Monday, November 23, 2009

Ain't I Great?

We got Gary moved out of the hospital into a nursing home a couple days ago. He was drugged into derilium at the hospital and since being at the nursing home and off the morphine and dilantin he has been able to talk and is aware of who is visiting and what is going on. I stopped by to visit Gary on my way home from work today as usual.

Gary has led quite a, ahem... colorful life but has spent the last 13 of his 64 years in Christian ministry. A lot of his dreams and goals are almost coming true. His Christmas "homeless and shut in dinner" will feed over 6000 this year if all goes as planned. His shelter and rehab has gotten some attention and interest from a couple localities to open similar programs in their cities. We were talking today and he said, "In one way if I die I know I am "God ready" and I look forward to being with Christ. But in another way I think, WHY God? ... I'm at the verge of seeing all my ministry dreams come true and You're calling me home before everything great happens. If I could live seven more months I could accomplish SO much more."

I asked Gary to name me one person in Scripture that died thinking they had accomplished EVERYTHING God wanted them to do. I asked him to name one person who, if they had lived another month or year, would not have done even greater things for Christ. I told him that perhaps his one true purpose was to turn one particular person from the street to Christ and THAT one person will be his link to even greater things than he even imagined. I told him the geneology of Christ was full of no-name, obscure people who accomplished nothing more than getting a mention in Matthew's Gospel, but through them salvation came into the world. I told him greatness is not in accomplishment but in faithfulness, and according to the biblical record, "faithfulness" is often not very pretty or laudable in polite and "spiritual Church society".

The reality is, we who aspire to serve the Church in some "significant way" usually self assess according to our self referenced accomplishments and goals. But as James the Thickheaded said in a recent blog post:

"Do we really do ourselves any good by our ambitions to be a “somebody” in the Church? Moreover, do we do the Church any good, or those around us? I’m not convinced. And I’m certainly not convinced that ambitions of this sort – if we are candid with ourselves – necessarily amount to more than adopting a posture unconducive to our professed aspirations. Sainthood as an aspiration for ascension could perhaps be more clearly understood as a path of descent… not into nothingness, but from the sinful false images we erect of ourselves and toward real personhood."

Indeed, there is a temptation to what amounts to a desire for a place at the head of the table disguised as "service at the table". Subtle ego fulfillment is a leech on our "aspirations" that is contrary to the true path to "ascension". It is too easy to adopt the "posture of humility" with the agenda to be elevated to a higher place in the future rather than learn to serve with true humility in the place we've been called to in the present moment. The shiny cross worn around the neck is a glittering temptation, a distraction from ascending the true cross of accepting all God gives us, including dashed hopes, thwarted dreams, unrealized aspirations and even humiliating failure. God does not "need" our ministries and false humility, nor even our greatness. He works best through the horror of the Cross, and in the lives of those who willingly or even grudgingly accept the death it offers to each of us. He needs human beings to die to themselves and the world in Christ and thus to live as a witness to the resurrection of true personhood, and to be willing to be an obscure, no-name person in someone's distant past who, because of a glimmer of faith, did one small thing in the name of God that, generations later, saved the very cosmos.

No... I ain't so great.

13 comments:

Fr. James Early said...

Great post, Steve. May God grant us all true humility and a willingness to be like the one "who made himself nothing."

el cuerpo negro said...

growing up in the stream of the Faith which I have grown up in, i've seen so many pastors with this mentality that they have to work every waking hour of their lives because they are "working for the Lord." what this usually ends up looking like is an older man with a string of broken relationships with those closest to him (his family), who micromanages a smaller congregation and somewhat cynically doesn't understand why there isn't more "commitment" in the Body of Christ.

it's amazing how even the best intentions can be twisted by our enemy.

Lord, have mercy on our celebrity obsessed society!

Cameron said...

My comments are too long. I posted them here:

http://liveandmove.wordpress.com/2009/11/24/he-needs-true-human-beings/

s-p said...

el cuerpo: When I was wading in your stream, I saw and did that... probably am still doing that in my new pond. sigh.

Cameron: Your blog post is one of the best I've ever read on any blog. Seriously. I hope everyone will take the time to read it.

Cameron said...

That means a lot to me, Steve, coming from you. Thank you for the kind words. I think your post helped bring into focus what I've been thinking about recently without having the words to describe it. So, thank you.

Ali said...

This is such a wonderful post. And I think your humility is a reminder to us all. But I suspect you probably a "bit great" in the way you minister to people in society who are forgotten. I don't know you, but I sense you are very merciful towards others. I know for sure you are merciful to people in a way that I am not--that is for sure.

May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

margaret said...

Moses died within sight of the Promised Land. Glad you got him out of the hospital, sometimes that's the only way hospitals know how to cope but it's no way to end your life if it can be avoided. Off to read Cameron now.

Fr. Christian Mathis said...

Glad he is out of the hospital.....and good thoughts to remember....especially for those of us in ministry!

bondc said...

Just catching up. I'm praying for Gary. What is his prognosis?

s-p said...

The nursing home is slow to get rolling on a treatment plan. A doctor was supposed to visit today and look over his charts from the hospital and decide how to proceed. Its a bit frustrating for him and those who care about him.

Kevin said...

I asked a man I consider truly humble, not feigning humility, what humility was. His reply was instructive. He said simply, "I don't think about it very much."

deb said...

Steve, I'm tempted to say that we could just shut down all of Internet Orthodoxy now, leaving only your post and Cameron's up for reference, and then get up from our computers, and start trying to live in response to what you two have written. Because you've just about said it all.

s-p said...

Thanks a lot, Deb. Now I have to go to confession...as long as my penance isn't "turn off your computer". :)