Of Braggarts and Boasters

January 28, 2018
Bible Text: 2 Corinthians 12-1-10 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Victor Shepherd Of Braggarts and Boasters Jeremiah 9:23-34 2nd Corinthians 12:1-10 Matthew 20:20-28 I: -- We do our best to avoid them just because we find them obnoxious. The boasters, I mean; the braggarts, the blowers. They are always blowing. We are in the middle of a worthwhile conversation when the blower spots the group and swaggers over, uninvited. (Offense #1) He “horns in” and eavesdrops on what is simply none of his business. (Offense #2) Then he butts into the conversation and takes it over, monopolizes it. Now the conversation is merely a monologue that features him. (Offense #3) You’ve been to South America? He’s been farther south than that: Antarctica. In July, no less. (July is the dead of winter in Antarctica, in case you’d forgotten.) Your daughter is graduating from university? His daughter has just been awarded a post-doctoral fellowship at a real university. You have spoken to the local bank manager about a household loan? Only yesterday he was speaking to the president of True Blue Securities – “Just to check up on the off-shore portion of the medium risk part of my investment portfolio” – he informs us with pretended nonchalance. The man is a pain-in-the-neck. We find him an irritant. Disciples of Jesus, however, regard him much more seriously and see him as much more sinister. Disciples of Jesus, we understand, have grasped how serious and sinister boasting is and why. In Romans 1 the apostle Paul lists the concrete expressions of human depravity evident in men and women who share in the world’s corruption. He speaks of fallen humankind as envious, murderous, quarrelsome, heartless, faithless, ruthless, abusive of parents, slanderous (it sounds dreadful, doesn’t it) and boastful. Is boasting really in the same league as cruelty and slander and faithlessness and parent-abuse? The apostle thinks it is. In his second letter to Timothy Paul does it again: “Lovers of self, lovers of money, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, boasters – holding the form of religion but denying the power of it.” Then he adds the clincher: “Avoid such people.” We are to avoid them before they corrupt us. Lest we think Paul is ridiculous in being upset over bragging we should hear from James, brother of our Lord himself. James says, “You boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” Evil? To be sure, boasting is annoying; it’s offensive. But evil? It’s evil just because it ruins discipleship. Jesus insisted that his disciples reject all titles of honour and all positions of privilege. Titles of honour and positions of privilege twist our thinking and shrivel our heart. Titles of honour and positions of privilege invariably lead to bragging, to inflated superiority, to pomposity. Titles of honour and positions of privilege invariably cause us to disdain those who don’t have titles of honour and positions of privilege. Quite simply, the disciple who has begun to brag is making herself useless to the kingdom of God. After all, Jesus washed feet. John Wesley ate with the poorest people he could find and ate the same food as they. Robert McClure, United Church missionary surgeon all his working life, told a highschool graduating class in Mississauga (I had been asked to go along to pray) that throughout his missionary service in India he’d ridden the Third-Class section of the train. He laughingly told the teenagers and their parents that he’d done this for two reasons: one, there wasn’t a Fourth Class; two, he had noticed that the Third-Class section of the train travelled at the same speed as the First-Class. Scripture includes bragging in its recitation of wickedness for one reason: bragging is the self-advertisement of the person who has come to despise the way of discipleship, since discipleship entails foot washing and other forms of uncomplaining service. Bragging is the self-advertisement of someone who prefers the company of the self-important, the so-called superior. Jesus insists we are to walk the Way of discipleship with him. Boasters don’t like to walk; they prefer to strut. The apostles, not merely James and Paul whom we’ve mentioned today but all of them together; the apostles, like the Lord they love, see a stark “either/or” where we prefer to see gradations. The either/or they put before us is as stark as any: either we follow Jesus on the Way of self-forgetful service or we brag. Is there nothing in between? They think not. Our Lord thinks not. II: -- Then why does Paul, who condemns boasting, also speak of a kind of boasting, a different sort of boasting, that he believes to be good? Translators of the bible, aware that we might be confused to read of both a boasting that is condemned because evil and a boasting that is commended because good, often translate boasting in the good sense by the English word “glorying.” Where the Greek text tells us that Paul boasts of the congregations under his care, modern English translations tell us that he glories in these congregations. He glories in these congregations for one reason: God is manifestly at work in them. God is doing something in them. Paul glories not in himself (this would be boasting in the reprehensible sense) but in God’s work among the people Paul loves. On another occasion Paul cries, “It’s necessary that I boast; I must boast.” But then he doesn’t start blowing about himself. Just the opposite. So moved is he at