Dear Hyde Park Family,
The world lost a major spiritual voice last Monday when we learned of the death of Frederick Buechner. He was a Presbyterian minister, spiritual teacher and prolific author of 39 books. He is one of the most often quoted writers by preachers today, including me. One of my favorites of his is “Resurrection means that the worst thing is never the last thing.”
Our own Bernie Lieving has said that every time he had to answer the question, “Whom would I most like to meet?” he always answered Frederick Buechner. The publication Christianity Today called him the “Minister’s Minister.” We will miss him, and we are grateful for the enduring impact of his writings and teachings.
Buechner wrote a little story called “The Happy Hypocrite.” It is a about a man who was born with an awful facial deformity and grew up alone and lonely. When reaching adulthood, he decided to move from his town to another to begin a new life. On his way, he discovered a beautiful mask that fit him, making him look handsome. At first, the mask was uncomfortable, and he was afraid that people would find out who he really was, but he continued to wear the mask every day.
In his new hometown, he made many friends and fell in love. But one day a wicked witch from his old home came to his town and discovered this man’s true identity. In front of his friends and fiancé, she forced him to remove his mask. When he took it off, it revealed a handsome face.
His face had conformed to the mask.
Buechner used that story to talk about the work of God’s grace. The Apostle Paul instructed us to “live a life worthy of your calling.” (Ephesians 4:1-16) It means allowing God to take the malformed, unpleasant, and even ugly parts of our lives and slowly conform them to the beauty of God’s call. It means allowing our reality to be shaped into God’s identity.
Paul provided a list. To live a life worthy of your calling, you must be humble, gentle, and patient. And we should bear with one another in love and stay united.
Ask yourself, which of these qualities is hard for you?
- Humility? Is it hard to acknowledge that you may not be as superior as you want others to think you are?
- Gentleness? Is it hard to manage your temptation to lash back and get even?
- Patience? Is it hard to allow the process of growth and maturity to temper your frustrations with others and with yourself?
- Bearing with one another in love? Is it hard to love others who are different from you?
- Preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Is it hard to allow the Holy Spirit to remind us that we have a lot more in common than we are different.
Holiness is hard. That’s why Paul reminds us that we can’t do it alone, and we don’t have to. Because of God’s calling on our lives, we are part of a spiritual community that can allow our reality to be shaped into God’s identity. That’s why we place such a high value on every person being in a small group, and you can sign up here to join one starting in September.
As we continue our worship series “The Meaning of Methodist” this Sunday and focus on the value of being connectional, we remember the words of John Wesley: “There is no holiness except social holiness.” The holy life is only possible through the social connections we have with each other. You can’t do it alone.
Rest in peace, Frederick Buechner. Thank you for your wisdom and incomparable wordsmithing. And thanks for the reminder for all of us to live into our calling, by God’s grace.