“Abiding Spirit” (Kayla McClurg)

For Sunday, May 25, 2014 – John 14:15-21

I notice right away the bookends holding up this passage of scripture, the two reminders to love and obey. To love—from beginning to end—to love first, to love last, to love long, and then to love again. And to obey—to listen deep and wide, and to respond, always, from the home base of love. At the beginning is to love and obey, at the end is to love and obey, and in between is Spirit, the place of awe and mystery where we are given what we need, where we are never alone.

This Spirit is our Advocate, our Counselor, our Trusted Advisor and Friend. The Spirit of truth brings insight and wisdom, challenging our worldly ways, our superior opinions and clever strategies. We cannot see or know this Spirit with the mind of logic and reason. The Spirit abides. Only as we, too, learn to abide, only as we notice and heed what lies within us and among us, will we see this one who teaches and guides.

“I will not leave you orphaned,” Jesus says, and within us a tiny bird of longing flutters. We do not show up alone for our lives! Sitting in the audience at each little recital, looking in to be sure we are safe in the night, encouraging us and directing us, is one who loves just to be near us, to watch us, to abide. We are captured and held in a solid surround of love. With this awareness, I no longer need to abandon myself, or you. I no longer need to leave myself orphaned, angry and alone. I no longer need to escape disappointment and rationalize hurt. I can bring all of who I am into the family; I can endure the pain of being known. The path need not be littered by the debris of my hasty getaways. The Spirit of truth says, be honest about your life; abide in your life. I am with you. You can trust me to be here for the long haul.

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Messy Grace…

I have grown weary again from hearing and reading about the hardness and arrogance of those who follow Jesus, ‘theologians’ who like the Pharisees before them, set up barriers and limits to the grace of God. So, as I get older, my mind forgets what it has and has not said, so bear with me as I go off on a ‘grandpa rant’ about grace.

I am learning ever so slowly, through recovery, the Big Book, reading Scripture and through life’s lessons, that grace is messy.

We try and portray it as a “suit and tie, Sunday best, bonnet kind of thing.” But it is not. Grace is so much more, so much so that when we even try to define it…all we can do is close our mouths in humility, drop to our knees and ask for it.

The Truth is that grace, like most of life, is messy, disturbing, comforting and doled out to any and all who seek God and ask for it.

Grace is the ‘prostitute’ caught literally in the act and led away to be stoned, Jesus creating space, kneeling down on the ground, writing something, pausing with mercy, waiting…then speaking the loudest truth of all in calmness: let whomever is without sin be the one to cast the first stone. Nothing neat about that scenario; in fact, it’s kind of weird all the way around, especially the crazy grace given from Jesus to the woman caught.

What Jesus did, in and of itself was radical in so many ways: it was counter-cultural, blasphemous, renegade and illegal (in order: men did not talk to prostitutes unless doing business with them behind closed doors, only God could forgive sins, and stopping the stoning of a ‘criminal’ was interfering in the “legal” process). Messy, messy, messy…and nothing but divine grace. Jesus constantly embodied God’s love in ways that we cannot accept; messy ways, so messy in fact that we feel the need to add to it, water it down, or try and infer a different meaning into it.

I mean let’s face it, the disciples were sometimes a bunch of asinine dunces who spoke before they thought, acted with little regard to the consequences, and who sometimes were as thick as oaks, blind to the truth that they were handpicked, loved and in the perpetual presence of the awaited Messiah. And yet, Jesus loved them deeply and dearly. That is messy grace. And here is another thing to ponder: Jesus constantly allowed his followers to be in situations where they were bound to fail, and therefore, would be in need of God’s grace.

God is beautifully messy and so is his grace. But we are too often so concerned about what it will look like such as the lofty glances at those who are different, those who don’t look like us, don’t vote like us, don’t think like us, don’t pray like us (fill in the blank). We want grace to be neat and clean. But it isn’t! It is messy.

