not aware of just how layered this thing is. I’m sitting here, trying to figure out how to describe it to you, and I can’t find the words. So, can I simply ask you to trust me? It’s layered, and finding the right layer to grab hold of and start peeling back is more than a notion.
The second piece of this that paralyzes me is just how much time it’s going to take. In a meeting on Saturday, I realized I may not live to see this whole thing work out. I might get glimpses of it. But I will not be surprised if I leave this earth before the fullness of the vision comes to pass.
Like I said, the whole thing can paralyze me if I let it.
One of the most powerful stories in the Old Testament is the story of the man at the pool named Bethesda. For thirty-eight years, this man had been unable to walk. Bethesda was a cool place because people would gather around it, people with all kinds of sicknesses. From time to time, an angel would stir up the water in the pool and, if you could get yourself into the water while it was gurgling around in the pool, you’d be all better. Healed.
Well, one day, Jesus was passing by the pool of Bethesda, and there was the guy who’d been unable to walk for thirty-eight years! Jesus saw this guy lying there by the pool (just like me when I look at all the layers and start counting up the time and decide to just sprawl out on the ground instead of deal with the task at hand) and Jesus said to the guy, “Do you want to get well?”
The guy says something like, “Well, when the water starts gurgling around in there, I can’t get anyone to help me get to the pool.” In other words, what I hear the guy saying is, “It’s too much work. I don’t even know where to start.” When I read that story, and I get to that guy’s response (read: excuse) I want to say, “What? What a crock! Man, either you want to get well or you don’t! Do you know who you’re dealing with? Do you know who is asking you the question? This is Jesus, man! Jesus! Get it together!”
And then I realize I make the same excuses.
Yesterday, H reminded me that walking is actually controlled falling. Think about a baby, learning to walk. She pulls herself up to stand next to the coffee table, lets go, wobbles there for a minute, and falls with a thud on her diapered butt. Studies suggest that if her mom reaches out to keep that baby from falling, over and over again, it will delay the baby’s progress and take her longer to learn to walk. Each time that baby falls, and gets back up again, her brain is recalibrating what it takes to get a little bit further the next time. Falling is inevitable. But that baby keeps on trying. And before you know it, her mom’s Facebook timeline is covered in video of that baby taking her very first steps, all the way across the living room floor.
So, I hear Jesus asking me (and you), “Do you want to get well?” And my natural inclination is to answer, “Yeah, but can we skip all of the falling and bumping my head on the corner of the coffee table?” Which, translated, means, “No. Not yet.”
Thank goodness, Jesus does not make room for my excuses. In the story of the man at Bethesda, Jesus let that guy make his excuses, and then Jesus looked at the man and said, “Get up, take your bedroll, and walk.” Jesus skipped right over the need to figure out how to get into the gurgling waters and simply told the guy to get up and get going. The guy’s excuses didn’t hold water, and neither do mine. I either want to get well, or I don’t.
Maybe you’ve got something going on in your life that is way beyond you? It’s out of your league. You’re in over your head. It’s too big for you to grasp. And when you look at it from any angle, it paralyzes you. Sitting still and doing nothing seems easier than picking up one foot and putting it in front of the other. You don’t know where to start. You don’t have any skills for this. You don’t have the patience. Your skin isn’t thick enough. You’re not interested in going back in there and getting all muddy and scraped up. Like me, you think the best thing is to sit this one out. To be still and take a breather.
I think, when we pull back, sit out, tell ourselves the whole thing is just too much, we are like that mom, keeping her baby from falling down on her diapered butt, and we train our brains and our hearts and our souls to expect less from Jesus than what he promises he can deliver. I’m not saying we should use Jesus as our personal wishing well, dropping in pennies from the sidelines and telling him what we wish he’d do for us to make our lives easier. What I mean is, when I find myself drowning in the stuff of life, I either want to get well, or I don’t.
I can spend my days and all my energy convincing you and Jesus, and whoever else will listen, of the fact that the ministry at our church is layered and that it will take time I probably don’t have. Or, I can pull my wobbly self up to the edge of the coffee table.