I Had a Bit of a Moment

I had a bit of a moment last Thursday. It started Wednesday night. It was my turn to preach at Celebrate, the late night worship service at the Chapel. This is something that I love to do, but it is also something that keeps me out late. Typically, I don’t get home until midnight, and it takes me an hour or so to wind down when I reach there. So, I went to bed around one, looking forward to a slower morning when I woke up. I planned to get to campus by Morning Prayer at 10:10.

However, as you’ll recall, the night brought snow. When I awoke Thursday morning, looked at the time, and saw enough snow on the ground to turn our long, steep driveway into a fine toboggan run, I knew my plans would have to change. There would be no way to leave the house without first spending time with the snowblower.

I co-host a weekly Zoom meeting with a friend on Thursday mornings after Morning Prayer. It’s for a group of preachers from across the country. We meet for an hour to discuss the biblical texts appointed for the coming Sunday and share ideas on interpreting these readings in light of the prevailing culture. It’s a precious conversation that I rarely miss. So I planned to get to the snow first, take my Zoom meeting at home, and reach campus around noon. My colleagues in Calling and Spiritual Life are accommodating, especially if you keep them informed, so I notified them all and let them know my plans for the day. Their responses are always affirming. Nevertheless, moves like this always feel a little like cheating to me.

About the time I finished with the driveway, my wife Tracey (who was also working from home and in meetings of her own) alerted me that the groomer had an opening at the last minute, and I could get our dog Ruby over there around 10:30 or 11. “No,” I replied, “but I can take her now if that’s OK.” She called the groomer and confirmed our earlier arrival, so Ruby and I got into my truck and drove the few minutes over to the groomer. I’d easily be back in time for my preachers’ meeting even though earlier in the morning, my co-host on whose Zoom account the meeting runs, had texted me to ask me to join the meeting a few minutes early so that he could step away briefly as the meeting was starting. 

I dropped the dog off, and I was driving back to the house when he texted me again, asking me to text him when I got on Zoom. I sensed that he was eager to pass the meeting to me, and wanting things to go smoothly, I joined the conference from my phone while stopped at a stoplight. When I arrived at the house, I would switch to my laptop, and everything would run smoothly. So I’ve got the call open and am driving the last few miles home. Then, I received a text from another pastoral colleague asking if I could join his Zoom meeting on a different matter, which is already in progress! In that moment, I recalled seeing this invitation in an email the previous week but had failed to put it on my calendar. While I’m processing this, my friend from Germany sends me a text message and calls me on the phone when I don’t respond.

I am away from my office at work. I am not at my computer at home. I am poorly managing a Zoom call from my phone in a moving vehicle, and two other people are looking for me. I like to do well at work; I want to do well by my family. It felt like I wasn’t doing any of these things then.

I heard myself telling myself to take a breath as I drove along the snowy streets. 

I suspect that many of you reading this have had moments of anxious overextension, so perhaps you can relate to mine. Upon further reflection, I think the source of my anxiety at that moment was not so much the competing claims on my time as much as my uncertainty about my reputation for competence. I was not winning, and we all like to win.

How perfect it was, then, that among the biblical texts my friends and I were set to discuss included this line from the Apostle Paul.

I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on… let even those who deal with the world [be] as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

Paul is not saying that what we do daily doesn’t matter. He’s got all kinds of other sections from his letters where he speaks very specifically about how one is to live. Paul says that all these things, the snow on my driveway, the groomer, conflicting Zoom meetings, and even a friend on another continent are not eternal goods. We pour ourselves into these activities as though our lives depended on it when, in fact, it doesn’t. They, along with the rest of my life, are best kept in their proper place. What ultimately matters is what is eternal, which is love, and love is always a gift. We can’t achieve it through hustle.

This is, I believe, what Jesus is up to when he is calling his disciples – those will be his students. He comes to the Sea of Galilee, where four of them have been in the business of fishing, and as he comes, his message is ​​“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Frequently, when we hear the word “repent” we interpret it to mean something like “straighten up your life, stop doing bad things, and start doing good things.” While there are likely to be changes of behavior that comes out of one’s repentance, morality isn’t at the center of what Jesus has in mind. The word which most English translations render as “repent” is the Greek word, METANOIA, which when the New Testament authors are using it, carries a sense of “turning around”, or “returning” with the sense that one is “returning to God.” This call to return to God runs through all of the prophetic writings in what Christians usually call the Old Testament. One’s return to God is marked primarily with remembering God’s abundant love and grace. When, in our moments of panic, we return to God, we are conscious that divine love and grace has been with us all along and will continue to be. Our call, in repentance, is not primarily to work, but to trust.. 

Trust that we have been created in God‘s image, purchased with the life and death, and resurrection of Jesus himself, and gifted with talents and abilities that we can use for today to build relationships between us through active mutual service. This work that we do together is not so that we can prove ourselves, it is so we can take the gifts that we’ve been given and through their use express our gratefulness.

It’s hard to be grateful when we think we’re supposed to be in more than one place at a time. But if we take a breath–or maybe several–and stop and realize that all of the things for which we strive and after which we chase are not the ultimate fulfillment of life and that this fulfillment is already given to us, then we can be right where we are and stay in the moment with joy and peace.

May such returns to joy be yours, daily.

Pr. Jim 

Rev. Katherine Museus and Rev. James A. Wetzstein serve as university pastors at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University and take turns writing weekly devotions.

January 24, 2024