Voluntold: A Homily for the Feast of St. Matthias the Apostle

Offered today at the noon Eucharist at Church of the Holy Family…



Acts 1:15-26

Peter stood up among the believers (together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons) and said, “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus — for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.

So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”

So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.


Have you ever heard the term “voluntold”? A quick Internet search defines this word as being “forcibly volunteered,” as when “a task that was once voluntary has now been assigned to you.”

For example, you’ve volunteered for a number of years to bring food to a particular church event…and suddenly you’re practically the caterer of the event! You’ve been a member of something for a while…and suddenly you get an email with your name listed under “co-chair.” Sounds like you’ve been voluntold.

St. Matthias is, in a sense, voluntold to be among the 12 disciples, replacing Judas after Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and subsequent death. As in a military draft, Matthias gets called upon for this task and seems to respond dutifully.

How does Matthias get called? I see a two-part process.

First, even before Matthias gets called, he was there. He was showing up. Acts 1:21 describes Matthias as “one of the men who has accompanied us all this time.” He has accompanied the disciples. Not been in an “inner circle,” not been honored or promoted or elected to anything or even really mentioned in the Scriptures up to this point. If I was Matthias, I might have gotten frustrated with that sort of invisibility. But Matthias stayed faithful.

Second, even after Matthias gets called, he is faithful. The disciples put forward 2 people and cast lots between them. It sounds strange to our modern ears — casting lots. Being “voluntold” today often has a negative connotation. We might protest “Hey, I didn’t sign myself up for that!” But this is following Jesus that we’re talking about. This call, for Matthias, seems to be worth following even if it comes randomly, suddenly, unexpectedly. So, again Matthias stays faithful.

We hear in the gospel of John, chapter 15, another of today’s readings, that Jesus says to his followers, including to us: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

We’re not necessarily called to say “yes” to just anything and everything we get “voluntold” to do in this life. But if the call is from Jesus? If the call is to bear good fruit? Then may we be numbered among those who say “yes.”   

May we, following the command of our Lord Jesus Christ and the example of St. Matthias, stay faithful to notice, this day and always, how God is appointing us to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.

 

Advertisements

Advent 2: A Sonnet

I’ve barely squeezed out a sonnet for the week (2 hours before the week ends, at least in my time zone). But somehow I did it!

Collect for Advent 2:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

My sonnet for Advent 2:

Oh Merciful God, come help us hear
Your messenger birds, the prophets preach
Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near,
The kingdom of heaven is in our reach.
Prepare the way, prepare the way,
Repeats their morning warning song.
Prepare the way, prepare the way,
The kingdom of heaven is coming along!
Come help us see and still our sins
That we may come to, joyful, greet
The perfect sun that’s entering in
In earthly form for us to meet.
Helped by those birds, who say awake,
In you, through Christ, we may partake.

 

birdsinging3

 

Advent 1: A Sonnet

I used to write poetry. A few poems in middle school, a few more in high school, and a few semesters worth (enough to get me rather burnt-out) in college.

These days, I don’t write poetry, although I continue to write poetically.

And as of today? Apparently I write sonnets based on collects (pronounced coll-ects and amounting to short prayers focused on one theme, for those who don’t know) from the Book of Common Prayer, inspired by the liturgical-year sonnets of poet-priest Malcolm Guite.

Maybe, just maybe, this will even be the start of a spiritual practice of sonnet-writing, in which I try to write a sonnet for each week’s collect. Maybe. Stay tuned.

Here’s the collect for Advent 1:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

And my poem for Advent 1:

Almighty God, come give us grace
To wipe the dust from corners dark,
To clear in us for you a place,
To set the wreath and light the spark
That must precede our every flame
That must precede our every fire.
Your son so humbly, spark-ly came
To make more light be our desire.
We’re making room, so visit please
In hurried, blurry homes and hearts.
You visit and the darkness flees
From oft-forgotten crevice parts
Through him who lives and reigns with you
And readies us for Advent new.

IMG_3682.JPG

 

 

From the Other Side

Some months ago, I had a bout of depression. Only I didn’t fully realize it until the bout was fully over. 

I had had some stresses and disappointments fall into my lap as the fall season settled in and the days got shorter and darker and colder (which never helps when it comes to matters of mood). But, I made up my mind to manage it like the Gilmore girls – wallow for a weekend and move on. Then, one weekend of oversleeping and binge-watching Netflix and binge-eating my now trademark brownie in a mug turned into one week, then two, then a month, and so on.

I remember talking to a pastor friend in his office one day and crying (which is weird, because I’m not a crier) and saying, “I’m not interested in anything lately. Not work, not church, not reading, nothing. And that’s terrifying.”

It’s terrifying to know that you feel 100% not like yourself. That, on the contrary, a lazy, lifeless alien seems to have taken up residence within you.

