A Jaunty Vastness

I’m pondering “vastness.” I mentioned last week that I was preparing to attend a preaching workshop and now I’ve completed it. We talked about daring to preach some things that are very hard to talk about and about doing the difficult and courageous things that are needed. I have to admit that I have a terrible problem with comparing myself to others and finding myself lacking. The depth of knowledge, insight, and intellectual prowess in attendance, as well as the courage some have to speak out on controversial issues, causes me to do a self-evaluation that I deem, well, unflattering.

But back to vastness. I was standing at the balcony door of our hotel room looking out over the ocean. It is vast in the sense that it puts the “problems” of my limited slice of life into perspective against the vastness of the world. I always feel small at the beach, in an appropriate way, I think. Its vastness seems invulnerable. Seemed.

I don’t know what shifted my viewpoint but I found myself wondering about the “ocean of humanity” that crashes up against the incoming surf. It’s hard to imagine that our way of living, often reckless and irresponsible, could have a negative effect on the vastness of the ocean(s). And yet, we’ve managed it. A walk along this northern Pacific coastline produces a garbage bag’s worth of plastic detritus. On one morning alone. Within the limited distance I can cover.

I’m also struck by the “vastness” of the assembly I’m part of at this event. No, it’s not that we’re all “pastors of unusual size” but rather it’s the vastness of the diversity in the room that gives me pause. All of us are pastors but some are also deep-thinking theologians, social workers, teachers, linguists, etc. I feel small in their midst as it does not seem to me that I am any of those things. They would likely support their opinions in a post like this with Scriptural quotes and sayings of Luther, Augustine, and some other person I’ve never heard of but probably should have read.

So where is this post going? I don’t know. But I’m struck by the Gospel text for this coming Sunday which, following the theme of God revealed that has been our path in Epiphany, shows us Jesus revealed as the fulfillment of prophecy. Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises of God.

Part of that promise is given in the Epistle lesson that declares that we are all given gifts with which to serve. Some are called to be deep-thinking theologians, some teachers, some with various kinds of tongues (uh, paraphrased). We are to use these gifts of the Spirit, whatever they may be and as they are given to us, to do God’s work in the world. And, I think, to sound a Word of promise to all who hear; an invitation to see God at work among God’s people.

I watched a jogger out on the beach, with his labradoodle, running along in the winter breeze and mist. I don’t know about the jogger but the dog was having a blast! They stopped to change direction and come back up the beach. At the paws…I mean, the pause…the man knelt and the dog came running into his embrace. The joy and happiness was clear even though they were distant enough to appear like the Statue of Liberty pinched between my fingers.

I think there may be something there. Maybe I’m not called to have an effect on the whole world, that is, the whole of the earth. Maybe my call is to have an effect on “my” whole world. What if I could make a difference in one person’s life that resulted in the same joy and happiness I saw between that jogger and his dog? (They ran by our room on the promenade and I can only describe the dog’s gait as “jaunty.”) I don’t have to be a systematic theologian or a biblical scholar to make a particular change to  the world around me. All I am called to do is share the Word, a Word that has, in and of itself, the power to change the world. Or one particular life. And perhaps in that sharing, I might bring a joy that transforms and a hopefulness that renews.