Mark 9: 2-9

                                                  Even after the year I have been in Philadelphia, I am still fascinated by the number and the beauty of the churches in this place. I am most aware of it in the early mornings, when I often walk through town and see the steeples that peek through the skyline before the light of the dawn; I think about the sheer numbers of people at work in all these worshipping communities, preachers and lay people of all traditions, all wrestling with the miracle stories and the parables, as we have done these past weeks, trying to put them into context, sometimes sanding down the edges so that we won’t be hurt too deeply by the mystery that imbues them.

                         But in the transfiguration, none of this kind of craftsmanship is possible. It stands like a kind of diamond in the middle of Mark’s gospel and stubbornly refuses everything we do to make it easy to handle, to categorize it and so gain some kind of control over it. Part of the reason is that it is deeply personal, so much so that most of it happens in a cloud, the eternal addressing the manifest God with the intimacy of a father addressing a son. There have been all kinds of questions throughout the gospel about the identity of Jesus; when Peter makes his confession about who he believes Jesus is, “the Messiah of God”,  Jesus responds with a prediction of his own suffering and death and then tells his followers about the centrality of suffering as part of discipleship. So when we are up on the mountain with Peter, John and James, we are as surprised as they are to see their Lord, dazzling white, speaking with Moses and Elijah and when the cloud envelops them all, with the voice asking us to listen to “my Son, the Beloved”, we can hardly blame the disciples for the terror. The membrane between the everyday and the divine disappears and if we do not feel shot-through with that light, we are not paying attention.

                         But because it all happens within the context of prayer, it speaks about our own prayer lives and those for whom we pray. This story is one of the most important passages in the Orthodox church; monks in that tradition were said to glow during prayer—something called deification or divinization. One took on the illumination of God as one proceeded in one’s prayer life. Whether you can believe in this glow or not, thinking this way points toward something central to our own identities. Every one of us is created as sacred, all of us, each part of us, made so by the one who became human so that we might be divine. It is a difficult thing to wrap your mind around, especially in a culture where we are overwhelmed, distracted by images of what we are told to want or be, but we become more fully who we were made to be when we see it is our whole self that is created holy. Indeed, we cannot know ourselves until we understand how completely beloved of God we are.

                      It is easy to see this belovedness in our own lives, even if ours are far more ordinary than three dumbstruck disciples on a mountaintop .Faith means living in a paradox, seeing the radiant holiness of the manifest God through the day-to-day discipline of our own prayer life. It lies in a tension—the glory we can glimpse only fleetingly, viewed through the lens of what is most ordinary in us. It is in what Rowan Williams calls, “the relentlessly prosaic element in the journey to holiness” that we are changed, and the world is changed with us.

                     We are caught in a tension: like Peter, James and John, we are witnesses to the divine presence, while as disciples, we are called to the day-to-day struggles, the small things that are bound-up with our relationships, with each other and with the God that we can really only approach with prayer. Like Peter, we want to make dwelling places for the divine, hardly knowing what we are saying or doing; like Elisha, we do not want to leave those who have loved us and formed us, clinging to the promise of the gift of the spirit. But it is not seeing the ascension of those we love in fire and horses or in the glow of the living God but in what seems most routine that we are saved. It is in the simple act of prayer, of saying “yes” to what confronts us moment-by-moment, that we too are transformed.

                     All of us are standing on a mountain now, with the expanse of Epiphany behind us and the soul-transforming opportunities of Lent ahead, greeting us in a few days’ time. If we understand our prayer lives this way, we too have to leave the mountain and meet the crowd below. Whether our prayers have the Technicolor, heart-stopping glow of the divine, or they are blessedly ordinary, like mine, we have the opportunity to see the white-hot love of God in each of us; in doing so, we will be honoring the divine in the other and the belovedness of that God in ourselves.

                        One of my favorite spots to visit years ago was a house of prayer in Adrian, Georgia, about two hour’s drive south of Atlanta, a town with one stoplight and no mountains in sight, where the only glowing things were exposed metal benches in the summer heat. In one of the common rooms in this place, a Jesuit priest has needle-pointed a passage from Thomas Merton’s diary. Merton lived as a recluse, especially during the last part of his life, but that separation made him more conscious of the connection with the divine in each of us . The quote on the piece of needlework was from Merton’s observations on the crowd in front of him from a park bench in downtown Louisville:


                          I have the immense joy of being a man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are walking around shining like the sun.


