The first times I felt I was in the presence of God were outside. I grew up going to camps—family camp, summer camp, church retreats, and they always told me to look around at God’s creation. I loved camp. And I grew up with the notion that God was more present in the outdoors. This was a gift for me. I loved the outdoors, and I was outside every chance I got, and when I needed to connect with God, I knew where to find her. That’s one of the reasons why I so strongly encourage kids and young adults to go to camps and retreats, like Camp Johnsonburg. Ministries like that are what built my faith, and they can do so for our kids too. Johnsonburg already has their dates up for 2019, and there are scholarships available through the church and the Presbytery if you’re interested.
Outside is where I went to be with God. And I remember late at night I’d take a walk and look up into the stars and think about God’s creation. Did you ever do that? Did you ever lay down in a field where you can see the stars, not just a few but the whole thousands of stars in the sky, and the millions of galaxies beyond them into the ever-expanding universe, and just think wow. The world is too vast, too amazing for me to comprehend. And that feeling of awe at the incredible beauty and complexity of the world brought you in, in some way, to a sense of awe at the power of God. Rudolf Otto calls that the numinous feeling, the sense of the divine breaking into the world in a way you can see and know, but never understand.
And you can’t help but feeling a little small in that moment. There’s a whole ocean of galaxies and stars and planets. And here you are. Just one little person on one little planet in the universe. And God has a plan for you. God cares about you. God knows about you. Jesus tells us that God has numbered the hair on your head. God knows your freckles, your scars, your wrinkles. And God has a plan for you.
If you’ve felt that, you have a taste of what Isaiah felt, I imagine, in the year that King Uzziah died. He saw God sitting on the throne among the stars, God who spins the whirling planets, who set the earth on its orbit, who knows the Milky Way like the back of her hand. And God brought Isaiah before the throne, with these creatures beyond his imagination serving at God’s throne and singing her glory. And Isaiah said, this is too much for me, this is too great, I don’t belong here, I’m too small and too insignificant for this. Isaiah has a sense of righteousness and his own unrighteousness terrifies him. I’ve done too many small and petty cruelties to be here before the throne. I have given silent approval to too many great injustices to be here before the throne. Suddenly, before God, Isaiah hates every wrong thing he’s ever done and the parts of him that did them.
But, well, Isaiah, here you are. And God has a plan for you. And there are no obstacles that God’s love cannot overcome. And the fire of Isaiah’s repentance heats the coal that they bring to his lips so that all of the wrong in himself that he hates is burned away and replaced with pure love.
And God speaks, for the first time, and she says, “Who will go for us? Whom shall I send?” Since this is Isaiah’s vision, I imagine there’s someone in mind.
This story captures one of the most insane things about this whole God-humanity thing we’ve got going on. Which is that God, in all her incredible planet-swirling, nation-bending, star-tossing, blazing glory, has a plan that involves you. Of all the houses in all the planets in the galaxy, God walks into yours. And God says, “Who will go for us?” But God’s got you in mind.
Frederick Buechner said, famously, that “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” That is, there is a place for you, where God has called you to be, where you will joyfully sow and reap in the Lord’s harvest. You might find that at work. But you just as easily might not find it at work, and instead at Dorothy L Bullock elementary school, reading to students every week. You might find it handing out meals to homeless people in the street, or you might find it at 8:00 am on Wednesdays in front of bacon and eggs and the regulars, or you might find it looking at spreadsheets in your office. You might find it when you are six or when you are sixty. No matter how great you become at this calling, you will probably never be on the news for it. But here you are. And God has a plan for you.
There will be obstacles. There are always obstacles. But God knows how to handle obstacles, or Pharaoh’s army would have swallowed up God’s people long ago. Even if you think you aren’t holy, God will make you holy. Even if you think you aren’t able, almost every prophet had an argument against their call that began with can’t. But can’t is not in God’s vocabulary. When you find the work to which you have been called, you will find also what you need to accomplish that work.
I went to listen a few months ago to Sister Norma Pimenthal, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley down in McAllen, TX, and she talked about what she did when she first started hearing of these cases back in 2014, people dumped at the bus station with nothing but a date for an asylum hearing that is years away. And she said, we need a place. So she called the a church down near the bus station. And she had a place. And she needed blankets and beds and volunteers, but a coalition of churches and volunteers from the city came together to help. As the operation got bigger, she got a visit from an inspector from the city of McAllen. She was worried. All of this sprung up because there was a need, none of it was planned. They didn’t have licenses for anything, but they are cooking meals and feeding people and people are sleeping on cots in the basement of this church. And she walked the inspector through everything that they were doing. And at the end of the tour she said, “well, that’s what we’re doing.” And he wiped a tear away from his eye and said, “what can the city do to help?” And she said showers. The next day the city had delivered portable shower trailers so that people could wash and change from the clothes they’d been arrested in when they came to the border and asked for help. I’ve talked to dozens of ministry workers and non-profit directors who tell stories like this, that what you need sometimes comes to you in miraculous ways and from unexpected places. You never know who God is going to send so that you can accomplish the work you’ve been given.
I don’t believe that I can only find God in the stars anymore. Instead, I spend a lot more time looking for God in people’s faces. Listening to their stories, their joys and their hurts and their sufferings. And when I pray for people I remember that God knows every hair on their head. Every freckle, every wrinkle, every scar shows the beauty of God’s creation just as well as the Northern lights. I still get the same feeling though. Human life is beautiful, but it’s also amazingly complicated, filled with wounds to great to bear, joy that fills us to overflowing, relationships that grow and change and break and heal. When you think of the richness of your own life, whether in joy or in pain, and try to multiply it by 7 billion, factoring in the complexities of the relationships between these and the various groupings there in, it’s a universe. And it can be overwhelming
But here you are. And God has a plan for you.
I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for
us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’” (Isaiah 6:8)