The Barrel by John H. Pavelko

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Now What Do I Do?

2 Samuel 7:1-11; Luke 1:26-38

The Council of Elrond

The bell rang for the Council of Elrond to begin. Representatives from all the races were summoned by the High Elf to attend. Glorfindel and Erestor from Elrond's household, Glador from the Gray Havens, and Legolas offered the wisdom of the elves. Gloin and his son Gimli attended for the dwarfs. Boromir and Aragon were invited to represent the race of men and women and Gandalf, the wizards. This was an elite council with an important task. Each ambassador possessed great powers, wisdom, and years of battle experience. Sitting among these great lords and nobles were two hobbits. In appearance they were the most unlikely members of the council. They held no great power within themselves. They had little to offer. An army of hobbits could easily be defeated by a platoon of men. But none had a more prominent role to this Council than the aged Bilbo Baggins and especially his nephew Frodo son of Drogo.

After introductions, Elrond retold the Tale of the Ring. Sauron had made it in the fires of Mordor and engraved on its surface were the words of doom:
 

One Ring to rule them all, 
One Ring to find them, 
One Ring to bring them all 
and in the Darkness bind them.


It was not a ring to grace the hand of a nobleman's hand. It was a magic ring that gave power to its bearer to dominate, control, and enslave.

Elrond told how the Ring was taken in battle from its master but then lost. Bilbo Baggins followed the Elven Lord by recounting how fate had brought him to find the most powerful ring that had even been made and Frodo completed by story by recalling his perilous journey from the Shire to Rivendel during which he eluded the messengers Sauron had sent. If Sauron could regain possession, he would become greater than all the combine forces of men, elves, dwarfs, hobbits, and even wizards. Nothing would thwart his conquest of Middle Earth.

The Council had to make a decision-what should they do with the ring? They could not hide, for it would again be found. They could yield it, for its corrupting power would transform its bearer into an evil lord. They could only destroy in the fire in which it was made, at the heart of Mt Doom. But who would take such a dangerous journey? Who could carry that magical Ring without succumbing to its temptation? After everyone shared their thoughts, a silence hung in the room. Everyone knew who should take but everyone knew that the person had to accept his call. They could not make the decision for him. He had to pick up the mantel for himself. At last he spoke...as if some other will was using his small voice. "I will take this Ring, " he (Frodo) said, "though I do not know the way."1

David and Mary also faced a decision. What should they do? Should David build a Temple? Should Mary accept the gift of life? Like Frodo, son of Drogo, they had to decide if they would accept God's call upon their life.

Each day we exercise our cognitive gifts a hundred times over to assess situations and make decisions. The overwhelming majority of these decisions are made without consciously considering or asking, "what would you have me do Lord?" These decisions seem too mundane in comparison to world events and the sovereign plan of God for history to justify spending time ponder their eternal consequences. We simple gather the facts; weigh the pros and cons and act. But every so often, perhaps more often than we now may assume, we are confronted with options of divine importance. We are called to choose between two paths.

Our choices seldom as foreboding as Frodo's, or as historical as David's or as eternal as Mary's but they are nevertheless just as important not only for our lives but also for the lives of countless generations who follow us and those people who we will meet long our journey and those we will not meet. Therefore, I believe that we should give greater consideration to our choices and devote more time to ponder the options. As we do so, the testimony of David and Mary and even that timid hobbit offer us guidance and direction.
 

 THE GOD WHO RISKS

The first common theme that I glean from the texts is the risk God took in their lives. David may have been described as a man after God's own heart but he had also demonstrated his inconsistency. He was a man tempted by all the ego enticing drives that every man suffers even in the first century. The drive to be number one destroyed David's predecessor Saul. The desire to have the forbidden fruit tempted him into murder and adultery. The lifestyle of the monarch cause him to neglected his family duties creating tension in his own family that eventually cost him the life of his son Absalom. For as often as he expressed bravery, integrity, duty, and piety, examples from the King's live could be found for unfaithfulness, envy, lust, greed, and power. David was clearly a man who could choose the good or bad.

We do not know anything about Mary except that she was highly favored but that was the risk. She was young, inexperienced, and untested. How would she handle the scorn issued toward an unmarried pregnant woman? Would she force her son to follow her or Joseph's dream or would she allow him to respond to the Divine call? How would she handle the pain of watching her son rejected, ridiculed, arrested, wiped, and executed?

God knows the past, the present, and the future. His knowledge of the world is infinite. In relationship to time, he is aware of its duration and succession but is not bound by them nor trapped by its limitations. While God's knowledge of the world is infinite, God does not micromanage each moment of our lives. When God calls us to follow, God give us the option of following or not. God takes a risk every time he places us in ministry. We can choose to express our faith and trust in his power or we can succumb to temptation and embarrass both ourselves are our Lord. Our success is never a guarantee. On Calvary, the final victory was won but each day we encounter minor skirmishes in which victory is never assured. Each day is risk. If God is willing to take that risk, why aren't we?
 

