Here lies the central choice of your life. Are you going to give in to the frenzy, and construct a life that’s designed to work perfectly well if there were no such thing as love? Or is your life going to be a parable, a beautiful, extravagant gesture of prophecy and worship and love, that others call crazy, but which offers a mirror of God’s very own way of being with us?… Are you going to love, or search for solutions?
“A time is coming,” said St. Antony, “when everyone will go mad. And when they meet someone who’s not mad, they’ll say, ‘You’re mad: you’re not like us.’”
I have one simple prayer today. My prayer is that that person - that crazy person, the person who’s not like us, that person who turns out to be like God; my prayer is that that person is you.
In this very moment, I know who I am. I’m telling you the story of a woman who came to her senses when she was told the story in the right way. And it’s an old story. But it feels new. Maybe it really is new. Because, don’t you see, that’s what I do. I’m a preacher. That’s what a preacher does. A preacher learns the song in your heart and sings it back to you when you forget how it goes. A preacher learns the song in God’s heart and sings it to you, in rhythm, in classical, in blues, in soul, in rock, and sometimes even in roll. A preacher comes to you when you’re confused, when you’re on your knees, when you’re bewildered, when you’re hard of hearing, when you’re in a faraway land of fairies or in a dungeon of defeated desire; a preacher comes to you and tells you the story again, until you realize that the one in the story, left with a choice, is you.
Just in passing let me wonder why anyone is surprised that church attendance is in decline in America. If half the church is presenting a faith that makes God out to be a vindictive judge, and the other half is making God out to be an anodyne version of themselves, it’s actually amazing anyone goes to church at all.
ngl I had to resist an almost overwhelming urge to stand up and cheer at this point.
We need each other. We need each other to know God. We cannot say to one another, “I have no need of you.
So this is what it means to be fully alive. Not to live without limitations, without pain, suffering or death. Not even to live without sin, either our own or other people’s, for it always lurks at the door. But to live in communion, united with and yet still fully present to God, united with and yet still fully present to one another. Communion doesn’t take away pain and, in this life, it doesn’t take away sin. But it embraces you with the only power that’s stronger than both of them, and puts them in their place, until every tear is wiped away from every eye.
There’s a lurking suspicion in the hearts and souls of very many people, and maybe you’re one of them, that the problem of suffering, disappointment, sickness and grief isn’t about any of these things. It’s that God has turned away from you. That God is punishing you, facing away from you, or just doesn’t like you anymore. That God is cross with you or has lost patience with you. Paul knows all about that last, lingering fear. Paul knows that it’s the most isolating fear of all, because it keys into our own profound feelings of self‐hatred, and it ties into our helplessness in the face of the almighty power of God. But Paul shapes his whole argument to insist that this fear is finally, wholly, utterly groundless. God isn’t against us. Any of us. God is for us. All of us. Why else would Jesus have gone through hell and high water for us? Jesus death is proof that God is for us, and Jesus’ resurrection is proof that nothing can separate us from God’s love.
A couple of years ago I had breakfast with Jean Vanier, the French Canadian founder of the L’Arche movement. L’Arche is an international network of communities made up of people with disabilities and those who come to share life with them. Jean Vanier has spent the last 40 years living in such communities. I asked him, “What’s the hardest part?” I was expecting he’d say “Sometimes I get fed up of being with developmentally disabled people and I just long for a normal life,” or something like that. But what he said was this. “Sam, if you really want to know, the hardest part is when young people come from college and they stay with us for a summer, or maybe for a year. And they say ‘This has been the most amazing experience of my life – I’ve learnt to see the world so differently and value things so truly and ponder things so deeply.’ And they have this word they like to use… ‘transformative,’ that’s it. They say it’s been transformative. And then they leave. And I think, ‘If it’s all been so fantastic and transformative, why are you leaving?’” And I said to this great man, maybe the greatest man I’ve ever met, “Ah, but don’t you see, if life is fundamentally the accumulation of experiences, you have to leave, otherwise you’d have to rethink your whole life.” “Oh,” he said. “So people leave, because they’re frightened of who they’re becoming if they stay.