“My secret is that I need God—that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.”- Douglas Coupland “Life After God”
Earlier this year, I sensed a new calling and dared to follow it, I am thankful for those who have talked and prayed and encouraged me in it. There have been times, and I suspect that this is true for all of us who call ourselves Christians, that I have thought of walking away from God and from the church, sometimes one and not the other, sometimes both!
So on Monday I am heading for Blackpool to the Imperial Hotel for the Methodist Church, Superintendents Conference I am still pinching myself a little that this is the case. As I begin to reflect I am aware that this story is not about me, it is actually about the people who first really shared the love of God with me, people who made me ask what it was that they had, what made their life different, whatever it was I wanted it.
Those people were not perfect people, they had faults and flaws just like I do, but they showed and shared a love that was beyond the ordinary, people who would take a stranger into their home, people who made sure that physical, mental and spiritual needs were met, people who cared and loved and went the extra mile.
There were others too, people who encouraged me to study, who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, who saw a potential within, people who stuck with me and challenged me when I felt like giving up. Still others walked with me through really hard times, again showing love care and compassion that came from a deeper place than their own reserves, leaning on God they allowed me to lean upon them.
Our stories are woven together, I hope that I have encouraged and helped others in the way that those mentioned above have helped me, but that is their story to tell not mine! My story and theirs are also woven together and together our stories are woven into the wonderful story of the God of love who invites us to participate in the life that s/he offers to us.
To participate in that life does not of course mean becoming an ordained minister, that is simply my calling, but it does require us to enter into it. We are loved and known by God even when we don’t know it, and for many that is a startling revelation, it was for me, I remember wanting to earn God’s approval ( I wouldn’t have dreamt of calling it love), to be acceptable, and a part of something that I felt, were I really known and seen, would be completely impossible.
I have talked to people, and prayed with people who have felt that they can never be good enough, and have turned away from faith because they cannot live up to the demands they have had placed upon them. Demands to live “the right way” and to say “the right things”. Such demand leads to a crushing criticism, and sadly it is rife in the church because we are always trying to figure out what is right and what is wrong, and who is in and who is out!
I thought I was out, but I was always in, and the truth is that nobody is out, all are chosen and loved, and this is the message that was lived out by those who have helped me and encouraged me, and dared to love me at my most unloveable. This is the calling for all who have discovered the love that holds them no matter how that might be lived out. It is about a love stronger than death, a love that came and showed itself to us in the person of Jesus, loving the unlovely, reaching out to those whom religion had excluded, and so challenging the political and religious rulers of his day that they crucified him. But love of course did not stop there, and through the power of love death was overcome and Jesus was raised from the dead inhabiting the fullness of the title Christ and making the resurrection a possibility for all of us.
When I choose God and choose love I choose resurrection, I am thankful today for those who have shown me the possibilities of that choosing, and for those who encourage me day by day to continue to press on, and hold me when I feel like giving up. I am grateful too that I have come to know a God of love and not a God of wrath, that I have moved from a place of fear to a place of possibility, and a different way of telling the gospel stories to the one I began with about 35 years ago. I will write more about that later, but today I am simply giving thanks.