4 March 2012
The Second Sunday in Lent
When I decided to offer us some reflections on our Scripture for this week I forgot that moments before I would begin you all would have sung our birthday song to me, concluding with the wish “… may you have a joy-filled life!” Your wish for my joy raises an important question: Just what does it take to have a joy-filled life?
In the Gospel reading for this week we find Peter, my namesake, pleading with Jesus to step back from his call and tone down his confrontational stance in order to save his life. I suspect that Peter was afraid, and didn’t want to get drawn into the trouble Jesus was stirring up. Even though he’d said “Yes” to Jesus’ invitation to follow him, Peter doesn’t seem ready to “lose his life.” Am I? Are you? Where’s the joy in that?
As I reflected on this week’s lessons, I found myself looking deeper, and getting lost. Then, Thursday morning I thought that my father’s focus as a journalist might help me get a fresh handle on Jesus’ word to the crowd and the disciples. When writing a story, he taught me, always make sure you cover the “who, what, when, where, how and why.” I was curious. What would happen if I took that rather old-fashioned approach to Jesus’ insight that “…if you lose your life for my sake, you’ll save it.”
Thursday afternoon, I was on a roll, and by the time I closed down on Friday I had a reasonably coherent 10-page paper on the “who, what, when, where, how and why” of losing your life for Christ’s sake.
So, it felt a bit odd to be sitting at my computer yesterday afternoon, starting this version of my reflections as though for the first time. I have the initial version in case you’re REALLY curious. But, in truth, it didn’t seem right to take half an hour to share it with you from the lectern, not with this fresh bread sitting here, waiting to be broken and shared for our nourishment.
What I was given after I stopped trying so hard were the three insights I want to share with you now:
† Jesus calls Peter, and all of us, to take a fresh perspective on life.
† It really is more blessed to give than to receive, and more joyful.
† Like this loaf of Communion bread, each of us must be broken in order to find that joy nourishing others.
The bread is a good place to focus for the next few minutes. What is the promise in a loaf of bread … and what did it take to get there?
JESUS AND PETER: WHAT DO I HAVE TO LOSE?
Let me start with Jesus’ call to take a fresh perspective on “losing your life.”
Some folks lose their lives all at once. As a soldier I heard l1ots of stories of heroic acts performed by ordinary people, like throwing themselves on top of live grenades to save their buddies.
Now, when I think of this kind of total sacrifice I’m more likely to think of Kate’s choice to have her ventilator tube removed and lay down her life so that Carole could live.
Total sacrifice is clearly one way to understand “losing your life,” but there are others. We might lose – or give up for the sake of the Gospel – some opportunity, or some initiative, or some level of acknowledgement.
I know there are several people in this room who have consciously and voluntarily given up opportunities to make more money or be more influential in order to support the greater good in some other way. I have a close friend who stepped off the track to VP of IBM in order to provide continuity of schooling for his children. One of us left employment in banking to work for a non-profit that serves people who are homeless. Parents who care for their children at the expense of their own fame and fortune … might that be the kind of “losing your life” that Jesus was calling his followers to choose?
Remember, right before Jesus challenged the others he called Peter to account, pointing out: “You are judging by human standards rather than by God’s!”
What are the human standards for “life,” and how might they be different from the standards of God? Might setting down some cultural images of “the good life” mean letting go of opportunity, or initiative, or recognition? In this week’s Epistle lesson, Paul suggests that God’s promise to Abraham came through faith rather than the law. The law, Paul argues, can create standards of behavior so that there are punishing consequences for violation. But faith nurtures righteousness and the opportunity for receiving God’s promise.
As I thought about this, it seemed that Paul was illuminating one difference between human standards and God’s standards: Human standards create laws to punish those who violate them; God’s standards nurture righteousness as a way to nourish and encourage the common good. That sounds like another way to describe turning away from opportunity or acknowledgement to respond to God’s call by serving others.
As I’ve grown deeper in this faith community and the traditions of Church of the Saviour I’ve come to see that responding to God’s call is another way of losing your life. It wasn’t hard to see how spending one’s life in mission or ministry was “for Jesus’ sake and the gospel’s,” but what about the losing your life part? That was a bit harder. Most of the people I know who are really committed to serving others seem very much alive. It’s those who aren’t engaged who seem to have lost the spark of life.
