"In His Name"
I also am one of the workers in the vineyard described in another of Jesus' parables. You remember the story: A vineyard owner hires workers in three hour shifts. At the end of the day, everyone is paid the same-no matter how many hours they have worked. The point of the story is not when you answer the call to ministry, but if you answer it at all. I'm one of the late workers.
But in that upside down kingdom, where the poor in spirit and the meek reign, "the first shall be last, and the first, last." Jesus had a delightful, ironic, revolutionary ethic.
Francis Thompson, a poet and recovering alcoholic, could have been writing about me in one of his most loved poems, The Hound of Heaven:
I fled Him down the nights and down the days,
I fled Him down the arches
of the years,
the labyrinthine ways
of my own mind;
and in the midst of tears,
I hid from Him. . . .
I am hiding no longer. I am out of the closet.
I am at peace. I am not afraid.
John Morgan is a former Editor, Associate Editor, and Writer for the Herald, currently serving as the minister of the First Unitarian Universalist Church In Reading, Pennsylvania.
Immanuel: “God with us"
by John Morgan
The most amazing mystery of all is that God drew as close to the human scene as the birth of a small, poor child in the midst of a war ravaged landscape.
After all my theological training, I am reduced to a very outwardly simple proposition: Immanuel, “God with us.” I don’t know of any more powerful symbol of hope than this one: We are not alone but parts of a deep mystery that some give the name
“God.” Others refuse any name, understanding that any word we choose points to a great mystery to which our language only offers directional signals. Never mistake the finger pointing to what it points to—a very wise Buddhist aphorism.
Some may feel closest to the Holy when they serve others or when they hear majestic music or when they gaze into the eyes of a loved one. I know these deep feelings, too, but the older I have become the more tangible and human my needs have grown when it comes to discovering places where the human and divine meet.
The Celtic Christians have a wonderful way of describing those regions where the veil between the temporal and the eternal touch; they call such encounters “thin places.” I experienced such a “thin place” this summer as the daylight broke over the ruins of the Tintern Abbey in Wales. It was a clear to me then as the morning light that I was standing in a thin place where the eternal and the temporal touched. This was obviously a wasted abbey from medieval times. But if I stood quiet and listened and watched I could feel the presence of the Holy as the light from the heavens chased darkness away.
I think if Jesus had walked up to me that morning, I would have not been surprised. In a way, maybe he did and still is.
As a universalist, I do not believe that the divine is finally captured in any tradition. The Spirit blows where it will, sometimes in the disguises only the Holy takes, and sometimes which we only know when the Spirit has gone--and try as we may we cannot recreate it with our hymns or words. God has many names—but one Spirit, the spirit of love, which has many forms.
As a disciple of Jesus, however, I have come to find a tangible and human _expression of the Divine in the teachings and life of this wandering teacher and prophet, a son of God and of humanity. When I hear the stories about him I am always brought to the thin places of the heart where the divine and the human touch. When I read or listen to his parables I am brought face to face with a decision about my own life and to what or whom I am committed.
I cannot rest with the cold abstractions of a dying rationality that dominated the early part of my life journey. Now I need the touch of a hand, the sharing of a friendship, the words of comfort from a teacher—each of which I find in Jesus.
But, of course, it’s more than a dead book or prophet. A dynamic faith needs a living presence, and in a way I would not have expected years ago, I have found this in a small group with whom I worship on a weekly basis. There we pray for one another, for others, for the world. There we read scripture and speak about what it means. There we raise the great issues of living and dying. We then share communion in a simple and direct way, serving one another the bread and wine of the supper. I am not asked about my theology or past deeds. At this welcome table I am simply invited in as an equal participant, brought into God’s presence in a way I have long sought.
I am not sure how the Holy and the human connect for any person. I suppose that is part of each journey. I only know as the night draws near that I take comfort in the Light I have discovered and hold it close for warmth and illumination. At this season, I can say wholeheartedly and without reservation or insincerity: Immanuel--“God with us.”
John Morgan is a member of the Herald Board and of the Unitarian Universalist Christian.