BEARING FRUIT

I have posted several meditations on what St. Paul calls the “fruit of the spirit” (Galatians 5:22). The last post focused on “Kindness.” In this post, I would like to reflect more generally on what this “fruit” might mean for you personally.

The “fruit of the spirit” refers to the virtues that genuine Christians should manifest in their daily lives in word and deed.  How should you as a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, live your life in relation to others?  How should you behave?  The answer St. Paul gives is that in everything we do and say, we should manifest the “fruit of the spirit” in our lives.  

The way we live and work with other people witnesses directly to our own spiritual formation and maturity. If we live in peace with one another, demonstrating our kindness, love, and generosity with others, we demonstrate that Christ indeed lives in us.  On the other hand, if we are angry most of the time, our lives do not witness to the love of Christ, something that all those who follow Jesus are called to embody and show to the world.  Jesus told his disciples very clearly that they were to love one another just as he had loved them.  

In the New Revised Standard of the Bible, the version used most often in the Episcopal Church today, St. Paul’s words are translated in this way: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness” (Gal 5: 22).

Each of these words contain a vast treasure of meaning for us.  After all, what does it really mean to love another person or to be a person of peace? How are we to be kind and gentle toward others? 

The Message is a paraphrased translation of the Bible. Eugene Peterson, its author, does not call his translation the Bible, as he does not want his version to be confused with more literal translations.  His version seeks to express what the passage means for us today in our current context using simple, but contemporary language. As a result, it functions best as a companion to more literal translations of the Bible.  I find that after I read a passage in the NRSV, I often want to see what Peterson makes of it in The Message

The paraphrase of Galatians 5:22-23 in the Message is as follows:      

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

The way in which Peterson unfolds what St. Paul means by the fruit of the spirit is brilliant: “[God] brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard….”   

The purpose of a fruit tree is to produce fruit.  Similarly, Jesus calls those who follow him to bear spiritual fruit by living a life that is genuinely Christ-like, a life that is peaceful, loving, gracious, forgiving, kind and generous towards one another.  

What kind of fruit are you bearing in your life?

THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: KINDNESS

Over the past year,  I have written three mediations about what St. Paul calls the “fruit of spirit”:  Resilience” (Patience),” “Gentleness in my Dealings” (Gentleness), and “Joy”(Joy). This month, I would like to focus on Kindness.

The “fruit of the spirit” refers to the virtues that genuine Christians should manifest in their daily lives in word and deed. How should you as a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, live your life in relation to others?  How should you behave? The answer St. Paul gives is that in everything we do and say, we should manifest the “fruit of the spirit” in our lives.

St. Paul is not inventing this metaphor on his own. Jesus himself in numerous places in the gospels urged his followers to live lives that bear fruit. In the gospel of John Jesus, for example, says:

My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples” and “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name (John 15:8,16).

In his letters, St. Paul continually urges Christians to bear fruit.

…We have not ceased praying for you and asking that…you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God (Col 1:10).

In his letter to the Galatians St. Paul contrast the “works of the flesh” with the “fruit of the spirit.”

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these (Gal 5: 19-21)….By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness(Gal 5: 22).

It is important to note that the “works of the flesh” are plural, but its opposite, the “fruit of the spirit,” is singular.   St. Paul does not call them the “fruits” of the spirit as if we could display some but not others, but rather groups them into one.  We can’t have one without all the others if we are to manifest signs of the presence of Christ Jesus in our lives.  The fruit of the spirit is made manifest when all together and at the same time are on display in our lives.

The list that enumerates the “fruit of the spirit” in Galatians is not the only listing of moral virtues found in St. Paul’s writings. In Colossians, we find a similar list:

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Col 3:12).

In 2 Corinthians, St. Paul cites the example of his own manner of life and that of his band of fellow evangelists when he writes:

…[A]s servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: …by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left…” (2 Cor 6:4–7).

In the list of the virtues found in Galatians, Colossians, and 2 Corinthians we always find “patience” and “kindness.”

We find those two virtues listed again when in 1 Cor. 13, one of the most renowned passages in all of St. Paul’s writing, he describes the meaning of love (another aspect of the “fruit of the spirit”).   St. Paul begins with these simple words: “Love is patient; love is kind….”

