A Litany of Unlikely Choices

Posted by Brent.Barry on June 1, 2015


My son Ian got an early start this year on high school. He actually isn’t taking any time off and started today. We were talking about this on Saturday and somehow we made our way around to religion. I guess this is what preachers do to their poor children.

Ian reminded me that his favorite Bible story is that of Paul on the Damascus road. He also reminded me that Paul was a persecutor, an angry man, a murderer, and God used him to do incredible things anyway. Christ found him on the road to Damascus, found him ‒ of all people ‒ stubborn, hyper, argumentative, narrow-minded Paul. 

The conclusion we reached is that God calls those who think they are unqualified, unworthy, just ordinary, to do the most profound things.

Paul is not the only one like this in our tradition.

Moses was a stuttering shepherd.

Jeremiah was just a boy.

Remember King David? Well, he was the runt of the litter and a womanizer to boot.

There was the prophet Amos whose only previous experience was as a migrant farm worker.

In the New Testament Jesus says, "you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world" to a bunch of ordinary teenagers on a mountainside.

There was Matthew, the tax-collector.

There was John the Baptist who lived in the woods, dressed in a loin cloth, ate bugs, and yelled at people.

And there’s Jesus himself. What an unlikely choice. Born in a barn to an unwed mother, never traveled a hundred miles from home, no formal education, never owned anything more than the clothes on his back, not even 30 yet.

And this litany of unlikely choices extends beyond the pages of scripture. 

Francis of Assisi, St. Francis, the spoiled brat of Italian nobility, paraded in the nude through the town square to make a point about materialism.

John Calvin, a bookish, sickly French law student, booted out of the Sorbonne and on the run.

And the man who wrote "Amazing Grace," John Newton. God found him after he had run away from home as a teenager to become the captain of a slave ship.

There’s the great theologian of the 19th Century, Soren Kierkegaard, friendless, forlorn, cranky, hump-backed, incurably romantic, and unlucky in love.

And how about Mother Theresa, displaced Albanian countess, willful and obstinate, politically incorrect, and come to find out, as beset by doubts and dark moods as the rest of us.

How does the saying go? "God doesn’t call the qualified. God qualifies the called."

In July 1986, novelist and essayist Andre Dubuse stopped on the highway to help a motorist in distress. While he was trying to help, another car came along and hit and nearly killed Dubuse. One of his legs had to be amputated, he lost the use of the other one, he spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Twelve surgeries, depression, and suicide attempts later, he finally began to write about the experience.

He said he gradually began to see the limitations of being in the wheelchair as a prism through which to view life and see things he had never seen before. And he said by the grace of God, he began to see the sacramentality of things. 

“On Tuesday when I make sandwiches for my granddaughter, it is a sacrament. 

Spreading mustard on bread and cutting off the ends of ham, it is a sacrament.  

Putting the sandwiches in zip-locked bags and going down six ramps to get to my car, it’s a sacrament.”

He said this turn in his perception began the day he was doing physical therapy and began to weep. Caught up with the depression of things he began to cry uncontrollably. He finally said to the woman who was doing physical therapy with him, "I am no longer a man among men, I am not even a man among women!"

The physical therapist stroked him gently and said, "you need to read Jeremiah. I have suffered myself, and I know that God takes cracked vessels and makes them new.  It is time to discover what God is making out of you."

Unqualified, unworthy? God takes cracked vessels and makes them new. It’s time to discover what God is making out of you.

And so this is what I believe: every small simple act of love or kindness,

every demonstration of compassion or justice,

every opportunity to end poverty,

every minute teaching a child to read,

every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support,

they are what God is making of you. 

They are all sacraments.

Unqualified, unworthy, ordinary? Oh yes.

God takes cracked vessels and makes them new. What is God making out of you?


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