“Vocation and Disappointment”
A couple of weeks ago, our country was stilled for a moment when we listened with awe as the nation’s first Youth Poet Laurette, Amanda Gorman, captivated our Spirits with her words and presence at the Inauguration. Her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, struck such a chord with our nation, that we have all turned our eyes to her – wondering what’s next?
And it turns out, what’s next for her, will come later today. Because the pre-game show of the Super Bowl will include a poem by Amanda Gorman. The tradition of poetry at the Presidential Inauguration has been with us since President Kennedy. But, poetry to open the Super Bowl? Well, that is new. When I first heard that she was going to be doing another poem for the Super Bowl, I was thrilled. I have been a fan of Amanda Gorman’s art for a while now, so I was excited to hear that she will be speaking to America again – in fact, likely to a much bigger audience. But the juxtaposition didn’t hit me until a few days ago. Never have I considered poetry and the Super Bowl in the same thought. Has that hit you yet? Poetry to open the Super Bowl? Give it a second, because it will feel so odd, so dissonant.
Recently in an interview with Trevor Noah from the Daily Show, Amanda Gorman was asked, “What are you aspiring to, seeing that you have essentially done it all in the last few weeks?” She began her answer by saying that she plans to take a step back and check in with herself. Then she said this, “For me it is not about beating my last thing or competing against myself…I want to keep on the trajectory that I have started for myself. I don’t want to dally or diverge from that. For me that means using my poetry to touch and heal as many people as possible. That can be at the Inauguration or Super Bowl or living room or in a classroom with students.”
Once again I find myself marveling at her wisdom, because she has so beautifully articulated her commitment to her vocation, and is modeling for us what that commitment looks like. Her vocation is to heal people with words and she is dedicated to doing just that. And to me it seems the country is eager to see just what that will look like. “What’s next?” we will keep asking her. “What moments of magic will you bring to us again?” We will keep asking her for more. And that leads me to wonder, how will we react when she disappointments us? Because I believe she will. Those people who have found their vocation, their calling for service that meets the world’s need, those who have found their vocation and remain committed to it, often leave people disappointed.
I have been thinking a lot about following a life of vocation and the inevitable moments of disappointment it creates this week after someone in my Tuesday morning clergy group said this, “why don’t we [clergy] ever point out the trail of disappointment Jesus left in his wake?” It’s a good and fair question. I don’t think I have ever pointed out all of the people Jesus disappointed in the scriptures when I have preached, and I can’t remember a sermon I have listened to that has either. Which is odd, because in fact, the Gospel stories of Jesus’ ministry is filled with people who are disappointed by him. Today’s scripture is a prime example. Jesus, who had been teaching in the synagogue and healed a man who confronted him there, went to the home of Simon and Andrew, and while there healed Simon’s mother-in-law. Jesus was creating quite a stir, people were amazed and verse 28 says his fame was spreading throughout the region. And that fame became apparent when that evening the entire city gathered outside of the house, and the people brought to Jesus all of their loved ones who were sick. Jesus, the scriptures say, cured many of them that night.
Try for a moment to picture the scene – the entire city is gathered around what can reasonably be assumed to be a fairly humble home. The word had spread about Jesus – and all of those who were desperate for healing, either for themselves or for someone they loved, seized the opportunity. You can imagine the jostling for position near Jesus. People pushing others aside, refusing to wait their turn. Jesus and his disciples trying to make sense of the need around them, and doing everything they could to meet that need. Later, in chapter 2 of Mark, a similar scene plays out, and it was so crowded that someone actually cuts a hole in the roof of the house Jesus is in to lower their loved one into the home. This evening was likely chaotic and overwhelming. So overwhelming in fact that scripture continues by saying that very early the next morning Jesus went out to a deserted place to pray. He was not given much peace though, because as the scriptures says, and pay attention to the word that is used here, “Simon and his companions hunted for him.” They told Jesus that everyone was searching for him. And how does Jesus respond, he tells his companions that they are leaving, that he needs to proclaim his message of the Good News everywhere. Jesus is hunted down because there are still people who want something from him, there are still people who need healing – but Jesus does not return to them, instead he leaves. He moves on to spread the Gospel, and the people, I am sure, where disappointed. Perhaps even angry.
