I know that many of you are still on the fence about the God thing and that some of you are actually out in the field, standing in a kind of certainty that nothing exists beyond what we can know and see and experience with our own selves. To which I might reply, get yourself to Alaska post-haste and have a look at the wilderness up there; your very molecules will shift when you find yourself in that kind of bigness.
Truthfully, though, you don't have to go that far. You can sit by the nearest lake in the evening or get up really early and go for a walk on the nearest dirt road. You can go to the hospital and see if they'll let you look at the newborn babies or to a nursing home where you can sit with someone who will tell you the story of life. You can stand still long enough to see where that butterfly is going or you can go to the airport and watch at the arrival gate. Watch people when they catch sight of the person they're waiting for. The proof is all around us all the time, the question is whether or not you're willing to let the evidence make its way into your heart.
Here is a little story that might open up a some space of wonderment for you.
Last week I was really, and I mean really looking forward to doing the service at the Landgrove Meeting House on Sunday. It was the first place I ever preached, three years ago, and on that summer morning the world shook: there was thunder and lightening and torrential rain. The power went out and we had the service by candlelight. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing; all I knew, afterwards, was that I loved doing it. That I had been led, by some mysterious forces, to a place where I belonged.
Fast-forward three years and Matt Proft, who is part of the tradition, and I, are preparing for Sunday morning in Landgrove and his beautiful partner, Joy, is planning to lead the service in Pawlet, in my absence.
On Saturday night I got a call letting me know that Sam, who is twenty now and intent on handling these things on his own, was pretty sick. Stiff neck, fevers, headache, lethargy and discomfort in his spinal area. My meningitis radar immediately spiked; I called his doctor and we concurred that Sam should go to the ER.
Oddly, I had everything ready for Sunday morning. That never happens. Usually I'm up at 5 on Sunday, putting the finishing touches on things. This time it was all done and in a folder. I texted Matt, who, I found out later, was entertaining guests with Joy in their new home. Still, somehow, though he is not at all a cell phone guy, Matt received my text and prepared himself to take the reigns at Landgrove. While I was driving north to be with Sam at the hospital, he drove to my folks' house to pick up all of the Sunday stuff.
Oddly, I had packed a small bag, thinking we might go swimming at Hapgood Pond after the service in Landgrove. Ask anyone who knows me and you'll hear that I never pack properly, I'm always late and disorganized. For some reason, this time I was ready.
I was ready for what I thought I would be doing the next day, but I was wrong. I was getting stuff together for a reason that hadn't been revealed to me yet. So I was ready, when the call came, to get in the car and drive the two hours to the hospital in Burlington.
And Matt was ready to run the show in Landgrove. And Joy was ready to lead the service in Pawlet. And Andrew and Shay were ready with the music. And Brett Hughes, who had had two late night gigs in northern Vermont, got up on Sunday morning in Burlington and drove all the way to Landgrove, which is in the middle of nowhere in southern Vermont, to sing and play his guitar and to be present in any way he might be needed.
I arrived at the ER, which was unusually quiet for a Saturday night. Richard left and Sam and I stayed there until two in the morning, waiting for test results. I heard, at some point during that long night, that our friend, Sean Russell, was going to be leading the service in Peru, which is right next door to Landgrove. Matt and Joy and Sean. Someone dubbed it "The Layman's Trifecta" and my friends and I marveled at the wonderfulness of it. To me, it made perfect sense.
There is a story I love in Luke and it goes something like this:
And after these things, the Lord did appoint also another seventy, and sent them by twos before his face, to every city...go away; lo, I send you forth as lambs in the midst of wolves; carry no bag, no scrip, nor sandals; and salute no one on the way; and into whatever house ye do enter, first say, Peace to this house...'
So basically the guy sent seventy-two people out to take care of people. He didn't say...OK, listen you 72, first I want you to spend a few years in seminary and then I want you to take a couple of years to make it through the ordination process, which will be arduous and expensive and there will be a LOT of paperwork, and then you'll be ready to serve. No. he sent them out. He kept it real...it's not gonna be easy, there'll be wolves out there...but you're well-equipped. You don't need much. In fact, you don't need anything. Just go and do your best...
The Layman's Trifecta that occurred in southern Vermont this past Sunday morning was precisely what the young prophet, Jesus, had in mind. That everyday people, you and me and whoever else feels so moved, can and should minister to this beautiful world. In words, with song, and mostly, by being present in times of need. To bring stories and music and love to the world because, I'm not sure if you've noticed, but the world is in great need of these things at the moment.
Here is what you have to take away from this story: the thing that was supposed to happen happened. You can try with all your might to control the circumstances of this life, but you will fail. Because there is a larger narrative and a wiser and more eloquent poet at play in your life. There is a structure and function to this universe that is beyond your grasp. The best you can do is give over to it and see where it takes you. The older you get, the more you will see that things play out precisely as they should, which is most often not as you had expected or wanted them to.
On Sunday morning I was right where I should be: tending to my sick son. And the Layman's Trifecta were, two thousand years after the original 72 headed out to heal the sick and preach to the wolves, doing exactly what the original countercultural, anti-establishment, quit trying to amass a fortune and do something meaningful with your life spokesperson, Jesus, had in mind.
You don't really have to go to Alaska or Montana or Lake George to see evidence of God's loving hand at work, you can stand still right now and look inside your very own life. It's there; I guarantee. Amen.