What Really Matters
2 Cor. 12:1-10
† In Jesus Name †
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ help you realize what matters in this life., which allows you to depend on His faithfulness. AMEN!
The Fable of the Animals
As Vicar Timothy and I talked about this passage this week, he told me an ancient Chinese fable.
Once upon a time, there was a gathering of the animals. And as they gathered along the seashore, they wanted to know about each other, what strengths they could bring to the community. There was a gracious grand eagle, who told of his ability to soar high over the land and see how glorious the kingdom was. There was a huge elephant, who talked about his power and strength that was greater than all of them so he could take on all the heavy jobs. A Blue whale, resting comfortably offshore, talked of being the largest animal in the ocean, and an ability to explore deeper than any other animal. One after another they went, telling of what they could do best.
Finally, there was Mr. Frog, who looked around and considered all the incredible things others could do. He didn’t do all that much, just sat on his lily pad and watched and observed and occasionally… caught a passing fly for dinner. You know, sort of like this! He thought his life was boring, and if that’s all he said he was, the other animals would mock him, or laugh, or perhaps ignore him. And so he came up with an odd talent of his and said he could transform himself into a much larger being. So he swallowed more an more air, extending out his belly and making it larger. He looked around and realized he didn’t impress anyone, so he refused to swallow his pride, swallowed more air and puffed himself up even more, and again, puffing himself up even more, and finally, he puffed himself up so much, his gut exploded, and body parts went all over the room.
Too Great – or the Ultimate martyr
We do this all the time, no matter the culture. We want others to think we are great, or what we do is great. We want to be admired, we want to be someone, even if only in our grandparents, or grandkids eyes. So we exaggerate a little. We feed our ego.
Or if we can’t be the greatest, we make ourselves out to be martyrs, those who sacrifice everything for others. I suffer more than you do, see how great I am at giving things up so you can have what you want? That too feeds our ego, if we serve more and harder, and are willing to sacrifice everything.
It’s to people like us, the frogs of the world that Paul writes to when he writes to Corinthians. Average people, but people that struggle with their identity, with their reputation.
Paul, you know, the apostle who spread the gospel throughout the Mediterranean Basin, the guy, who like John, had a revelation of Jesus that we’ve never read about, save in these few words. Paul, who wrote to the Philippians that all his earthly credentials were as valuable as the remains of the human digestive system. Here is saying that even visions from heaven are not worth it, because maybe they take attention from what really matters.
And then he says something really strange, the problems he has, the thorns in the flesh, the stresses, the brokenness, these things are a blessing. A blessing simply because when we are in the midst of the trauma when we are in the midst of the thorns. There, we hear God say these simple words,
My grace is all you need, Those were words that enabled Paul to boast, not about his strengths, not about his suffering, but his inabilities, his weakness, his brokenness. Because when he was at his worst, the power of God was able to be seen in Him.
My grace is all you need…..
If we could only understand that.
The incomplete fable
Going back to Timothy’s fable, it ends with the frog, blown out of shape, his body exploding from trying to live up to the hype, trying to live up to the pressure from blowing his value all out of proportion.
I asked him what he thought most people would think God would say if he walked up on the scene. He thought most people in the world, even Christians, would expect God to lecture the frog, or even judge and condemn him for doing all that damage to himself. For breaking the commandments, for making himself the idol that needed to be worshipped, for bearing false witness about himself. Mr. Frog, people would think – you have done yourself in.
That is not the God that tells us, “My grace is all you need” He gently picks up each part of us, and puts us back together, healing us. That is what grace is, not just forgiveness as in, “you aren’t going to get punished for this” but the grace that brings healing to whatever we’ve done, that restores us and makes us hole.
What our sin destroyed, God calls back into being. What sin has killed, God resurrects.
If he does that with our sin, He also does it with those things that challenge us in each day. The insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that exist as we try and serve those who need it, as we care for those who can’t seem to care for themselves, as we love those who consider themselves unlovable.
