A powerful, thought-provoking insight....

Give me a well-trained tongue that has been borne out of silent listening in the sanctuary of my heart.

~ sevensacredpauses by Macrina Wiederkehr

Monday, March 15, 2010

How Far We've Come

Over the last year, I have had many opportunities to study the history of western Christian spirituality as well as the current trends in worship and spirituality. What I have noticed is how far the church has come from what Jesus did during his ministry among us.

Let's look at that for a moment. Jesus came with no fanfare. He began his ministry at the ripe old age of 30. What did he do when he began his ministry? He wandered around the countryside getting to know people, trusting his instincts when it came to a person's heart, listening to stories, telling a few, and accumulating some folks who liked what they heard when he spoke. When he spoke...he told stories because the world was still very much about the oral tradition. He touched folks who were considered untouchable by most of the people in society at that time. Jesus knew just how healing touch is to the untouchable. He knew just how healing listening is to the ones never heard.

It became clear that Jesus was not just a carpenter's son from Nazareth. I believe you could probably see it in his eyes and the way he held himself and the way he interacted with others. However one saw it, eventually many people saw it, some of whom did not like it one bit. Some of whom were challenged and scared by what they saw. The naysayers began "accumulating" evidence against Jesus and his followers. Evidence like working when he should not, like not honoring authority as he should. Eventually, Jesus was arrested, brought before the organized religious types of the times, then the political leaders, then the whipped up crowds, and soon found guilty. Guilty of what?

That is a good question. That is, I believe, the answer as well. That question, "guilty of what?" speaks to the reason Jesus was in the world, speaks to what he did, said, was to the people he encountered. Was Jesus "guilty" of anything? Jesus was guilty of loving without judgment. Loving with abandon and with a whole heart. Demanding justice for those who were normally excluded, providing loving care for those who needed it. That was just too much. That was too stressful on the status quo. He had tried to warn his closest associates of what was to come. We know they had a hard time listening and truly hearing it. The religious leaders of society were successful in having him judged "guilty" and put to death. Crucified...the cruelest way to be put to death at the time.

My body has a physical reaction to that reality. When I think of the physicality of that death...I do not need a movie to make it real for me. I also do not need a movie to make the emotions of his mother and family and friends real either. A lot of us have lost someone in an unjust manner, too early, tragically...perhaps someone of promise to society, someone full of love for family and friends. Jesus was 33. In three short years, he had such a divisive effect on society at the time, especially Jewish society, that the "powers that be" did not know what else to do with him other than to rid themselves of him. Which they thought they accomplished with his crucifixion and death.

However, the miraculous aspect of this is that Jesus rose from the dead. He came back from such torture whole...more than whole...but not healed of his wounds. His wounds became the key to salvation for so many, the first of whom was Thomas who had to see the wounds before he truly believed Jesus had risen from the dead.

Okay, I realize this story has taken us from Jesus' birth through life and death and resurrection. Quickly, I know. However, there is one aspect of Jesus' life I would like to illuminate a little further. Jesus lived his life as a life of devotion. Not just love, but pure devotion to his fellow human beings. I believe that when Jesus loved you, you felt it physically. To this day, when I sing that sweet, simple song "Jesus Loves Me" I get chillbumps because I know it to be true. And not just because the Bible tells me so.

The night Jesus was arrested, he was in a room eating supper with his closest friends, his disciples, for Jesus was after all a teacher. Since it was a Passover meal, I imagine the supper was relatively simple. This meal was like so many we live through...one eaten under stress because by this time, feelings were running high here and there and fractures in the fabric of society were beginning to take their toll on the leadership of society. Decisions were being made about how to contain this man, and his followers. I am sure there was plenty of stress in the air.

So, a simple supper with all of his friends. Jesus knew what was coming. He knew exactly who was present in that room: one who would ultimately betray him and another who would deny him repeatedly. He knew he needed to prepare these friends. What he did over the course of that evening would come to mean so much to us now, would come to be our sustenance. Jesus portrayed his devotion again and again. First, he took some bread from the table and blessed it, raising it high so every one at the table could see what he was doing and begin paying attention. They were a noisy crowd. After blessing this bread, he broke it for all to see. After he broke it Jesus gave it to everyone and said "this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." I am sure at this point, Jesus had everyone's undivided attention. He then picked up a cup of the wine he had previously blessed and passed among those present, lifted it up and said "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." What did this mean? What did this signify to the Disciples? To those of his friends there who loved him, who had experienced his utter devotion? Can we even imagine what was going through the minds of the Disciples at this point?

This offering of Jesus' devotion to his Disciples, to me, to you -- this offering is what gives me chillbumps when I sing "Jesus loves me." As I partake in communion every Sunday, I am fed the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus. Broken and spilled in obedience to God, in the ultimate example of God's devotion to humanity. Each week of being fed in Spirit helps me grow in Spirit, helps me look to my faults, the places where I lack integrity, the areas in which I need to show more love and compassion. Each time I partake of communion is a pruning session and a dose of fertilizer!

At some point in the evening, Jesus removed his outer robe, wrapped an apron around himself, gathered a bowl with water in it and a towel and approached each Disciple in turn and washed their feet. As he approached Peter and told him he was going to wash his feet, Peter rejected the idea out of hand. What follows is a glorious exchange, one of the most loving gifts Jesus gives his Disciples.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered,"Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean."[John 13:6-10b]

Jesus, the servant King, devoted to those he loves. Christ, the Son of God, still serving, still devoted to those he loves. Yes, Jesus loves me. I can feel it in my heart, my soul, my body. Perhaps that is what is meant by the greatest commandment related in Matthew 22:37-40, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." The commandment following this one is that we shall love our neighbors as ourselves. So how far have we come? Are we living a dangerous faith, one that could result in bodily harm? How far have we come? Are we living a dangerous faith, one that feeds the unsatisfied, touches the untouchable, hears the ones with no voice? Are we devoted to the ones Jesus was devoted to? Have we allowed the King to wash our feet?

We are in the liturgical season of Lent. Lent is a time of self-examination, of looking at our practices, our lives, our communities, and seeing ways in which we have separated ourselves from God and each other. Lent is a time of preparation, of readying ourselves for new life, new growth. So some pruning and examination is in order. Also some fertilizer. Questions like those above get me thinking about how I am expressing my faith. Questions like those above get me taking an inventory of my walk...am I walking the walk or just talking the talk?

How about you? How far have you come?

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