Sunday, December 11, 2011

Open Casting

For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61.11)

Whose Story Is It?

Every human holds a standing invitation to enter God’s story. God wants us there, actively participating in the epic drama of reconciliation. The divine casting call is wide open, and there’s room for actors of every gender, ethnicity, orientation, class, background, ability, etc. There are no auditions to find the most perfect player for a particular role, no competition with others, no anxious interims waiting to hear if we’ve been chosen. Talent, training, and prior experience—religious or otherwise—have no bearing on whether or not we get the job. God carves out unique spaces in the redemption narrative that only we can fill. We aren’t typecast. We’re created for purpose—born for the part.

We see this over and over in Scripture. In Jeremiah 1.5, God informs the writer, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” David reaches a similar conclusion in Psalm 139.15-16: “My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In Your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.” During the Last Supper, as Jesus finalizes His instructions to the disciples, He preempts any potential jockeying for star positions by reminding them, “You did not choose Me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask in My name.” (John 14.16-17) Our role comes by divine appointment. When we say, “Yes,” to God, it’s ours.

Availability, not acceptability or adequacy, is the decisive factor. Since some remain unavailable to God’s purpose, the redemption saga evolves organically—with or without us. Awareness of that, combined with recognition that God invites all of us to assume roles we’re born to play, fosters an interesting offstage dynamic. By removing all barriers to our participation, God hands the issue of inclusion to us. We alone choose whether we take part in God’s story. Self-appointed casting directors who insist we’re unfit for roles we’ve been given are running a show that neither affects us nor interests God. We erase doubts about our acceptance and adequacy with two easy questions. Whose story is it? It’s God’s. Who decides if we’re part of it? We do.

At the Very Least, Most

Jesus debunks the myth of exclusion in Mark 10.45: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” The original Greek employs a word for “many” that emphasizes vast quantities—at very least, most—and implies those unavailable to God constitute the minority. And we get a snapshot of the overwhelming majority in Isaiah 61 (which figures prominently in Sunday’s Advent readings). The prophet writes, “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; God has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and to release the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” (v1-2) It’s not a homogenized, well-adjusted crowd, but a startling convocation of survivors, refugees, outcasts, and criminals. Isaiah’s good news is directed to Jews returning from Babylonian exile. He declares God’s intention to restore their land and generate new growth. He says, “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” (v11) How Jesus uses the passage in reference to inclusion, however, makes it really fascinating.

Jesus is invited to preach at His hometown synagogue in Nazareth. (Luke 4.16-30) He opens Isaiah 61 to explain His role in the redemption story—essentially repeating Mark 10.45: “I came to serve and save the masses.” This doesn’t sit well with Jesus’s childhood friends and neighbors, whose very existence rests on belief that conforming to a religious norm entitles them to rare privileges as God’s “elect.” They maintain insider status by shutting people out. They resist foreign oppression by oppressing strangers. They remedy heartbreak and abuse by hurting anyone unlike them. They assuage grief by causing it. Their notions of justice breed injustice. Now the greatest Teacher and Prophet their town ever produced looks them in the eye and says, “I’m anointed to gather everyone you’ve turned away.” Like many practitioners of Christian exclusion might do today, they answer Jesus’s call for inclusion and compassion by rejecting and attacking Him. They don’t just run Him out of town. They contrive to throw Him into a ravine. Jesus leaves them to their drama and walks away. He chooses not to participate, because it’s fruitless. Their story has no restorative power. It doesn’t nurture righteousness and praise.

The Choice We Make

Advent pushes us to discover why Jesus came by recalling how He came. Christ’s role in redemption commences as a needy, homeless Child. Other than two astutely brave parents, a handful of shepherds, and an entourage of curious pagans, no one is available to welcome Him. No one else takes the part he/she is born to play. They’re chasing other stories, doing other things, and while they’re obeying rules, courting favor, and being counted by a regime that counts them out, the greatest story ever told begins without them. They pass by and say, “No, thanks.” As a result, they never find out that the Babe they ignore comes to make Himself available to them—to welcome, heal, and free them of every sorrow and weakness hindering their availability to Him.

Christ’s sole purpose for entering our story is to invite us to enter God’s story. God doesn’t need us. God wants us. Our availability brings about restoration. It generates growth. Allowing other stories to affect or interest us bars our participation in the greatest story of all time. God has removed every barrier to roles we’re born to play. We’re part of the masses Christ comes to serve and save. Inclusion rests in our hands. How we handle it is our choice. And the choice we make determines if righteousness and praise spring up around us.

Homeless, Needy, Holy Child, we repent for all the times we’ve been unavailable to You. Forgive how easily we’re distracted by stories that neither affect us nor interest You. Refire our fervor to participate in Your story, to assume the roles we’re born to play. Make us catalysts of righteousness and praise. Amen.

God carves out unique roles for each of us and calls us to play the parts we’re created to play.

Postscript: “Somewhere”

I’m not a huge fan, but I must admit there are times when Barbra Streisand’s gifts border on prophetic. The power she invests in this classic song speaks to a day when we resist trivial distractions and take the roles we’re created to play.


Sherry Peyton said...

Once again I am forced to proclaim, "That is what I was trying to say!" lol...This is by far the most uplifting of our advent readings. It fairly leaps off the page in it's invitation to come join the Good News! I am energized by it. What a wonderful way you have put it, my dear friend. Thank you! Blessings, sherry

Tim said...

And it's such Good News, Sherry! Need I say the Best News the world has ever known? To be offered roles in its epic grandeur, roles conceived just for us--to be so perfectly created for our respective roles that no one else can fill them... I'm so overwhelmed by this that my best effort falls pathetically flat.

What an extraordinary God is ours that God would invite us to gather at the manger, yet afford us the honor of choosing to come. And to lead us where none of us could possibly feel inferior or out of place!

If only I could capture a fragment of what I'm feeling--and how gracious you are to respond so kindly to my clumsy attempt. It is I who must thank you.

Blessings, gentle sister,