Beyond our Sin
If this is true regarding Christ saving us, it extends into all our life and all our ministry to others. We don’t need to be the one people praise, we don’t need to be the one everyone notices.
What matters is that people know we know that God’s grace is sufficient for us, that it will get us through the trials and pains that serving God too often results in, even if those challenges are as brutal as Paul mentions. For that is Paul’s context, in this letter. He doesn’t care where he ranks among the apostles, even though he could claim it.
He would rather have God’s people know that in every part of life, the thing that matters is God is there. If that is seen in his weakness, praise God. For then they know in their weakness, in their days where anxiety sets in, in those days when nothing gets done, or it seems two steps forward result in 10 steps back…
In those days, He is there, and our ministry, our caring for others, he does in ways far beyond anything we can imagine. For what really matters is that you know God’s love, and His mercy, and His faithfulness. Understand that… and you will be at peace.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
10 God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created 7 This was to show for all ages to come, through his goodness towards us in Christ Jesus, how extraordinarily rich he is in grace. 8 Because it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; not by anything of your own, but by a gift from God; 9 not by anything that you have done, so that nobody can claim the credit. 10 We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. Ephesians 2:7-10 (NJB)
592 Don’t forget that you are just a trash can. So if by any chance the divine gardener should lay his hands on you, and scrub and clean you, and fill you with magnificent flowers, neither the scent nor the colors that beautify your ugliness should make you proud. Humble yourself: don’t you know that you are a trash can?
There is a balance to everything in life, especially in how we are to view ourselves. The problem is we fail to judge ourselves accurately. And sometimes we believe we are superheroes, and sometimes just the opposite.
Pride may cause our self=examination to fail n that we think we are better than we are, smarter, more beautiful, more successful, more in tune with life. So too may a poor self-esteem, as we consider ourselves the ugliest, the most wretched, the failures that deserve nothing more than eating dirt.
Asking others doesn’t help, they may boost our pride, they may tear us down even more. And when these statements are coming from well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ, how do we keep them in balance?
Into this discussion comes the words of a simple, but a very effective priest. St Josemaria was fond of describing himself as a donkey, tied to one of those decides that lets him walk in a circle, faithfully plodding, though sometimes in need of some “encouragement” His words today, describing us as a garbage, re-purposed as a planter makes so much sense.
It establishes our value, who we are, not based on our natural talents, abilities, charisma, but rather on what the “divine gardener does with us”. Our value, our being is so integrated into God, that we take on both humility and yet a meaning deeper than anything we could have imagined.
This is God at work in you and I, God at work creating something in us not seen before, A value that finds fulfillment in the greatest work there is, the saving of souls. What an incredible joy it is to know that someone will be in heaven rather than hell because I took a moment to pray, a moment to offer comfort, a moment to help them know peace.
That somehow, God can use you and me to reveal His glorious love to others.
Even if how he uses us in the same way he used St. Paul
15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. 16 But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:15-17 (NLT2)
God is at work… He is with us… all glory and honor to Him, who makes us His children, and invites us to the feast!
Conversation: Which do you think you are, the superhero or the slimeball Do you struggle more with being humble, or with seeing yourself having value?
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1413-1416). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
25 I will take action against you. I will purify you the way metal is refined, and will remove all your impurity. 26 I will give you rulers and advisers like those you had long ago. Then Jerusalem will be called the righteous, faithful city.” 27 Because the LORD is righteous, he will save Jerusalem and everyone there who repents. Isaiah 1:25-27 (TEV)
The LORD says that his people reject him.7 Because of this the LORD Almighty says, “I will refine my people like metal and put them to the test. My people have done evil— what else can I do with them? Jeremiah 9:5-7 (TEV)
485 Well, so what? Unless your motive is hidden pride (you think you’re perfect), I don’t understand how you can give up that work for souls just because God’s fire which first attracted you, besides giving the light and warmth that aroused your enthusiasm, should also at times produce the smoke that results from the weakness of the instrument!
