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Ministry beyond the comfort zone

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

May 9, 2018

Bishop LaValley’s homily for 2018 Deacon Convocation May 3LaValley

Perhaps you’ve heard it before.  The story is told of a great French circus performer by the name of Blondin who, in the winter of 1858, stretched a long steel cable across Niagara Falls.

During high winds and without a safety net, he walked, ran, and even danced across a tightrope to the amazement and delight of the people who watched. 

He even took a wheelbarrow full of bricks and pushed it effortlessly across the cable, from one side of the Falls to the other.

Blondin then turned to the crowd and asked, “Now, how many of you believe that I could push a person across the wire in this wheelbarrow?” 

The vote was unanimous.  Everyone cheered and held their hands high.  They all believed he could do it! 

“Then,” asked Blondin, “would one of you please volunteer to be that person?”  As quickly as the hands went up, they went back down.  Not a single person would volunteer to ride in the wheelbarrow and to trust his life to Blondin.

All of us here today believe in and trust Jesus Christ.  “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do…” We hear His teaching, preach the Good News and feel the comfort of Jesus’ presence.  We try to trust. 

But, boy, when the Lord asks something of us and to trust Him, when He pushes us out of our comfort zone and invites us to get into the wheelbarrow, sometimes, we, at least I, resist.  And, you know, that’s why we can get stuck in our Christian lives; stuck on this side of holiness, stuck with a mediocre faith to whom others show little interest.  You and I must believe that we need God for absolutely everything!  Then, act on the radical trust that such belief engenders.

When I first moved off the Navy base when I was stationed down in Pensacola, I remember going to a nearby Christian Book Store.  I was looking for a nice religious picture to put up on my bare walls in my apartment. 
I came upon a picture of Jesus with a sailor at the helm of a boat.  It was entitled “Jesus as my Co-pilot.”  It wasn’t until years later that it hit me:  I might think that I am, but in reality, I am piloting, even co-piloting nothing.  God has the wheel.

When I think that God needs my help to pilot the ship, to run my little world, I encounter problems.  I need to jump into the wheelbarrow and trust God and let God be God. 

What I am able to accomplish in my ministry is all, all done through the grace of God. The same goes for deacons, for deacon wives, indeed for all Christians. 

When we stretch ourselves right out of our comfort zones, the Lord is always there to catch us, to encourage us through the risks, the sweat and the tears.  Remember that old tune:  He’s got the whole world in His hands!
You might say, now bishop, ever since you’ve been our shepherd, you’ve herded us into wheelbarrows and we’ve had to perform numerous high-wire acts in our local parishes. 

Maybe your ministry stretches you to such an extent that the idea of a comfort zone is a fantasy, given your hard work in our Living Stones Pastoral Planning efforts.  Fair enough.  Know of my sincere gratitude.

But we must never tire of looking for opportunities for simple acts of service and mercy—the heart of the ministry of a deacon. 

Deacons will lead the charge in the Church in going out to those who know not Christ and His Church because you work alongside the faithful, you rub elbows with the folks.

Such missionary zeal is what fueled the early Church in its phenomenal growth—the growth of one person at a time.  Now that might mean that we risk rejection or ridicule.  It can be awfully lonely being the only one in the wheelbarrow, but what a witness to Christ!

Obviously, this takes great energy and trust.  But that’s why the witness of the giants of our faith, apostles like Philip and James, gives you and me hope and encouragement to sometimes jump into the wheelbarrow. 

We have Someone a whole lot more trustworthy than a Blondin upon whom to rely.  Blondin is no Jesus!

The Apostles are sent to bring the Good News. St. Paul reminds us in today’s Second Reading: “I handed on to you,” he writes to the Corinthians, “what I also received.”  Our commission is the same.

Holy Spirit of God, we ask you to help us hand on what we have received.  We know that we have received much.  Help us to feel not afraid to jump into the wheelbarrow at times because we know you are always there to hold us and embrace our efforts in Your Name.

And through it all--May God be praised...forever may God be praised! 

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