St. Andrew’s Ingathering Appeal 2012

By Ken Pitts, Senior Warden

Regarding our ingathering of the upcoming year, I have three things I want to share: A small insight got from scripture, an anecdote, and a sonnet.

My pilgrimage, my path with Christ, leads to a place where I might have the power or courage to ask God to make me into an admirable person.  Not a Christian, mind you.  I’m already one of those.  Rather I want God to make me into a good person.  To change me.  To make me a new me.  I don’t really like me.  I love me but I really want to be someone else.  Who doesn’t?  We want to forget all the evil and wrong we do and to become a new man, a new woman, a new spirit, a new person.

We want to become new.  We want to change.  Why do we go to school?  Why do we go to Church?  Why do we study?  Why do we read?  Why do we exercise?  Why do we try to improve our condition?  Why do we plead with God to change us?  Why do we constantly try to better ourselves?  As for me, I want me to become a new man in Christ, a person reflecting Christ.  But not me.  Someone else other than me; a new version; Me version 2.0.

As Christians, and Christians by definition seek to emulate Christ, so decent things arise from within us.  We know they arise from the redemptive act of Christ’s death on the Cross, our repentance and acts of contrition, and by the healing action of the Holy Ghost within us if we follow Christ.

But my idea of me compared to God’s idea of me don’t really match.  I pretend they match.  God grants us the desires of our hearts, right?  And in truth I am become the very person I wished for, the man I chose, the very person I envisioned long ago when I became self-aware and willing with the knowledge that God could indeed change me into much better me.

I thought I had pursued that new man.  I studied, I listened, I looked at what others had done to achieve holiness.  I paid my money, I took my chances, I made my choices.  I tried to be strong.  I tried to work out my salvation with fear and trembling.  I asked God ten thousand times to fix me and make me new.  But I evidently chose poorly.

Now, desperation has set in.  I am standing at the end of a cul-de-sac named, “Wit’s End”.  Things do not appear by now as I thought they should.  What did I do wrong?  I always pray for wisdom.  If I stop for a moment and reflect, I know what I’ve done wrong.

Two things I should have done.

First: I pray that God turn me into the person he wants.  No need for me to do it; and I was doing it, not God.  I have flawed vision.

Second: I need to wait.  Quietly, wait.

From our Psalter, Psalm 147:11-12 reads…

11 He is not impressed by the might of a horse;
he has no pleasure in the strength of a man.
12 But the Lord has pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who await his gracious favor.

I’ve asked enough.  He knows what I need.  Time to wait patiently on God to act.  Patience.  A virtue.

Likewise, as a Church, as a faithful Anglo-Catholic parish, we have “foolishly” prayed that we become what God would have us become.  I try to avoid praying that God make me into the person he wants.  He will do it and I will think bad things have befallen me.

We have prayed that our Parish become what God would will us become.  We have prayed that God make us a welcoming parish.  We have prayed for revival in our hearts and in our Parish.  Now bad things have befallen us.  We have lost members to tragedy, to old age, to other communions.  We have seen the sky fall on us and destroy the Parish Hall.  We will lose our property.  God sees to be working on us.  God willing, we will not lose our faith.

We’ve asked enough.  He knows what we need.  Time to wait patiently on God to act, to complete his work.

What should we then do?  How should we then live?  We know our responsibilities.  We must continue with our worship and with our mission to a fallen world.

Which responsibility brings me to my anecdote.

First a confession.  My full pledge to this Parish is not completed at this time.  Due to a combination of my poor stewardship over God’s gifts and to a company downsizing, I am far behind.

I need a job and to get a job you have to get interviews.  I have not been able to get an interview.  I always get interviews.  I like to feel sorry for myself.  I had a few extra dollars last week so I made out an online check to St Andrews for $50.  I expected nothing.  Just trying to do a little of what I should have already done.  Next day, almost the hour the check was cut, I received a call for an interview at Vanderbilt.  Just a little sign.  Just the first interview.  God did not owe me that, but he did it anyway to remind me he’s taking care of me.  Remember that God will bless you for your gifts given cheerfully.  That is not a prosperity gospel thing.  It is a promise, a blessing, a fact.

Contrition is what feel, which makes me think of a special sonnet.  I recite this sonnet to myself at least weekly if not daily.

It is John Donne’s 14th Holy Sonnet and it goes…

Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Donne cries out for the triune God of the universe, who knows the pain of existence, to “Batter my heart….”  Even though God called me into existence and gave me life, I hear a gentle “knocke” at my heart’s door.  If I answer, God’s breath breathed over or into me and His light also shines in my soul.  By that I may now “rise, and stand,” so by all means, God, overthrow my will that when felled, Your power can then seek to mend me in my pitiful condition so that I may “rise, and stand”.  God’s refining fire, his real presence in my life, is bent “to break, blowe, burn and make” me a new creature in Christ.

By “usurped” Donne means we are captives of sin and beholden to our flesh and not God.  We work hard to admit God to our lives but mostly that effort yields no lasting results because the sin within us is strong and we are weak.  This has nothing to do with guilt.  It has to do with the fact that the human condition is one of subservience to the sin within us.  We strive against it, at the crossroads where God begins His work in us and turns us into that better spirit reflecting the true nature of God.

We naturally put our intellect or reason to use to defend ourselves in this truly epic struggle.  Our reason, however, we find shackled by sin and limited in its ability to free us from this terrible predicament (the law of sin and death).  Our reason is weak and untrue and can trick us.  The verse points us to that one thing that can really free us from guilt, sin, death, slavery; and that one thing is Christ.  God made us so we need him desperately.

Notwithstanding weak reason, we dearly love God and want to in turn be loved freely, eagerly and gladly (“fain”) by our God, which, of course, He happily does.

But sin in our nature is wedded to God’s enemy.  We cry out for God that He permit and accomplish a divorce, that freeing, that breaking of those knots that hold us in slavery to sin.  God must come and take us away and imprisons us in His love, enslaves us by His love, and if in this ironical sense He chooses not to, we will forever remain enslaved.

But He is the only entity anywhere in time or eternity that can do this.  We surely cannot do it.  Nor can we ever become pure, or holy, or good, “Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.”

No guilt, no effort required on your part except to respond to his sacrifice and love as evidenced by your recognition and remembrance of his incarnation, death, and resurrection.  Even the faith required to believe these odd things is given you by God.  You don’t gin it up.  You do these things and the Holy Spirit takes up permanent residence in your hearts; that is where the real transformation into that better nature you have glimpsed begins to occur.  You enter into His rest in a way you have never known.  You drop your burdens of trying to please yourselves and the world and you take up his yoke, which is indeed light.  You are reconciled to God and he can then work to bring real freedom to your heart.

That is why he came to this earth when and how he did.  Just so he could come find you and rescue you because he so loves you so that he gave his life for you.

God gave his life for you!  He has loved you before the foundations of time.  He knew you and sacrificed everything for you.  You possess value and importance beyond your ability to understand why.

That is the mystery of Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Therein lies the answers to all those questions we mull over across our lives.  Therein lies the objective of all our quests for deeper meaning and truth.  Here is the true love of God and the real thing we all desperately seek.

We honor Him by keeping these Church doors open wherever we go.  Prayerfully consider what you need to give this year to your Church.