the manifest working of God in the people he cherishes that he must glory in, he’s impelled to glory in, the goodness and grace of God. He feels he must publicly extol God and praise God for God’s patience with fractious people; praise God for God’s perseverance amidst obstreperous people; praise God for God’s penetration of stony hearts otherwise impenetrable – all of which eventually redounds to the praise of God’s glory. This is what the apostle means when he speaks of boasting in the good sense, “boasting in the Lord.” Then he brings it closer to home. He must boast of, glory in, where God is most at work in his own life. And where is God most at work in his own life? In Paul’s weakness. It is Paul’s weakness that God has taken up and used most wonderfully. “If I’m going to boast at all,” he says, “I’m going to boast of, glory in, my weakness, for it’s precisely here that God works most effectively.” If we were asked right now where we thought God was most at work in our life or had been most at work, where we thought we could most clearly see the hand of God tellingly at work, almost certainly we’d mention something positive: the new job we landed with a large raise, the scholarship our teenager won, the international athletic recognition our daughter finally gained, the good fortune (as it were) that turned up when we least expected it. Would it ever occur to any of us to name something negative, something painful, something confusing, even un-understandable? Would it occur to us to name a “downer,” a real “downer,” adding that we were certain God was especially effective here, in the “pits” of our life? Paul tells us he boasts of his weakness, glories in his weakness. What’s his weakness? We don’t know for sure. We do know that he was an inept public speaker. He was so very ineloquent, in fact, that the congregation in Corinth laughed at him. His public addresses were devoid of rhetorical smoothness and polish and flourishes. Hearers snickered. As for his physique, not even the costliest fitness club could have done anything for him. When the Corinthian Christians saw the bow-legged, under-sized man from Tarsus they laughed. (As Christians, of course, they shouldn’t have been laughing at any human being. But then the Corinthian Christians, we all know, were immature and shallow.) Paul, needless to say, would never be called to a prominent pulpit today. In fact he wouldn’t be called to any pulpit. Even though his speech and physique were laughable, there was something about Paul that the Corinthian Christians didn’t laugh at just because they craved it for themselves: his vivid, ever-so-vivid, psychedelic spiritual experience. It had been graphic, intense, striking. It had stamped itself upon him so memorably that he would never be able to forget it. “Caught up to the third heaven” is how he speaks of it. It had been an experience of such consummate intensity and intimacy and weight that no word could describe it or come close to it. When asked about it Paul could barely croak, “I heard what cannot be told; I saw what may not be uttered.” Myself, I have had a psychedelic experience only once. It was drug-induced. Following the automobile accident that killed three people, fractured my spine, and left me hospitalized for 45 consecutive days, I was given a narcotic several times to reduce pain (this on a physician’s order). The cumulative effect of the narcotic overtook me. Not only was I in no pain (one night only), on this particular night in hospital I was euphoric. I floated. Better than that, I flew. Better still, I soared; I soared to regions and reaches that I haven’t visited since. (Obviously I’ve never forgotten the experience.) As a result of his apprehension at the hand of Jesus Christ Paul had undergone something even more vivid – without narcotics. He could have bragged about it before the congregation in Corinth, since those people admired anyone who had been on such a “trip.” Yet before these shallow people the apostle glories in one matter only: his weakness. He knows it’s at the point of his weakness – whatever it is – that the power of the Spirit rests upon him. As he continues to glory in his weakness (boast of this) he continues to hear God speak to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, since my power is made perfect in your weakness.” III: -- Then it’s precisely at the point of your weakness and mine that God is going to work most effectively. But this shouldn’t surprise us. After all, we Christians are aware that God did his most effective work precisely where, from a human perspective, he couldn’t do anything. God did his mightiest work, his “all-mightiest” work (he reconciled a wayward world to himself) precisely where, in the person of his Son, he was utterly helpless. Who, we must consider soberly, who is weaker, more helpless, and therefore more useless apparently, than a beaten-up man unable so much as to wriggle while he dies between two terrorists at the city garbage dump? In the days prior to this event Jesus had insisted that the moment of his glory – his glory, no less – (I’m speaking still of the cross) was upon him. Then we too must learn to glory in our weakness, for it is here that the power of Christ rests upon us. When you had that nervous breakdown and your family (understandably) tried to protect you, and tried to cover up their own embarrassment by calling it something else; when you had that breakdown (I know, the mere memory of it is hideous,) it wasn’t an episode in which God deserted