Holy Self-Offering

by The Rev. Dr. Jason Parkin, Rector

In a sermon some months ago, I quoted a passage from the book Mortal Lessons, by the surgeon Dr. Richard Selzer. Enough people commented on it after services-and it presents such a poignant image-that it bears repeating:

I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face post-operative, her face twisted...a tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed to remove a tumor in her cheek. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself: he and this wry-mouth I have made, who gaze at each other and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks. "Will my mouth always be like this?", she asks. "Yes," I say, "it will. It is because the nerve was cut." She nods and is silent. But her husband smiles. "I like it," he says. "It's kind of cute." He bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers, to show her that their kiss still works. And all at once, I know who he is, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in the presence of God.

To me, the vision of that young husband lovingly molding himself to meet his wife's lips is a lovely metaphor for the way in which God has molded God's own being, so to speak, to the human race; the way in which God has continually provided us with tenderness, hope, courage and love, even at the most difficult of times. God bent over to kiss us in sending to us the Son, and God ceaselessly reaches out to us with strength and grace.

Even more, perhaps, is this memory of Dr. Selzer's a wonderful image for the lives of compassion and generosity to which we, as people of faith, have been called by God. Is not the baptized life one of molding ourselves, like that young husband, to the needs of the world around us, whether small or great, and using the gifts we have received in order to bring hope and courage to others? Is it not our vocation to allow God to shape and form us in such a way that our gifts-spiritual, financial, professional, personal-are not held in reserve only for ourselves, but used for the sake of our brothers and sisters? And is not God constantly calling us to re-order our priorities, to change some of the directions we have charted, to offer more, to give more, to become more, to be more through God's empowering presence?