Here again, we see the interrelatedness of the Christian virtues. To describe love, St. Paul turns to patience and kindness. (All three are found in the list of the “fruit of the spirit” in Galatians.) I’m sure that if St. Paul were to describe kindness, he would at a minimum turn to love and patience to give shape to his description. That’s why love, patience, and kindness are elements of the “fruit of the spirit” and not separate fruits of the spirit.

St. Paul goes on to describe how love is kind and patient. “Love,” he continues, “is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor 13:4–6).  Love and kindness are integrally connected, but to exhibit full kindness to someone, we need to embody all the elements that St. Paul lists in his description of the “fruit of the spirit”: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, and faithfulness.”

St. Paul compiled the list we find in Galatians to describe how Christians should behave toward one another and as a tool to urge them to live in a manner consistent with the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. When we act in accordance with his teaching and example, it can be said that our lives are bearing fruit. St. Paul’s description of the fruit that we who follow Jesus should seek to bear, particularly as it relates to how we live and work with others, gives us both a helpful checklist and a way of discerning whether we are living our lives in accordance with the teaching and example of Jesus.

NEW BEGINNINGS

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Moses was a prince in Egypt, an adopted son of Pharaoh. As such, he had access to power and wealth. But after killing an Egyptian in anger, whom he saw beating a fellow Israelite, Moses fled into the wilderness to avoid arrest and punishment. Things did not look good for Moses, a fugitive from justice, who now tended sheep far away from the life of privilege he had known.

God, on the other hand, had a plan for Moses. God searched Moses out and revealed God’s self to Moses in a burning bush. God then said to Moses, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10)

The call of God came as a great surprise to Moses. He had resigned himself to tending sheep in the wilderness. How could he ever expect that God could use a murderer like him to fulfill God’s plan? Moses “found favor” in God’s sight and God called him by name (Exodus 33:17) to a task so arduous Moses had no idea how he could accomplish it apart from complete trust in the God who called him.

The story of Moses is a story of new beginnings like no other. It reminds us that nothing in our past can hinder the ability for God to use us as God wills.  Nothing we have done or failed to do can stop God from calling us to something new. And, nothing we have done can prevent us from starting over again. God never gives up on us and God always gives us the chance to start over again.

Don’t listen to those who tell you that you are forever stuck in your past. Don’t listen to those who tell you it’s too late to start something new. Listen instead to God who says to each of us in God’s own way, “you have found favor in my sight and I know you by name.” (Exodus 33:17)

God is with us in our beginnings and our endings because God is a God of promises. So, don’t get stuck in the past. Look forward to the future with hope. Look forward to your future with hope. It is never too late for God to use you in God’s own way and for God’s own purposes.

THE MYSTERY OF LIVING

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“…And take upon’s the mystery of things as if we were God’s spies…”  Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 5, Scene 3.

This line from Shakespeare points to an important dimension of human life. Life is filled with mystery and we, like spies, must search out small hints and clues to its variegated facets and meanings.

I’m glad that living is like that. I like mystery. At times it seems that it would be wonderful to know and understand everything, but then I realize that if it were so, I would be bored. There is always something to learn, and there is always room to grow.  There is always a risk that as I learn and grow that I may change. Although that is not always a comforting prospect, I enjoy the pursuit of wisdom and the gradual unfolding of insight it brings.

Perhaps the reason I like to read mystery novels is that they, like any mystery, are full of clues that, with a little insight and the right perspective, become clear. When solved, the mystery, like the pieces of a puzzle, fits together to form a coherent picture. Half the fun, of course, is to see if I can figure out what is going on in the story before the author clearly spells it out for me.

The world isn’t as neat as a puzzle–its pieces don’t always seem to fit together.  It’s hard to get that perfect perspective of a perfect fit.

All of us are like spies—God’s spies. We are spies in pursuit of God’s trail. God, full of grace and mystery, leaves us with plenty of clues, signposts, and markers. We can never fully understand them, but for a start, we can embrace the mystery and take it upon us.  Look for the clues of God’s grace all around you and become one of God’s spies, praying that your eyes be opened and that the path before you be illumined.

