Three Cardinal Rules for Ability & Longevity

Holy God, blessed Trinity, help us to find the way.  Amen.

Tonight, for the first time since before the pandemic began, the Broadway community will gather to celebrate its achievements in the Tony Awards.  There was a sort of interim expression of the awards last fall, but tonight is the first time the full awards ceremony will happen to celebrate a full season of theatre.

It takes me back to the last time – back in 2019.  André De Shields was 73 years old at the time.  He had been working in theatre for more than 50 years, and it was after all that time that he received the industry’s highest accolade.  His acceptance speech was short, but important.  He said, “I would like to share with you just three cardinal rules of my ability and longevity.  1. Surround yourself with people whose eyes light up when they see you coming.  2. Slowly is the fastest way to get you where you want to be.  and 3. The top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, so keep climbing.”

His experience is a living example of a life striving toward perfection, or success, or fulfillment – whatever you want to call it – but striving toward it through dedication and discipline; through process.

His words kept ringing through my ears again this week when I read this short passage from the Epistle.  I know we just read it, but it’s short, and I think it’s worth hearing again.  Listen to it this time from the perspective of process; from the perspective of striving toward something greater.

Paul writes, “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”  He’s saying, the sacrifice of our faith has brought us to the good things we know, even now.  It’s that faith that gives us the peace that we get to share in, in our own time.  And not only that, not only do we get the benefit of peace through Christ, we also get the benefit of grace – grace to build a bridge between our shortcomings and God’s glory; grace to account for that which is beyond us.  And with this peace and this grace, we are fueled by hope; empowered to continue on to the goal of sharing in the glory of God.

It’s about the process of finding unity with God – but from 10,000 feet.  It’s the broad strokes that show us the way, and lead us on.  But, of course, we all know that the broad strokes rarely tell the whole story.  They give us a sense of the bigger picture, but without the important details.  In this case, the big picture is faith yielding grace, which inspires hope to see us to the end.

But Paul knew it wouldn’t be so simple.  He goes on, “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

The broad strokes are helpful.  They show us the way to the end faster than the step by step directions can.  But Paul knew, as we all know, that the path to God isn’t always so clear.  The path to God, as it’s lived in our daily lives, is sometimes more complicated than the broad strokes can convey.  But it’s important to remember that even the challenges that seem out of place in the bigger picture still serve a purpose.  They connect to our goals, too.  It’s just, sometimes we can’t see the path quite so clearly from within.

The thing that’s hard to wrap our minds around is the fact that André De Shields woke up in the morning one day when he was 20-something, just starting out in the business, and at that moment, he was already a Tony award-winning actor – it just hadn’t happened yet.  He wouldn’t know it for a long time to come.  And it would take 50 years of living into his craft before it would be realized for all the world to see.  And the path from 20-something to 73 was long, and undoubtedly sometimes fraught with trouble and hardship.  There would be days when he questioned himself.  There would be seasons when he knew his worth, but struggled under the weight of it remaining unseen by others.  But, “slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be.”

The same is true for us.  We are, right now, the embodiment of a dream that God has for all of creation.  We are the realization of some missing piece that has kept the world from becoming all that God would have it be.  We may not clearly see what that dream is, just yet, but God’s eyes light up as we stumble toward it.  It may be a very long time before we and those around us can make out the shape of that missing piece we were made to fill.  But, “slowly is the fastest way to get to where you want to be.”  Slowly is also very often the fastest way to get to where God is calling us to be.

Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  The process is still unfolding.  The path is still being revealed.

I don’t know what embodiment of God’s dream I represent, or what you represent, or even what missing piece our church is meant to fill.  But I do have faith that God is in this – in our daily doing – making it ever-clearer.  And I believe that there is grace enough to fill in the gaps where I and you and we fall short.  Because, in our living is hope – hope that the glory of God is waiting for us, too.  Hope that God’s eyes will light up when we are seen to be coming.  Until then, we keep climbing.  Amen.