Life Chooses Life

A reflection on Luke 3:15-22 by Andrew Stephens-Rennie. Originally preached at St Brigids Vancouver.

“For my community, our vocations start with survival. The world was not built for us, though it was built on the backs of our ancestors, the colonized, the oppressed, the enslaved, and other marginalized people.”

These are the words of Latinx practical theologian Dr. Patrick B. Reyes in his exploration of vocation. Entitled “Nobody Cries When We Die: God, Community, and Surviving to Adulthood,” asking the question, “when the screams of innocents dying engulf you, how do you hear God’s voice?”

It’s a striking passage that I’ve been pondering this week as I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ baptism, and the words we say each week, when we pray for “all who exercise their baptismal ministry in the church.” I don’t know how you hear those words, but I guess part of it for me, is the belief that we are praying for each other, that we might live into our vocation, in light of our baptism, yes, but also the reality of Jesus’ own baptism.

Frederick Buechner is
famous for saying that our
vocation is that place
where our deep gladness
and the world’s deep needs
meet.

But before we discover
That sweet spot,
We have to make it.
That is to say,
We have to survive
Long enough to
Live into that seemingly
Privileged saying,

In short, we need to
Live uncharacteristic,
Unrealistic lives that
Have not been,
May never be known
By most people
In most of the world.

There are many
Amongst us who have
Stories of survival,
Of holding on for dear life,
Of wondering why
The hell God brought
Us through whatever
It is we’ve gone through.
Or if it wasn’t God,
Then who?
And where is God
In all of this anyway?

Some of us have some
Answers. But not all of them.
For many, we’re still working
it out. On our own. In community.
A mixture of frustration and anger
And joy,
And some sense that
Since we have survived – at least to today –
We should probably
Do something with that.
For ourselves, and for others.

When we think about
Vocation, where do our
Minds take us first?
What are our dreams?
What songs rise up
Within us?

Do we talk about
Finding our passion?
Do we talk about
Doing the one thing
That makes us happy?
Do we talk about
Finding ways to make
The world a better place
For ourselves,
For God’s good creation,
For generations yet
To be born?

Do we talk about
That place where our
Deep gladness and
The world’s deep need
meet?

Or do we talk more
Simply. More basically.
About survival?

If it is true,
As Dr. Reyes asserts,
that vocations,
especially for those
who our society has
marginalized and to whom
systemic and personal violence
has been done
start with survival,
Then it is also true
That our vocation
Starts with life.
Within the context
Of the Christian story,
Such life is the life
Of all created beings.

In the beginning,
Life was not something
That we chose.
It was chosen for us.
In the beginning,
life was not in our hands.
Some days it still feels as if it isn’t.

Our vocations start
With survival.
They are rooted in life.
With life choosing life.
They start with life
Choosing life
With and for us.
They continue with
Our own living choices,
And bump up against
the choices of others.

There’s this constant
Interplay of choice.
My choice
Your choice
Our choices for
And against each other.
The things, the people,
We choose to value.
Or not.

They’re all in perpetual
dialogue, and yet some
voices dominate.
and those voices
are not always the voices
of life.

Often, the voices of death
Are the ones in power.
Sometimes they sound lifegiving.
Sometimes they sound smooth
And reassuring at first.
Sometimes they say all the right things,
Talking about equality and rights,
And of course we’d do that,
It 2019!

But then, the veneer
strips away, decisions defended
as being for the good of the many
are revealed for the sacrifices
they demand.

But how often do those in power
Choose to sacrifice themselves?
How often do they choose to
Sacrifice others,
Clothing it in the rhetoric
Of the greater good?

Such was the logic of Rome,
And their iconic cross,
As their colonizing forces
Swept across barricades,
Weapons at the ready,
Ready to take down
Or to jail all
Who would resist.

It’s in this kind of occupied
world, staring down
a militarized police force,
that Jesus enters the river
with John.

He humbles
himself before his cousin,
prayerfully entering the river,
opening himself to transformation
and encounter,
to the possibility of life
even in the face of
the forces of death.

Jesus chooses survival,
Chooses community,
Chooses resistance,
Chooses life.

In the midst of a land
occupied by forces
whose presence was
evidence that the exile,
that slavery,
that oppression,
and colonization
was far from over.

It’s in this kind of world,
Our kind of world,
That Jesus enters the river with John.
It’s in the river that Jesus
Chooses life. A life
That had been offered
in mercy and grace
from the beginning.
It was neither marketed,
Or sold. It was pure
No-strings-attached gift.

This was a life not offered
by the political elite,
by celebrities, or
corporate powerbrokers.
This was a life not offered by
the military or police,
in loud voices.

This was life offered as
the whisper of Spirit
on primordial water.

It is good. good. All of it is good.

You were born out of goodness.
You were born out of love.
Together, we have been born
To bring about wholeness
And peace. And we’ll stumble
And we’ll falter.

But join me in the water
You are my child, my beloved. In you I am well pleased.
From before the dawn of time, I have known you
In love.

Join me in the water
Together, we will survive.
Together we can choose life.
Together, we can build
a world of goodness, beauty, and delight.

Join me in the water,
This is how we can choose life
This is how we can set the captives free,
Yes, even you.
Yes, even me.

Andrew Stephens-Rennie on FacebookAndrew Stephens-Rennie on Twitter
Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

Andrew serves on staff at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC as Director of Ministry Innovation, with primary responsibility for St. Brigids, an emerging Christian community where questions are honoured, faith is nurtured, and discipleship pursued.
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