THE PROMISE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

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While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Luke 24:4-5

When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. Acts 1:9-11

Every few years a blockbuster film is released and we are inundated by the hysteria caused by it.  Long before the release of the film, massive numbers of toys are released to stores and fast food restaurants and the rush to buy Star Wars “collectibles” is on. Today what we call “collectibles” used to be called “souvenirs.”

We human beings have a need to surround ourselves with reminders of where we have been and what we have done. We buy souvenirs, I think, to prove to ourselves and to others that we really were “there” and to impress on ourselves and on others the importance and meaning of the experience we had “then.”

Often we do not fully experience an event because we are trying so hard to preserve it forever. We are trying so hard to remember it, that we forget it all the more easily. Here is an example from my own experience.  At the defense of my dissertation at Duke University, Stanley Hauerwas, a professor on my dissertation committee, asked me to reflect on something Noam Chomsky had written. He read a long passage aloud quickly.  I did not have a copy of what he was reading before me. While he was reading, I was trying to memorize what he was saying so that I could comment on it when he finished.  I remember saying to myself as he read, “remember that, and remember that, and remember that….” When he finished, Dr. Hauerwas said to me: “What do you think about that assessment? I couldn’t remember a thing. I had tried so hard to preserve the memory, that I had remembered nothing. A friend of mine, who faced a similar encounter, a year or so later from the same professor, coolly asked if he could see and read the passage for himself. Why didn’t I think of that?

When the floor of Cameron Indoor Stadium, that fantastic arena in which many a great Duke Blue Devil basketball player has played, was replaced, fundraisers at Duke University were no fools. They sold off small pieces of the wooden floor to eager fans who wanted a piece of the place— more particularly a piece of the memories of what had happened in that place, and of all the people who may have played on that floor. Buyers now, for a fee, could hold a souvenir of basketball history in their own hands and own it.

Through the souvenir of a place or event, we hope to remind ourselves of who and where we were and to capture a piece of that experience forever. The living flowing blood that surged through our bodies when we experienced an event or a place first hand, is now in the object of the souvenir, a hardened piece of coagulated memory.

Early on Easter morning, a few women drawn from the group of Jesus’ disciples arrived at the tomb where Jesus had been hastily buried on the previous Friday just before the beginning of Passover. They had come at the first opportunity after the end of the Sabbath to anoint and prepare Jesus’ body for burial. Angels (literally “messengers”) of God ask them why they are looking amidst the past for Jesus. “He is not here, but has risen,” the angels remind the women.

After his crucifixion, the disciples fled Jerusalem, where their Lord had been crucified, and returned to the safety of the Galilean countryside. There they resumed fishing and their several occupations. At Jesus’ ascension into the heavens, the disciples are told to return to Jerusalem, a place of uncertain risk and danger, and to wait for their mutual empowerment by the Holy Spirit. Then they are to proclaim the good news of what God had done in Jesus to “the ends of the earth.”

At the tomb and at his Ascension, the attention of the disciples was fixed on what Jesus had already done and on the places where they had known him. The task of the angels, God’s messengers, was to move the attention of the disciples from the past on to what they must now do in the present. Only when this was accomplished, could they continue the ministry that Jesus had begun, but now in places the historical Jesus had never been.

The disciples easily could have held on to the places in which Jesus had done this or that, or to objects Jesus had touched or held. In other words, they could have remained in Galilee. To be faithful to the ministry to which Jesus had called them, they had to give up the “souvenirs” which might have held them to the past and its demands, and move towards Jerusalem.  If they had held on to the past, they would have missed new opportunities for lively mission and ministry.

Think of the ways in your life in which you may be holding on to the souvenirs of the past. Would you be willing, if God called you in a similar manner to move from the safety of Galilee to the risky and uncertain Jerusalem, knowing that there you would be empowered and your life renewed and restored by God’s holy and life-giving spirit?  God’s promise to us is that we can let go of everything from the past that hinders us and that God will renew, reform, and restore us by the power of the Holy Spirit.  What would it take for you to step forward in faith?