I don’t like confrontations, and even less do I like politics, of either the secular or church variety. They raise too much heat, they cause too much stress, they cause a reaction that is to fight or to flee, neither of which is good, right or beneficial.
Yet, as a pastor who is a sinner as much as the flock, he guides towards Jesus, I have realized two things about both confrontations and the politics that lead to them.
1. Heat caused by conflict is inevitable in the church.
2. Despite my dislike for it, despite how uncomfortable it makes people, there is always a blessing for those who neither fight nor flee, but depend upon God to resolve the conflict and reconcile those who struggle with each other.
Conflict can dull our enthusiasm for the church, and for the apostolate, the mission God has sent us all on, to bring the message of reconciliation to the people He would call His own. But the very idea that reconciliation is needed means there is heat somewhere, and that the mission will be uncomfortable.
One of the reasons it is uncomfortable is that part of what the heat will remove, our pride. This is the refining, the heat applied in such a way it gets rid of the imputiries, Even the pride that is buried deep within us, hidden even from our own conscious view.
If we can remember that even the person we are in conflict with can and will be used by God if we remember even if they are 90 percent wrong, there is ten percent of their statement that is a message from God, sent to purify us.
And it will, and the more pride that is hidden within us, the more the heat will rise. ANd we have to let it, w have to be patient, for to throw cold water on it will cause more of an explosion. We have to let it work itself out. It will, For God will perfect us, in His time, and this heat is part of the process!
That’s uncomfortable, but it is okay. You and I can survive the heat, we can stay in the kitchen. For I am confident that God will use this for good. He will refine us in it, the Holy Spirit will bring us comfort, even as we are transformed, purified. (and I still won’t like it!)
For what else can God do? He loves us, He can’t leave us broken, impure, spoilt. This heat can be part of our salvation, part of our sanctification.
So even as we struggle, even as we hate the challenges, the heat, we can stay, trusting God. He will work during the time when the heat is up, when we have to cry out,, Lord have mercy! And we can learn to cry it out confidently, and be patient for the resolution, for the reconciliation.
For He is with us! AMEN!
Lord Jesus, send forth your Spirit to all who are enduring times where the heat is rising when life is challenging because of conflicts, even those that we try and ignore, or hide. Lord during these times, help us depend on You, trusting You to keep your promises to us. Humble us when needed Lord, keep us pliable and patient, comfort us and sustain us. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1186-1189). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Our Lenten Journey:
Walking with Jesus through trials to the triumph
Finding Hope on the Walk
May the grace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you the hope you need, as we endure this journey, depending on His faithfulness!
The Steps of the journey
Imagine being on the side of the road, leading up to Jerusalem. Jesus, the one some are claiming to be the Messiah starts the long climb up to Jerusalem on a small donkey. As it meanders up the pathway, the crowd is growing in size and in energy,
Expectations are building, even though the man is a mystery,
He does miracles, incredible miracles. He teaches like no one else, and those who’ve met him, are more aware of God’s love, of God’s presence in His life.
He’s coming! Everything is going to change!
It is no different today, as we journey through life, as we walk, guided by the Holy Spirit, and await Jesus coming into our lives.
The Prophet Zechariah told them what to be looking for when Jesus came, He told them what to expect, from how Jesus would arrive, to what He would do.
Understanding this prophecy, this promise gives us real hope,
First – He is coming
As we hear the words rejoice, as we hear that Jesus, our Lord is coming to us, he comes to us in a way that is a paradox.
He’s righteous and victorious, even before the cross there is no demon, no power that can withstand Him. Think about that for a moment, the prophet is using words that are present tense, righteous, victorious, and this is known before he goes into Jerusalem.
Before He goes to the cross, he is already described as victorious.
But then he doesn’t enter as the conquering hero, and that is where we see the paradox.
