St Benedict Rule of Life: Recreation
By the Rev’d Canon Lynne Thackwray
In the gospel this morning, Jesus told his disciples that “the sabbath was made for mankind, not mankind for the sabbath.” The Sabbath according to Jewish law is a day set apart for the worship of God as well as for the rest and re-creation of mankind. Today we are looking at Re-Creation - the fourth of the St. Benedictine rules of life as outlined in your brochures. The questions asked were: “How will care for myself?” How can I incorporate times for rest and re-Creation?”
In this day and age many or should I say most, of us (and I am no exception) lead very busy lives. There always seems to be places to go, people to see, things to do and not enough time to do them all. It feels as though we are always in a hurry, as though there is so much to accomplish and so few years in which to do it all that we've become addicted to instant everything. It probably started with instant mashed potatoes! Now there's instant food at drive-through windows, instant cash from an ATM, instant credit from all manner of stores, and instant information available online. We have lost the ability to let life unfold in its own time.
For those of us who are rushing through our days at break-neck speed, an ordinary way of becoming holy may simply be to practice slowing down.Do the dishes more slowly in the morning, drive more slowly to work, handwrite a letter rather than pushing buttons quickly on a computer, walk from your car into the store more slowly, eat more slowly. These conscious acts of slowing down can ready your spirit for the moments of grace, moments that we might not see if we race by too swiftly. Perhaps one of the reasons we find it difficult to slow down is that we have not become convinced of the need for things to occur “in the fullness of time.”
Scripture however, gives us another way to think about time. How long did Abraham and Sarah wait for the arrival of their promised heir, Isaac? God first revealed to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations when he called him to leave his country and go to the land God would show him. 25 years later when Abraham was 100 years old, Abraham and Sarah finally had their son - in “the fullness of time.” How long did the Israelites wander through the desert after leaving Egypt on their way to the Promised Land? Forty long years. It certainly doesn't take 40 years to get from where they started in the Nile Delta to reach Jericho. I wonder if God felt they needed to slow down so they could really experience the “fullness of time.” Think of old Simeon, the priest in the temple, who waited his whole life to see the promised Messiah. God had told him long before that he would not die until he had seen the Christ. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the temple to be blessed, Simeon lifted him up and said, “Lord now let your servant depart in peace according to your word. The “fullness of time” had arrived.
Another approach of course if we find it just too difficult to “Slow Down” is to intentionally set aside a time when we can come to a stop – when we can review the day, pray, read the Bible, meditate, or just be still in our mind and body, to be at peace within ourselves and the world we live in. Hopefully this will generate within us a spiritual energy of balance and wellness.
And who among us does not want to be well? Who would not pay to have their aches and pains disappear, their illnesses healed, their anxieties wiped away leaving no trace of worry. And who has not experienced disappointment as one solution after another fails, and wellness remained beyond our grasp. For Christians it is clear that wellness is part of God's intention. Jesus healed both body and soul. And Christ's message is one of transforming lives. Rev. Dr. Robert Hansel a retired episcopal priest who spent many years mentoring clergy as they reflected upon and discerned their calling had this to say: Christian faith values equallyall facets of human life and experience. Physical wellness and activity are not “inferior” to intellectual or aesthetic qualities. It is in the balance, unity, and harmony of the entire person (or community) that true wellness emerges. For Christians, the ultimate goal of life is, through Christ, to be restored to complete unity with God—a harmony in which all the fragmentation and division that cause self-alienation and separates people from one another is finally overcome.
Wellness, or well-being, is difficult to define and can vary from individual to individual and from situation to situation. One universal defining mark of wellness is flexibility and adaptability in all areas of life. It involves the willingness to know one’s self and our capacity to function. Wellness includes having a clear set of core values including our ability to channel our passions, set goals, and at least work towards them. It means having the capacity to initiate, sustain, and deepen relationships. But the vital relationship, the unseen force and mover of our well-being, is our relationship with God.
Tao says: We join spokes together in a wheel
But it is the center hole that makes the wagon move.
As the center of our life, God calls us to an abundant life—not a life without stress or challenge, but a life that meets those challenges and stresses in a way that draws upon the resources of our faith in communion and community with others. This is the foundation for a comprehensive approach to wellness.
