Yesterday I was reading a booklet written by the Quaker writer Douglas Steere. The theme of the booklet is all the different ways that we can and do engage in active prayer. Even though the “contemporary world” of Steere is the late 1960’s, there is much in it that spoke to me. One of the concepts that he proposes is that the ethical message of the Gospels might be summed with the phrase “unlimited liability” which we bear for our fellow human beings. Steere says that we are liable without limits to help other people come through to what they are meant to be. We practice this kind of unlimited living in our families, when we are stretched beyond our limits in caring for our children, our parents and even ourselves. We practice this in our work places, our churches, our neighborhoods, our country and our environment. Often we fail the test and then we can call upon the unlimited God to turn us around. Steere prays “Grant us the grace to respond with imagination and delicacy to these needs and the constancy of affection so that when we fail, the other member of this gallant company will least come to know that we cared, and that we cherish them. You who have cherished us, quicken in us the tender gift of cherishing.”
Steere asks if there are no limits to our vulnerability, because keeping ourselves so open to the needs of the world can rip us open when we might rather be boxed away from troubles. He quoted another theologian who answers this question by saying that Jesus promised the disciples who followed him only three things “that they would be absurdly happy, entirely fearless and always in trouble.” No, there are no limits to our vulnerability if we choose to follow the one who gave everything and who is willing to take on everything, even our own limits and our failings. To follow Jesus is to be absurdly happy because we wake up to the incredible experience of wallowing in unlimited love and grace. To follow Jesus is to be entirely fearless because now nothing and no one is “off limits” to our hearts. To follow Jesus is to be always in trouble because we will find ourselves constantly crossing the boundaries that are set up by conventional society which is always trying to protect special interests and denigrate the interests of the ordinary person.
I remember many years ago, when I was working as a teacher in a Headstart program. I was called on the carpet many times by those in authority because I would not stop putting the needs of the least ahead of the most, whether “the least” was the children, their parents or the underpaid teachers who were trying to form a union. One of my co-workers gave me a button to wear. It said, in big letters, TROUBLE MAKER, and I wore it with pride. Years later I was dubbed “fearless leader” by staff people in another program. Now I see that I was, even then, following my calling by following my teacher. Even then when I was true to my highest self, I was absurdly happy, entirely fearless and always in trouble.
Jesus help me to continue on the path that you have blazed. Keep my heart open and stretched when I would rather pull into my shell and put up a sign that says “closed.” Tempt me with the absurdity of loving the unloved, strip away my fears, and please, when I am too content, please trouble the waters. Amen.