you or you had fallen out of his favour. It wasn’t a sign of unbelief or diminished faith. It was a period of weakness in which the power of Christ continued to rest upon you regardless of how you felt. What’s more, at the point of your weakness (hideous as it was to you then) others saw a vulnerability in you, even a humanness, that they hadn’t seen before. Seeing it in you freed them to admit their own vulnerability and fragility and frailty and weakness. Being freed to admit it in themselves (that is, freed from their illusion of invulnerability and superiority) was a work of grace. And no longer feeling guilty about their own weakness was another work of grace. A minister told me he went to sit with parishioners whose child had just been crushed by an automobile. As soon as he was admitted to the home his carefully rehearsed palaver deserted him. He found himself crying uncontrollably. That was all he could do. He had nothing to say. (Of course a minister who finds himself with nothing to say feels useless, since ministers often think they make their living with their mouth.) He told me he felt stupid crying like that; felt inept, and felt most unprofessional. After all, aren’t ministers accustomed to dealing with this sort of thing? Months later the parents told him his very helplessness was their greatest consolation. (In fact, had he uttered his carefully worked out palaver, from a position of strength, he would have been asked to leave.) At one time a friend of mine was the chaplain at Maplehurst Prison, in Milton. Maplehurst, like all medium-security jails in Ontario, has been upgraded to maximum security. More electronic locks and more razor wire. Maplehurst houses 400 convicts. Their average age? Twenty-two. My friend was leading a workshop aimed at equipping church people as prison visitors. She was relating the suffering servant motif of Isaiah 53 to the men she sees every day in prison. You recall Isaiah 53: “He was despised and rejected, one from whom people hide their faces…we esteemed him not.” My friend isn’t naïve: she doesn’t pretend that men are in prison because they are innocent; doesn’t pretend that men are in prison for no reason at all. They have offended, and the society-at-large has recognized their offence and reacted to it. These men have rent the social fabric; many have wounded others. The point my friend was trying to have church visitor-trainees understand was this: before the convict lands in prison for damaging something or someone, he is a frightfully wounded person himself. Long before he violates someone else, he’s been violated repeatedly himself. My friend was trying to have church folk see that in drawing near to these convicts who are despised and rejected and unesteemed we ourselves become acquainted with the presence and power and healing of God. When she had concluded her workshop she felt she had failed. She wandered off into a corner of the church hall by herself, overcome. (Subsequently she told me that for years she has felt futile, unable to convey adequately to people like you and me the extent to which convicts, dear to her, are victims themselves before they ever victimize anyone else.) Weeks later, when we leaders of the event read the evaluation sheets, we discovered that her presentation had been moving, effective beyond all appearances. It is always upon our weakness (or what we perceive to be our weakness) that the power of Christ rests. Today I have mentioned several instances where people who were embarrassed by their weakness, even humiliated by it, were yet able eventually to see how, and how fruitfully, the power of Christ rested upon their weakness. What about those instances where no less weakness is evident in us but we haven’t seen how, let alone how fruitfully, Christ’s power rests upon us? Here all we can do is trust God for what we haven’t yet seen as surely as we cannot deny what we have already seen. And so when our teenager runs off the rails and we are powerless over the development, and powerless again over our humiliation arising from it; when we are given the pink slip and the not-so-golden handshake at work and all we can do is rage uselessly about it; when…. You fill in the rest from your own experience. Even then we are going to trust the God who did his most effective work precisely when his own son was most helpless, most humiliated, and most in pain. We began today by recalling not merely how offensive bragging is, but also how dangerous it is. For bragging or boasting is the self-advertisement of those who scorn the self-forgetfulness of discipleship. In addition, braggarts always deny their own weakness and despise the weakness they see in others. Therefore we had better not boast. And yet Paul says we are to boast. We are to “boast in the Lord.” We are to glory in God’s activity within us and his power attending us. We are even to boast of or glory in our weakness, for it is here that God will use us more effectively than we have ever imagined. So reads the gospel of the Crucified One. Victor Shepherd Penetanguishene January 2018

Mary Magdalene

May 29, 2016