Maybe that is why he goes to the Jerusalem without the armies, without the majestic horse and the flashing sword. He comes not to conquer, but to provide for His people.
And so he comes, riding on a small donkey, simple and humbly, to be with His people. Just as He promised to back again, and we await Him….
Second – He’s here… working
The second thing we see God doing in this passage is very interesting. Hear it again
I will remove the battle chariots from Israel and the warhorses from Jerusalem. I will destroy all the weapons used in battle, and your king will bring peace to the nations.
I want you to notice something very important, He’s not removing the ability of our enemies to do battle, but rather, he is removing our ability to do battle.
The coming of the Messiah doesn’t equip us to do warfare, it enables us to live knowing that our God is victorious. He is bringing peace into our lives, even as He prepared to the cross, so much more now should we be living in peace?
Yet you and struggle and fight, sometimes we try and fight the evil in the world, sometimes we fight the evil in each other, and sometimes, we fight the evil within ourselves. We know we should not sin, that we shouldn’t be so easy to give into temptation, and yet we do. Yet we don’t always turn this over to God, we might even swear we will do everything in our power to be good, rather than depend on Him, and on the work on the cross.
God has to remove our ability to fight, for as long as we do, we will not know His peace. For as long as we fight, we won’t depend on Jesus, we won’t depend on His work at the cross.
We have to let Jesus take over, it isn’t easy at times. Who am I kidding, it isn’t easy at all.
Yet Jesus took care of our need to prove ourselves right. Because of the cross, because of Jesus death paying for our sin, for our unrighteousness, we are now counted righteous. He strips from us not only the way to do battle but the desire to, for we begin to realize that God is taking care of us, that Jesus has made things right. That is His role, as He is our king,
Third Step, He frees us.
He describes that here, in verse 11:
11 Because of the covenant I made with you, sealed with blood, I will free your prisoners from death in a waterless dungeon. 12 Come back to the place of safety, all you prisoners who still have hope!
Even as the prophet is speaking and writing for God, the plan is set, it is by the blood of Christ that all who were imprisoned by sin are freed from it. Even as Christ rides up the mountain to Jerusalem, the plan which was set in place from before the creation of the world is as good as done.
This was the promise to Abraham, this is the promise made to Moses,
He frees us from all that imprisons us, all that causes us to fight, to struggle. Our anxieties, our fears, our sin, our brokenness. He brings us to a place of safety, a place of security, a sanctuary where we dwell with Him. A place where we learn to trust Him more and more, as we begin to experience and see His love for us.
For we are safe with our King leading us, with our King, Jesus, providing for us.
This is what we hope for, understanding it better than the people in the prophets day, or even the disciples in Jesus day. But we still need to understand it better, this love of God, revealed to us in the cross of Christ. This is the hope we have, given to us as Christ died on the cross, yet sometimes hard to see,,,
That is why as I close, I pray for you as Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus,
16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Ephesians 3:16-19 (NLT)
Devotional Thought for our Days:
3 I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. Romans 12:3 (MSG)
821 Work with humility. I mean, count first on God’s blessings, which will not fail you. Then, on your good desires, on your work plans—and on your difficulties! Do not forget that among those difficulties you must always include your own lack of holiness. You will be a good instrument if every day you struggle to be better.
We are no different than the children who put on superhero costumes for Halloween.
There is a part of us that wants to be the best, at something, anything.
Especially the idea that we are the best at what we do, whether it is a parent needing the hero for their kids, or being the superstar at work, the one everyone turns to, that everyone counts on, the person who is indispensable.
We want to be the heroes
We’ll even attempt to the difficult, the impossible if that will lift us up, not just for the praise, but for the acceptance. For heroes are always accepted, aren’t they? They always are welcome, aren’t they?
But this desire to be accepted, to be the hero, to be indispensable will fade, or we will fail. For we can never do enough, not for those whose favor we want, but to assure us own hearts that we will never be forgotten.
