Mark 1:14-20; Galatians 3:28
The Rev. Tom Herbek
June 11, 2017
“I really envy you”, he said to me perhaps a decade ago at a family get-together in Virginia. “You spend your day helping people, making a difference in their lives. I spend my day working in a job I hate, wake up in the middle of the night each night, worried about not getting everything done that I need to do.”
“You’re not that old”, I said. “Why not change to a different career?”
”Oh, I could never do that,” he replied. “I have a huge mortgage payment, three car payments, two kids in college, and my wife really enjoys the things that my salary allows us to do. I could never live off of the kind of salary I’d make in the kind of jobs I’d like to have.” We shook hands sadly and he went on his way.
I have wondered since then if he ever chose to make the choices that would really make a difference for him. If we are going to be happy and fulfilled in life, we have to make choices that enable it. We have to choose what or whom we will serve.
One of my favorite theologians, Paul Tillich, defined idolatry as “the elevation of a preliminary concern to intimacy … something essentially finite is given infinite significance.” The problem is that, when we try to push that much importance, that much significance into something finite, it cannot hold it. We end up going through life feeling that we have missed something, and envious of people who seem to have found it.
But choosing to follow God also appears to have some risks to it. Following God seems much less secure as we contemplate the choice to follow. We are tempted to try to make the choice more secure, to push more into the choice of following God than should be there. And one of the dangers of religious fundamentalism is that it tries to remove any insecurity, to make an idol of security.
As William Sloane Coffin wrote:
Why am I so hard on fundamentalist preachers? Because it is right to be stabbed by doubt. “Commitment is healthiest where it is not without doubt, but in spite of doubt” (Rollo May). It is wrong to be clearer than clarity warrants, to write off intellectual and moral ambiguities simply because you haven’t the security to live with uncertainty.
To me, that is diametrically opposed to Jesus, whose central theme was that there is something intrinsically sacred, intrinsically deserving of respect, intrinsically calling for and entitled to love in every human being. Seekers of truth can build communities of love. Possessors of truth have too much enmity toward those who don’t possess the truth, or possess some other truth.
When we make choices to follow the call of God, to journey along with others who may be much different from us in many ways, we must leave room for the possibility that there will be much uncertainty, lots of questions and ambiguities.
When we journey together on the road of compassion, we will see things and experience things that will cause us to doubt much of what we have believed in the past. But doubt is a precursor to growth in our faith. It is one of the hallmarks of an openness to growth.
Kent Nerburn, who will be coming to Canandaigua in October wrote the following:
We are not saints, we are not heroes. Our lives are lived in quiet corners of the ordinary. We build tiny hearth fires, sometimes barely strong enough to give off warmth. But to the person lost in the darkness, our tiny flame may be the road to safety.
It is not given us to know who is lost in the darkness that surrounds us or even if our light is seen. We can only know that against even the smallest of lights, darkness cannot stand.
- Make Me An Instrument of Your Peace
We are called to compassion, not to perfection, not to judge those we meet, but to care for them in our own unique way. We are called to make choices in our own life that bring more light, more love, more compassion into our world. At times, we may feel overwhelmed by the happenings in our world, unsure of what to do, or how to even make a difference. But we are simply called to follow, to let our light shine, to be compassionate in our own way.
And Paul wrote in Galatians that, on this journey, none of the things that the world of his day said really mattered do matter- none of them matter. Nationalities, ethnicities, status in society, did not matter to the God Paul described: “Neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female…” The call of Jesus to compassion, to follow, is not based on any of these things.
When we choose to follow God, we are choosing compassion. Jesus called his disciples to a life of compassion. When Jesus summed up the basis of faith and of ethics in a few words, he said: “Be compassionate as God is compassionate.”
In the world in which we live, there is an agonizing need for compassion, for understanding, for acceptance, for caring.
So let us not be voices of certainty and judgement. Let us be voices of compassion, living lives that truly make a difference in this community, in our world.