“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”
-Ephesians 1:17-19 (NRSV)
This morning, I attended Friends Meeting of Washington, and felt very blessed to be among that congregation. There were three messages this morning. The first came from a younger Friend, who spoke of an old friend who recently committed suicide. He described how his friend, by all appearances, had everything going for him in life. He also described how, having learned of his friend’s suicide, it colored his weekend with hues of beauty – in everything, he remembered his friend and was struck by how precious life is.
The second message of the morning came through me. When I had sat down for meeting for worship, I opened my Bible to the book of Ephesians and read the first chapter. This reading spoke very powerfully to my heart, but I was by no means led to give a message – and certainly not just a few minutes into worship! However, after the first Friend gave his message, my mind was forcefully drawn back to that reading. I picked up my Bible, which was lying next to me, and turned back to the passage, and I began to feel led to speak. I soon rose and read from Ephesians 1:17-19.
The last message, delivered after mine, was about the importance of wrestling with the problems that others have that are not under their control, such as mental illness. He spoke of how Jesus calls us to seek out “that of God” in all people and not be limited by our fear of the mentally ill. I did not immediately understand the connection between his message and my own. After weighing his ministry for a very long time, however, I got the sense that our messages expressed Truth from two different perspectives.
The thrust, I felt, of my message was that we are called into hope and glory by Jesus Christ, and that in trusting in Christ and seeking Christ’s Way, we are led into the inheritance of hope, power, glory, and love, that takes away the occasion for suicide. In my experience, suicide is often the response to a radical sense of meaninglessness. My message this morning was about how Christ calls us to be the recipients and servants of immeasurable greatness and power. If we dare to trust in the Spirit of the living God, to be broken open and penetrated, to live in that intimate, soul-forging relationship with God, we can discover the immeasurable greatness and purpose that we are inheritors of, in Christ.
I felt like the Friend who rose after me was speaking to the systemic nature of sin and slavery to self. It seemed to me that a big part of his story – about his loving response to a woman from his meeting, who was mentally ill and standing in front of his workplace shouting obscenities – was about our duty as Friends to extend our hands in an attempt to show others a way out of their misery.
I see that, in this sense, we are called by our Lord to cast out demons. There are forces of evil that have overcome our fellow beings, and we are empowered in Christ to exorcize these demons, to create a space where our brothers and sisters can step out of their enslavement to sin and begin to see glimpses of the Kingdom of Heaven. We, children of the promise, we, children of the Light of the Day Star, are empowered by that Life and Power that we have encountered in our hearts and in the Body of Christ to shine light into darkness.
For we are all called into completeness in the Life of Christ, but we cannot make it alone. Perhaps there really is no salvation apart from the Church. Salvation as a lone individual is, perhaps, a flawed idea, out of touch with our dependence upon our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to know this hope together. We are inheritors of the promise God made to Abraham, not as individuals, but as a people.
So, I see that the two messages that followed the first fit together as one piece. The young man who committed suicide is a reminder, on the one hand, of the depths of despair that are possible when we cut ourselves off from the love and grace of God. On the other hand, it is a reminder to us, the Church, of our responsibility to be a light shining in the darkness, illuminating the Way out of death and despair. Are we living up to our calling as members of the Body of Christ to be living reflections of the glory of our Lord? To extend ourselves to those who wallow in despair and meaninglessness? To witness to the Life and Power of God, not only in words, not only in works, but in our very being?