Jesus walks, moves, doesn’t stick around. He doesn’t wait until you’ve figured out your plans, vested your 401(K), said your goodbyes and wrapped up loose ends. To be a disciple, to follow Jesus, is to go when the teacher goes, follow where the teacher leads. The student is not to say, “where next,” but repeat to herself, “stay close.” That’s what I read in this gospel passage where Jesus tells us “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
“Stay close” disrupts our stable world of fixed religion, it requires us to stick less to this or that place whether it is a physical place or a place of practice or ideas. “Stay close” could mean sticking to here, whether it is a corrupt institution or a difficult neighborhood or with people who just don’t get us. “Stay close” could mean getting out, changing everything. You never know where “stay close” could take you. It might take you from a comfortable life of a celebrity scholar to a renegade pastor as it did Dietrich Bonhoeffer when we left New York to return to a Germany in the throws of fascism. It could take you from a comfortable income with insurance and benefits to the unstable life of a new ministry. The key to staying close is not to concern yourself with anything other than sticking with Jesus, where and when he moves.
I am a person who likes to plan, to know exactly what the next thing will be and get there. I like risks, but mostly the ones I plan and control, the ones I decide to take. Yet over these last couple of years I’ve been learning that staying close means surprises, it means not knowing what will be next, it means a lot of waiting until the teacher decides to go and then scrambling to catch up with that first step.
A couple of years ago I started feeling a call to ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. I began to explore the idea with my priest and then with a discernment committee. With time others confirmed a call to the priesthood. I had lots of ideas of how I wanted my entry to the priesthood to look. I didn’t want to go to seminary because I didn’t want to leave the community in which I’d tried to dig roots, and then when I relented to that idea of seminary I had several schools in my mind other than the one to which the leaders of my diocese directed me. I’ve come to see both seminary and the institution I’ll be attending this fall as the best for my future ministry, but that wasn’t clear from the start. Now I have my house in boxes and will move out in a few days. My family will be staying with relatives for the next month and though we know that we will have a place to live when its all said and done we don’t know the exact apartment where we’ll be moving in four weeks.
Graduate school to study theology, the bible and liturgy, all things I love; not knowing which nice, well maintained apartment I’ll be moving to in a month–I know these are hardly the greatest of burdens that Christians have faced staying close to Jesus. But for me and my family it has been a challenge of faith, obedience, and patience. On top of that is the constant questioning of friends inside and outside of the church who just don’t see the point of becoming a part of an institutional church where we have leaders that have to be followed, where there are rules and beuracracies and all manner of corruptions to the pure, immagined pre-Constantinian, pre-Henry the VIIIth church. I would love to be an ecclesial entrepreneur and I have deep respect for those who are creating new expressions, but that’s not where Jesus is going in front of me, I’m staying close right into the troubled institutions of church until staying close leads me out. In or out doesn’t matter, staying or going, organized or not, dogma or the floating currents of the latest of radical theology–it doesn’t matter. What matters is staying close, watching Jesus up ahead, and running my hardest to keep up. Where is he going in front of you?