"The open space"
Clare L. Hickman
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Ferndale
July 8, 2018—Proper 9B
Ezekiel 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13
On the 20th anniversary of my ordination as a deacon, I was sitting in a church in Prague. It was an Orthodox Church, with the kind of solemn hush that candles, lingering incense, and the sound of chanting in the distance creates. I was sitting, contemplating my call. Wondering whether I have been faithful, whether I am being faithful, whether I am going where God is sending me.
My wonderings were complicated by the many voices out there willing to inform me precisely (and specifically) what every minister worthy of the name should be thinking and feeling and doing about the current state of the world. My wonderings were complicated further by the fact that St. Cyril & Methodius, the church in which I sat, happens to have been the final hiding place for the Czech patriots who assassinated Nazi Obergruppenfuhrer (senior commander and architect of the Final Solution) Reinhard Heydrich.
Those who have seen the movie Anthropoid know the story of their mission. How they parachuted in and were assisted by members of the resistance. How they fired the shots that eventually led to Heydrich’s death. How they were betrayed, and surrounded by the Gestapo as they hid in the church. How they defended themselves to their last bullets, which they then used to avoid being captured alive. And how priests, bishops, resistance members and their families, indeed how whole villages were arrested and killed for assisting them.
The crypt where they made their final stand is now a museum that tells their story. In that space, you hear their story, see their pictures: the soldiers, the citizens, the children.
I hadn’t even gone downstairs to see it yet. But already, the day, the place, the time was pulling on me, demanding reflection on what courage looks like. On how complicated morality can be. And on where faithfulness might lead you.
Courage. Faithfulness. Moral choices. There are people in this world who will give you very definite answers as to how to live these things out. And let me tell you, they will not all agree with each other, unless you are living in a very well-protected bubble! But that disagreement is not so bad, as it turns out. Because it forces us to look inward. Forces us to listen for the way WE are being called to respond. Each of us, called to courage, in our own way. Called to faithfulness, in our own way. Called to the complicated task of moral discernment, lived out in our own daily lives.
God is opening up a space in front of you. That’s the message I was given in that cathedral in Prague, when I asked what God needed me to do in my ministry: Hold the space. Tell your people, over and over again, that God is opening up a space in front of them (each of them), for them to step into if you dare. You don’t need to know exactly what that looks like. That’s what I heard: I don’t need to tell you exactly what to do. Just hold the space, and remind you of the invitation. Remind you of the power that will fill you, should you step forward. Remind you that this space is the very Kingdom of God.
God is opening a space for you, holding a space open for you. Right in front of you, made just for you to step into. It is a kingdom space.
Jesus is sending you forth, as an apostle (a sent one), into that space. And all I can tell you is that the space is one in which you will confront and thus dispel evil; or a space in which you will live and speak the truth of repentance and forgiveness, of second chances and transformation; or a space in which you will tend and heal those who suffer in mind, body and spirit.
All you need to step into that space is yourself. Drop everything else. All that stuff you’re tempted to take along will just get in the way, will get between you and the people to whom you are sent. Yeah, yeah, I know: things like your pride or your self-doubts will want to come along for the ride. They will. But at some point, if you can truly enter the space and be with the people you’re called to be with, you might accidentally leave those things behind somewhere. At least for a moment.
There is a space, right there in front of you, that God is calling you into. I cannot tell you precisely what that space consists of. Only God can do that. Only the voice of Jesus, speaking into your heart, will do that. Will tell you what courage means to YOU. What faithfulness means to YOU. What moral choices you are called to wrestle with.
God calls you into the space. And it is kingdom space. It is holy ground. Remember that, because if there’s anything our readings today want to tell us, it’s that other people might be less than delighted with whatever that space makes of us. God calls Ezekiel to speak a word. He must go to the rebellious people of Israel, and remind them of the ways of God. He must go to the rebellious people of Israel, and point out that they have strayed from the ways of God. He must bring across the destruction caused by their current behavior. Must urge them to return. Must assure them that God wants them to return.
This will not necessarily be received well. Even when a prophet isn’t threatening punishment. Even when a prophet speaks of the hope and restoration that can be had. People still don’t like to hear about how they have fallen short. It hurts us. And so we deflect. We resist God’s accusation that we have not cared properly for the poor, for the lost, for the strangers among us. We point fingers at other people: “It wasn’t us!” or “They did it too!” We make excuses. We get extremely defensive and aggressive … because that’s easier than self-reflection. It’s easier than confession and repentance.
So, the prophet’s job is not an enviable one. Telling other people how they’ve missed the mark on the priorities of God will NOT win you any popularity contests!
But it might still be the space God is calling you into. If so, you will need a thick skin. Even more importantly, you will need humility; the courage for unflinching self-examination; and the ability to ground yourself in Christ’s authority, not just put it on like a cloak. If you’re called to be a prophet, God help you!
Living out the gospel isn’t without its own risks, however. People will doubt your abilities and authority. People will be afraid or mistrustful of one who offers healing. Some of the time, you will be mocked. Some of the time, you will be rejected. Pick yourself up. Keep going. Keep walking into that space God has prepared for you to walk into. Keep walking, because it is kingdom space. Keep walking, because it is holy ground. Keep walking, because it isn’t about you and your reputation, you and your self-esteem, you and your likeability. It’s about you, listening to the way in which God is calling YOU to be faithful, YOU to be courageous, YOU to live a moral life. It’s about you, walking into the space that God has prepared for you.
The only thing you need for your journey, is you. And the only one who can tell you exactly what to do, is God. May it be so. Amen