 

“FOR GENTLENESS IN MY DEALINGS”

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A long time ago in high school, I bought a very small paperback book of 102 short prayers.  They were written by Malcolm L. Playfoot, “Sometime Administrator of the Society of the Companions of St. Francis.” A Saint Francis Prayer Book was published by the Society for the Preservation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) in London in 1941. I carried it with me for years until I lost it. Then in the early 1990s, the book was reprinted and I bought another copy that I carry with me to this day.

The book contains prayers for all sorts of occasions and occurrences in our lives. There is one for “On hearing Bad News,” another “Before reading a Serious Book,” one “Before Going Shopping,” and another for “Square Pegs in round holes.”

The prayer that has most stuck in my mind, ever since I first encountered this book, is the one “For Gentleness in My Dealings.” The prayer, written long before inclusive language was the norm, goes like this:

Grant me, Lord, to be so much thine that I may fitly show thy presence in all my dealings. Give me thy patience, thy sympathy, and thy love, that wherever I may be men may see, not me, but thee.

It is not surprising that this prayer is included in a book inspired by the witness of St. Francis to the Christian virtues and manner of life. Francis endeavored to live his life in imitation of Jesus Christ. At the heart of this manner of life is a certain gentleness and peacefulness.

Each of us is created in the image of God and in the image of Christ. The reminder implicitly posed to each of us by this prayer is that each of us who endeavors to live the Christian life should also reflect the presence of Christ that is within us to those around us, that wherever we may be others may see not [you] but the presence of Christ within you.

In the letter that St. Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, he urges Christians to “Let [their] gentleness be known to everyone”(Phil. 4:5). We find descriptions of what that gentleness looks like in other places in the New Testament. It is, for example, tolerant and willing to take into consideration the opinions of others: “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy”(James 3:17). Living this manner of life, we are also “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone” (Titus 3:2).  That is because true, genuine love “does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1Cor. 13:5).  Finally, St. Paul sums it up when he writes: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:9-10).

In a genuine Christian community, each person acts with gentleness to the other, each recognizes the presence of Christ in the other, and each reflects the presence of Christ back to the other.  This reciprocity of gentleness and kindness, in imitation of Christ, is at the core of Christian ethics. Christian ethics is at its core about how we can act as Christ’s representatives in the world. Gentleness in our dealings with one another is a good place to start.

Try saying this simple short prayer for “Gentleness in my Dealings” each day. See if it begins to change the way you deal with others in your daily life.

 

COMPASSION AND SUFFERING

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St. Paul wrote a number of letters during the first part of the first century to the church in Corinth. Only two letters survive.  Whenever I read the opening verses of the second of those letters—and I read them frequently—I am always moved.  In these verses, Paul shares with the Corinthians that he and his traveling companion Timothy experienced “a deadly peril” in Asia Minor.  He says, “For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” and “we felt that we had received the sentence of death.”  Nonetheless, Paul writes, God “delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.”

Those are powerful words of hope in the midst of great suffering yet Paul never says exactly what had happened to him and Timothy. Whatever happened, Paul observes, “was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

The opening words of the letter I find the most extraordinary.  Paul writes:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

The logic of Paul’s argument reminds me powerfully that Paul lived in a world different from ours. Paul says that in our sufferings and difficulties we share in Christ’s sufferings.  God comforts us in our afflictions so that we can share the comfort that God has given us with others who are suffering. So as we share in Christ’s sufferings we also share in the comfort that God gives us.

It seems to me that most people today regard any suffering or difficulty as bad in itself.  When difficulties arise, we protest that they are unfair. Hardly anyone I know gives thanks for their sufferings and difficulties and almost no one regards them as a privilege as Paul seems to do. In his letter to the Philippians Paul indeed claims that our sufferings are a privilege. He writes, “For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well” (Phil. 1:29). In our sufferings, we learn how God comforts us, so that we can share the comfort we have received from with others. Without our own sufferings, then, we might not learn how genuinely to comfort others. Our difficulties and sufferings teach us how to be compassionate with others.

Compassion literally means to “suffer with” someone else. And in the community of Christ’s body the church, Paul reminds us, “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1Cor. 12:26). Compassion is something we learn in community and solidarity with others. That is why we all need to be involved in the life of the community of Christ’s body, the church—to learn genuine compassion for others.

