Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Spiritual Formation’

Your Illusion of Christ

June 26, 2016 Leave a comment

long lotus

Here’s my question for the day: “What illusions do you have about what Jesus expects of you when you choose to follow him?” Let me repeat that: “What illusions do you have about what Jesus expects of you when you choose to follow him?” For many years I was under the illusion that if or when I would finally be answering His call, everything in and about life would suddenly be like a movie. The butterflies and birds would fly around in circles near my head. Everyone would treat me kindly and I’d see the perfect utopia that we all dream about. Rainbows everywhere, and hunger, fear, disease and poverty were too far out of sight to be brought to mind for even the slightest moment.

I had a lot to learn and learned a lot in a very short time once I stopped the kicking and screaming as I passed from one Committee on Ministry to the next in my diocesan ministry discernment process. I was second-guessing myself right up to almost having to be dragged down the aisle by the saints and angels to have Bishop Baxter lay his hands on me to be ordained. Even the next Sunday I woke up at 4:30 in the morning, so afraid I’d sleep in, that it hit me hard – this was for the rest of my life! This following Jesus thing was now for real! But did it have to involve wearing a collar? There were so many good lay ministers out there that seemed to be more in tune to what it meant to be a Christian than I ever thought I could be. In short, I was like John and James, wanting to know where those lightning bolts were to hurl around at something… just anything… to prove a point. I couldn’t tell you what that point was but I was positive that since I was now following Jesus I might as well go and do some rebuking of my own!

But when we read today’s gospel we find that all of that fluff that we dream about happening couldn’t be further from the truth. What do mean we can’t call upon the heavens to destroy some civilization that is being mean to us? It wasn’t part of the Old Testament lesson for today, but we just read about Elijah, Isn’t that what he did? Didn’t he request that God send down fire to wipe out enemies? Surely we can take revenge on those who harm us. It’s in the bible. We just read it. Oh, and still yet, didn’t Elijah let Elisha, who wished to continue on and follow him go home to say good bye to his family? But now Jesus won’t allow this one potential disciple leave to take care of the bones of his deceased father and then return and continue on with him. Why is there such a difference between what we hear in the old testament and what we hear Jesus doing when it involves the same situations?

Unfortunately, when we try to relate to the bible and look there for answers to what it is we should do in our daily lives, so many of us get caught up in the laws, just as the Jews did, just as the Greeks did, just as the Romans did. To understand Jesus, to understand what it takes to be a Christian requires us to unwrap our brains from the rules and regulations and sink our souls into the Spirit of Christ. I couldn’t remember where I first heard the saying that “You must never break a law unless you know the reason why the law was written in the first place.” Seems that you’d have to be a bit of a renegade to do that. But then again that’s what Jesus was. He healed on the Sabbath, he hung out with the homeless and the sick, he crossed religious and cultural boundaries tending to those different than him, and he opposed war, revenge, and violence.

Looking at those traits, what do many who claim to be Christians do today? Cities are finding ways to make it more and more difficult to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. Money is withheld from or refused by agencies whereby that money would enable those who need health care the most to get it. Lies are spread and traps set to lure others into fighting instead of seeking to compromise on issues and work things out in peaceful fashion. We could go on and on with these comparisons, and even try to make them political, but the fact of the matter is they are issues not about countries or cities or governments but issues that affect the dignity of human beings everywhere. I’m saying these things today; Jesus was explaining it a couple thousand years ago. Not much has changed except the time and place.

What does all of that have to do with me being a Christian, you might ask? According to Jesus, it has everything to do with it. When we talk of being a Christian so many people like to wrap themselves up in their own little cuddly blanket thinking that to say they are Christians is enough. They wear crosses and put tag lines on email addresses and maybe even have a Shield on their car. They do the duties in church that are needed for the congregation to survive like tithe, volunteer and assist with the services. They do everything they’ve heard they should do and have read – like the ten commandments – from the old law. Yet still we find something missing. Something that nags at us from time to time and we can’t quite put our finger on it. Eventually it comes to us, some late in life, some early, some early, then late, then even late after that. Those are the ones like me who had the call at the age of 10, then put it off at the wise old age of 13, then on again around 35, off at 40, on at 45… until finally we think we “get it”. And then we find out there’s way more to what Jesus kind of said would happen but we glossed over it and act surprised when it does happen.