Compare this drive to the idea of humility, the idea of knowing who we are based on who God is, and what He does for us. I love that St. Josemaria says that humility is counting first on God’s blessings. Humility then is not a matter of self-abasement. It is not primarily an understanding of who we are, of recognizing our talents and limitations. That comes into play, but even then, that should drive us back to the first step.
Who God is: our Father, our Brother, our COmforter, our deliverer, our Lord, and Shepherd. WHat He does for us, creation, reconciliation, and as we are united to Jesus, the miracle of holiness happens to us. We are holy in Him, in no other way, yet so incredibly transformed by the Holy Spirit.
This happens as the Spirit enables us to trust, to depend, to have faith in God, who loves us.
You want to be the hero? Why? You have one, and that Hero has provided what you need, accepting you, making you His child, treasuring you!
Humility is found in depending on this. The Lord, your God, is with you…always!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 2912-2916). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional thought for your day:
“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. 2 When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. 3 But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 4 Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. Matthew 6:1-4 (NLT)
718 If only they could see the good things I do!… But don’t you realise that you are carrying them around like trinkets in a basket for people to see how fine they are? Furthermore, you must not forget the second part of Jesus’ command: “that they may glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Nearly a year ago, I did the memorial service for an incredible lady.
The bulletin of that service still resides on the little refrigerator in my office, a reminder of our very simple, very special relationship.
Every Tuesday at 9 am, I would travel about 500 yards from my office, enter the house she had a bedroom in, and talk a moment, then pray for her. No more than 15 minutes, more likely ten or so. On occasion, I would bring her the leftover flowers from church on Sunday,
And every time I left, even when she was too tired to talk, I felt lifted up. She ministered to me far more than I ministered to her.
I knew she had a couple of incredible jobs in her life. The executive assistant to a seminary president, the producer of a mega church pastor’s television ministry. She didn’t talk about those things. Rather it was the joy of hearing from this friend or that pastor. It was about reading the sermons of those she knew. It was always about someone else,
Given the honor of officiating at her service, I realized that day how much of an honor it was. Men who served the church for decades and trained thousands of preachers were there. They told me of the things my friend did, and how she ministered to them for decades. How she helped and raised money for seminarians and worked for equity among the staff. How she interacted with world famous preachers ( I still love the story of her moving a bicycle rack to protect a parking spot for Billy Graham – and how he helped her move it back where it belonged when he got there! )
Yet I knew none of this as I visited her, as I prayed for her, as we looked at Roses and carnations and lilies and marveled at the hand of God that created the beauty we observed. I simply knew a lady whose bright eyes ministered to me as I prayed for her, a lady who lived so simply, so beautifully that I looked forward to visiting her each week.
I think she got the passages above and the incredible things she did in life weren’t paraded around, for her reward was to hear Jesus welcome her home. Looking back on a life full of incredible service to God wasn’t her style, it wasn’t what she counted as important. Rather it was finding God’s peace, as a neighborhood pastor stopped by, and she could fill his life with God’s peace, even as she rejoiced in a small time of prayer.
I miss my friend – but thank God for what she taught me about ministry and walking with God, watching Him at work.
Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2995-2999). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
41 Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. 42 Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.“ Matthew 10:41-42 (MSG)
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. 35 And here’s why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, 36 I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? 38 And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ 39 40 Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:34-40 (MSG)
617 You found yourself with two books in Russian, and you felt an enormous desire to learn that language. You imagined the beauty of dying like a grain of wheat in that nation, now so arid, which in time will yield great harvests of wheat. I think that those ambitions are good. But, for now, dedicate yourself to the small task and great mission of every day, to your study, your work, your apostolate, and, above all, to your formation. This, since you still need to do so much pruning, is neither a less heroic nor a less beautiful task. (1)
Back when I was in college, my dream was to be a great preacher, someone whose words would inspire thousands, not because of me, but because they would point ot Jesus, and bring people peace. Or I would think of teaching pastors on the mission field or doing many incredible things for the kingdom of God. (the examples of the speakers in chapel didn’t help this – they all were “superstars” in ministry who urged us to do great things for the kingdom.)
