The Strong Soul
June 7, 2015
1I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; 2I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything. 8The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.
2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1
13But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke” —we also believe, and so we speak, 14because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 16So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
I leave for the annual conference of our denomination up on Lake Erie today.
Sometimes Annual conference feels like a school with shining stars paraded by the principal, people pushing for votes to be elected to the General Conference, pep talks to get us to do more, be more.
I am presenting legislation this year, to help the church work through the marriage question, and I find myself getting into that mindset. But when I arrive on those grounds, and step into the auditorium, the first person I will think about will be my Grandpa.
Grandpa Jeffers was a farmer, who loved baseball, more than farming, and gave up farming, then found he loved Jesus more than baseball, and he gave that up, and went to college at 30, and then seminary. Then he became a Methodist preacher.
Grandpa and Grandma had four kids, raised them all during the depression, when folks could only pay them in onions and tomatoes and squash.
They made do. He worked the earth, he studied the scripture, preached and taught the people.
He was never a high flyer, never on anyone’s radar, as bishops sent him to tough little towns, and poor parishes.
You found if you were leaving or staying, at the close of conference, they would call out the name of a church, and then call the pastor who was being sent there. No warning, no introductions, you just went home and packed.
Mom remembers one year sitting beside Grandpa in the assembly, when they called out “Lucasville” and then they called my grandpa’s name. She could see the tears streaming down his face, and could hear him saying:
I can’t take my children there,
I can’t take my children there.
Lucasville was a rough town in southern Ohio, with more saloons and gamblers than churches, that flooded when the river rose.
It turned out okay, Grandpa just loved the people and they loved him.
But when I think about the sort of spirituality that Paul is talking about, I think of Grandpa because he never was a star, he was never recognized outside his family and the churches he served.
But he knew who he was, and whose he was. He knew the importance of his small work and of the people he served.
He got the fundamental basic of a spiritual life, that you are aware that your part, no matter how big is small, in the scheme of God’s work. But it is your bit of the kingdom.
If the spiritual life is about responding to the nudges you get. That are putting you into the places that no one else can see or do what you know to do.
As we respond to those nudges, to that pressure, and call, taking our place in God’s scheme of things, our soul is strengthened like a muscle that gets a workout.
The spirit that says: Go to Lucasville, not because the Bishop sent you there, but the people need you there. When you get the nudge that says: you don’t know anything about youth, offer to teach them. That says: you are terrified of public speaking, get up and tell your story. That says: you aren’t comfortable with trafficked women or homeless people, go and minister to them. You are distraught by that injustice but are the shyest of people. Go raise your voice, that says: you don’t have a big income, give all you can.
It is our response to the nudges of God that makes the soul grow stronger, that is the sign of a spiritual life.
It comes with humility, a sense that our actions, everyone’s actions, even the biggest shots in your workplace, and mine, are ultimately, small, part of the total actions of God.
When we realize this, when we aren’t anxious about whether we are the greatest or the smallest. When we trust that what we are doing, that who we are is part of something greater than ourselves, then we can be at peace.
When we are freed from our concern about our greatness or smallness, because the whole is greater than all our parts, then we forget ourselves, and we can develop what Evelyn Underhill marks as the spiritual life: tranquility, gentleness, and strength.
It’s what my Grandpa developed. It’s what my father and mother have come to. It’s what I the life I want, too.
We are in the season after Pentecost, the flames are still dancing over our heads. And the Spirit is right here, descending into your life, into my life, inviting us to bring ourselves to the great feast, to the building of the kingdom, and then forget ourselves, and live.