We find that following Jesus and being a Christian means what Paul said today, that now we are led not by earthly, material things (the flesh as he calls it) but we are led by the Spirit and so must live the way of Christ. We find that living in Christ means that our first response to a crisis is not about what happened or will happen to our property, but we move forward with an automatic concern and compassion for the people who may be effected by that crisis no matter if it’s from a natural disaster or an act of violence, revenge, or war. And we find that living in Christ means we know the reasons why rules and laws were written and made and if the time comes to break that law in order to save lives – be it human or animal, domestic or foreign – we will act in the spirit of the law of do what is right.

Looking back at my own illusion, what I thought what being a true follower of Jesus would be like, all I can say is, “it’s not the same animal, not even the same species.” But once we understand the nature of Christ, not the superficial one some talk about, but the Christ that feeds us with grace and inspires us through the acts of others; once we begin to understand that, we can begin to accept that not everything about being a Christian is butterflies and rainbows. You’ll often be on the wrong side of history. You’ll often have an opposing view of current affairs from what your friends have. You’ll often be in the middle of some illness, some crisis, some dilemma – either yours or other’s – that needs professional help. You may not have it all as far as others are concerned. Having it all is the illusion that you started with. But you will have more than you will ever need or know through this Grace of Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Deacon Pete

(Ref Revised Common Lectionary:  Year C, 6 Pentecost, Proper 8, June 26 2016)

 

 

Thieves on Each Side

February 24, 2013 1 comment

I hang in contradiction to myself on both sides of the cross; a thief in either case, a sinner. Not thought to be redeemable in most people’s society. Not worthy to be given a second chance in this world of flesh and blood. At once I’m both humble and arrogant. As much as I beg to be remembered in another world, I’m also capable of rejecting the One that can bring me the forgiveness I need in this one.
Encountered each day is a choice of being one thief or the other. As we recognize what latches onto our attention in life we must also come to terms with what can either ignite our souls or make us numb to our surroundings. One thief hangs his head in anger and turns away, just as we turn our heads from most uncomfortable situations. Consider the man with the handwritten “homeless” sign on the street corner. Is this person in our midst really in pain and suffering? How do we know? Do we ignore them and condemn them even more because we don’t want to admit how much they remind us of ourselves? Or maybe how much worse off we could easily be than they are? Or are they in truth in the same condition we are in, but we choose to ignore our own reality and refuse to acknowledge that their pain is also our relief? Why are we repulsed? The choice is ours. Easily enough, we ridicule them, expecting this to ease our own pain through it.
At the same time the other thief awakens for a moment, drawn into the face of this person before them; this face that shows up on our street corner. All of a sudden we remember. We feel. Compassion consumes us. This world may have taken its toll on us both, but we are not done. And we are not alone. Because this face is also the face of the one who invites us in, arms open wide, inviting us in to share the pain, to be with them in and through the pain. The pain is real. The face is real. The cross is real. The sorrow flows outward and into this world like the blood that drips from the face, hands, feet, and wounds from leather stripped skin of that one who hangs on the cross between us.
Yes, between us, between two thieves, between two sinners. One too caught up in his own sorrow to recognize how close forgiveness is; one too alive in his own death to allow this world to pass away without a second chance. Which thief will I be?

Have You Been Formed?

January 29, 2013 1 comment

I’m sure you’ve been asked if you’ve been “saved.” Conversion is something the religious world holds as an end-all to being … well … “religious.” It amazes some how anyone can possibly go about their lives not being sure whether heaven holds a place for them or not. We can wonder if perhaps part of the incursions made to us by zealous disciples is simply the other person’s reflection of their own uncertainty. Yet genuine encounters with God most definitely abound. Many of us long for a hint of an epiphany such as this season represents. We ask; “How will God be revealed to me?” or “When will I experience that event set apart from my ordinary life that can only be classified as ethereal and holy?” Whether it is as dramatic as St. Paul being knocked off his horse, or as sullen as a slight chill that raises the hair on your arms, a profound and unmistaken sense of knowing God and where the Holy Spirit moves in our lives can elude us for what seems like eternity. If this is has been the case, consider there may be another more subtle option going on; the option of being formed. When we create regular habits of reading scripture, when we listen to sacred music, and when we allow the spiritual connections with others to move us – rather than make them into what we think they should be – we begin to settle into a way of life where the main thing moving us is the Holy Spirit. And this is what is meant by being formed. Holy things form holy people. The difference is, while an epiphany can be earth-moving, formation is a settling-in. One day we arrive at a place and notice how our ways of doing business in the world are quite different than when we first started out. And maybe then we get that slight chill and the hair on our arms rises up. You’ve been formed!