Living a thankful life or a life of gratitude I believe is critical to wellness and re-creation. “Studies and statistics have shown that gratitude is good for us. It grounds us in something solid and sustaining and, yes, sacred. "While gratitude is sometimes a thank-you for something specific, it is most deeply realized through a process that simply happens." Gratitude is grace. And “Just like the loaves and fishes, gratitude grows. The more one says thank you, the more one sees things for which to be thankful. A spirit of thanksgiving is contagious. Being around grateful people makes us likely to catch this delightful disease.” 1 Thessalonians tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. The only sense that can come of these seemingly upside-down responses to pain is that there is something much, much deeper than what we see. Something there for us even in the darkness, even in the cold. Depending on what you are experiencing in your life, practicing gratitude may be a joy on some days and a challenge on others. It may help to remember that the goal here is not to become happier... though that may in fact be a fringe benefit. The ultimate purpose is to reinforce at our very core that God's gift of love is endlessly abundant, and that is something for which we can be truly grateful.
Author and Episcopal priest John Claypool, a man who had spent his adult years teaching others about faith lost his 8 year old daughter to leukemia. The insight he gained from his journey through profound anguish and grief eventually led him to a place of gratitude. "Only when life is seen as a gift and received with the open hands of gratitude is it the joy God meant for it to be," Claypool writes. "Life is gift." In the 6thcentury, St. Columbanus said: “If you wish to know the Creator, come to know his creatures. The stories of the saints tell us that this tradition understands that creatures and humanity are in a living, God-given reciprocal relationship.
These stories invite us to remember that the creatures have their own dignity and otherness, that each of them has distinctive traits and habits brought forth by divine power. Thus when St. Kevin dropped his treasured psalter into the waters of Glendalough, a friendly and faithful otter dove into the depths and retrieved the sacred book. This tale, like many others, points us to the creatures as companions in searching the depths of our souls for God’s truth. The otter saw Kevin’s distress and responded. The otter’s searching reminds us that the creatures dwell in places and in dimensions that are foreign to us; they have a knowing and a being that we do not.
The tradition suggests that the creatures, in their own way, are prayerful. From Welsh poetry we find various reminders that the birds in song, the salmon swimming, the stag running, are all forms of praise to the living God who made the creature with those particular properties and characteristics.
These kinds of stories remind us that the world is in Christ and call us to live from that reality in all of our relationships, including those with the creatures.
From the Celtic saints we learn to be open to a way of knowing that only the creatures can offer a way that heals the dullness of our blinded sight and allows us to catch glimpses of glory on wings, on four feet, with fins or with feathers. May we learn to slow down long enough or simply stop and let ourselves appreciate and be thankful for those glimpses.
One important thing I have not touched on is humour and I find that it is one of the greatest gifts that God has given us to cope with life’s challenges and disappointments. One of my favourite passage in scripture is from psalm 2 – God sits in the heavens and laughs.
Let us pray:
Gracious God, help us simply to stop for a moment to pay attention to the beauty of creation all around us. Help us to be grateful for water so still it can reflect the color of the world; for trees in full leafy green; for air so warm it relaxes our body and soul; for cool breezes that caress and awaken; for clouds that shift and puff; for blue skies that stretch beyond sight. Let us remember to simply stop for a moment and be filled withthe gifts you have so abundantly given. Amen
Sermon: Trinity Sunday
May 27, 2018
The Rev’d Canon Lynne Thackwray.
There is a story – and you’ve probably heard it before but it never hurts to hear it again. Once upon a time there lived six blind men in a village. One day the villagers told them, “Hey, there is an elephant in the village today.” Now they had no idea what an elephant was. They decided, “Even though we cannot see it, let us go and feel it anyway.” So all of them went where the elephant was and each one touched and felt the elephant.
“An elephant is like a pillar,” said the first man as he felt the elephant’s huge leg.
“Oh no!” said the second man, touching the elephant’s tail. “It is like a rope.”
“You are both quite wrong,” said the third man as he touched the elephant’s trunk. “An elephant is like the trunk of a tree.”
“It’s like a fan,” said the fourth man, touching the elephant’s huge ear.
“You’re all wrong!” said the fifth man as he touched the belly of the elephant. “It is definitely like a huge wall.”