Our suffering also reminds us also of how much we depend upon God.  Awareness of our own suffering and of the suffering of others increases our love and the depth of our prayers for them. Paul does not tell us the nature of the afflictions he faced in 2 Corinthians, but he does ask the Corinthian church for their spiritual and material support: “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.”

As we move from Lent into Holy Week and our attention focuses more narrowly on the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross, remember that we too are blessed to share in his sufferings. That might be difficult for us to do given that we strive to avoid all suffering and difficulties in our lives.  And when we do suffer, we are impatient with and wish it to end as soon as possible.

When Paul thought of Jesus on the cross through the eyes of resurrected faith he saw not despair or anger, but hope.  When Paul looked at his own sufferings in the light of Jesus sufferings he saw cause for rejoicing. That might seem strange to us but there is much we can learn from him. In spite of the difficulties he faced or the sufferings, Paul endured Paul always experienced the love of compassion of God for him in his need.  That compassion was also the source of his great love for the people to whom he ministered.  That is why Paul could write these remarkable words:

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5).

 

THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP

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If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me (Mark 8:34).

The life of Christian discipleship is not easy. It places unique demands on those who decide to follow Jesus and his teachings. While there are some who call themselves Christians who seem to drift through life without a care, Jesus places real demands on those who would call themselves Christians, that is, those who have chosen to live a life in obedience to Jesus. There are admirers of Jesus, and there are followers—real disciples, who experience the challenge of truly following Jesus each and every day of their lives.

In his Confessions, St. Augustine tells the story of his conversion to Christianity from the dualist Manichean sect. His mother Monica, a constant irritant to her son, was always begging and cajoling her son to join her in the confession of the Christian faith. Augustine knew that conversion to Christianity would mean a change in his lifestyle and in his relationship with his concubine with whom he already had had a son. He relates how he knew more or less that one day he would become a Christian, but for the moment he was unwilling to change. And so, Augustine tells his readers that he prayed, “Lord make me chaste, but not yet.” In a larger sense, this is much the same as praying, Lord make me a Christian, but not yet. Augustine weighed the cost of Christian discipleship and found the cost to be much too high for him at that moment in his life. Subsequent generations of Christians, no matter what they think of Augustine or some of his later theological writings, respect him for his honesty and for his recognition that becoming a Christian was not just a verbal consent to a set of creeds or beliefs but something that has a real cost, something that would demand a real change in the way he lived his life.

The life of Christian discipleship is costly. Jesus, for example, calls that those who desire to follow him, those whom he calls disciples, to forgive those who hurt them or with whom they disagree, to pray for their enemies, to turn the other cheek, to renounce their possessions, and to lay down the sword.  These are costly demands, ones that many find difficult. It is no wonder that some folks who began to follow Jesus left him saying, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it? (John 6:60).

In the Lenten season, Christians are reminded that if they desire to follow Jesus that they are to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him. In the earliest church Christians faced the real risk of being crucified as Jesus was. In subsequent generations, particularly when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, this became much less likely for Christians. As a result, these words of Jesus have been understood in a more spiritualized manner. Jesus says that if we want to save our lives, we will lose them but if we want to gain our lives, we have to be willing to lose them for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of what he taught his followers, that is, the gospel message. The New Testament Greek word for life here is psyche, meaning one’s life or one’s soul.  If we want to experience the life that Jesus imagines for us, we have to be willing to let go of the things that hold us back from truly following him. We need to deny the idols that we have constructed in place of God. There are many idols in our lives to which we cling for assurance and hope but Jesus teaches us that they are not the appropriate object of our ultimate trust and hope. Our trust alone belongs to God who is made known to us in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” If you decide truly to follow Jesus, the cost may be high. You may not be able to live just as you did before. Our self- denial creates the conditions for the creation of Christian life in community with others. You will have to change.  If you want to gain your life, as Jesus teaches, you have to be willing to give it up for God first. That is no easy task.  That is the cost of genuine discipleship.

“BLESSED IS THE ONE WHO TRUSTS IN THE LORD”

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“Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17: 7-8, NRSV).