                         Indeed, it cannot be explained, any more than any of our extraordinary encounters with the ordinary. But, if we are honest, our visions on the mountaintop are rare compared with the daily work of prayer that molds us, transforms us each day into the image God had for us before we were. What cannot be molded, changed or sanded-down is the love of that God, both for a beloved Son and for those who are themselves transfigured by God’s love and offer it, in their turn, to everyone around them.




Proper 12 A 2017

Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52


                     Years ago, when my children were small, I bought them a book about the parables of Jesus, which we read regularly together for several years; as they grew older, they began to read it to me. It is focused around the parable of the sower, which we heard several weeks ago, and the mustard seed, the first of the parables we just heard  this morning. The author of this book assures us that Jesus spoke lovingly and simply to the people around him, and at the time I thought it would offer some relief, some contrast, to the fantastic stories that my kids enjoyed then. The irony, of course, is that these parables, and the ones that follow, portray the world as a scandal, a world every bit as outrageous as the ones we would see together in movies or they would stare at through their video games. They are places we enter through our imaginations,  and because they are infused by a vision what our world could look like if we had the courage and insight of seeing our world with the eyes of a child, where pearls of great price are not to be hoarded but wondered at and shared, where things small as a seed could be large, fantastic growing things, they are images which they could only wonder about, images which they and the rest of us will spend our lives trying to understand. These parables in Matthew, ones in a chapter full of parables, function by their own logic, and it is the only logic that matters because they deal with a world on its own terms, where no one behaves as they should and yet everything is really as it ought to be, if we are really listening.

                               As I have been reminded in the camp at Chester Eastside and the VBS at St. John’s, the temptation to place these parables in the context of a child's imagination is almost overwhelming. Children, at least the ones I know, are mostly unacquainted with scandal, at least as adults experience it. If you are a parent, you may have had the experience of pulling your child indoors when a quarrel erupts across the street or a salacious image on the T.V. compels us to change the channel. But genuine scandal is something entirely different, because it undermines all we take for granted about the way we understand our world, where we know what things are worth, where we can rely on our world to behave in predictable ways. Hidden treasure is meant to stay hidden, yeast rises to leaven our bread. But in the parables, we are in the world of the already and not yet, where all we can do is let them work on us silently like a leaven of yeast or the growth of a plant until our world is so full of the wonder of scandal that it is hard for us to remember how it could have been otherwise.

                                The book we had in our house speaks of the “small and great things Jesus says with great tenderness, the gentle, loving things people had never heard before.” The actual context, the frame for all the parables we have heard recently, is rejection, first by members of Jesus’ own family and then in the town from which he came. And so what he offers are pictures of the kingdom that are utterly at odds with what his listeners would have recognized. The mustard seed is indeed small, as anyone who has worked with them will tell you, and it indeed produces a huge plant. But it is not a tree, and no bird from that part of the world or ours could nest in its branches. What Jesus is echoing is the tree as the sign of the empire, which all of his hearers would have recognized, but it is an entirely different kind of empire, designed to subvert everything we know about how the world works. That the kingdom he is proclaiming, already growing among us, should come in the form of an herb would have been astounding to all, except for the excluded, the outcast: it is greatness bound-up with the ordinary, a vision of a Messiah riding to triumph on a donkey, confounding every expectation we have about what salvation might mean.

                                 Overturning all expectations, that is, except those embedded in the next parables. The amount of flour the woman uses is extraordinary: three measures of flour is enough to feed over a hundred people. More surprising, however, is the yeast she uses to leaven all she is making. Jesus’ hearers would have understood yeast as corruption, and it is hidden, not mixed or kneaded into this abundance. Its work silent and unseen, this profusion of what is outrageous. Yet it points to a kingdom of plenty, born of the outcast and the unclean, waiting for the revealing of its own abundance. Although shot through with what is suspect, even abhorrent, it nourishes us; it gives us a new idea of what it might be like to be fed in a world where scandal is tied-up with what makes us whole.

                                  The value of this kingdom is worth enough for the plowman and the merchant to offer all they have for it. Whether it is deliberately sought or not, when we see it, this treasure buried in the field is so far beyond what we could have envisioned that it is worth all we have, all we are, to be a part of it. It is worth everything because it is part of a wealth we can hardly explain. It is part of a system of value where real worth is in its hiddenness, where something is priceless exactly because we cannot see it. In a world locked in paradox, what we have is beyond value because we are forced to see it with new eyes, and that new way of seeing is worth more than the treasure itself.

