It was not what I expected but then, of course, God does have a sense of humour! I was into my second curacy and waiting for a parish of my own. I could tell God exactly what I wanted but God had other ideas. At that time I was a strong advocate of public transport: the car was a symbol of environmental waste and inefficiency and an expression of selfishness!
God did not listen…… he sent me to a large rural parish: over 800 square miles and not a bus in sight. It was a rural parish outside Gisborne and centred on a place called Wae-renga-a hika. In the end I told God: “Alright, I might have been wrong about cars! Your sense of humour has straightened me out.”
I believe that God leads us to places and conclusions we least expect. God outruns us every time. I have three examples. (a) On the way to Capernaum an argument started amongst the disciples. When Jesus asked ”What were you arguing about?” The disciples fell silent……they were in the silence of shame. The disciples had argued as to who is the greatest among them. Intuitively, the disciples knew they were out of line. We do not know how they measured status but it was different from that held by Jesus. Perhaps the disciples equated greatness to numbers of converts and followers or how holy they were, of how closely they kept the Jewish Law.
Jesus gave them a totally unexpected vista. It turned their world upside down. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all, and servant of all”. It measured greatness in the depth of ones being and not in the measure of achievement; stature came by way of faithfulness and not by tasks completed. In this totally different vista the grand deigns of greatness were swept aside by the purity and simplicity of the child. And Jesus said: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Another example that shows God outrunning us and leading us to the different is a story of a Zen Master. This Zen Master was visited by a Christian. The Christian said: “Allow me to read some sentences from the Sermon on the Mount.” “I shall listen to them with pleasure,” said the Master. The Christian read a few sentences and looked up. The Master smiled and said: “Whoever said those words was truly enlightened.” This pleased the Christian. He read on…. the Master interrupted and said: “Those words come from a Saviour of mankind.” The Christian was thrilled. He continued to read to the end. The Master then said: “That sermon was pronounced by someone who was radiant with divinity.” The Christian’s joy knew no bounds. He left, determined to return and persuade the Zen Master to become a Christian.
On the way back home he found Jesus standing by the road-side. “Lord” he said enthusiastically, “I got that man to confess that you are divine!” Jesus smiled and said: “And what good did it do you except to inflate your Christian ego?”
In the story our expectations are turned upside down. We are even shocked. When our expectations have an adult measure, counting the converts, we stop being the child whose spirituality belongs to God.
God leads us to a different space and experience.
My third example comes from a room of cardiology patients, all men. This happened while I was chaplain at Auckland Hospital. Before entering the room I knew the religious affiliations of most of the patients. Among them was an Anglican, and a Muslim. The pastoral encounters (otherwise known as “visits” were going well. I came to the Anglican and expected to be told to which parish he belonged. I was met with: “I am not a Christian but I am an Anglican.” How do you answer that one? I left the Muslim man till last. It was a pleasant visit better described as a pastoral encounter. The Muslim patient was interested in attending the Chapel service! I welcomed him to attend and made sure that he knew it would be a Christian service. (Christians and Muslims were already sharing the space called a Chapel.) The whole episode was unexpected, so different, even disconcerting. I can imagine God laughing at that episode!
There is no telling what God will do. Truly, God leads us to places and conclusions we least expect. In all things we can look for the new. We try to engineer the future but God is always the architect and has the final answer.
We are reminded again of the Holy Spirit who can take us on a wild journey. James K Baxter in his “Song to the Holy Spirit” wrote these words:
“Lord, Holy Spirit,
You blow like the wind
In a thousand paddocks,
Inside and outside the fences,
You blow where you wish to blow.”
As God leads us to places and conclusions we least expect, we need to be ready for the future. A future determined by the Holy Spirit which blows where it wishes.
We need to be ready---
By letting go of all that we hold too tightly
And opening our hands to receive what God offers.
By looking around
And with delight see the gift of God.
And hear God speaking a new message
By ceasing to seek for ourselves
And with joy, realise we are the servants of others.
We need to be ready for the future by travelling more closely with God:
-opening our hands
-seeing the gift of God
-hearing God speaking
-realising we are servants of others, and children of God.
In conclusion, I went to a rural parish – and God laughed. At Capernaum, the disciples learnt to be servants - and God laughed. A man eager to convert a Zen Master learnt about his own driving force- and God laughed. I entered a room of heart patients and learnt to be surprised – and God laughed.
God embraces us with love and with laughter.
Let us embrace the future designed by God. Amen