It took 10 minutes for the man speaking to smash through my objections to the future, objections I have carefully been constructing for months, building into a superstructure that protects me from discomfort. My 2 biggest fears: support raising and conflict. The awkward of asking for money, the difficulty of returning where there is ongoing pain and overlapping patches. He did not speak specifically to either of these fears, and yet he smashed through my thought-building. Or God did, rather. He would no more allow me to hide among the newly built pillars than in the wrecked-rubble of them. God worked on me as I sat there, in 20 small minutes, to show me my fear. I am afraid of a future which looks like the past, afraid of having to face what I would prefer to bury. That is the first 20 minutes I would like you to know of my day.
The second came before, the story of Lot and his daughters, a chapel sermon on an awkward, messy bit of Bible we are tempted to skip with a sorry. Our visiting speaker laid it out, in all its grubby anti-glory, and then asked how this man, with such a past, was remembered. In 2 Peter, Lot is referred to as righteous, Lot who offered up his own daughters, who was used by them and uncovered, our final glimpse of him damning and dirty. What took place, between Genesis and 2 Peter to change the verdict on Lot, our preacher asked? It creeps up on you and then hits all at once. What came between or rather who? Jesus.
If I am to identify with the so-called greats, I am done and undone. But it turns out that Lot is my kin, and I his, mine a grubby story too. And yet, the declaration about me is the same, because of Jesus who gives me his righteousness, who declares me to be what I am not on my own. This is the second 20 minutes.
The third is more than 20, a post-class painful translating of Isaiah. As if today has not been enough to shake me from my reverie, the words eked out are a vision of our holy God before whom Isaiah is undone. His cry of woe is met with mercy, holiness from God to make the unclean, clean. And then the question: “Who should I send?” And then his answer: “Here I am, send me.”.
By the time I reach this verse, the words are blurry. I feel the upheaval which has characterised my day and I finally understand. This is not the first time God has brought me here, and it probably won’t be the last. I open my hand, tightly clenched around new plans and securities, so that it is empty once more. He has to keep prising things from my grasp, even good things, that I carry off into the treasure trove. Once again I don’t know what the future holds, and I don’t have any caveats to help fill it out. I will do anything he asks, or I long to. That’s where we need to get to, right? I live hardly any of my life in that open space.
This whole day has had a kind of thread running through it, a woven strand which when pulled unravels the lot. A day of remembering the magnitude of God and the grace he has shown. Holiness which renders him other, me utterly undone and uncovered, and yet which stooped low in Jesus and scoops me up. Grace which accounts for the change in my reckoning, only grace because I am full of sin. Accounting for the difference means recognising the gift, an alien righteousness given to me, by the One who is both just and justifier.
It is Mission Awareness Week and we are 2 days in. This explains our guest at chapel, and the speed seminar which so shook my foundations, but God is the reason these things piled together, with a bit of Isaiah 6 thrown in for good measure. I cannot ignore the implications. One commentator writes: “Such a grateful offering of themselves is always the cry of those who have received God’s grace after they have given up hope of ever being acceptable to God.” For some reason, it is the reminder of how unacceptable I am which actually makes all the difference, again and again. Before a diminished god, my pretty offerings and petty obfuscations can seem seemly. Before our Holy God they are filthy, as I am, and yet he loves me still. First and despite. That is my lifesong.
Not every day at college is like this one. It has ended with me knowing less for certain, but being reminded of the only certainty I need. Yet today I am thankful for the lining up, for the pulled thread, for the sudden glimpse of the tapestry in the sunlight. For the empty hands and the full heart. For abundant grace. That despite fear and uncertainty, God can be trusted now and ever.