                              I remember a trip I took to New York some years ago. I went with a group of kids from the south; we saw and participated in many wonderful things, although I strongly suspect that, for a bunch of kids from middle Georgia, the subway was the real highlight. But in many ways the rich unexpectedness of the kingdom was most apparent for me one day on a side trip to the Museum of Modern Art. Among all the Picassos and the Mondrians were a few pictures by Rene Magritte, the graphic artist of surprise, the Son of Man in a suit and bowler with an apple positioned directly in front of his face, a set table with an eye staring back from the pancake on the plate, a night scene with a brilliant blue sky overhead. Everything was very clear, and yet all our assumptions are violated, as they are in the kingdom that grows among us in ways that are calculated to disturb us. If we are willing to step back at all these pictures, to look at all these stories as a whole, we are compelled to reevaluate what is more real, the world we want to see or the kingdom of the unexpected breaking in on us.

                         The temptation is to try to reduce parables into allegory, something standing for something else, in an effort to control them, to find in them something to hang onto, as if the kingdom can be domesticated or even dismissed. But these stories are about all of us, with our dual citizenship in this world and in the kingdom. They say yes to the idea that we are holy, whether we are not the trees we wish we were or whether we are viewed as suspect or unclean by those around us. As Frederick Buechner says, “Either life is holy with meaning, or life doesn’t mean a thing. You pay your money and you take your chances.” If we are seeking this meaning, the chance we take is that we will be shocked out of our complacencies. Indeed, our understanding of our holiness depends upon it.





Easter 6 A 2017

John 14:15-21


                                 I remember a story I heard not long ago, about a mother who was taking her daughters to dinner one night. It had been a long day, the restaurant was mostly empty, and the waitress was taking a little extra time with each of the customers after the crush of the early evening. These children, both of them girls, had been adopted from orphanages in China when they were infants, in a time before they could remember; they were well-behaved, polite and beautiful. When the waitress approached their table to give them their menus, she looked at the mother and then at the two children. She smiled at the mother and asked where her beautiful girls came from. The mother had heard this question many times before and it may have been the lateness of the hour or the exhaustion of a single mom, but she paused for a moment, looked up at the waitress and said very evenly, “Why, they came from the same place all children do. They came from God”.

                                I believe that this young woman was being honest, but I also think she is offering some light for our gospels during Eastertide, especially for the promises Jesus has made for this morning. By any conceivable measure the situation of the disciples is a precarious one. They are in the midst of betrayal by one of their own,  a threat which John’s own community would have felt keenly, with their own deaths an ever-present possibility. Even in death, however, the promise is not abandonment but the love of a family; they will not be left orphans but, if they love one another, will receive the spirit of God among them. By the keeping of his commandment to love one another, that promise radiates outward to his disciples and beyond them, to the inheritors of that promise sitting with all of us today.  The arrival of the Holy Spirit is not a replacement but an extension of the love of Jesus toward those who, in their own halting way, full of misunderstanding and fear, are creating a new world in that upper room. It is one based on communal love, one that could not be more different than the world outside.

                             To be an orphan in Jesus’ day, and in John’s, meant exclusion from the system through which all people found their identity, the great extended families of the Roman and Semitic world. It is to be in a kind of limbo, without the mooring of a parent or family by which they can be identified. But even before the Easter event, Jesus is redefining what it means to be a family. These disciples are his children, and the love that binds the disciples to him is greater than incomprehension or weakness. It is not a private relationship or devotion that he is offering them; it is a love that ties them to him and to each other. Just as Jesus identifies himself both with the Father and the Spirit that is yet to come, they are to imitate that communion with each other.

                             I believe it is helpful to remember that connection between the love of God and the brothers and sisters on whom we depend. It was a staple of the faith from its earliest days in many communities, especially among the desert monastics. Their concept of the spirit of truth contained the idea of mutual interdependence, that we all stood on the circumference of a great circle, with God at its center. As each of us moved closer to God, we became closer to one another. In the same way, as we became closer to one another, we inevitably became nearer to God. It was in that movement that they found the presence of the “other Advocate,” the presence of the Father in Jesus and the dwelling of both in the community of believers. Even in an atmosphere of imminent betrayal, the promise of God is the love that will penetrate them all, through the life of their community and in their own hearts.

