Getting God’s Grammar: You(s) Are Meant for Bigger Things
Before I started contemplating my call to ministry, I had an experience of the in-breaking of God’s spirit. When it happened, I was actually a bit alarmed, having never experienced anything like it before. My alarm subsided a bit when I later found out that St. Ignatius of Loyola had a term for this kind of unbidden experience of God. He called it “consolation without cause.” It means that suddenly God’s presence is clearly manifest to you, even though you were doing nothing to encourage it: no praying, no meditating, no worshipping, no singing. There is no cause. Ignatius did not believe it was a common occurrence, and it has happened just once to me.
I was walking in Omaha’s Memorial Park one evening about four years ago, something I did quite often. I was thinking about mundane things. I’m not even sure now what it was, maybe groceries, maybe some to-do list item. But I most definitely was not thinking about God. And out of nowhere, I heard the words, “You are meant for bigger things.” As you can imagine, this quite literally stopped me in my tracks. I looked around expecting to see someone else nearby, but no one was within even shouting distance. And then I felt with certainty that these words were from God. I had experienced God’s in-breaking presence through no effort of my own: consolation without cause.
These words were certainly not the only thing, but could accurately be described as the catalyst for me pursuing the path of ordained ministry. To be sure, I followed this experience with much prayer, a silent retreat, and many conversations with friends and mentors before I entered the United Methodist “process” toward becoming a pastor. Through every step in the process, those words have been indeed a consolation and an inspiration not to retreat into the banality of white-picket fence life, but to continue to seek and follow God’s call.
This year, I had an epiphany while taking a shower. I’m not sure about you, but I do my best thinking in the shower. I’ve composed at least a third of every sermon in there. I’m considering writing off my water bill as a professional expense. During this particular shower, this occurred to me: in English, the word “you” can be either singular or plural. Other languages, like the French I studied in high school and college, don’t have this complication. “Vous” means a plural you, and “tu” is a singular you. In American English, only regional dialects have a plural “you,” with the South preferring “y’all,” and Jersey occasionally using something like “yous.” But in my dialect, the one in which I’m sure God would speak to me, “you” could be plural as well as singular. That put a whole new spin on this “you are meant for bigger things” issue.
I realized that it still could be true that “I” am meant for bigger things, but it is equally true that “we” are meant for bigger things. We are meant for bigger things in the sense that each person has in her or him the divine spark, the Holy Spirit, the presence of the Living Christ. And if that is true, aren’t we meant for so much more than grocery lists or meaningless work or the shopping it enables? Not that we don’t need to eat or have a job to pay the bills or shop for things we need. But we are most definitely also meant for bigger things.
And we are meant for even bigger things when we act in community together. A couple of weeks ago, I took part in a fast at Church of the Village. The fast was both for spiritual growth and to raise funds for COTV’s feeding ministry, Hope for our Neighbors in Need (HNN). It started out with a handful of people agreeing to fast, and that number grew and grew. Eventually, there were almost thirty people fasting together, and some of them were even fasting from afar in California and Lithuania. The fasters asked friends and relatives for donations to HNN, and the weekend before the fast, about $500 had been raised. And we were delighted with that amount. But that was just the start. By a week after the fast, over $6,000 had been donated by church members, and friends and families of the fasters. No one would have guessed that we could accomplish so much with one 24-hour fast. But indeed, when we work together in community, and when we reach out even beyond the walls of our community, we are meant for bigger things.
I want to close with reminding you, you personally, that “you are meant for bigger things.” It’s hard to live into that reality though because, frankly, it’s scary. It’s scary and overwhelming to feel like “you” (singular) are called to do bigger things. Exactly how big are we talking here? How am I supposed to do this alone? The world is so broken, how can anything I do even make a difference? What if I mess it all up?
The First Letter of John tells us both that “God is love” and that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). When I remember that it’s not just me, but every person is meant for bigger things, I can imagine God’s love in action. Because I know that the bigger thing to which you are called will intersect with and support the bigger thing to which I am called. And then there will be a handful of us, and then there will be a hundred of us, and then there will be thousands of us, and even millions of us working on those bigger things, and weaving them all together until that tapestry looks a whole lot like the kin-dom of God.
May it be so. And may it start with us.
If you are interested in reflecting more on the role we have to play in making God’s dream for the world a reality, consider joining us for our November Village Time class: Holy Hobbits! Finding God at Work in Middle Earth, the Five Boroughs, and Maybe Even New Jersey on Sunday at 9:15. http://www.churchofthevillage.org/hobbit/