Sunday, November 06, 2016

The way of power, and the way of love.

This morning's sermon included some words from Henri Nouwen's book, In the Name of Jesus. I didn't quite start crying, though the words obviously made an impression on me—particularly Nouwen's comments about his powerful self vs. the vulnerable self. The powerful self can produce things, accomplish things, prove things, influence things. The vulnerable self finds itself in feeling loved by Jesus.

That's profound, but where I almost lost it was the story of Henri and Bill's trip to Washington DC, which I'll copy/paste from this page:

Once when asked to speak at the Center for Human Development in Washington, D. C., on Christian Leadership in the 21st century, Nouwen decided that to be true to what he was going to say, he should go in partnership — two by two as the Gospel says — with one of his mentally handicapped friends, Bill Van Buren. So he told Bill, “We are doing this together. You and I are going to Washington to proclaim the Gospel.”

Together they flew to Washington, got settled in their hotel, and went to the conference. When the time came for the address, after being introduced, Nouwen took out his handwritten text and began his talk. At that moment, he noticed Bill had left his seat and come up to the podium, planting himself right behind him. Thought Nouwen, “It was clear that Bill had a much more concrete idea about ‘doing it together’ than I did.” Each time I finished a page, he took it away and put it upside down on a small table close by.

When Nouwen began to speak about the temptation to turn stones into bread as a temptation to be relevant, Bill interrupted and said loudly, for all to hear, “I have heard that before!”

When Nouwen came to the second part and was reading the words, “The question most asked by the handicapped people with whom I live was, “Are you home tonight?” Bill interrupted and said, “That’s right, that is what John Smeltzer always asks.”

Then, said Nouwen, “After I had finished reading my text and people had shown their appreciation, Bill said to me, ‘Henri, can I say something now?’” Said Nouwen, “My first reaction was, ‘Oh, how am I going to handle this? He might start rambling and create an embarrassing situation?’”

Bill took the microphone and said, with all the difficulties he had in speaking, “Last time, when Henri went to Boston, he took John Smeltzer with him. This time he wanted me to come with him to Washington, and I am glad to be here with you. Thank you very much.” Everyone stood and gave him warm applause.

On the way back, on the airplane, Bill said, “Henri, did you like our trip?” “Oh, yes,” I answered, “it was a wonderful trip, and I am so glad you came with me.” Bill looked at me attentively and then said, “And we did it together, didn’t we?”

Said Nouwen, “Then I realized the full truth of Jesus’ words, “Where two or three meet in my Name, I am among them” (Matthew 18:20) In the past, I had always given lectures, sermons, addresses, and speeches by myself. Often I had wondered how much of what I said would be remembered. Now it dawned on me that most likely much of what I said would not be long remembered, but that Bill and I doing it together would not easily be forgotten.” (In The Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, Henri J. M. Nouwen, Crossroads: New York, 1989.)

Love and grace are evident here, in abundance. This story, and Nouwen's words about the powerful vs. the vulnerable self, put me in mind of the words from John 1: and of his fullness all we have received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses [but] grace and truth came by Jesus Christ: truth in the sense of my true self (vs. the powerful yet false self) and grace in particular by being a conduit (not a sink) for the unmerited favor & love I receive every moment of every day. As a conduit of grace, I am called among other things to be gentle: A bruised reed he will not break, as the prophecy says, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

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