Grace is forgiveness to dope fiends and sloppy drunks. Grace is mercy in the face of undeserved mercy. Grace is a prisoner being forgiven and healed. Grace is finding hope in a drug den or kneeling over a toilet after a night of binge drinking.

Grace is sloppy, greasy, and gooey.

Grace is a bloodied, dirty so-called Messiah dangling from a cross, an apparent failure with every one of his followers abandoning him except for a young one named John, his Mother, and a prostitute named Mary.  There is nothing clean and tidy about that!

Messy grace sums up the entire Gospel story. Grace is apparent failure with a small flame of hope in the bleakest darkness. Grace is hope in the face of utter despair. Grace is the Creator of the Universe coming to and caring intimately for you and me, messy human beings that we are with all our foibles and frailties.

Grace is messy indeed.

Grace is a group of drunks and addicts finding healing and freedom in church basements, with bad coffee and human stories. Grace is God pursuing us, like the prodigal children we are, running out after us – all muddy and filthy from the pig trough and the brokenness of our lives – falling down on his knees, holding onto us tightly, weeping for joy that we have finally come Home.

 

“The Duty of the Moment” (Catherine de Hueck Doherty)

The duty of the moment is what you should be doing at any given time, in whatever place God has put you. You may not have Christ in a homeless person at your door, but you may have a little child. If you have a child, your duty of the moment may be to change a dirty diaper. So you do it. But you don’t just change that diaper, you change it to the best of your ability, with great love for both God and that child…

There are all kinds of good things you can do, but whatever they are, you have to realize that there is always the duty of the moment to be done. And it must be done, because the duty of the moment is the duty of God.

Catherine Doherty

“Let Everything Happen” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.

Summed Up

…and all the other commandments are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:9-10)

It’s all summed up in one word: love.  Paul even clarifies it, in an emphatic way, as if to say no matter what else is out there, no matter what laws are written and spoken, they are ALL summed up in the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  And if we recall, Jesus also unequivocally spoke to exactly who are ‘neighbors’ are: anyone we see or know of in need, whether those who are like us or those who are not.  Remember, in the parable of the Sheep and the Goats (in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25), Jesus said the only difference between the sheep and the goats was what they did and did not do (in love) to the poor.

You could call love the Executive Summary to the Thesis on what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

The word “sum/summed” comes from the feminine Latin word meaning “highest.”  That is poignant, the sum of the Christian life is not reductionism, or love reduced to the lowest common denominator; it is the Highest.  Love is the calling and to become the Beloveds is the answer – to be so full of the love of Jesus that we start to become love itself.

God is love and to love in God’s name is to imitate God.

Love sums it up.

Love is the highest summation of how God responds to us, and how we are to respond to God, and subsequently how we are to respond to each other – in love, with love, and by love.

And make no mistake about it, love is an action verb, much like God (yes, God is a Verb as well as a Noun).  This relentlessly loving God is a God Who proactively sought us out, and continues to seek us.  God as Creator, created this world out of love, one that is dynamic not static.  And our relationship to this God is meant to be the same – dynamic love rather than static rote.

Far too often, if I am honest, my relationship with Jesus is sometimes more of an historical fact than a dynamic, loving relationship.  And so it goes for my loving my neighbor…I often point to what I have done, or how I used to live, rather than what I am today, or how I am living today. Love is a baptism, one of fire and water that washes away the brokenness, the sin, the resentments, the little angers and self-righteousness I clutch and cling to, in the quiet places in my heart, refusing to let God’s love tenderize or pulverize them into pure, divine love.

I am learning, albeit slower than I’d prefer, that if the love of God abides is abiding in my heart, then love is indeed the answer.  Love becomes the All.  Love becomes the question. Love becomes the reason.

Turn everything over to the love of God. When we are in doubt, turn it over to God’s love; when in anger, turn it over to love; when in fear, turn it over to love; when in pain, turn it over to divine love; when in darkness or joy, and turn it over to God’s love.

Let Love become the movement and the motion; let God’s love become the very fabric of our being.

So my prayer for all of us is that our lives may be summed up by one word: LOVE.