Bible Text: John 20:1-18 | Preacher: Rev. Dr. Victor Shepherd Mary Magdalene Jeremiah 17:9-10 Luke 8:1-3 John 20:1-18 For years my heart has kept time with Mary Magdalene’s. She and I “resonate,” as we say today; she and I are “on the same page.” Now when you hear this, don’t go looking for psychosexual subtleties in me; don’t ask yourself, “Why is Victor so ‘taken’ with a woman who was a harlot?” The truth is, she wasn’t a harlot. For centuries the myth in the church at large has been that she was. Charles Wesley, the finest hymn writer in English and a man of uncommon biblical sophistication, nevertheless penned a hymn (unfortunately) with the line, “Ye Magdalens of lust,” as if Mary’s problem had been nymphomania. Charles Wesley was wrong. There is nothing in scripture to support this or anything like it. Therefore you can put aside all your speculations about me. I resonate with Mary for different reasons, many reasons. Before I tell you why, however, I want to acquaint you with Mary herself. She came from Magdala. Magdala was a prosperous city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, halfway between Capernaum and Tiberias. The city flourished, thanks to the fishing, fish-curing, and shipbuilding industries, not to mention trading. The city was populated almost exclusively by Gentiles; almost, but not quite, for Mary was Jewish. Jesus, we know, rarely ventured into Gentile territory. Then how did he and Mary meet? We don’t know for certain just how or where or when. Most likely Mary, a prosperous businesswoman, met Jesus as she travelled about on business. We know she was prosperous, since she was one of the well-to-do women, Luke tells us, who financed the band of disciples and supported our Lord himself. She has always spoken to my heart. I: -- In the first place I have always been intrigued by the fact that seven devils had been cast out of her. “Seven” is the biblical symbol for wholeness or completeness or entirety. To say that she had been possessed of seven devils is not to say that she was a harlot; it is to say, however, that the evil which riddled her was serious, persistent, and systemic. It infected her wholly, like blood poisoning. Mary would have had no difficulty believing the Reformation doctrine of Total Depravity. I too have no difficulty believing that doctrine which my Reformation foreparents insisted the gospel of redemption presupposes as surely as surgical heart-transplant presupposes cardiac crisis. Many people, however, repudiate the doctrine because they think it humanly demeaning or grossly exaggerated or simply untrue. Then let’s recall what our foreparents meant by it and what they didn’t. When our Reformation ancestors spoke of total depravity they didn’t mean that people are worthless, vile, scum to be cast off as quickly as possible. On the contrary they knew that all humankind has been created in the image and likeness of God and can never obliterate that image, never forfeit it, never efface it however much we manage to deface it. It isn’t in our power to forfeit a worth, a dignity that is inalienable just because God has stamped every last one of us with it. And so far from believing that human beings, fallen human beings that we most certainly are, are capable of no good whatsoever, those who said most about Total Depravity (the Calvinists and all their theological cousins) did the most good everywhere in the world. Calvinists, more than any other group of Christians, were ceaselessly active in education, politics and culture. When our theological foreparents insisted that all humankind suffers from “total depravity” they never meant that we are all as thoroughly rotten as it’s possible to be. (Myself, I’m convinced that if you and I put our minds to it and tried hard, we could behave worse, much worse, than we do already.) Our foreparents knew that if we all behaved as wretchedly as we could then social existence would be impossible and the world uninhabitable. They never meant that we are morally “rotten to the core;” that the good we do is merely seeming good, only apparent good, only a disguise. When our foreparents spoke of total depravity they did mean that there is no single area or aspect of my life that remains unaffected by sin. My parenting isn’t sin-free; my marriage isn’t sin-free; neither is my daily work; neither is my interaction with other people. Our foreparents meant too that there is no single dimension of the individual herself which remains unaffected by sin. My reasoning is warped. (We call it rationalization.) My affections are warped. (I persistently love what I ought to loathe, and loathe what I ought to love.) My will is corrupted. (Even when I know what I should do, I find that I can’t do it.) Since scripture speaks of the individual’s “control centre,” what gathers up thinking, feeling, willing, discerning, as the “heart,” our foreparents meant by total depravity that everyone suffers from the gravest heart-defect. The prophet Jeremiah cries, “The heart is deceitful above all things. Who can understand it?” The psalmist laments, “Everyone has gone astray; everyone without exception.” Our Reformation foreparents simply meant that every last person needs now and will always need God’s pardon, God’s gift of new life, God’s restoration and recovery and reorientation. In the aftermath of World War II Albert Speer, the economist who became chief economics architect of the Hitler regime; Speer remarked, “If you think that the tragedy which Germany now is means that the German people are different from everyone else in the world, then you haven’t learned anything.” Speer was right. Before we sanitize our reading of history we ought to understand that concentration camps weren’t a German invention. The British invented concentration camps during the Boer War, and in those camps more Dutch Afrikaaners died than perished under enemy fire during combat. I believe the doctrine