Looking back, my great desire to win the world for Jesus didn’t always include the guys I lived with or the guys across the hall who we often tangled with over silly immature things.
I will be honest, some days when I think my ministry is in a rut, or too taxing, I wonder about newer greener fields of harvest, with more workers and more opportunities to see God at work. For a moment, I forget that God planted me here for a reason. Then a trauma pops up, and I am back to work.
I guess that is one of the blessings of the place where I serve now – they keep me so busy I can’t plan grandiose visions and get too caught up on the harvest is greater in another field. Our community has come together where we do cry with anyone who cries, we do express joy with anyone who joy. And this means we know when someone is thirsty, we know when someone is broken… (including me)
So I understand what St Josemaria is saying about vision, what he is saying about the call we believe we have in the future. SOmetimes that vision is truly from God, sometimes those dreams and desires are sincere and possible.
But they can’t get in the way of people you are called to serve today, the people God has put in your life to give hope to them (and therefore to you ) today.
See that one there, he needs a cup of cold water. See her over there, she needs someone to hold her hand, and help her be still and know that God is her God. See that one, they need…..
And God has appointed you and I to be there for them. This is His vision for today…..even as He’s given you dreams of the future…
(1) Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2610-2615). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day
21 For God in his wisdom made it impossible for people to know him by means of their own wisdom. Instead, by means of the so-called “foolish” message we preach, God decided to save those who believe. 22 Jews want miracles for proof, and Greeks look for wisdom. 23 As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles; 24 but for those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, this message is Christ, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For what seems to be God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 (TEV)
The same line of thought can be detected in Newman’s own comment on man’s basic relationship to truth. Men are all too inclined—the great philosopher of religion opines—to wait placidly for proofs of the reality of revelation, to seek them out as if they were in the position of judge, not suppliant. “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” But the individual who thus makes himself lord of the truth deceives himself, for truth shuns the arrogant and reveals itself only to those who approach it in an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility.[i]
The relationship of spirituality to God’s story has a long history in Christian thought. This relationship has been affirmed, challenged, distorted, lost, and regained in various epochs of history. Today spirituality is separated from God’s story. In his crucial work, Spirituality and Theology, Philip Sheldrake points out that “contemporary spiritual writing is open to the accusation that it amounts to little more than uncritical devotion quite detached from the major themes of Christian faith.”2 In order to understand this separation, I will comment briefly in this chapter on (1) how God’s story was affirmed in the ancient Christian church and (2) how the story was lost through Platonic dualism and in late medieval mysticism. In chapter 3 I will address how ancient spirituality was regained with some moderation by the Reformers and how Christian spirituality was lost again in the modern shifts toward intellectual and experiential spiritualities together. We will look at these points in Western history where the stone skims the water and through this history gain a perspective on the crisis of spirituality in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (treated in chapters 4 and 5).[ii]
Gandhi has been credited with saying that he loved Christ and His teachings, and if he found a real Christian he would become one. The modern version is those he say they love Christ but hate the religion his followers created. They want a relationship with God, but like too many theologians, they want it on their own terms. As if man is equal to God as if man gets to judge God, and force God to modify the covenant he created for our benefit.
The religious respond to this, not with understanding, but often with contempt. Or with the condescension of thinking that we have to logically work to correct their sinful narcissism.
Both Robert Webber and Pope Benedict this morning warn us about this, noting that far too often we have done the same as those we question. Our theology and philosophy is used to put God into a box, to prove His existence, and to prove our perception of His plan. The Pope warns of this with the quote, “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” As if man could do this! Webber mentions the same concept as he promises to track the history of the divorce of spirituality (the divine embrace) from God’s story.
We’ve been so eager to know about God, we chased after that without knowing Him.
And those who are critical of us, they pick up on this ironic tragedy.
