Last Sunday afternoon, I got a message from one of our members who had been in church:
“…Unsure if it came out of the lectionary or if you picked it yourself, but I really appreciated the reading from Corinthians today.
‘But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.’
It’s easy to get lost in feeling inadequate when surrounded by a community as talented as those around me, but this reminded me that I’m enough exactly the way I am, and that no matter how hard I work, it’s all through God.”
To which I responded:
“I am what I am — it has always been for me the Scriptural antecedent to a favorite dismissal of mine. I repeated it in the sermon today. It comes from my college chaplain: ‘…sent as ourselves, with humility and audacity.’”
Maybe it’s just my correspondent and me, but I don’t think so… Don’t most of us have things about ourselves that we wish were different? Otherwise, we’d be a little full of ourselves? Things we’d change. Or things in others we wish for ourselves or would like to swap out for. Or characteristics, abilities that we recognize we are lacking, but wish we were not.
How many of us would change something about ourselves if we could? From the superficial and silly to the deadly serious and soulfully deep. Isn’t our desire to be different that we are — in its physical manifestation — what a lot of the exercise, make-up and clothing industries marketing plays off of? Our fear is that we aren’t quite enough or quite right…
Are there skills someone else has that you wish were your own? I think it’s natural to be a little jealous sometimes. I think on occasion about how my life or my service might be better if I could add something to my own bag of tricks that I admire in someone else.
Is there some history you carry along with you or some situation you face now that you’d rid yourself of if you could? I am thinking of friends who are living with illness or past trauma that plagues them.
There are so many factors in a life, some we wish we didn’t have and others we wish we did.
And to the ambivalence of our existence comes Paul’s Gospel assertion or affirmation “I am what I am.”
Ok, it sounds a little La Cage aux Folles maybe; do you remember the song? And there’s an image to consider: the Apostle Paul crossdressed in a flapper’s outfit, tap-dancing on stage while belting out his big number!
Or, perhaps just a little less gay, “I am what I am” could be the send-up of some self-help mantra. I can’t help but think of Stuart Smalley’s Daily Affirmation from Saturday Night Live (ok, I’m not sure that was any less gay!)
But what if Paul’s insistence isn’t silly? What if “I am who I am” is actually the revelation of some deep truth? What if there’s really a way in which God provides everything we need to do what only we can do? If the accumulating, dynamic, shifting tally of your positives and negatives, your advantages and deficits is part of Divine music of the universe, fine-tuned so that with God’s help, you are just right for where you are at any one time.
That’s where we come to the line I used on Sunday: “Sent as OURSELVES, with humility and audacity.” Do you hear the permission, affirmation and promise in that? You don’t have to be someone else. Or somehow different than you are. God can work through you. In fact, the you that you are at this moment might be exactly the instrument or vessel God needs where you are being sent! Imagine.
God never asked for an army of Jesuses. Or pious Stepford wives. Rather, as we can recognize in Jesus’ calling of his first disciples (this was the sermon on Sunday), God can work with regular, imperfect, real people. Because it’s never only what we bring to the table, but how God can work through what we bring to the table.
If you are holding back or waiting until some time in the future when you’ve got everything lined up and in place… if you are trying to duck because you doubt yourself… “sent as ourselves” is incredibly good news. And it’s where humility and audacity meet. Humbled before the assignment and by our inadequacy, but emboldened because God in the mercy of Divine capacity can work through us nonetheless.
God has so much for us to do. Shouldn’t we get going on our assignments just as we are?
See you in church,