of Total Depravity. I have long been aware there’s no “corner” of me that can rescue the rest of me. I can’t think my way out of my sinnership, even though shallow rationalists tell me I can. I can’t will myself out of it, even though the power-trippers and control-”freaks” around me say it’s possible. I can’t feel my way out of it, even though the romantics in our midst think the corruption of the human heart can be sentimentalized away. I am aware that I am wholly, totally, constantly in need of God’s pardon and God’s renewal. When the prophet Ezekiel hears God promising a new heart and a new spirit, I know that God’s promise is my only hope and I had better look to him. Mary Magdalene isn’t atypical with her “seven devils.” She is unusual, however, in her self-perception. She knows what she is before God. And of course she knows what he did for her in the person of his Son, the Nazarene whom she met and loved ever after. II: -- I resonate with Mary Magdalene for another reason. Her gratitude impelled her to love Jesus and follow him forever. We should always remember that the one, substantive item which the church has to offer the world isn’t a complex theory or complicated proposal or supposedly sure-fire “ism” of some sort; the church’s only substantive offer to the world is a person, the person of the living Lord Jesus Christ. And this person all men and women everywhere are both summoned and invited to meet, love, adore, follow and serve. At Christmas time we read a dozen times over the glorious text from the first chapter of John’s gospel: “The Word (God’s living self-utterance and self-bestowal) became flesh, and dwelt among us.” This is what we read; but what lurks within us is something very different: “The Word became words, and because the Word became words, we have all kinds of words to spew out, even though no one appears to find our words particularly interesting or helpful.” The Word became flesh, in one man only, Jesus of Nazareth, crucified under Pontius Pilate, resurrected to life by the Father, and now the Father’s gift to everyone everywhere. Mary knew all of this ahead of us. Her heart always swelled at the name of Jesus. He, not a theory or a formula or a proposal; he alone had turned her life around. Her gratitude for that unspeakable gift which her Lord was for her; this constrained her to love him, adore him, obey him, exalt him, and support him and his work any way she could. It wasn’t difficult for her heart to go out to him. After all she, together with those like her won to the master, had found him winsome. Jesus spoke of himself as “the good shepherd.” The Greek word he uses for “good” means “good” plus “attractive, winsome, compelling, comely, inviting.” “I am the fine shepherd.” The earliest Christians were attracted to Jesus as surely as they were repelled by the religious authorities. Why weren’t the authorities attractive? Jesus tells us why. “You load people down with backbreaking burdens, and then you don’t lift a finger to help them.” Backbreaking burdens? Back then? What about now? Two generations ago religious backbreakers had to do chiefly with crushing moralistic burdens. People were told that they hadn’t managed to achieve whatever it was they were supposed to achieve in order to merit the designation “Christian.” Today the perfectionistic burdens aren’t moralistic; they are psychological. People are told that if they are truly devout, real Christians, they will always have emotional tranquillity (did Jesus have tranquillity in the Garden of Gethsemane?); not so much as one minute (never mind forty days) of anxiety or confusion; never even a hint of perplexity or depression or grief. I’ve heard preachers tell people that “real” Christians are never afraid, never distressed, never stunned. Burdens are added when not a finger is lifted to help. I understand why people found religious spokespersons repellent and Jesus attractive. Mary’s gratitude impelled her to cherish forever the One whose winsomeness left her unable to do anything else. Once Mary became a disciple of Jesus, the light which he is shone ever more brightly amidst the murkiness surrounding her. Murkiness? What murkiness surrounded her? Mary was a close friend of Joanna; Joanna was the wife of Herod’s chief administrative officer. Herod was corrupt. Joanna would have known all about political intrigue and institutional corruption; trade-offs between Herod and Pilate; collusion between the religious institution and the state; under-the-table deals and favours and blackmailings; all of this carried on behind closed doors in the dead of the night. Joanna, Mary’s friend, wouldn’t have failed to “spill” all this to Mary. Mary knew how the world turned. Murky as it all was and still is, however, Jesus Christ, the light of the world, penetrated the murkiness and cheered her, subdued the despair that lapped at her, sustained her in her conviction that the light he is will ever be truth despite the corruption which cares nothing for righteousness and cares nothing for the victims it leaves behind. We know how the world turns. We aren’t naïve. But neither are we overcome by the darkness and what happens in it. Jesus Christ is light. He is always light enough to enlighten us as to the fact and nature of the darkness (very important -- after all, if it weren’t for the light we’d never know that the darkness is dark.) He is light enough to illumine our way so that we know how and where and why we are to walk (more important.) He is light enough