Living into Jesus’ Way of Life
June 25, 2017
The lectionary scriptures this week focus mostly on being identified with Jesus, the cost of that way of life, and the life that that brings. It is described as a way of being made free and alive. God has a new way of life for us if we can dare to try it out.
Jesus speaks of this in the Matthew passage. He is talking to the disciples about what might happen because they’ve chosen to follow him. He says that he came to break up the cozy little family arrangements that provide stability and security and to free his followers for God. He adds that if they prefer their family over him they don’t deserve him. Wow! That is serious stuff! Mostly what I think Jesus is referring to here is security of home, lifestyle, and comfort. However, family also provides community for people. What Jesus is saying is that they have to be willing to recreate community … to be open to new, unstable, unpredictable ways of living.
I think this is relevant to our current culture in the US and what we are struggling to let go of in order to enter into a new way of life. It seems that we are struggling to choose between openness, inclusion, scientific data, a simple lifestyle, equality, compassion, and welcoming the stranger, on the one hand, and power, security, political manipulation, luxury, segregation, categorization of people, exploitation of people and resources, exclusion of strangers, and greed, on the other. It is more complex than this, AND it is this simple.
The Romans passage is all about the death of the old way of being bound up in sin, and the new way of life through the resurrection. Paul writes in a letter to the Romans that they have a new life-giving way now, that is free. Because they were included in Jesus’ death through sin, they are included in his resurrection, and therefore in life. The death gave way for new life. “When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us… Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word.” (Romans 6:10, The Message) He is telling them that they have real resources available to them to help them navigate this “light-filled world.”
He makes it sound easy! To me, and I think to many others, this all sounds very attractive. Paul is basically telling them, you are already in this new, good place, don’t live like you’re in that old, bad place. Which is true, and there can be some instant positives to deciding to follow this resurrection-way, which does bring immediate change. However, much of this can take a long time to grow into. He is explaining what this new way brings, which is beautiful. Jesus’ message in Matthew feels more realistic to me. He does not sugarcoat what life with him may be like. You may have to give up a lot of comforts and relationships, and there may be some pain involved with that.
If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace - a new life in a new land!” (Romans 6:2-3, The Message)
There is emphasis on the physical space that these people are living in, or inhabiting. Are you still living as though this old way has power over you? It is hard to live in a “new land” when you haven’t physically left the old land, and I’m guessing that is what the Romans situation was. They did not physically move, but because of their new faith they are being asked to live as if they did physically move.
God is continuously asking us to reimagine the spaces that we live, to relive what it means to be in those spaces as followers of him, even if most everyone else is not trying to do that. This is why Jesus warns that we may have to let go of some family ties or comforts. This is difficult work, but it is made more difficult by the fact that we live in a culture that values time more than space. In his lecture, “The Origins of Race”, Dr Willie Jennings talks about the connection between space and discipleship. He says that there was a “fallacy told to indigenous peoples by Christians that time is more important than space.” This was because of a desire to commoditize most aspects of life in order to make money off of time-based tasks. Jennings says that Christians have overly focused on the Time of Salvation and none on the Space of Salvation, or perhaps we can say the Space of Liberation. (I encourage you to listen to the lecture online; there is a lot more good stuff that he talks about!)
So, we need some tools for inhabiting and recreating spaces of being, living into this “new land of grace” that we are in amidst a culture focused on personal gain, and letting go of ourselves to find God.
One of the first tools comes through the recognition that God speaks our mother-tongue. I think this comes out in our ability to listen for our conscience. I’ve recently learned more about this from a silent retreat with Onjuli, who is a part of Jubilee Church. Through meditation and awareness of the difference between ego-messages and God-messages we are able to cultivate the voice of God within us.
Ego-messages come from a place of lack; they can be critical, hurried, selfish, controlling; they come from a feeling of loneliness or aloneness, a feeling of having to do everything on your own. God-messages come from a place of abundance, they are not rushed - there is enough time, even extra time, they are affirming, have empathy, and often involve other people or community. If we can distinguish between ego messages and God messages we can work to weaken the ego within ourselves and strengthen God within ourselves. And that is the God who knows us, and who speaks to us in our language. The idea of God speaking our mother-tongue is very comforting to me. I think it means our initial belonging is to God, and God being our first place of belonging much like a mother.
Another tool that we have in this work is community. By being present in relationships and community to one another, we put space first, not time. As Jean Vanier writes in On Community, “Perhaps the most essential quality for anyone who lives in community is patience: a recognition that we, others and the whole community, take time to grow. If we are to live in community, we have to be friends of time.”
Also, with community there is an essential letting go of self that must come in order to deepen our connections as part of the group. Community reflects to us a constant process of letting go of yourself (or ego) and learning what essential gifts you bring to the group and giving those gifts. Jean Vanier also writes, “Community is the place where each person grows towards interior freedom. It can never take precedence over the individual. In fact, its beauty and unity come from the radiance and diversity of each individual when its own light, truth and love come into free union with others.” (On Community)
Community is also the place where we find companionship in being something different or counter to the culture. This is critical to the ability to survive in this “new land of grace” amidst a culture obsessed with personal gain. However this companionship is not only inwardly focused but must also work towards making connections outside of itself. Jean Vanier writes “One of the signs of life in a community is the creation of links with others. An inward-looking community will die of suffocation. Living communities are linked to others, making up a huge web of inter-relationships for the world.”
The final tool for living into this new way of life that I’ll talk about today is solidarity. As Fred Taylor shared with us in a past teaching, God’s desire is always for solidarity with us. He is always in solidarity with those in pain and suffering to eventually liberate them from that pain to find joy. It is not about focusing on or glorifying the pain, but about learning about it to deepen the relationship. I have learned about this through my relationships with the core members at L’Arche. By learning the stories of some of my friends there, and through their openness to share some of their pain about living with intellectual disabilities, I am drawn closer to them and am given the opportunity to choose to be in solidarity with their experience. It connects us in a deeper way that creates space for newness in the relationship.
I think that this is the type of work Jesus was encouraging the disciples to enter into. By connecting with others in solidarity I can have compassion for their pain and connect more with the pain within myself. This is the first step towards healing, communing together, and finding life, which then creates the possibility for more new life.
So, by identifying with Jesus’s way of life it is right to acknowledge the potential cost of the depth of that commitment, and the life that is possible through that way. A new place of grace and freedom is available if we can focus on truly being there. Some tools to help us with the creation of this alternative space are meditation focused on strengthening the God messages within us, embracing community, and entering into solidarity with one another. Let us journey together as God’s family into the space of grace, freedom, and aliveness.