This blog was supposed to have been written and posted on 12/21/11. Today, I revisit it after being asked by my UMC Bishop Ken Carter, of the Florida conference to think about my discipleship journey and take notice of how God has been working in my life. This is an account of part of that journey and the lessons that emerged from one encounter.
She walked down the aisle and said somewhat quietly in my ear, "I. Am. Mary."
I was shocked!
I had just finished preaching the third sermon in my series "Who ought we to be? taken from 2 Peter 3:8-15a. It was Advent season and we had begun to explore lessons we could take away from John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary. On that Sunday, we were discussing Mary. Not the Mary of my Catholic school upbringing, mind you, where I was taught to pray to her, worship her, and praise her and left wondering if I could ever live up to her obedience ideal. No, the Mary, I preached that Sunday was a Mary very much like me, flawed, disoriented and groping to understand what in the world was going on. The Mary I introduced was the single-mother Mary. The Mary who had a child out-of-wedlock Mary. The Mary who was almost abandoned by her finance Mary -- oh the thoughts that must have been running through her head. The Mary I introduced was the Mary who was likely the subject of rumors by the village gossipers. The Mary who pressed on in her faith journey, despite her lack of understanding and was still called and able to be used by God.
I didn't expect the sermon would call anybody or invite anyone to respond. Largely because I wasn't sure it was even a good sermon or I could be used in that way. But yet, this woman came with her confession that Mary's story resonated with her and called out to her. Bits and pieces of Mary's story was her story. On my sixth month at Harris Chapel, my very first appointment, God moved in spite of me and my insecurities. God moved although we hadn't spent quality time. God moved although I was still grappling with the title of being pastor and didn't feel the most confident that I was off to a good start of becoming an effective pastor. God moved even though I was still uncomfortable and would even forget sometimes to offer the invitation.
I had been working and working so trying to "prove" -- at least feeling as though I needed to prove -- to my new congregation that I was worthy of being their pastor, I left little room and space for God to be with me on this new journey to lead me, guide me and teach me. I left little room for God to be God. To surprise me. Her confession refocused me on my calling and exposed how I could no longer shirk back from it and downplay it. I had to get myself together -- wrap my head around the gift of being called! I had not done that. I had not yet accepted what others seemed to celebrate -- that I had been given a personal invitation to make personal introductions to the lover of our soul. I had been assigned a mission that was mine to carry out. On that day, God made it quite clear that I was trusted to preach and speak about God. God trusted and trusts me. And I had to learn to trust God! I had to learn to follow.
That young woman's courageous walk to respond to a call that she could only hear showed me how I had had not been as attentive to the one who called me. If I were ever going to be the pastor and disciple God intended, I had to invite God to be a part of the process. I had to be just as intentional about seeking God in my ministry to do my ministry as I had been intentional about telling everybody else to ask, search and knock.
That Sunday, the young woman who came down the aisle might have seen the invitation as being just for her, but I really think it was an invitation for me.