 I WISH...

Have you ever wondered if Mary's words were really the words she to the angel or the words she said after the Resurrection. For Luke to modify, edit or even create some parts of this story may violate our narrowly defined rules for historical accuracy but would be consistent with the rules of 1st Century story telling. They may not be an exact account but they are nevertheless authoritative for they accurately recapture the event as Mary remembered it. But I still wonder if she so readily accepted her calling.

My skepticism may stem from the years I have spent listen to people share their struggles. When faced with two equally bad options we hesitate. Procrastination and resistance are the more common responses to a difficult dilemma. The word "Why?" is more often voiced than the thankful acceptance, "May it to done to me as you have said!"

Gandalf returned to the Shire after traveling to Gondor to study the ancient scrolls and seeking the council of the Wise. He then retold the story of the Ring to the hobbit. The wizard no longer had any doubt. All other possibilities were removed. This was the one Ring made in the fires of Mordor and could only be destroyed in the Cracks of Doom. When he heard the news, Frodo, mourned his fate and said, 

'I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?'

'Such questions cannot be answered,' said Gandalf. 'You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess; for power or wisdom, an any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.'2

The pitiful sob "Why me?" is the cry of a self-centered immature person who expects the comings and goings of the universe to revolve around their wishes or desires. God need not give an account to us as to the whys of live. As he said to Job, "Where were you when I created the foundations of the earth." The purest expression of an inflated ego and self-absorbed pride is to expect God to answer to us.

We may not like the circumstances. We may not have chosen them if give the option. David would have preferred to build a Temple. Mary would have preferred to wait until her tenth month of marriage to give birth but God had other plans. Rather allow bitterness and resentment to knau, they yielded to the will of their Sovereign Lord.

In the difficulties at work, in disappointment of life, in the suffering of illness are you able to say, ' May it be to me as you have said.' We are called to give thanks not because life always goes our way, nor are we called to thank God for the "pits," but we are called to accept and thank him for what He concluded his tale by saying whatever situation or circumstance to which he calls us.s
 

 BE YOURSELF

The story of David, Mary, and Frodo also tell us that victory is only found in being ourselves. David learned this lesson early in his military career. After volunteering to fight the giant Goliath, King Saul ordered his attendants to equip the shepherd in his armor. But the King's shield was too heavy for the young man and the breastplate immobilized him. David would only defeat his enemy by walking into battle dressed not as a warrior but as a shepherd.

Mary also learned that she could only fulfill the plan of God by being wife of Joseph and the humble woman of Nazareth. She never tried to debate the tyrant Heord, she did not plead with Pontius Pilate, she did not debate Annanias and Caiaphas on theological matters. Instead, according to legend, Mary rode on the back of donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. She raised her son to love God and wept tears of sorrow and anguish at the foot of his cross.

The first question that we must ask ourselves is not "What do you want me to do Lord?" but who am I? What is my nature? A friend sent me a quote from a book  by Parker Palmer, entitled Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation?.  Palmer's words gave birth to this sermon. He writes:

"Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human seeks-we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.

True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Beuechner asserts when he defines vocation as 'the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need. Buechner's definition starts with the self and moves toward the needs of the world: it begins, wisely, where vocation begins - not in what the world needs (which is everything), but in the nature of the human self, in what brings the self joy, the deep joy of knowing that we are here on earth to be the gifts that God created. 

Contrary to the conventions of our thinly moralistic culture, this emphasis on gladness and selfhood is not selfish. The Quaker teacher Douglas Steere was fond of saying that the ancient human question 'Who am I?' leads inevitably to the equally important question 'Whose am I?' - for there is no selfhood outside of relationship. We must ask the question of selfhood and answer it as honestly as we can, no matter where it takes us. Only as we do so can we discover the community of our lives." 3

David was great military King, not man of peace. The building of the Temple was assigned to his son Solomon. Mary was mother not a politician nor an entrepreneur but as a mother she gave birth to the Savior of the world. Frodo was not wizard, nor elf but he destroyed the greatest power of Middle Earth. Discover whose you are and you will discover who you are and you will accomplish all that you are called to do? 
 

 MORDOR OR THE SHIRE

The ordinariness of life can deafen our hearing. The sameness of each day can create of fog that obscures our vision. The inane problems and people that we must deal with sometimes frays our inner resources but each day God is speaking. Each day God takes a risk and presents us with opportunities and challenges. While we do not get to choose the time, the call or the circumstances, we do have the choice to walk the perilous road to Mordor or return to the seemingly tranquility of the Shire. 

Now, what will you do? 



1. J.R.R. Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings, Collectors Edition, (Boston: Muifflin Company, 1987, 252-284.

2. Ibid, 51-71.

3.Don Postema quoted in an email Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.
 


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