Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lenten Reflection, Week Four

Here's how it works in theory: we reflect Christ more fully when we gather as the larger Church than we do as individuals. Individually we are created in God's image, loved eternally, and redeemed in Christ. But the work of Christ that we were created, loved, and redeemed to do is not fully realized until we find ourselves in the Body of Christ, the Church. In theory, we discern God's will better as a group. In theory, the Church holds its members accountable in practice and mission. In theory we are somehow less fallible as the Church than we are by ourselves. That's the theory anyway.

During many of my college years I worked at a Christian summer camp. These were some of my fondest memories and many of my closest friends today were people I worked with then. It was there that I first saw a clear image of Christ's Church. The camp was a refuge from The World for us and for the young people who were brought to us. Without our usual distractions and temptations, we could be more attentive to the moving of the Spirit. We were all followers of Christ, serving him with common purpose and celebrating his kingdom being built before our eyes. It is that kind of community of nurture and service that I strive to build in the church today. It was a illustration, for three months a year in an isolated spot in the mountains, of what the Church is meant to be. At least in theory.

In the office one summer, there was a guy named Bernie. Everyone loved Bernie because Bernie loved everyone: he was outgoing and cheerful, funny and generous. As I remember him, he was the life of the party even when there was no party. And to top it all off, Bernie had a car.

The camp was about a half-hour drive from the nearest town. Sometimes after work, we'd pile into cars and head to town to go shopping, get some pizza, or see a movie. The drive to town involved a curvy dirt road to a curvy paved road to a mercifully straight highway.

There were a lot of reasons why we drove too fast down those roads. Sometimes we were simply in a hurry. Sometimes we'd get to thinking we were so used to the roads that we'd conquered them somehow. Mostly we drove too fast because we were
still dumb kids. At least that's what happened that night.

Bernie was in a joyous mood, as always. We piled as many guys into the car as Bernie had seat belts (at least we were that smart) and we headed down the curvy dirt road toward town. Bernie was driving too fast and we were all cheering him on. All of us were laughing and screaming like we were speeding down the tracks of a roller coaster. Only at one point, the roller coaster turned right and we found ourselves once again on a dirt road, sliding into a tree.

After a quick inspection we realized that we were, for the most part, not hurt. Of course Bernie's car did not fare so well. And what is etched into my memory, aside from the tree, is listening to Bernie call his dad to report the accident. Bernie took all responsibility: he alone dealt with the broken car and he alone dealt with furious parents. He wouldn't even accept our apologies for cheering him on. And even though he was behind the wheel and, as he put it, didn't have to listen to us, I don't think Bernie crashed that car by himself. I believe that, along with everyone else in that car that night, I helped to drive that car into the tree.

And therein lies the theory's fatal flaw. In theory, we are shaped more perfectly into the image of Christ as we gather as the Church. But in reality, we collectively drive Christ into trees all the time. In reality, even as the Church we are still only a collection of flawed individuals; redeemed individuals who are called by Christ to his service, but not perfect. In reality, discerning God's will and holding one another accountable in practice and mission don't just happen automatically. In reality, being that Christ-like Church involves our being perfected by Christ individually and our working with Christ in co-creating that larger Body.

May God shape us this season into more than good people. May God shape us collectively into the image of Christ in this world. Let Paul's words from Ephesians 4:1-6 be our prayer:
Help us, O God, to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as we were called to the one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Amen.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lenten Reflection, Week Three

I Just cleaned my office.

You may be wondering why this is news, but it's important to me. Things have been getting a bit out of hand lately. You see, as it turned out, I was only mostly moved into my office: books were in place; computer arranged; coffee pot set up (actually, that was the first thing I did). However, not until today I had gone so far as to set up a filing system. As a result, I had kind of a make-shift system on my desk. Some would call it "piles," but trust me there was a system. Not a very tidy system, but a system.

And so today I can see the top of my desk. My coffee mug sits faithfully to my right and not teetering on a tower of papers. I now have a specific place for the books I am currently reading (five of them if you're keeping score) that is apart from the books that I simply need to keep on hand. I have a clear view of the lovely pictures of my lovely wife that is unobstructed with paper piles. But even more important than these things, I feel I can actually get something done. The clutter has been cleared away and my desk can once again be used for the purpose it was created: as a work-space. I believe I think more coherently with an organized office. If nothing else, I am now more comfortable having company in my office than I was before.

Spiritual growth is like this. As I was reminded during our last Sunday school class, in the renovation of our lives into the Christ-image we are created to be, often the process begins with destruction. In the case of my desk, the former filing (or should I say "piling") system had to go: papers had to be moved and sorted and old behaviors had to be abandoned. In the case of our walk with Christ, the process is often the same. Whether it be our individual spirituality or a renovation of who we are as a congregation, we at least begin with clearing out the clutter. And sometimes there is even call for full-blown demolition.

As uncomfortable, messy, and overwhelming as this process can be, it is still an expression of God's love. That's probably not the message we hear in the midst of the proverbial bulldozers crashing through our lives, but it is God's love for us. The removal of those things in us and in our congregation that keep us from being Christ's Body to the world need to be removed so that God can build in us who we were made to be. It's put much better in the book of Jeremiah:
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant. (Jeremiah 1:10, NRSV)
The building and the planting is the end result. But building and planting without plucking up and pulling down, destroying and overthrowing, would be pointless. But neither is the demolition the point. God does not point out and correct our faults and inappropriate ways simply because they're wrong for us; God does this to build something better in its place. God does this because God loves us.

As we continue to seek our Savior's tender care to shape us more and more into his likeness, may the Spirit remove those things that get in the way of our being shaped into that body.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Lenten Reflection, Week Two

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:47-49, NRSV)

When I say that I used to be a runner, that doesn't mean that I can't run. It just means that I currently lack proper motivation... like being chased by a bear.

There is, of course, a lot to be said for being properly motivated and a number of ways to be motivated. But it seems to me that those things that motivate us can be split into two general categories: internal and external motivators. External motivators are like bears. They demand a reactive response from us; they merely and temporarily change our behavior.
External motivators are compelling, but only immediately; they only change our lives until the crisis has passed.

But internal motivators are quite different. Often those deeper motivations have nothing to do with our circumstances: there is no crisis, there is only the drive to be better; or better yet, the working of the Spirit pulling us more and more toward Christ's likeness.

It's these motivations that come from within that interested me most. My interest is partly due to a new pastorate and being especially conscious of not continuing in bad habits; partly because of Lent; and partly because I'm out of shape. I want to be a better person, inside and out. I want to be a better pastor, I want to follow Christ more faithfully, and I want to be healthier in a number of ways. And I need to let the Spirit show me why.

As we journey through this Lenten season, what do we anticipate? Are we seeking that God-centered motivation to direct us toward growth? Or are we continuing to react to situations and routines that only change us on the outside?

May the Spirit continue to guide you and bless you as we anticipate our Risen Savior.