“No, No,” said the sixth man as he touched the tusk of the elephant. “It is like a solid pipe.”
And so each one had their own idea based on their unique experience.
And so it is of our understanding of God. “God is our Father,” we say. “God provides us with everything we need.”
God is our mother, birthing us, nurturing and caring for us,” Says another.
God is our brother, our friend, our companion.”
God is the wind; we feel God without ever seeing what God is like.”
“God is a flower, a butterfly, a rainbow, a mountain, a thunderstorm....”
There is so much to know about God that we can never comprehend it all. But we keep on exploring and discovering new and wonderful things about this great God of ours. People through the ages have written about their experience of God. In Christian terms we have come to acknowledge that experience as the Trinity.
This is the essence of this Sunday as we celebrate the attributes of our wonderful and mysterious God. Through the ages we have tried to define God. It has never been an easy concept. I have had people point out to me many times, “You’ve never seen God, so how can you presume to try to prove the existence of God to me.” And no, I can’t prove it to anyone. I can only explain my understanding of God through the doctrines of the Church, through the study of Scripture but especially through my own personal experience of who God is and how God has worked in my life.
The interesting thing about Trinity Sunday is that it is the one day set aside by the Church to remember not an event but a doctrine. When we think about Christmas, we think about the stable, the manger, the shepherds and magi. Good Friday brings to mind the Cross at Calvary. We associate Easter with the stone rolled away from the empty tomb. And Pentecost celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit with tongues of fire that separated and came to rest upon all of the disciples.
When it comes to the Trinity, however, we have nothing to tell. There is no Trinity story. There is only a doctrine which was formulated during the first two centuries of the Christian Church.
And even that doctrine has little biblical support. The only direct reference that comes to mind is the passage from Matthew where Jesus told the disciples to share the Good News with all people, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
So, why then do we bother? What is so important about this doctrine of the Trinity? Well doctrines are important. They help us to relate what we believe. Some people think that doctrines are the work of overeducated theologians with too much time on their hands. You know, the sort of people who sit around and consider really important questions, like “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”
And what is this specific doctrine of the Trinity? What do we mean by it? Very simply, the doctrine of the Trinity says that we believe in one God who has been revealed to us in three basic ways: through the Father, through the Son and through the Holy Spirit. Each is divine and each is equally God. We are baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The catechism states that “the mystery of the Holy Trinity is The central mystery of Christian faith and life.”
Yet when you come right down to it, isn’t the doctrine of the Trinity simply an emotional exercise that explains our relationship to God? Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all relational terms. They are not about how we think. They are about how we relate to God. When we speak of God in human terms, we are relating God to ways in which we experience and respond. And isn’t that what people are really hungry for? We want to be in relationship with God. But if it is such a mystery, just how can we relate to it. Perhaps this story might help to put it into perspective.
Once there was an elderly man, and one evening he was taking his usual walk. He was enjoying the crisp night air and the wind blowing gently. But suddenly he heard a voice crying out, “Help me! Help me!” The man looked around and saw no one and so he continued his walk. Again he heard a tiny voice, “Help me, help me!” This time he looked down and he saw a small frog. He gently lifted up the frog and looked at it intently. The frog spokle, “I am really a very beautiful princess. If you kiss me, I will turn back into a princess and I will hug you and kiss you and love you forever.” The man thought for a moment, placed the frog in his top pocket, and continued walking. The little frog looked up out of the pocket and asked, “Why don’t you kiss me?” The man looked down and said, “Frankly, at this stage of my life, I’d rather have a talking frog.”
What is the point of this story? That we all exist in relationship to others. The thing about the Trinity to which we can best relate is relationship itself. Our very existence is defined by who we are in relation to others, even if it’s to a frog. The elderly gentleman in our story probably figured that if the frog became a princess, she’d run off with some young dude and leave him alone again. So he’d prefer the company of the frog to nothing.
So what is it all about? Relationships with others, communicating with others, being involved with others. Even the internet has provided a way for people to communicate with others. Just think about the best experiences of your life. I would bet that they were experiences you had with a spouse, a friend, a parent or someone else who had a special place in your life. That was the person to whom you could open up and be yourself completely without any facades or phoniness. It is part of our humanness that we need companionship, that we need to be able to “break bread” with others.