to light us up like a lighthouse that helps fetch others “home” (most important.) It’s our gratitude to Jesus Christ that constrains us to love him and follow him. As we do we are bathed in the light which he is even as we reflect his light upon others. This was Mary Magdalene’s experience before it was ours. III: -- Lastly, Mary was graced with a visitation and ignited with a vocation. The visitation occurred at the bleakest period of her life. Bereaved of her Lord and grief-soaked as well, she had planned only to deodorize a corpse -- when it happened: a visitation from the One who called her by name and then commissioned her to a service from which she would never shrink and of which she would never be ashamed. “Graced with a visitation”: we understand what this means, if only because we have read the Easter story in John 20 a hundred times over, the story of the risen Christ’s speaking to Mary and capturing her heart. But “ignited with a vocation” – what does this mean? Much confusion surrounds the notion of vocation. In the church we tend to use the word for God’s call to someone to enter the ordained ministry or become a missionary or (if we are Roman Catholics) to enter an order like the Jesuits or the Sisters of Saint Joseph. Sometimes we even say (but say incorrectly) that such people have been “called to fulltime Christian service” – as if other Christians were or ever could be mere part-time Christians. Our perplexity is remedied when we return to Scripture, where vocation simply means call, the call wherewith everyone is called. Most elementally, Jesus Christ calls us into his company simply to be his friend. Once his friend he equips us to be his follower, learner, disciple. Once his disciple he appoints us to be his witness. At bottom vocation is just that: an invitation with the rigour of a summons, and a summons with the winsomeness of an invitation, to become and remain a friend of the Master for the sake of being his witness. To be sure, within this foundational vocation there may be more specific callings: to be a missionary surgeon in Papua New Guinea, or to teach at a school for blind children in Zambia, or to be spiritual mentor to the 750 men who play hockey in the NHL. But such highly specific, ‘tailor-made’ vocations are always a second order or third order vocation. The primary vocation is Christ’s call to become his friend, follower and witness. I find so very many younger Christians zealous and anxious in equal measure. They are zealous to get on with whatever God has in mind for them to do; they are anxious because they don’t yet know what God has in mind for them to do. They come to me and blurt, “I’m trying to find God’s will for my life,” exuding an anxiety bordering on desperation. My advice to them is simple: Don’t look for God’s will for your life; learn what God’s will is for anyone’s life, everyone’s life. And then if there’s a specific task for you within this, it will be made plain to you in God’s own time and his own way. Several years ago a young man who belonged to a Roman Catholic order spoke with the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta, hoping to get a sympathetic hearing from her. “My vocation is to work with lepers,” he complained to her, “but the superior of my order persists in obstructing my vocation; he has rules and preparatory work and study and training and exercises, together with a thousand silly tasks and no fewer humiliations, all of which interfere with my vocation to spend myself now for lepers.” Mother Teresa looked the young man in the eye for a few seconds and replied, “Brother, your vocation isn’t to work with lepers; your vocation is to belong to Jesus.” She was correct. Our vocation, always, is first and last to belong to our Lord. Now it could be that the young man did have as well a vocation to work with lepers. But a vocation to work with lepers isn’t an alternative vocation to belonging to Jesus. We must belong to our Lord first, and if there’s to be a vocation within a vocation, as there was for Mother Teresa (first she was called to be a friend of Jesus, then specifically she was called to the mission field as a geography teacher in a girls’ school, then more specifically still she was called to work with the poorest of the poor); if there’s to be a vocation within a vocation so be it. But we mustn’t wait around for something dramatic while we overlook the foundational matter of living in the company of our Lord for the sake of upholding his truth. Mary came back to the waiting disciples and primed them with her five-word message: “I have seen the Lord.” She primed them inasmuch as her visitation readied them for theirs when the risen One appeared to them later. While few of us today are privileged to see our Lord, resurrection appearances being rare, all Christians know themselves to have been addressed by him. We know that he has called us. Our vocation has ignited us and for this reason we know that we’ve been ‘lit.’ All we want now is that our vocation will ready other people for theirs when our Lord speaks to them. Mary Magdalene. Someone whose total existence the Master turned around. Someone whose gratitude moved her to follow forever the One whose winsomeness had melted her heart. Someone for whom visitation and vocation left her running with good news -- “I have seen the Lord.” Someone whose good news has facilitated the calling to Christ of thousands like us who have heard her story. Mary of Magdala. I have loved her for years. Rev. Victor Shepherd