|Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ|
March 8, 2020
Genesis 12:1-4a; John 3.1-7
+ Sometimes, as we know, there are moments in which we find ourselves struggling with things—nameless things.
Things that we can’t really define.
Things that don’t seem to have names.
You know what I’m talking about.
The illnesses and limitations that come with growing older.
The fact that we are limited physically by injuries or age or illness.
The fact that we can’t love as fully as we want to due to past broken relationships.
The fact that rifts and brokenness in our families weigh heavily on us.
When we’re dealing with heavy things like this in our lives, we don’t worry about labels and names of things.
But sometimes, when something is given a name, we find it’s easier to confront and deal with.
It’s easier to deal with depression, when we know it as depression.
It’s easier to deal with anxiety, when we know it is known as anxiety.
Most of these situations, we realize, are beyond our control.
There is nothing we can do about it.
It’s just a fact of life.
Or the fact that sometimes we get sick and it has nothing do to with anything we have done.
We can get treatment for our illness.
We can follow that treatment.
But we can’t rush the healing process.
It happens on its own.
So, for the moment, we simply must be sick.
Or, in the case of losing a loved one.
There’s no getting around this loss.
We can’t hide from this loss.
We can’t pretend we haven’t experienced this loss.
We can’t rush the grieving process.
It’s just a reality in our lives.
And we must simply live with it—with all its pain, with all of its heartache, with all its frustrations.
In all of these things, we know they’re realities.
But we don’t really have a good name for all of these things.
But…there actually is.
One of my personal heroes, someone I mention on a very regular basis, is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Chardin was a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest.
He was also a paleontologist.
In fact, he found the Peking Man, an important link in the Evolution of Humanity.
He was also a great philosopher.
And he coined a term to describe these unavoidable, somewhat unpleasant facts of our lives.
He called them “passive diminishments.”
I mentioned these in my Ash Wednesday sermon.
According to Teilhard, these passive diminishments were simply the acceptance of sufferings that we cannot change.
For Teilhard, it wasn’t enough to simply recognize them as diminishments.
He believed that our spiritual character is formed as much by what we endure and what is taken from us as it is by our achievements, and our conscious choices.
So, in essence, it is important for us to accept ill fortunes, whether disease, old age or accident, as part of our journey to holiness.
That doesn’t mean w shouldn’t avoid the avoidable or that we shouldn’t seek healing in our lives when we can.
The great novelist Flannery O’Connor, who I also quote very often and who also was devoted to Teilhard, described passive diminishments as “those afflictions you can’t get rid of and have to bear.”
This coming from a woman who suffered from lupus throughout her adult life.
As we enter this Season of Lent, I think it’s a good thing to understand our own passive diminishments and how we deal with them.
Do we accept these unavoidable moments of suffering in our lives?
Or do we fight them?
Or worse, do we try to pretend they don’t exist?
The fact is passive diminishments are the boundaries of our lives.
They keep us within this human condition in which we live.
And I think acknowledging these diminishments in our lives draws us closer to God.
They bring us into close contact with Jesus.
After all, no one knew more about passive diminishments than Jesus.
He too knew these limits in his very Body.
Being limited is just a reality for us.
But… it is not a time to despair.
Our limitations, especially when we place them alongside the limitations of Christ endured, has more meaning than we can fully fathom at times.
And rather than seeing them only as these burdens we must bear, we must also recognize them as paths of holiness and wholeness.
And, in the process, we realize they help form who we are.
They become important parts of our characters.
One of the most effective means I have found to use my passive diminishments for holiness of goodness has been in my ministry.
And it should be for all us who are ministers.
And all of is here today are ministers.
We are called, each of us, to do ministry.
These passive diminishments of our lives should not be seen as hindrances for ministry.
We shouldn’t be saying, “I can’t do ministry because I’m too old, or too limited physically, or I am too overcome by grief.”
Rather, we can do truly effective ministry by using these limitations of our lives.
We can actually walk alongside someone who is grieving or who is suffering physical limitations or who feels unneeded because they feel they’re too old.
After all, we are all called to do ministry in our own ways, in our own circumstances.
In our reading from the Hebrew scriptures this morning, we find a clear call from God to Abram.
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to a land that I will show you.”
Essentially this is the call to all of us who are in ministry.
God calls to us wherever we may be and limited by whatever passive diminishments in our live, and when we hear that call, we must heed it.
We must step out, even when we feel limited in our lives, and we must step out into our service to others even if that means going to those people in strange and alien places.
And sometimes when we step into those uncomfortable places, we are made all the more aware of our own limitations—we become even more vulnerable.
But that’s just a simple fact in ministry: when God calls, God calls heedless of our limits.
In fact, God calls us knowing full well our limitations.
And—I hope this isn’t news to anyone here this morning—God uses our passive diminishments.
God can truly work through these broken aspects of our lives and use our fractured selves in reaching out to other fractured people who are also suffering various passive diminishments in their own lives.
For many people our brokenness, our limitations divides us.
They separate us.
They isolate us.
They prevent us from moving forward in our lives and in ministries.
I see this all the time in the world and in the Church.
And when it does, our brokenness and our limitations become a kind of condemnation.
They become open wounds we must carry with us—allowed by us to stink and fester.
But when we can use our brokenness, when we can use our passive diminishments, to reach out in love, when we allow God to use our very brokenness, it is no longer a curse and a condemnation.
Our limitations become fruitful means for ministry.
It becomes a means for renewal and rebirth.
It becomes the basis for ministry—for reaching out and helping those who are also broken, who are also suffering with their limitations, who are in need around us.
Teilhard was a genius in figuring this out!
In our Gospel reading for today we get that all-too-familiar bit of scripture.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”
We have heard that scripture so often in our lives, w almost don’t realize what it’s really saying.
It is saying to us that God truly does love us.
God loved us so much that God came among us in God’s very Son.
That God’s love became real for us in an actual human, Jesus.
And that when we look to Jesus, we find God’s love there.
We realize that each and every one of us is truly and uniquely loved by God.
Even with our limitations, even with our brokenness.
And that, because we are so loved by God, those of us who are heeding our call—who are following after Jesus, who are loving God and loving the God we find in others—we will be made whole one day.
We will be given eternal life
Each of us is called.
Each of us has been issued a call from God to serve.
It might not have been a dramatic calling—it might not have been an overwhelming sense of the Presence of God in our lives that motivates us to go and follow Jesus.
But each Sunday we receive the invitation.
Each time we gather at this altar to celebrate the Eucharist, we are, essentially, called to then go out, refreshed and renewed in our very limited, broken selves by this broken Body of Jesus, to serve the broken people of God who are all suffering with their own passive diminishments.
We are called to go out and minister, not only by preaching and proclaiming with words, but by who we are, by our very lives and examples.
So, let us heed the call of God.
Let us do as Abram did in our reading from Genesis today.
“Abram went, as the Lord told him…”
Let us, as well, go as God has told us.
Let us go knowing full well that heeding God’s call and doing what God calls us to do may mean embracing those limitations we have feared and fought against.
And doing so will be doubly frightening when we know we go as human beings—as people broken and vulnerable.
But let us also go, sure in our calling from God.
Let us go sure that God has blessed each of us, even in our brokenness.
God has blessed us, even with all our passive diminishments.
Let us go knowing that God loves us, because we too love.
Let us go knowing that God will use the cracks and fractures within us, as always, for good.
And let us go knowing God will make us whole again in our eternal life.
God will make us a blessing to others and God will “bless those who bless us.”
What more can we possibly ask of the ministry God has called us to carry out?