As I see it, one sign of call is total immersion, as in “If you’re so involved that you forget to eat lunch and dinner, maybe its part of God’s call. I know better than to think that this is a fail-safe litmus test, but total involvement in something “for Christ and for the Gospel” is a pretty good sign.
For example, when I see that “Joy, Peace and Happiness” pouring from Solly, Mmule and Jabu from the Bokamoso Youth Centre, I know I’m in the presence of people who have found their lives by giving them over to Jesus and the gospel. That’s an example for me of joyful loss through total immersion.
Losing your life for Jesus and the gospel takes other shapes as well. Sometimes it’s brief and intense, like Cynthia’s drive to help keep Girl Scouts anchored in Catholic Churches in Northern Virginia. Sometimes it’s a narrow focus that lasts for a long time. Over dinner at the School of Christian Living on Tuesday evening I heard from Jesse just a bit of the story of a woman he has accompanied through Hospice for more than two years. That regular, focused, compassionate giving of time and attention is, I think, another way of losing your life.
What do I have to lose? If I’d been longing for fame and fortune, I’d have lost a lot when I made my commitment to Seekers. If I needed to be the one who gets credit for correcting our foreign policy, I’d have lost a lot. If my goal had been to retire to a golf course in Tempe Arizona where the masseuse comes to our condo every morning at 10:00, I’d have lost out. But that’s not where I think I am, thanks be to God!
RICHARD ROHR AND THE SECOND PERSPECTIVE OF LIFE
On Friday night, after I’d finished my 10-page paper, I was given an unexpected gift, a conversation with Margie Ford, a long-time CofS member. She mentioned that she is engrossed in Richard Rohr’s recent book “Falling Upward.” In it, Rohr describes how most people’s lives pass through two phases over time, beginning with a long period of “…establishing their personal (or superior) identity, creating various boundary markers for themselves, seeking security, and perhaps linking to what seem like significant people or projects.” As he says, these tasks are good and to some degree necessary.
But all this is, in some very important ways, preparation for the second phase, the time when, if we choose, we accept a new perspective. Rohr describes it like this:
We are created with an inner drive and necessity that sends all of us looking for our True Self, whether we know it or not. The journey is a spiral and never a straight line. We are created with an inner restlessness and call that sends us on to the risks and promises of a second half to our life.There is a God-sized hole in us, waiting to be filled. God creates the very dissatisfaction that only grace and finally divine love can satisfy…. If we go to the depths of anything, we will begin to knock upon something substantial, “real,” and with a timeless quality to it. This “something real” is what all the world religions were pointing to when they spoke of heaven, nirvana, bliss, or enlightenment. These events become the pledge, guarantee, hint, and promise of an eternal something.
(Rohr, Falling Upward, pp 94-95)
Falling Upward was, of course, sitting on the counter in our kitchen, near my place at the table. And of course, I hadn’t read it … yet. But when I went looking yesterday afternoon, there it was, with Marjory’s prescient marginal notes. Maybe one of my opportunities in the second half of life will be to read more important books.
When I think about Richard Rohr’s description of this second half of life, I hear, loud and clear, Jesus teaching the disciples and those who were with them that in order to find their lives they must lose them for the Gospel.
Rohr suggests that we can find thresholds to this new perspective in lots of different places. That’s what led me to the first hymn this morning.
“I sing a song of the saints of God, faithful their whole lives through…” This familiar song from “Everyday Hymns for Little Children” says a lot about our understanding of the “where” question. “You can meet them in school, on the road or at sea, in a church, in a train, in a shop, or at tea: for the saints are folks like you and like me…” These are ordinary folk who are laying down their lives one day at a time, all over the place for the common good – for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel.
The call of Seekers Church points to this a bit less lyrically:
Our call is to be a “Seekers community” which comes together in weekly worship rooted in the Biblical faith, with shared leadership; and disperses with a common commitment to understand and implement Christian servanthood in the structures in which we live our lives.
The brochure that we offer to folks outside our door says that …
This call to love and serve God’s Creation may take root in workplace, community or family. This call is likely to seem too big for us. But as we deepen our commitment to Christ and find support from each other, our faith deepens and we can dare to say “Yes” to God’s call to commitment.
