November 28, 2016
“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” (Isaiah 40:3) Do you remember the 1973 film adaption of the off-Broadway music Godspell? It was an enduring memory of my youth.
It begins with John the Baptist calling young women and men to give up their “lives” and take up the mantle of Jesus Christ through baptism. With song and dance, they wander throughout New York City, spreading Jesus’ message of love, tolerance, and hope.
Advent begins with John. John the Baptist and Jesus were the same age, and their mothers were related, but we don’t know how close the boys were growing up. What we do know is that Mary and Elizabeth spent several months together when they were both pregnant. John was a Jewish prophet, a marginal kind of guy who stepped into our world from the desert, reminding us who we are and who we are called to become.
John was a wanderer, persuaded by his call to journey through the wilderness and villages of Israel, urging people to repent of their sins and be baptized. His ragged clothing, food preferences, and fiery speech separated him from the mainstream. Who would have ever thought John would be the one to fulfill the words of Isaiah and herald Jesus’ appearance on the scene?
As I read the lectionary passages for this coming Sunday, I pondered how God is calling each one of us to prepare the way of the Lord this Advent. I also realized that my own faith journey has been much like John’s. At the fall Council of Bishops meeting, the newly elected episcopal leaders in the US were invited to share their faith journeys. This is what I shared.
“I suspect that the wanderlust began before I was even born. Jesus called me as a child because of the example of my parents and the influence of the Mennonite Church in which I grew up. I was undergirded from my earliest years by the prayers of my parents, grandmothers, and encouragers in my church. From loving Sunday school, to checking out books from the church library, seeing God’s handiwork by wandering the woods and fields around my home, taking lessons on the church organ, attending Bible studies with my grandmother, and giving the sermon on Youth Sunday, my church nurtured a quest for God that has never left me. And Jesus? He just kept calling me.”
“Jesus kept calling me even though women were not allowed to be ordained in the Mennonite Church when I was growing up. He kept calling me, even though no one ever encouraged me in that direction because, after all, what would be the point? Jesus kept calling me, even though I never even met a clergywoman until I was in graduate school. Still, Jesus kept calling me, for it is God who formed my inward parts and knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me; See, on the portals he’s waiting and watching, watching for you and for me.
“It has only been within the past five years that I have found the word that fits who I am spiritually. I used to call myself a pilgrim who is on a continuous journey into the heart of God and is led by the spirit toward holy destinations. But now I realize that I am really a peregrina.”
“Peregrinatio is a Latin word that comes from Roman law and refers to living or sojourning outside of one’s homeland. In Celtic Christianity, some peregrini were exiled to other countries because they broke laws, but other peregrini voluntarily chose to spend their life in a foreign land away from family and friends. Some of these so-called ‘white martyrs’ were seeking personal fulfillment. Others engaged in missionary endeavors, like St. Columba, who left his home in Ireland out of a self-imposed penance, founded a monastic community on the holy island of Iona, and converted most of Scotland and England to Christianity.”
“Jesus has called me to be a peregrina, to move outside my people, the Mennonites, to the foreign land of The United Methodist Church, and then the episcopacy. And because of John Wesley, I now realize that the whole world is my people!”
Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading, pleading for you and for me? Why should we linger and heed not his mercies, mercies for you and for me?
“I believe that God has called me to be a peregrina, a wanderer for Christ who goes wherever God sends me. As an itinerant preacher, my life has no destination other than to model the suffering love of Jesus, seek justice and reconciliation, offer hope to The United Methodist Church, and work to bring in God’s reign on this earth.”
“The God who has searched me and known me, the Holy One who knows when I sit down and when I rise up, the Creator who has fearfully and wonderfully made each one of you and every person on this earth, and the original Peregrino/Peregrina who continues to search our path and has led each one of us to this place: it is this God who still wanders our world – calling, forming, shaping, weeping, listening, serving, and suffering through you and through me.”
O for the wonderful love he has promised, promised for you and for me! Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon, pardon for you and for me.
“Our peregrino/peregrina God continues to call you and me to wander the towns and cities of our world for such a time as this, as witnesses to God’s redemptive love, agents of hope, and bearers of the light of Christ. This Holy Wanderer tenderly invites us to come home to the heart of God by living in unity, not uniformity, and freely offering God’s shalom to our beautiful, frightening, and glorious world.”
“Will you come? Will you come home? Will you come home to the heart of God? As for me, you’ll find me wandering the roads and prairies of Iowa and the world, going wherever the Spirit leads, for Jesus keeps calling, calling for you and for me.”
Come home, come home; ye who are weary come home; earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, O sinner, come home!
Jesus, the peregrino with no place to lay his head, is calling you and me during this season of Advent to prepare the way of the Lord. As you wait and watch for the coming of our Lord, with whom will you share Jesus’ message of grace and hope? Where will your Advent wandering lead you?