My sermon this week was based on John 6:56-69.
Swear to God. Being a priest was not my plan. It was, in fact, something I vehemently avoided.
I call myself a lapsed atheist. As a teenager, I tried really hard to be an atheist, because let's face it, being an atheist is easy: no accountability, no responsibility, no higher authority to whom you have to answer, not plagued by the 'big questions'.
Please understand, most atheists I know have a strong moral center and do indeed feel accountable and responsible, even in the absence of a higher authority, but that is the way I felt about atheism and religion at the time. They don't ask the big questions which makes them a real drag at parties, but that is neither here nor there. As a youth, I avoided religion and faith questions because it seemed like a hard life. I didn't want to be accountable or responsible to anyone or anything, I didn't want to ask the big questions, and I certainly didn't want acknowledge that there was a higher authority than myself, let alone answer to it.
But the problem was that I could not make atheism stick as a philosophy, try as I might. It simply could not stand up to intellectual scrutiny nor did it adequately describe my experience of creation and my place in it. Of course, people who go from religion to atheism make exactly the same claim, but that is perhaps for another blog entry.
All this to say that I was as surprised as anyone could be when I received my call to ministry. I was, as I recall, a teenager around 16 or 17 years old. I was quite smug and happy with my atheism and my puerile skepticism of all things religious. I was not seeking a spiritual experience, I was not asking any big questions, I was certainly not praying at the time. If you have ever been a 16 or 17 year old male, you know that such creatures dwell in a pretty shallow emotional and intellectual pond. I was interested in sex, drugs and rock n' roll, and I wasn't getting any of all three.
I was lying in bed one night trying to sleep when I was washed over with a feeling of absolute certainty that I was put on this earth to be a priest. No voices, no lights, no vision of Jesus or any of that, just a feeling of pure and complete certainty that that was what I was created to be. The only thing I can compare it to is that split-second, almost Jedi-like feeling you get when you wind up for a slapshot or get ready to swing at a baseball, where you know there is no way on earth this shot is not coming off. All self-doubt was stripped away, and my heart felt at rest in the knowledge that I had found my calling.
And I said no to it.
"God," I said, "I don't even think you are real, and even if you are, I want nothing to do with you because you killed my dog and that girl I liked didn't like me back" (shallow pond, remember).
Long story short, I spent much of the years between 17 and 30 trying really hard to avoid that call. I got several pointless degrees, worked several mundane jobs, I spiraled into drug abuse and depression, and I avoided all things religious like the plague, all because faith seemed too hard.
I know, right?
I will spare you all the details, but in the end, of course, I became a priest. In those years, I came to know who I was and what I was, I came to know how God was working in my life, and I came to the conclusion that my heart simply would not feel at home until I decided to live into those things.
This is why Simon Peter's rhetorical question is still so poignant to me: "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life".
I was drafted by God, and no bonespurs could get me out of it. Where else was there to go? I knew my truth, as distasteful as it had once been to me.
The truth sets us free, as the saying goes, but the truth is also often hard to deal with. Many of us have had to accept certain truths that are not always easy to face: we need to end a relationship, we need to change jobs, we need to move house, we need to come out, we need to apologize to someone, etc. The simple fact is that our hearts will not be at rest until we admit those truths and act on them.
Today, my hope is that if there is a difficult truth you need to face, that you would have the courage to pursue that truth and to live into it. In the end, the truth will always catch up to you.