This happens over and over again in the Gospels – once you start looking for these moments you realize they are everywhere. Jesus creates a stir, an excitement, people experience healing that can heal like magic, and they want more of it – and then Jesus moves on. Never does it say that Jesus stuck around until everyone in the area was healed, there were always people who wanted that healing but did not receive it. There was always a trail of disappointment behind him.
Clergy don’t like to point this out, I think, because it makes everyone uncomfortable. But, it is the truth, and an important one to remember. Jesus’ vocation, Jesus’ mission was to share the Good News of the Kingdom of God. To point to God, to point to justice, and peace, and love. To say to the marginalized that they are beloved in God’s eyes. To say to the oppressed that they are the reflections of God. To share with the world that in the Kingdom of God the last will be first and the first will be last. Jesus’ vocation was to turn the world upside down, and by so doing focus the people’s attention on and devotion to God – not power and hierarchy.
But what the people were more intrigued by was healing, the miracles, the moments that felt like magic. They wanted more of that, not more of the lessons that challenged everything they understood about the world and their relationships with one another and with God. But Jesus refused to give into that desire from the people, and instead remained committed to his vocation and calling from God, and the people were disappointed, some were angry, and I think it is fair to say that it eventually led to his trial and crucifixion.
To know what our vocation is, to understand how we are meant to serve, is truly a gift. Some figure it out at a young age, and for some it takes most of their life. But, when we do figure it out, it is a true and wonderful gift. A moment of consonance, a moment of harmony. And when we choose to remain committed to that vocation, whether that means saying yes to something or saying no to something, the people around us often feel disappointed. And sometimes that is how we know we have re-committed ourselves, when we say yes or no, and know that it is right for our us and our vocation, but upsets those around us.
I am conscience of the fact that this doesn’t feel very hopeful, leaving you with the thought that to truly follow our vocations, whatever form they take for each of us, means disappointing people, sometimes profoundly. It might not feel very hopeful, but the hope is we all make those choices – that we continue to serve God and one another in our most true and authentic ways, no matter what. Because that is what our world needs right now. Our world needs people committed to their callings, committed to their authentic self. The world does not need more people who bend to the will of the masses, who want nothing more than a few more moments of magic. So, if you are faced with that decision, and if it helps, remember the example of Jesus, and know that you don’t walk that difficult path alone. And when Amanda Gorman, or whoever your hero may be at the moment, inevitably disappoints us by saying yes or no to something, allow yourself to feel the disappointment, and then try to move past that and into a moment of joy. Because joy is what we feel when a vocation is being followed and valued. Amen.
O holy One, we come to you in need of your leading and instruction. We so often become bogged down in the details of life and forget to see the bigger picture of life and its needs. We so often give ourselves to what we think is necessary and fail to see what is needful. Forgive us our short-sightedness and save us from our spiritual myopia.
We have been reminded today of how Jesus met needs all about him but did not succumb to the tyranny of demands and many clamouring voices. Help us to follow his example.
Whereas we tend to think in terms of doing things primarily where we live he thought of people elsewhere who had needs.
Whereas we tend to take our signals from others he took his direction from within.
Whereas we tend to live life at a frenetic pace he went out to the desert alone and prayed to find renewal.
Whereas we tend to be provincial in the scope of our concerns he thought of other communities who needed the good news.
As we walk the Christian journey we pray that you will provide us a greater vision. Interrupt our frenetic activity. Help us to find the creative spiritual pause which will make clearer our mission and refresh us for it. Help us to see all people as your people and to know that we have the responsibility to love them. Help us to have the courage to change the way we have gone about life and to make it both more rewarding and more fruitful.
We pray for this in the name of the one who taught us what it means. And we pray with the words he taught us by saying together…Our Father…