                              No one, least of all those in the early Christian communities, pretends that believing these relationships are easy or that they will save us from suffering. The author of First Peter makes it clear that suffering is part of the bargain, that “it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.” The promise, however, is that we cannot be harmed, in the deepest part of ourselves, if we are eager to do what is good. By this calculus, suffering is negligible because it is temporal, unrelated to the eternal promise of interrelationship among all of God’s children and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Even if our lives are fleeting, we are not orphans, and it is the love of God for us, reflecting the love within God, that will sustain us.

                              In Jesus’ promise is the invitation to find our own identity in that love, a promise made good in the resurrection appearance. And we find that identity because we too are adopted, with our idiosyncrasies and our enmities, at our most beautiful and our most broken. Anne Lamott talks about this God who refuses to leave us alone, who gives us each other in this new kingdom coming to be in that upper room. “You’ve got to love this in a God,”, she says, “consistently assembling the motleyest people to bring, into the lonely and frightening world, a commitment to caring and community. It’s a centuries-long reality show—Moses the stutterer, David the adulterer, Mary the homeless teenager. Not to mention all the mealy-mouthed disciples. Not to mention a raging insecure narcissist like me.” We are all tied together by this love commandment, and the gift of the Spirit cements that love among us, even those of us who count ourselves among the motley bunch of God’s people.

                                Something I have heard both from parents of children who are adopted and biologically their own is how deep a process of self-discovery it is. We grow in our own self-understanding as we come to know these people who have entered our lives; something draws us closer to each other as we discover how individual we are, in our eating and our sleeping (sometimes), in our play and what fascinates us; it is our mutual delight that sustains us, almost as deeply as the food itself. It is the same with the love of God: we too are drawn into the mutual indwelling of the Father and Son, and the promise is that, as broken as we are, we are inseparable from that love, a love that calls us out of ourselves and into love with the rest of God’s adopted children. We will not be left alone because we were made for each other, in a time before any of us can remember, and we have the conviction, even at our most stressed and least lovable, that we too are children of God.


Easter 4 A 2017


John 10: 1-10


Psalm 23




                             Today is known as Shepherd Sunday, and those who have been in the church for a few years will know it from the twenty-third psalm, which we hear every year, to all the talk of lambs among us, the ones among us and the one at the center of the throne in heaven. In my mind's eye,  I often wait for the sheep themselves to show up, meandering  down the aisles, memories of cotton-ball sheep from Sunday-school classes, guests and old friends that wander in among us. The readings for this morning are about the lambs we all are, the ways we are led in and out by the shepherd of us all, the parts of our relationship with the holy that are most reassuring, which is why we hear them at times when we are in need of comfort, times of distress or grief. But it is the claim that Jesus makes over his sheep that really defines this morning. It is the God revealed through the presence of a protector, one who guides us, who loves us too much to leave us alone, the one leads us out and brings us back. I am the good shepherd; I am the gate for the sheep.


                                   A long time ago, someone gave me an icon of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It is one that I have treasured, because, like many icons, it acts as both a picture and a mirror. In my case it has taught me a great deal about what it means to be a shepherd, to be pastoral under all circumstances, because those of us who have given our lives to this vocation do so under the guidance of the shepherd who is the guardian of our souls, who calls us to return when all of us go astray. I have been especially grateful for this icon since I heard a talk from Desmond Tutu about how we completely misunderstand this image of Jesus; in my icon, which is a copy of one many of you may have seen, the sheep lies across the shoulders of the shepherd, a beatific expression on his face, the whiteness of his wool immaculate. In truth, Tutu says, that sheep ought to be covered in mud, bloodied be the scrapes he has been through, stinking from the fetid water he has been playing in, which is how I feel on days when I have haven't been especially attentive to the voice I should have been hearing, calling me back to the life I know I need. And yet Jesus, broad-shouldered and impassive, has a claim on this sheep, one who knows his voice and simply has to decide whether it is more alluring than those of the bandits and thieves who are after his life. 


