“Live by the Spirit . . . & be guided by the Spirit,” says Paul to the Galatians
Galatians 5:16, 25
And Jesus calls those who hear his word to “Follow me” [Luke 9:59], & people are eager to do so . . . except . . . “Let me first go & bury my father” or “let me first say farewell to those at my home.” [Luke 9:59, 61] Now these seem like reasonable, even necessary requests that any of us might give, but the point of this lesson is that we find excuses for putting off the most necessary requirement of discipleship – to follow Christ now. I know plenty of people who have told me that they’ll spend more time with God eventually – more time praying, more time in Christian education or outreach, or get more involved in church activities “after my children have grown up & moved out,” or “after I retire,” or “when my job requires less time,” or “when I’m not so busy” – & these all seem like valid excuses. And yet . . . And yet . . . I’ve seen these same people reach those self-imposed limits & still not be able to find the time to spend getting to know God. There’s always another necessary diversion in the path to God that requires their time, their mind, their heart, their soul. This is what Jesus was speaking about with the people who approached him – not that they shouldn’t fulfill their necessary responsibilities, but that they made excuses for not fulfilling the most necessary response of all, the primary response – following Jesus. They’re putting the cart before the horse, not realizing that our hearts & our loyalty must be given to God first, & that all our other commitments flow from that first & primary one. The fruits of the Spirit, the fruits borne of our relationship with God, that benefit our families, our friends, our work, & the whole Body of Christ, will flow out of this first & greatest commitment.
So the question becomes, “What do we do to follow the Holy Spirit, to develop the fruits of the Spirit, to say ‘Yes’ & live into that ‘Yes’ in our daily lives?
While we were on pilgrimage in Britain, my friend who was traveling with us happened to sit next to a retired clergyman at a noonday Eucharist at St. David’s Cathedral. They got to talking, & he (for whatever reason) shared with her his belief, after a lifetime in the church, that all the theology, the books, the sermons, the theories & controversies over how to practice our faith were really extraneous. The one thing necessary to faith is far more simple, he said – “in the end, all we have is love.”
It got me to thinking about what is really necessary – what is it that binds us to God & molds us into true believers, true doers of God’s will.
I came up with 3 things that seemed to me to be necessary, but maybe by the time I’m the age of this man, I too will be able to reduce it to just one.
The first on my list is praise or worship – that act which reminds us on a regular basis that God is God & we are God’s creation, not the other way around. God is the object of our adoration, our comforter in times of trouble, our guide, our . . . . (& I could go on & on). The Muslims have 99 names for God. I once tried to come up with 99 names (or descriptors) of my own, & I did it, but it was not an exhaustive list – there are probably many more, because God is the ultimate being, the ground of our & every other person’s being, & he manifests himself in an infinite number of ways. But, the first thing necessary is the need to keep our relationship in perspective – to be in right relationship with our Creator.
Second, I think, is prayer – in frequent prayer we nourish our relationship with God. As we get to know the core of our being better & better, we learn to act in sync with the holy. It is necessary, if we are to be fed & guided by God’s Spirit, to check in, to stay in touch. “Our road map lies in relationship,” says Marilyn Chandler McEntyre. [“Weavings”, Vol. XXV #3, p.43] The way we interact with each other, the choices we make, the activities we say “Yes” or “No” to – all are affected by our prayer life. The less often we pray, the more confused we become & the less we will understand about our being, our call, our direction in life; & I’d venture to say, the less content we will be. Prayer brings a certain peace to all aspects of our lives. We learn to trust God, to trust the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, & to act out of that place of knowing. The Spirit fills us with imaginative responses to our questions, our dilemmas, our doubts & confusion. It gives us the courage to respond to the needs around us. It gives us hope in the midst of despair. It gives us direction where logic sees none.
And, of course, there is love – love of God & of each other. Of all God’s commandments, “The greatest of these is love,” & all others flow from it. Because we attempt to care about each other more than ourselves, we consider the needs of others, & that trumps our own desires (if we are being faithful . . . if we’re not, then it’s everybody for themselves, a free-for-all, chaos). Love transforms us & brings us into the heart of God. It “creates a place wherein the Holy Spirit makes its dwelling,” as one of our hymns today reminds us. The only question is: To what extent are we willing to follow Christ into sharing the abundance of God’s love? . . . how much are we willing to love?
Let me stress that the goal here is not that we’re doing these things to get into God’s good graces, to get into heaven, to secure our own personal redemption, or to impress other people. To live in this way, Christ’s Way, is counterintuitive to the dominant culture around us; it is not the way most Americans have been taught to live, in & with this world, where we are supposed to put ourselves first, get all that we can, see to our needs first, secure our financial security, etc., etc. But the daily practice of these types of behavior (praise, prayer & love) “shapes our hearts & souls so that we (in the words of Richard of Chichester) see Jesus more clearly, love Jesus more dearly & follow Jesus more nearly. . .” day after day after day . . . & right into eternity. [from Lynne M. Baab, Dunedin, N.Z., “Christian Century,” 5/18/10]. To live this way is the “mark of a spiritual life vibrantly lived.” [Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, “Weavings”, op.cit., emphasis my own]
Remember the one who is with you – always.
Remember the one who is at the ground of your being.
And go out into the world – living vibrantly in the power of the Spirit.
The Reverend Deacon Katharine Holland
Sunday, June 27, 2010