Then End of One Journey Is the Beginning of Another
And I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He held a little scroll open in his hand. Setting his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, he gave a great shout, like a lion roaring. And when he shouted, the seven thunders sounded. And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down." Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it: "There will be no more delay, but in the days when the seventh angel is to blow his trumpet, the mystery of God will be fulfilled, as he announced to his servants the prophets." Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, "Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land." So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, "Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth." So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter. Then they said to me, "You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings."
The scripture readings for this day include both interesting and disturbing images, especially to Westerners, of literally eating the scripture, which is both sweet and sour. It conveys the idea that when we digest God's word we experience both comfort and discomfort. We are also compelled to proclaim this comfort and discomfort no matter the cost.
In April 2004, we were introduced to the odd paradox of experiencing extreme discomfort and comfort all at once. The day started like any other. It was the day after Easter, and though there was rain in the forecast, it was a beautiful morning as we headed out to school and work. There was no indication that just two hours later we would be standing in the street watching in horror as firefighters worked to extinguish the flames engulfing our first home.
When the embers cooled and the shock dulled, we began the uncomfortable task of sifting through what had been our lives. We had spent a year renovating our home, placing our personal touches all over it. We had put in a pool, tiled the kitchen, carpeted, painted, and made any number of repairs. We had lovingly decorated our little girl's room in pink hues with murals on every wall. Now all of it was either gone, unrecognizable, or covered in a thick layer of wet ash, and the insulation left when the ceiling caved in. Neither of us had ever quite known that level of discomfort. We were filthy, exhausted and homeless when we checked into the hotel that night. Within days, we both developed deep, raspy coughs from inhaling the ashes. The few items we were able to salvage smelled like that horrible fire. We weren't sure we would ever be able to shake that smell or, quite frankly, the fear and helplessness.
What made the discomfort of the situation bearable was the response of everybody around us. Family and friends dropped everything and rushed to our aid. They took time off work to help us gather belongings that could be saved. Neighbors dropped off coolers of water and gift cards for our immediate needs. One neighbor painstakingly peeled dozens of photos out of wet frames, laying them out on her living room floor to dry. Our homelessness didn't last long either. A church member quickly offered up a rental home that was move-in ready. Our friends and family surrounded us with love and comfort. We shed tears of both despair and gratitude in those weeks following the fire. We had never felt quite so hopeless yet cared for all at once.
Looking back, the fire wasn't necessarily life altering, but this paradox of comfort and discomfort was. The aftermath of the fire, as horrendous as it was, taught us so much about compassion and humility. These lessons would eventually help shape our response to our calling. Having experienced that level of discomfort, we could no longer ignore those living in that sort of extreme discomfort everyday. We were no longer comfortable with discomfort. This was the start of our journey to the deaconess and home missioner relationship, even though it would be years before we were able to put a name to our calling.
Many of the people we have met since beginning our journey through the discernment and candidacy process seem to have experienced a similar tipping of the scale. The discomfort of all that was around them and within them outweighed the comfort of job security, money, family and predictability. Like us, many were thrust into action by the discomforting invitation of the scripture to love like Jesus loves and to love the people who Jesus loves. The discomfort of living in a world full or pain and injustice made living in a comfortable world unbearable. Eventually we found our way home to the deaconess and home missioner community where we are able to live out our calling in vocations of love, justice and service.
Today, April 7, is the day that one journey ends and another begins. We will be commissioned as deaconess and home missioner. Along with the joy of completing the process comes the somber realization that we are bound more than ever to serve a hurting world, simultaneously suffering with the burdens of broken people while offering the peace and comfort that scripture promises. It is appropriate that this day comes during this season. Lent is a season of discomfort. It begins with a stark reality that you come from dust and you will return to dust. It ends with the disturbing reminder that those who yell "Hosanna!" are the same who yell "Crucify!" Like Ezekiel, once you have digested the word of God, you are compelled to act on it, no matter how uncomfortable that may be for you or those around you. So as Ezekiel in Ezekial 1:1-3 was commissioned, we too are sent out to proclaim and live out God's justice in an unjust world. While the calling to ordained clergy or a lay office like that of deaconess or home missioner may not be for you, make no mistake, God is calling you in some way. Lent invites us to embrace discomfort. So spend some time this season doing just that. When you find that you are no longer comfortable with discomfort, it may just ignite a passion that leads you to a new calling or the renewal of an old one.