Monday, April 25, 2011

Accepting My Ordinariness

Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices to they could anoint Jesus' body. Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. . . 
When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, "Don't be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn't here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died."
                                                                                                Mark 16:1-2, 5-7

When the angel gave the women his instructions, he singled out Peter. I believe it was a way of letting Peter know he was still loved. He had not been laid aside because of his denial of Jesus.

Contrast the difference between how Judas and Peter handled their sin toward Jesus. Judas could not get over it and commits suicide. Peter moves ahead and remains in his role as a disciple. Peter becomes the leader of the disciples despite having denied Jesus. He can preach forgiveness because he has experienced forgiveness. His failure strengthened his message. Judas could have also had a powerful message of redemption but he could not get over himself and his selfishness cost his discipleship.

Jesus had chosen both men to be his disciples, but only Peter kept his focus on Jesus. Judas was self-absorbed and it was this that cost him his life, not his betrayal of Jesus.

This is a powerful lesson for me. I can put so much pressure on myself that I am unable to see the grace and forgiveness that is always available to me. My self-focus keeps me from focusing on God, so I overstate my own failures just as I overrate my own righteousness. 

I have a friend who observes that we have a hard time accepting that we are ordinary. Peter was able to accept his ordinariness, and because he did, God did great things through him. Judas could not accept being ordinary, and God could not work through him. 

Lord, help me accept my ordinariness, and to keep my focus on you and your greatness. Amen

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Way of Death

If I am to pattern my life after that of Jesus, should that not also extend to how he lived and died in the final week of his life on earth?

Can the crucified Christ be my model for living and for dying? It seems that Paul is saying this in Philippians 2:5-11, a passage I’ve returned to time and time again in this season of Lent:

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
  Though he was God,
      he did not think of equality with God
      as something to cling to.
   Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
      he took the humble position of a slave
      and was born as a human being.
     When he appeared in human form,
      he humbled himself in obedience to God
      and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

   Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
      and gave him the name above all other names,
   that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
   and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
      to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus’ faith was embodied in self-surrender. My faith cannot be just belief, but must be my pattern for living. My faith will lead to death, death of my own self-interests, death to my own instinct toward self-preservation, death to seeking to have my own way. It is costly—yet Jesus bore that cost out of his love for God and his love for me.

I cannot fully love unless I die to self. Jesus modeled self-emptying, downwardly mobile love. How countercultural to the values of our society!

As I go with Jesus to the cross, I ask myself if I am indeed willing to pattern my life after Christ.

Can I voluntarily give up my rights and my wealth to help others?

Will I choose to become downwardly mobile for the sake of elevating others?

Will I constantly ask myself how my behaviors and choices affect others?

These are questions I will wrestle with long after the joy of Easter Sunday. I cannot dismiss them, for they must be answered. The answers I give determine if I am a merely a believer or am a disciple.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Middle Part

On Sunday, I was thinking over the previous week, a discipline I do in preparation for worship. I reflect on when I've been aware of God's presence, and when I've missed God and why. Some weeks are full of encounters with God, and some, like last week, seem to be devoid of such experiences. As I considered why that might have been the case, it dawned on me that it was the middle of Lent and maybe that had something to do with my spiritual dryness.

The middle is not always a good place to be. The first week or so of Lent, I was excited to have begun the pilgrimage. For weeks prior to Ash Wednesday, I had been thinking about Lent, and what discipline would I take on for this forty-day journey as preparation for Easter. Like many anticipated journeys, there is excitement as the journey begins. The newness of the endeavor and the immediately apparent changes are reasons for celebration. Every step feels fresh. Every day of successfully practicing a new discipline is a victory.

But in the middle the new has worn off. The wilderness is now THE wilderness, where every day dawns much the same as the one before. The initial excitement is gone, and the pilgrimage now feels more like a forced march. Day after day, step after step. The end is too far out to motivate me forward, so I am in a dry and weary land in the middle of Lent.

The middle is where perseverance is needed, because the initial momentum is gone and it's too early for the final surge to the finish. In this place, the temptations aren't the big things, but the small ones. It's not the sharks, but instead the guppies--that look so harmless and actually kind of tickle as they nibble on my toes--that break my skin and allow my life to leak out of me ever so slowly. These nibbles come in many forms--the short answer given when someone says a hurtful word, the feeling-sorry-for-myself that results from being overlooked, the impatience with a lonely neighbor who talks too much. 

I've been reading Living With Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine Spirituality, by Esther de Waal. The author notes that we face a "ceaseless round of daily duties," but that Benedict asks us to pray through all of this. So maybe that is the discipline needed to persevere through the middle part of the pilgrimage. Pray when I encounter others, pray when I am frustrated, pray when the scenery isn't changing, pray when I cannot see the end in sight. Pray for safe travels.