As soon as I identified this particular terror, my pastor friend replied matter-of-factly: “You’re depressed.” And, even though I’ve known for years that I have chronic depression and know the symptoms and know some of the triggers, this simple statement surprised me. It may always be jarring to have someone stop and see your condition for what it really is and say so.

“I mean, don’t get me wrong,” I said defensively, “I’m still going to work and church and all. I’m doing what I’ve gotta do.” (This is sometimes called high-functioning depression, I’ve learned.)

He shook his head. “I don’t want to see you just surviving. I want us to get you thriving.”

We wondered together for a few minutes what it would take to get me thriving. And I wonder now, from the other side of the depression, what in fact it took to get me thriving – as I have been, gratefully, for months now – and what it could take for others like me and maybe like you to get through this too.

grass_is_greenerFrom the other side, I see that, as St. Augustine writes in his Confessions: “Time does not stand still, nor are the rolling seasons useless to us, for they work wonders in our minds. They came and went from day to day, and by their coming and going implanted in me other hopes and other memories. Little by little they sent me toward things that had earlier delighted me, and before these my sorrow began to give ground.”

From the other side, I see that at least three things stand in the valley between me and my depression like great, calm shields.

From the other side, I see purpose peeking through in the work God has called me to do. Purpose in the co-workers or clients or customers I could meet, the goods and services we could exchange, the relationships we could form, the daily little impacts we could make on the world, the bits of beauty we could build in the world.

I see people who love me and are loved by me. People like the pastor friend who let me cry in his office. The therapist who asked annoying questions and got on my nerves but helped a little, I have to admit. The housemates who patiently lived with Depression for a couple months – and even made her laugh sometimes – rather than living with their usual roommate. In that passage from Augustine’s Confessions that I just quoted, it’s rather hard to tell (at least in English translations) what “they” refers to. It comes in the context of Augustine talking quite a bit about the consolation he received from friends, a consolation that helped him through a time of great grief. And I would agree with him that friends “came and went from day to day, and by their coming and going implanted in me other hopes and other memories.” They reminded me who I am, what I love, what I hope for – and even, when hope seemed hard for me, what they hoped for me.

Finally, from the other side of depression, I see prayer happening. Prayers of others carrying me through, whether I realized it or not (because most of the time I didn’t realize it). Prayers of the saints who wrote the psalter and the Book of Common Prayer and heavy, pleading Advent hymns like “O Come, O Come Immanuel” that helped me plead for Christ’s presence right along with them. And, finally, prayers of my own sneaking slowly back into the sleepless nights and the sleepy mornings, the healing of Lent and the healed-ness of Easter – seasons that quite literally paralleled the progression of my depression this year.

As Donald Miller says in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, “it’s as though God is saying, ‘Write a good story, take somebody with you, and let me help.’”

If you or someone you know lives with depression, if you’re right in the thick of it and can’t even fathom the other side, hear that with me: Find purpose in your story. Take people with you. And let God help.

From the other side of depression, I promise: It will get better. It takes time. But it will get better.

Happy (Still) Easter

I know, I know. Easter blogs were supposed to happen a month ago.

It’s not that I procrastinated exactly (although maybe I did). It’s just that it’s still Easter. And that’s fascinating to me. As I’ve settled into the relatively-new-to-me rhythms of the Episcopal tradition perhaps more than ever this year, I’ve noticed the continuation of Eastertide in some little day-to-day ways.

There’s the old wooden sign at the front of the IMG_2208church that keeps insisting it’s Easter even
though the now chocolate-less children and the Hallmark stores would beg to differ. Easter 1, Easter 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. It goes on and on, week by week, rolling in over us like the waves of an Easter tide (that’s what they call it after all: Eastertide).

There’s the “alleluia” that we say during the liturgy, nice and noticeable now after skipping the “alleluia” during the more somber season of Lent. Sometimes the prayer book even tells us to say “alleluia” two or three times — like when my housemates and I pray compline on Sunday nights and, laughing a little, they say alleluia-alleluia-alleluia as though it’s a tongue twister. It comes out more hurried than holy sometimes, but it makes me happy nonetheless.

Finally, the other day, the nice maintenance man IMG_2273who mows our yard removed the cross from out front — the chipboard cross that was handed out at church during Holy Week to adorn our homes for a season — and placed it gently on the porch, out of the way of his yard work. I thought about bringing the cross inside that day, picked it up, noticed the soft earth appropriately sullying the bottom of the cross. But, that’s the moment when I started thinking about all this Easter season stuff, started thinking about how Christ is still risen and how maybe I should remember that and show the world that just a little longer, and stuck the cross right back into the ground.

He is still risen.

It’s not just that “he arose” in the past tense. It’s that “he is risen” in the present continuous tense (I think that’s the tense? God might be breaking grammar rules in this case. But I’ll forgive Him.) It’s the mystery of the faith that “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again” — past, present, and future.

As for right now? We’re in the present. And Christ is absolutely present. Not just for one day but for many days, for every day, and for the everyday.