Conversely , the worst times in our lives have probably been the ones when we felt alone, abandoned. Just like our Lord felt in the Garden of Gethsemane and during his passion. He knows what that feels like, even to the point of sweating blood. Deprivation of companionship is the worst possible punishment. That is exactly what solitary confinement is in prisons: the ultimate and worst form of punishment. So why do we need to be in constant relationship to others? Because we are made in the image and likeness of a God that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No matter how little we may know about the Trinity, we can say without hesitation that the Three Persons exist in relationship to one another. God the Father loves God the Son with such a depth that God the Holy Spirit comes to be. The Trinity says that God is community and so we seek others. The Trinity says that God is love and so we love. We can’t help ourselves. We have been created in that image and likeness. We can only exist in relationship with others.
That is why it is so important to build community within the church. It isn’t good enough to have a group of people who come together once a week to worship for an hour and then walk away from each other until the next week. It is important that the group of people develop a community within which to worship. A community being people who are in relationship with each other, people who care for each other, people who pray for one another, people who come to each other’s assistance when help is needed.
Where have you bumped into God in the last few days? I’ll bet it wasn’t’ just in church this morning. At the breakfast table? During a walk in the woods or in your garden? When a friend apologized for an unkind word spoken in haste? When memories of good times came flooding back to you during a phone call from an old friend? Are those not the kind of events that we translate as love? Are they not ways in which we relate to our loving God?
We can have confidence in God, our loving and caring creator. For we know the saving action of Jesus Christ. We know the guidance of the Spirit. We continue on our life long journey of discovering the God in whose image we are created. That is the great mystery of the Trinity that we celebrate today. We share in the joy of the God who created us, sustains us and redeems us.
By the Rev’d Canon Lynne Thackwray, April 8, 2018
Last Sunday, you had in your bulletins, information on adopting a Rule of Life based upon that of St. Benedict. In the coming weeks we are going to explore the six rules put forth by St. Benedict. Today I am going to talk about prayer but first I thought it would be a good idea to briefly tell you about the man himself. St. Benedict was born in 480 A.D. into a world suffering through wars and political disorders and a church that was split theologically and torn apart. Sound familiar?
He was born into a ‘family of high station’ and went to Rome to study liberal arts but in response to the world he was born into, he abandoned his studies and chose to live in solitary in the countryside. He secretly lived in a cave for three years, and a friend used a rope to lower him food scraps. In the silence of the cave, Benedict prayed to God and fought with demons. To battle temptation he would throw his naked body onto thornbushes. I don’t recommend it but for him it must have worked! During this time he was discovered by a number of disciples and by 528 AD – at 48 years of age - he had established 12 small monasteries. Once a year he met with his sister St. Scholastica who had established herself nearby with her community of nuns. During this time, St. Benedict acquired a widespread reputation as a holy man. For St. Benedict, the monastery became a loving community and his Rule of Life was to enable the monks living together to serve God and save their souls. The Rule continually points beyond itself to Christ, sustaining those who journey together in love and service. Benedict’s philosophy is best summarized by his famous phrase “Ora et labora” – “pray and work.” He believed that prayer and work are partners. Prayer comes first, and work follows. His philosophy was well summarized by Ignatius of Loyola: “Pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on you.” St. Benedict was a great monk, in the truest sense of the word – he’s one of the few people honored in the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches.
Prayer lies at the very heart of Benedictine life; it holds everything together, it sustains every other activity, it’s the one thing that makes all the rest possible. For St. Benedict, praying can never be set apart from the rest of life, it is the life itself. As St. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “always seek to do good to one another and to all, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” So… how does one do that in a world that is so busy and time never permits half the things we would like to do.