In October 2003, while on retreat at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, near Abiquiu, New Mexico, I heard this reading during one of the monastic offices: “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord….” This passage seemed almost to have been written with the location of the monastery in mind. The monastery is located in the desert in the heart of a canyon formed by the Rio Chama that flows through it. From the patio outside my room, I often sat in silence between the hours of prayer gazing at the birch trees that lined the banks of the river. My eyes were continually drawn to the bright yellow birch leaves blazing in their final fall glory before they fell to the earth. In the midst of the high desert, these trees flourished because they found their source of nourishment in the waters of the Chama River.

Jeremiah employs the metaphor of a river in the desert to talk about God. Similarly, the trees represent the “blessed” men and women who are nourished and fed by God at all times. What strikes me about this image of Jeremiah is the passive action of the blessed person who trusts in the LORD. The trees do not have to work to draw nourishment, rather they quietly and patiently place themselves near the life-giving and life-sustaining stream of life so that neither heat nor drought brings them to ruin or destruction. In the time of drought, the trees are not anxious or full of worry but are able to rest in God’s presence and are capable of bearing fruit, even in the harshest and driest of conditions.

This Lent, I encourage you to reflect on how you draw nourishment from the stream of God’s love and mercy.  I have attached a link to set of resources to assist you in your daily Lenten devotions and readings that I hope will help you find all that you need to draw you to prayer, contemplation, and silent rest in God’s presence

Lenten Booklet 2019

 

 

LENT: THE WAY OF THE CROSS

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In the season of Lent, we follow Jesus from his temptation in the wilderness to his death on the cross in Jerusalem.  For us, as Christians, we find meaning in the death of Jesus whom we proclaim died for us and for our salvation.

In Lent, we encounter the charge of Jesus to those who would follow him that they take up their cross and follow him.  When we do so, we have no idea where we might be led.  Jesus told Simon Peter, as much when he said to him:

“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this, he said to him, “Follow me”” (John 21:18–19).

When we take up our cross to follow Jesus, we have no idea where that journey will take us. We like to think that we have ultimate control over our own lives, but when we take up our cross and promise to follow Jesus wherever he leads, he may take us to places we never could have imagined.

That is certainly true of my life.  In June 1972, I was one of between 100,000 and 200,000 persons who attended the weeklong Christian festival, Explo ’72, in Dallas, Texas. At the time I was an Episcopalian active in my church youth group. A college student from Dallas active in my church, a year older than I was, asked me if I would be willing to attend the event with him.  I went without really knowing what I was getting into.

During the day we were instructed in Christian evangelism; at night, a full stadium of between 50,000 – 60,000, gathered in the Cotton Bowl. It was on those nights that I first came into contact with the Christian evangelist, Billy Graham. He took the stage and began one of the evangelistic sermons for which he was so justly renowned. I don’t remember anything he said except for one thing that I have never forgotten. In the middle of his sermon, he issued a challenge to young people like me. He said, “If you are willing to go wherever God sends you, I want you to stand up in your seats.”  In the heat of the moment, full of zeal, I stood up. Years later I found myself living in a small town serving two small parishes in Eastern Oklahoma — a place I never in my wildest dreams expected to be! — and I felt I knew the reason why.

I have often wondered about the consequences of my standing up in response to a call to follow Jesus wherever it led.  Throughout my life, I have been continually surprised. When we promise to take up our cross and follow Jesus, we never know where that journey will take us. Jesus is clear about this. He does not ask us simply to take up our cross. He first says, deny yourself, then take up your cross and follow me.  The words are clear: deny, take up, and follow. When we promise to follow Jesus, we give up the ultimate control of our own lives — we are not in charge. That is what it means, after all, to follow.

While this runs counter to the narrative that we are our own sovereign, the way of the cross is also the way of a full and genuine life. This idea is reflected in the collect for Monday in Holy Week:

Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Paradoxically, the way of the cross, the way of denying ourselves and taking up our cross, is the way of life and peace. When we commit our lives to Jesus we begin a journey with an uncertain future but a journey nonetheless that rewards us with a full, abundant life, stretching into eternity.