                                    It is this claim on us that Jesus talks about as the gatekeeper for the sheep that we all are this day, and it is both about invitation and promise. All of us take comfort in the psalm we have said together this morning, about the God who sees us through our own darkest valleys, whose goodness and mercy shall follow us forever.  I would be willing to bet that many of us have it committed to memory, or at least the parts that speak most deeply to us, and I am quite sure that I have heard it in more hospital rooms than any other single piece of scripture. But to hear of Jesus as gatekeeper is about the abiding, protective love of God, especially when we are lying in bed, being eaten alive by worries or guilt about the messes we have made in our lives. It is an invitation to recognize the voice of the one who is calling us, asking us to make a decision about whose voice is the one we are going to follow, apart from the other voices that tear at us. It is, in the end, about relationship, the relationship we are willing to cultivate with each other and the living God instead of the whistling in the dark we often do when the world encroaches on us.


                                  After all, we know the thieves and bandits in our lives and their voices are legion. They are the voices we hear in answer to the despondency and fear we carry, the things to which we cling to buy us a sense of peace. We want to believe that the shareholder letter, the reassuring note about our pension plan, gives us the kind of security that keeps our lives from being taken away, little by little. But when we use language like “my family”, maybe “my spouse” or even “my sheep”, we are using the language of relationship, one for which we would give up anything else in our lives. It is about the God and people to whom we are bound so tightly that we are a part of them and they are a part of us, a God who offers what saves us through the person of Jesus. It is not about the fluffy, immaculate, docile people we often wish we were but about a relationship that defines who we are in relation to the love of God. It is that relationship that means life to us, so much so that we would not recognize ourselves without it.


                                      It may be easier to see this relationship in others than it is in ourselves.  When I was in my early twenties, another lifetime ago, I remember the experience of playing Bach's b-minor mass with Robert Shaw. I was young enough that I didn't really understand what it was in which I was participating, but I do remember what he looked like when we got to the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, almost at the end of the piece. I don't even remember who the alto soloist was. I simply remember what Mr. Shaw looked like, utterly spent, a man in his mid-eighties who had done this  a thousand times before, but for whom there was only this moment, imbued by the love of God, this fusion of this most haunting music with everything that he was. Sitting there on that stage, watching the sweat pooling on his face and shirt, tears starting down his cheeks, it was impossible for any of us to know where he stopped and the music began.


                                   In case we have any doubt, it is the claim of that relationship that remains with us all the days of our lives. Someone I know has described an experience of sitting with a friend when she was dying, someone who kept trying to give away what she owned but who kept receiving gifts from well-meaning friends. One day someone gave her a polished stone with a hole in it to wear around her neck, and she didn't know what to do with it.   “' What is it?', she breathed, turning it around and around in front of her face. Then she brought it close to one eye so that she could look straight through the middle of the stone. 'Ah,' she said, 'now I see. This is the way through.'”


                                       The promise of the Good Shepherd, the gate for the sheep that we all are, is nothing that any of us can quantify, put on a balance sheet or lock in a safety-deposit box. It is just that, a promise, and there is blessedly nothing we can do about it. It is made by someone who knows us better than ourselves, who is indeed a part of ourselves, and the invitation is simply to stop what we are doing to earn away the things that are eating at us and to listen for a very faint voice, the voice we do our best to drown-out by agonizing over the messes and fears of our lives. It is then that we can count on the presence of the shepherd, the one whose goodness and mercy will follow us no matter what we do, so that all of us, wonderful and flawed as we are, will find a way through.










Conversion of St. Paul


Acts 26: 9-21


Galatians 1: 11-24




            In the art history class I took in college, the only undergraduate class I took pass/fail, I was introduced to one of my favorite painters, the early 17th century master Caravaggio. Although he painted a variety of Biblical subjects, it was his Conversion of St. Paul that was one of my favorites, with its play of light and dark, the chiaroscuro that makes him so easy to identify,  even with untrained eyes like mine. In the painting, there are myriad shades of darkness over the bare-backed horse and the soldier trying to control him, while a slave reaches toward the image of Saul on the ground, bathed in light and covering his eyes. You could hardly call it idealized, but it shows the abruptness, even the violence so many of us associate with conversion moments. Saul, the self-proclaimed “breather of threats against the disciples of the Lord”, punishing them in the synagogues, pursuing them even to foreign cities, lies utterly vulnerable and it is in this vulnerability that that he is rescued from his people and sent to open their eyes, as he tells King Agrippa this morning, that they may turn from darkness to light.