Many of you have probably heard of Brother Lawrence, a Disclaced Carmelite ( 'discalced' meaning 'barefoot' and coming from the practice of wearing sandals.) He wrote a very powerful, small book called “The Practice of the Presence of God.” Lawrence’s goal was to continually keep God in his mind and heart, even while he cooked food or washed dishes or unloaded a shipment of wine barrels for the thirsty monks. He admitted it wasn’t easy at first. And I remember thinking to myself when I read that – not easy!? – like impossible. Then one day I was speaking to Sister Mary Adela – one of our Anglican nuns whom I greatly admired and she told me that she prayed over all the little often mundane tasks that had to be done at the convent like sweeping up and doing dishes and ironing, a job she particularly did not enjoy. So she said she learned to say a prayer and offer her ironing to God and she found that it became something she no longer disliked doing. This to her was practising the presence of God. Brother Lawrence’s little book has influenced the spiritual journey of hundreds of millions of people but when he died he simply disappeared. No headstone marks his place. But to quote someone who travelled trying to discover his burial place: “Brother Lawrence simply ‘walked faithfully with God; then he was no more.’ He practiced God’s presence, and now he stands in God’s presence. I think it’s more than enough” and I would agree.
There are two distinct types of prayer – corporate prayer and private prayer. Both are valuable and needed. We need to pray together as a community. There is power in communal prayer. We also need to pray in private. What we have to say to God is between ourselves and God and that is when we can bare our souls – when we can pray from the heart. As Anglicans we are people of the book. And there are many beautiful and meaningful prayers written in our books. Sometimes though people feel the need to move beyond the book and make the prayers their own. Either way, when we pray together, when we are united in prayer, we are stronger for it.
One of the most difficult things I had to learn when I was a chaplain at the hospital was to learn to pray in a personal way – without a book - with each patient I visited. I found it more meaningful and intimate if I prayed specific personal prayers for each person.
Sometimes we don’t know what or how to pray. I was taught the 5 finger prayer which I found helpful in my earlier days. There are many versions of this but the one I found best for me was to begin with a prayer of praise - of adoration and then offer a prayer of thanksgiving – what a beautiful day we have today and thank you Lord for creation, for the sunshine, the flowers and the birds that are chirping in the trees. Then prayers of intercession – praying for family and friends, those who are ill, in trouble or in need. We need to offer a prayer of confession – I’m sorry for snapping at my friend yesterday and I’m sorry for messing up your creation by buying plastic bottles which clog up our waters. I’m sorry for the white lie I told to my boss.
Fifth and finally, a prayer of supplication, a prayer for ourselves. Lord help me to be a better person. Help me to be more sensitive to the needs of others. Help me to deal with the pain of my arthritic knees.
Sometimes there are just no words for what we want or need to pray. Recognizing the presence of God in our lives there is nothing wrong with just sitting with God in silence. Or when words fail us, when we are in desperate need, there is nothing wrong with just holding that person or that situation in the light of God’s grace. We don’t need to say anything or add our agenda. Just by holding people in the light, God can do whatever God needs to do in their lives.
There are many ways to pray; The hymns we sing is prayer, the repetitive meditative Taize hymns are prayer; silence can be prayer; rejoicing in and enjoying creation can be prayer; reading the psalms can be prayer. We can pray on our knees, sitting, standing, walking or dancing (remember when liturgical dance was often done during a special service). In his book, Pray All Ways, Edward Hays describes sleep as a beautiful expression of prayer since it is resting in God, letting go of our control of life. There are many things we can say about prayer:
The Early Church didn’t have a prayer meeting; the early church was the prayer meeting.
Prayer is really about intimacy; It’s about becoming one with God.
Prayer is exhaling the spirit of man and inhaling the spirit of God.
Prayer is opening up your heart to God. In silence, it is letting God’s power come inside you.
There is a mighty lot of difference between saying prayers and praying.
He who has learned to pray, has learned the greatest secret of a holy and happy life.
And from Billy Graham: “To get nations back on their feet, we must first get down on our knees.”
There are many books, many resources regarding prayer and I would urge you to explore and find ways that you are comfortable with, ways that will encourage you to open up and have some real intimate conversations with our Creator. I would like to close with this prayer:
Almighty God, by whose grace St. Benedict, kindled with the fire of your love, became a burning and a shining light in the church inflame us with the same spirit of discipline and love, that we may walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
The Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 18, 2018
Today, on this fifth Sunday of Lent, before we enter the week of our Lord's passion we hear the request of Greek visitors in Jerusalem, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Perhaps that stirs some- thing in us. Perhaps their very simple request can become our request. Perhaps we see life and glory and wonder and faithfulness all around us but our experience of the living God has grown old and tired and dusty and cold. Perhaps the words of the Greek visitors can energize us and instruct us; perhaps we need not only to hear these words but we need to say them as well.
