June 5, 2011

Transformation-Light to the Nations

For the past 6 weeks, we’ve been on a journey, looking at transformation. We’ve traveled with Barbara Brown Taylor* and her book Gospel Medicine and with Edward Hays’ St. George and the Dragon and the Quest for the Holy Grail.* Along the way we’ve found some surprises-or at least I did. Transformation can only happen when we acknowledge we are broken and scarred. Transformation comes at a cost and often requires wrestling with God who sometimes seems to be absent. Messengers come to offer guidance and ultimately we are faced with judgment-the turning around of our lives. Slowly, eventually we start to understand that the scars are part of who we are and that it is in embracing them that we can become whole and holy people of God.

Responding to God’s call to Transformation turns our ‘world upside down.’ The things we thought important, somehow become less important. Men and women in the Bible learned this over and over again. Abram in Genesis becomes Abraham (father of many nations), but not in the way he anticipated. Naomi (Book of Ruth) thinks her life is over because her husband and sons are dead. Instead, God gives her a new family through the devotion of her daughter-in-law Ruth. Simon in the New Testament is given the new name of Petros (Peter the rock) by Jesus, but it is many years before he grasps what that means in terms of leading the fledgling church. Anyone you look at in the Bible and God’s servants today, will have similar stories of how the life they had planned did not turn out the way they expected. Instead it ended up much better, even though it was a walk through fire.

Taylor closes her book with a look at Mary and Joseph, two people whose ‘yes’ to God changed the world. She says that we can decide to say no when God visits you. “You smooth your hair and go back to…whatever it is that is most familiar to you and you pretend that nothing has happened. If you life begins to change anyway, you have several options…[ignore it…become angry…bitter]…or you can decide to say yes…to take part in a plan you did not choose, doing things you do not know how to do for reasons you do not entirely understand. You can take part in a thrilling and dangerous scheme with no script and no guarantees…Deciding to say yes does not mean that you are not afraid…it just means that you are not willing to let your fear stop you.”

Accepting the call of God to be transformed and carry the light of God into the world, however, is not something you do in your own strength. Too often we (and I speak for myself here) think that it’s all up to us to be “extraordinary: extra thoughtful, extra friendly, extra involved…you burn your candle at both ends…You begin to wonder whether it is God you are serving or only your own ego.” (Taylor) 

Taylor points to Isaiah 49 as our reference when we feel burned out.
"Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away. And he said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’ But I said, ‘I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God.’
And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength—he says, ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’"(Isaiah 49:1-9)

The Servant in Isaiah knows God has called him, but he claims “I have labored in vain.” However God answers him by assuring the Servant that he will be “a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Jesus uses the same metaphor of being light in Matthew 5:14-16: "‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Early in Edward Hay’s book, the dragon gives George “a hermitage mirror.” The Dragon says, “Look into it and be alone; be quiet and you will see the shadow side of yourself which is usually invisible. You will see that what you consciously deny is there.” At the end of the book, George is ready to leave his family to go with Igor, the dragon, on the ultimate quest. Before they leave, Igor again hands the mirror to George.

“‘You don’t want to forget this.’ I took the hermitage mirror in my hand remembering my fears when I first began to see my own darkness, the dark side hidden by my blindness. As I looked into it now, I saw the garbage-the sin, the weakness, the failings that were once unbearable. I could look into the mirror and say truthfully, ‘I love you.’ And this morning I could see that I also bore the darkness and weakness of vast multitudes, of those past and those to come. And as I look at all that darkness, I could say with complete conviction, ‘I love you.’
Igor smiled as he watched and said, ‘Turn it over, George, and look in the other side.’ Slowly I turned the mirror. There on the other side was the brilliance of ten thousand sunrises-the image blinded me with its intense beauty. And out of the center of the explosion of sunburst, a golden chalice appeared-the Holy Grail!
My whole being was saturated with light, and my heart throbbed like thunder as I felt my body expanding beyond the furthest reaches of the cosmos. ‘Yes, George,’ said a voice that came from everywhere. “Thou art that.” You, George are the Holy Grail!’”

If we are as Hays implies, the Holy Grail-the container that holds the Holy, then the world is indeed upside down. Taylor says, “God’s ‘yes’ depends on our own…God’s birth requires human partners-a Mary, a Joseph, a you, and a me-willing to believe the impossible, willing to claim the scandal…accepting the whole sticky mess and rocking it in our arms…surveying a world that seems to have run amuck and proclaiming over and over again to anyone who will hear that God is still with us, that God is still being born in the mess and through it, within and among those who will still believe what angels tell them…”

Taylor states, “it is too light a thing, you servants of God, that you should spend your strength doing your duty when what you have been called to do is to ignite, enflame, combust, burn, shine with the glory of the God who has chosen you, and given you to the world, bright lights to the end of the earth.”

Are we spending too much time doing what we think is our duty and not enough time being the Holy Grail that George saw in that hermitage mirror? Is your light under a bushel or on the lampstand to light the room around you?

*quotes from Gospel Medicine by Barbara Brown Taylor and St. George and the Dragon and the Quest for the Holy Grail by Edward Hays.

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