             In fact, it is darkness against light that we most associate with Damascus Road moments, the divine flash of the conversion of John Newton, a slave-trader who became the evangelical composer of Amazing Grace, of Dorothy Day deciding to break from the disorder of Eugene O’Neill’s crowd from the back pew of St. James’ Church in Greenwich Village, of countless others who can locate the beginning of their  faith in a single life-altering, soul-stirring moment. Many of us can only look on in envy through these unbidden transformations; if we need help in coveting the experience, there are plenty of our evangelical sisters and brothers who are willing to make that judgment for us, whether we want it or not. If these were pass/fail encounters, I would have no trouble telling you where I would end up.


            For most of the people I know, it simply doesn’t work that way, or it doesn’t tell the whole story. For Paul, whose commitment to the cause of discipleship is unwavering, his own divine bolt-from-the-blue is marked by three days of waiting until his sight is restored, instruction in the faith that he has so violently opposed, followed by three years in Arabia and Damascus that he details in his Letter to the Galatians, until he is able to return to Jerusalem to see Peter and begin his work around the Mediterranean. The period before his missionary activity is not simply fallow time; although we can only guess at what this mysterious period meant for Paul, we can be sure that it offered a serious opportunity for reflection, time given to make sense of his experience. It is this time that is the real gift, an opportunity to make sense of what has happened to him and what it meant for the time going forward, of what this experience was going to mean for his subsequent work. The Damascus Road experience represents a beginning, but there is no painter or theologian who can encompass the meaning of that conversion, from one who was trying to destroy the church of God to one to whom God was pleased to reveal his Son, that he might proclaim him to the Gentiles. It is because it is only the beginning of his real conversion, a conversion that would end only at the offering of his life for the faith he had tried to destroy.


              Few of us have an experience that we can define as the moment at which the meaning of our lives with God became clear to us, because our lives are journeys that are marked by periods of uncertainty rooted in deep vulnerability, of seeking something that feels like a sense of calling. These are not black-and white events; they are times bathed in the color of our experiences, whether they are the numinous, vivid moments like the one behind our altar or ones defined by shadow like Caravaggio’s. At the center of our experience is God’s persistent call to us, righting our journeys, looking with compassion on our missteps, loving us through all the meandering that we can only understand in retrospect. These journeys last a lifetime, because conversion is less an event than a process, a working-out of the creative movement of God in our lives.


                  In Thomas Merton’s biography, the monk and writer talks of tentative steps toward the church he later embraced, one he reached In an epiphany of his own in through a sermon by a young, unassuming priest in New York, where he was “beaten into the semblance of some kind of humility.” He is confused by the experience, but he later says, “All I know is that I walked in a new world. Even the ugly buildings of Columbia [University] were transfigured in it, and everywhere there was peace in these streets designed for violence and noise.” It is only after he has embraced the church, all its glory and shortcomings, that he is able to recognize the transformation that this moment has worked on him. His recognition was that the gift of this moment made all the subsequent work, meditations and friendships possible by the door opened for him in that instant.


       My guess is that we all have these moments of vulnerability, when we can trace the hand of God, recognizing our own openness in the moment and seeing our own journeys through the filter of these experiences. I had such an experience through a parish in the diocese of Atlanta, a place where I spent a great deal of time because it was so utterly different from any other place that I had ever been. It was the Church of the Holy Comforter, and what made it unique were the communicants, sixty percent of whom came from group homes in south-central part of the city, many of whom had some sort of mental disability. The sights and the sounds were amazing, people from all backgrounds worshipping together, and where there was the most glorious lack of concern for propriety that I have ever seen in the church.  The exchange of the peace could go on for fifteen minutes, and the rector had figured out long before I first attended that he could do nothing about the length of the prayers, which were spontaneous and could last indefinitely. And yet it was impossible not to feel the love of God in that place, tears running down faces, all of us there good and broken and very human. A colleague of mine came away from one of the services saying, “This has got to be what the kingdom of God is like.” As it was for many of my friends, that experience became a crucible through which I have measured much of my subsequent ministry.


        My own view is that the kingdom is only visible through these moments of transformation made possible through our own vulnerability. But that is only the beginning. What follows is continued conversion, a slow process of discernment and waiting on God, utterly at odds with the flash and thunder we read about in the lives of the saints, even the originator of our faith. It is, after all, the way it happened in the early church, where it was several years before the convert could be admitted to full worship in the body of the faithful, with all its risks and dangers. The risks for us are no less real, the continuing questions God is asking of us threatening all we know of our lives. The promise at the end of these conversions is that we really will know our lives, lights, thunder and donkeys aside, and that we will know the work given us by a God who is willing to knock us speechless and wait a lifetime for the result.