On my first Sunday here at St. John’s, after giving Communion to a row of people at the rail, I was waiting for the chalice to be administered and looking out at the excited group of people coming forward in our beautiful nave. There was a lot of energy in the air as parishioners and their new rector were having this first exchange. A number of people had given me affectionate smiles and I felt kind of on-stage and under inspection. I then noticed a woman kneeling at the altar rail in front of me, craning her neck slightly side to side. Her eyes were searching forward, beyond me, and it suddenly occurred to me that I was blocking her vision. She was trying to see behind me to the Ascension window and I was in her way. Some were here that day to see the new rector but this woman was looking for something more. What a wonderful gift that was to me as I began my tenure here: don’t get in the way when people are looking for Jesus.
Priests and ministers are often in the way when their people are looking for Jesus. We have irritating little habits which can be distracting. Most of us have egos that are hard to keep in check. Sometimes we’re trying to get everyone to like us and make that too important. Sometimes we’re so opinionated and defensive toward anyone who might question our authority. Our wills and affections are often as unruly was those of the people we serve and our mistakes, along with some of our accomplishments, draw attention away from the Christ we preach.
“Priests can’t do all that much good,” a seminary professor told me, “but they sure can do a lot of harm.” I tend to think that, if everyone would just get out of my way, I could pretty much usher in the kingdom of God singlehandedly, and I think the professor singled me out for such advice for good reason. Over the years, when I have managed to stay out of the way, good things have come about. And, over the years, I’ve blocked a lot of grace primarily by trying to do a few too many great things by myself. “Don’t forget to leave a little for Jesus to do,” a senior warden in my first church used to tease me.
So, how is it that you might get in God’s way? You’ll probably think first of mistakes you have made that, had you avoided them, would have led to greater things. Okay, our mistakes do cause God some trouble to work around, that is true. But what about your best efforts, those things you put all your good into? Might those things be getting in the way of God and others?
Most of us are guilty of putting ourselves a little too much in the middle of things. The phrase, “not everything is about you,” rises from such posturing. We tend to feel a little too responsible for how things will turn out. It’s hard for us to trust that a solution beyond our making is worth much. We get embarrassed by our children or spouses, thinking they haven’t done things the way we would have done them, assuming that our way is naturally the best way. We get anxious about things and wonder how any good can occur given the circumstances. All of those attitudes are about us standing in the way of others experiencing God’s grace, standing even in God’s way of making himself known.
We allow our mistakes and our successes to be a little more important than they actually are. I’ve really never made a mistake God couldn’t fix. And I’ve certainly never accomplished anything that wasn’t going to get done eventually anyway. Why do I make myself more important than I really am? Part of it is because I make more of myself than is proper. And part of it is because I think I have to prove my worth somehow. I’m one little piece in God’s great plan. And that is enough, more than enough.
Look for the way God is revealing himself to the world around you. Trust that you are part of God’s plan. Get out of the way and let God work.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.