We are –
• Teachers and learners,
• Entrepreneurs and managers,
• Children and technicians,
• Artists and grandparents,
• Policy analysts and counselors,
• Therapists and lawyers,
• Parents and advocates,
• Civil servants and preachers,
• Healers and justice seekers.
You know: You can find us in school, on the road or at sea, in a church, in a train, in a shop, or at … Starbucks. You might even meet – or be – a saint at work.
Here’s an example: In 1991, when I’d been working in the national office of Communities In Schools for about a year, I noticed that Bill Milliken, the founder of CIS, was addressing me as “reverend.” At first I didn’t know how to take it. By then I was part of our Servant Leadership Team but I didn’t think that my commitment here showed up very much at the CIS office, except when I had to ask for time off to deal with some unexpected need here at Seekers. I thought that Bill might be pulling my leg just a bit. He’s a deeply committed Christian who spent his early years as a very successful urban organizer for Young Life. Maybe he was tugging at my Church of the Saviour mantle just a bit. When I finally got up the courage to ask him about it, he said something like this: “I see the way you listen to folks here in the office, and I know a little bit about ministry. Thanks, reverend.”
It felt good to be recognized even if he had blown my cover. And as I reflect on this little bit of my story in light of Richard Rohr’s insight, one thing that stands out is the joy I felt at CIS as I saw others stepping up to help more and more communities help their children. It’s a feeling that is reflected in that satisfied exhaustion I feel during our annual pilgrimage to Guatemala, as I sit on the bus heading back to the Lutheran Center in Antigua after a day of helping the folks of some remote village pour the concrete foundations for a school for their children. Or the delight that wells up from within as someone I’m meeting with for spiritual direction gets that smile of sudden recognition as a doorway opens in the wall they’ve been beating their head on for so long… little bits of something wonderful: joy, peace and happiness in my soul!
One dimension of “losing your life” that is often hard to accept is the reality that it is likely to happen more than once. There is a cycle of call, and we shouldn’t be surprised if our call changes and we’re invited to lose our life in some new way. I served CIS and Faith At Work until I was called away. Now I know God’s call on me is to be here, helping hold this container of community so each of us can find the courage to “lose our life” in human terms, and find it from God’s different perspective.
Where are you called “to love and serve God’s Creation” in some particular way, to nurture and nourish the Realm of God?
RUMI’S CHICKPEA: PREPARATION TO BECOME NUTRITIOUS
Let me now turn back to the bread on our altar table.
What IS the promise in a loaf of bread? The loaf that is waiting there for us began its life as grains of wheat that were ground into flour. It takes some serious preparation to create a loaf of bread – grind the grain, mix the dough, knead the loaf, let it rise and then bake it until golden brown. We walk into the kitchen while bread is baking, and are delighted with the thought that soon we’ll have a treat to eat. But think about it from the perspective of the bread. How does it feel to lose your life as a loaf so that a community might be fed?
After my conversation on Friday night about Richard Rohr I woke up on Saturday with a favorite poem by Rumi floating in my memory. I think it offers an image of the importance of practice and preparation, to help us be ready to “lose our lives” when the time is right. And, it is a reminder to me that this preparation isn’t a piece of cake. Here’s Rumi:
Chickpea to Cook
(translated by Coleman Barks)
(see http://www.snowlight.com/beingcooked.html for the text of this poem)
From Richard Rohr’s perspective, the first phase of life is about preparation, which may include being knocked back into the boiling pot, time after time. As I reflected on the Gospel lesson, I wondered how much of Peter’s reaction to Jesus’ teaching that “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering…” was Peter’s own fear of the boiling Jesus was calling him to. Jesus calls us to “lose your life for my sake.” The promise is joy, peace and happiness. But the path is likely to take us through some tough times, and some hot water. Thank God we’re in this together!
If we want claim God’s promise in the joy of nourishing others, we can expect to be torn to bits, like tis bread.
As we gather here together, around this table of love and forgiveness, remember God’s promise:
† Jesus calls Peter, and all of us, to take a fresh perspective on life.
† It really is more blessed – and more joyful –to give than to receive.
† Like this loaf of Communion bread, we will be broken in order to discover joy in nourishing others.
Thank God we’re in this together! Amen.