A surprising thing happened last week – I was inducted as the 14th Senior Minister of Knox Presbyterian Church in Toronto. Not that this induction was unexpected – it was a five month wait for myself and the people of Knox.
But surprising, nonetheless. Ask the “five years ago Phil,” and I would’ve never guessed I’d be in the heart of Toronto, in a different denomination, serving a lovely, historic, crazy community of Jesus followers. As the service unfolded, words of promise given and received, I grinned with this sense of “how on earth did I land here?” I was filled with grateful wonder at the hand of love that brought me here, at the larger story that I’m invited to play a part.
The words of Samwise Gamgee, from The Lord of the Rings, came to mind:
We shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually — their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on — and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same — like old Mr Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?
In theological conversations, there’s a prickly dilemma of divine sovereignty and human will. Which is it? Certainly there’s a divine priority but it’s a both-and mystery isn’t it, never quite knowing where the fingerprints over my life are those of God’s sovereign hand or of my free will. Which makes life, at the same time, both wildly adventurous (can you believe we get to be part of this grand cosmic story of God’s?) and incredibly secure (don’t flatter yourself to think you could possibly blow God’s plan and ruin your life).
This unlikely journey started long before I was ever born, took form in my genetic inheritance, shaped by parents, friends and teachers, moved by life’s joys and losses, my own choices and indecisions. Then a seed of a desire is planted in my heart, a growing heart hope for thriving churches in city centres, a dream pursued but then met with dead ends. But then redirection – a lunch conversation with unexpected advice, shifting me to discover a church’s search process, a prompting to throw my hat in the ring with the resigned sense that “this will never go but at least I tried.”
And here we are today. By grace. Crazy. Beautiful.
Life is not a journey we understand in the moment. Or looking forward. Mostly we pray for enough wits to take just the next step, trusting that farther along it will make sense, remembering that no choice we make will put us beyond the reach of grace.
All of which fills me with a gut-deep joy for the road ahead. Adventure and security. A sovereign God is a good thing, indeed.
There’s a Josh Garrels song that I would’ve loved to have sung at my induction service but wasn’t sure how it would work. So here it is now, a lovely hymn of wonder and faith at the incongruent glory of this sacred journey we call life.