Who is the Subject of Your Verbs?
Posted April 12, 2022
In your relationship with God, who is the subject of the verbs, and who is the object of the actions? For example, God loves me. God is the subject and I am the recipient of the love given. Our secular environment relentlessly excludes God as an active, living Subject who affects our lives on the most intimate level.
When we tell our stories in this secular space, do we include God as an actor in our story at all? Or have we banished God to the sidelines of our lives and relegated God to the status of idea, metaphor, symbol, abstraction? In short, have we joined the dominant strain of American religiosity, i.e moralistic, therapeutic, deism*?
Our tradition teaches us that our God is a living God: present, active, effective, on the move with purpose, direction and intentions for us. A remedy for secular formation is simply to remember that God is the active subject in my life and I am the recipient of God’s actions.
God loves me is a good place to start.
God gives me the gift of life on this wondrous earth. God saves me when I am lost. God raises me when I am dying to false-selfhood and egocentrism. God redeems me, returns me to goodness and value when I waste my life. God heals me from my many psychic wounds. God forgives me my sins and offenses against all that is good, true and sacred. God gives me his only Son as teacher, guide and savior.
What happens when you let God be God? What happens when you let God lead the dance? Many refuse the path of surrender to God because it seems to insult our sense of individual autonomy. I would prefer to be a sovereign self than recognize God’s sovereignty in my life.
I remember when I surrendered to trust in God, when I began to unlearn my secular formation, which had put me in “seats of the scornful,” as if I was the highest authority and not God. What did it take? I had to realize that I was a poor steward of my own life. I had to accept that I needed God, and not just any vague idea of God. I needed the God of love who was jealous for my full devotion, attention and well-being. I needed that God who would lead, guide, cajole, deconstruct and reconstruct my life over time.
We are coming up on Easter. My hope for each one of you is that you allow God to work on you as you worship this week. May the Easter message be more than a metaphor of bunnies and daffodils. May it be new life itself in bone and marrow. May our functional atheism fall away this week as rise into an abundance of life we cannot begin to offer ourselves.
*See the work of Kendra Dean and Andrew Root. American religion likes to reduce a relationship with God to more familiar products we can consume like moral improvement, and therapeutic wellness. In this reduction, God becomes inert—the God of the Deists—far away, detached and uninvolved.
The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel
The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel
(215) 247-7466 ext. 101
The Rev. Jarrett Kerbel (he/him) was educated at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He was ordained Priest in 1995 in Danville, Pennsylvania where he worked as a Hospital Chaplain and a Head Start teacher. Pastoral positions followed at the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Flossmoor, Illinois, St. Paul and the Redeemer in Chicago, and then Rector at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Park Ridge, Illinois. After following his wife, the Rev. Dr. Alison Boden, to her new position in Princeton, New Jersey, he was called to be the Executive Director of the Crisis Ministry of Mercer County. The largest food pantry and the gateway agency for Homelessness Prevention services in Mercer County, the Crisis Ministry also runs a Welfare to Work program and an innovative free farmers market. Jarrett became Rector of St. Martin’s in February 2011. He formerly served as the co-chair of Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER). Jarrett serves as Dean of the Wissahickon Deanery and is an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross. He is an Adjunct Professor at Princeton Theological Seminary where he co-teaches a regular class on Faith Based Community Organizing, Theology and Practice. Jarrett has been published in Sojourners, the Huffington Post, Yours the Power, and the Journal of Public Theology. He is the father of two children, Timothy and Martha.