What they see is either a scholastic approach to religion devoid of the relationship or an experience of God devoid of living with Him as our Lord, our Master. In both cases we set aside scripture, or have it subtly twisted in our minds, and we get to judge whether it is binding or not, whether it is “clear and logical” or not.
So what is the solution? How do we ensure our humility, and stop playing as if we have to “prove” God’s logic, while at the same time submitting to its wisdom?
I would suggest it is communion, what Webber calls “spirituality” or the “divine embrace”. It is what Pope Benedict calls approaching God with an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility. It is Moses at the burning bush, hearing God and taking his shoes off, or Peter getting out of the boat. It is David, realizing he was the man in the parable, and grieving over his own sin, it is the man formerly possession by demons, sent home to tell what God did for Him, or the blind man testifying to the religious leaders.
In that moment, when we realize we are in God’s presence and realizing that He is cleansing us, healing us, declaring we are His holy and just people. When both experience and knowledge are subject to God, and when our pride is overwhelmed by His love. When we stop trying to be observers and judges, and settle for being with our Father, and hearing Him.
This is the moment we need, the awareness of being in His presence, and of His work in our life. It is found as water is poured over us, as we are given His Body and Blood, and know His peace, for it is found in His promise, that He is with us, and will never abandon us.
We are welcome in His presence, we are welcome to hear Him testify of His love for us, and count on His faithfulness. AMEN!
[i] Ratzinger, Joseph. Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. Ed. Irene Grassl. Trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992. Print.
2 Sheldrake, Spirituality and Theology, vii. Sheldrake is one of a few contemporary authors who understand spirituality as an ancient applied theology. I fully recommend this book and Philip Sheldrake, Spirituality and History: Questions of Interpretation and Method, rev. ed. (1991; repr., Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998).
[ii] Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
Devotional Thought of the Day”
6 If, then, we say that we have fellowship with him, yet at the same time live in the darkness, we are lying both in our words and in our actions. 7 But if we live in the light—just as he is in the light—then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. 9 But if we confess our sins to God, he will keep his promise and do what is right: he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make a liar out of God, and his word is not in us.
1 John 1:6-10 (TEV)
187 If your mistakes make you more humble, if they make you reach out more urgently for God’s helping hand, then they are a road to sanctity: Felix culpa!—O happy fault!, the Church sings. (1)
Every once in a while, I get to help people reconcile with other people. During some of the conversations along the way, one of the two parties might indicate that the fault belongs only to one side of the fight.Usually, this is with one side taking all the blame, but on occasion, it will be laid all a the feet of their opposition.
Normally, the only time one side of the argument is completely right is when one side is God.
But even with God, people will play the game most call hypocrisy, where they indicate it isn’t really a fault that is theirs. I’ve seen people (and my own thoughts/actions) trying to avoid recognizing the fault/sin/brokenness. We can pretend to be in denial, we can try justify ourselves, we might even go on the offensive and get distracted by other people’s sins.
Bout ours still lie there, eating at us, causing damage to relationships. eroding the value we place on those relationships, even our relationship with God.
For if we hide in the sin, if we bury it and refuse to acknowledge it, we turn our back on God and those we love. This is what the Apostle John is writing about – that if we refuse to confess our sins, if we refuse to trust in God, then we set ourselves apart from Him, and we ignore his love and mercy and care.
This is where St Josemaria’s words come into play. The humility it takes to know the brokenness that sin causes is easily taken care of by God.
Humility, acknowledging the reality, not hiding from it, nor running from the responsibility, not pretending anymore, but just going yes, I screwed up, and realizing in that moment that God has already planned to take care of it.
What a glorious revelation! One we couldn’t know unless if was for the fault, and for honestly, humbly, coming to the realization that we are sinners, and that God isn’t going to get rid of us because of it.
He will deal with it, He’s planned to!
Let’s stop hiding, let’s confess our sins, and rejoice!
Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 853-855). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.