"Sir, we wish to see Jesus" (v. 21). This was the request of the Greeks who had come to the festival in Jerusalem. There is disagreement among the commentaries as to who these Greeks were. Some say they were gentiles whom John mentions to make the point that Jesus came for all peoples not just the Jews. Others say that they were diaspora Jews which refers not to gentiles but to dispersed Jews who were outsiders, from out-of-town! They spoke to Philip, one of only two disciples with a Greek name. Perhaps they knew him from their past, maybe they just sensed that he wouldn't dismiss their request just because of their cultural background. Perhaps he was the one disciple who could understand their language, whatever the reason, it was to Philip that they said, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." They had missed the pomp and the chaos of the few days before; they had missed Jesus' "Palm Sunday" entrance on a donkey with the crowds and the children shouting "Hosannas." They had come into Jerusalem just in time to make preparations for their Passover meal and they found the whole city buzzing about this Jesus character and they wanted to see him for themselves.
It appears that Philip wasn't sure what to do with their request. There didn't seem to be a set of rules or a precedent in the disciples' training manual, of how to deal with Greeks or outsiders, so Philip consulted with Andrew, the other disciple with a Greek name, and together they went and told Jesus of the Greeks' request. Jesus' response, on the surface may appear a bit odd to us: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified ... and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself"
Throughout the gospel of John, at various critical points of Jesus' ministry, when the crowds are either very upset with his teachings and ready to kill him or very impressed with his miraculous powers and ready to crown him king, he says repeatedly, "My hour has not yet come." But here, in today's reading, after this apparently innocent request by Greek visitors, he announces that the hour has come, that the glory they've been longing for was to be revealed, not in wreaking vengeance on his enemies or in doing even greater miracles, but by his falling into the earth and dying as a grain of wheat, in his losing his life, by being lifted up on the cross.
Years ago, when the Betty Crocker company first began selling their cake mixes, they offered a product which only needed water. All you had to do was add water to the mix which came in the box, and you would get a perfect, delicious cake every time. It bombed. No one bought it and the company couldn’t understand why, so they commissioned a study which brought back a surprising answer. It seemed that people weren’t buying the cake mix because it was too easy. They didn’t want to be totally excluded from the work of preparing a cake; they wanted to feel that they were contributing something to it. So, Betty Crocker changed the formula and required the customer to add an egg in addition to water. Immediately, the new cake mix was a huge success. Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake when it comes to "packaging" or presenting the Christian religion. They try to make the call of Jesus Christ as easy as possible because they’re afraid people won’t "buy" it if it seems too hard.
You hear it expressed all the time in popular religion, from well-known gospel songs and best-selling books to earnest evangelists standing on your doorstep. "All you have to do is tell Jesus you love Him. All you have to do is accept Him as your Lord and Savior. All you have to do is pray to Saint Jude and put an ad in the newspaper classifieds. All you have to do is ask for what you want in the name of Jesus and it will be done for you.
"Do you feel that something is missing in your life, that your worldly ambitions and material rewards aren’t enough - do you have all that and still feel empty inside? Well, all you have to do is turn to Jesus - let him into your life! He’ll give you the spiritual sustenance you’re looking for and when you add that to the material success you already have, you truly will "have it all." Whenever you hear someone say "All you have to do" in relation to Christian faith, walk away as fast as you can! You don’t want to buy a religion where you don’t even have to break an egg, where it’s all pre-mixed for you in the box. That kind of faith has an immediate appeal, but it lacks the depth to sustain you over the long haul of Christian living. Jesus did not "package" Himself in this way. Jesus said a number of things about the blessings of faith and He talked about asking in order to receive, but He never presented the overall Christian life as being particularly easy. Jesus talked a lot about what God can do for you, but He talked even more about what you must do for God, and that’s the part which is usually overlooked in the profit-seeking business of popular religion.
Jesus describes the cost of Christian living and He clearly is not watering it down to make it seem palatable or "easy." First, He describes His own fate by saying that the hour has come for Him to be glorified, but He doesn’t use that word as most people understand it - by "glorified," Jesus means "crucified." Here in this Lenten season, the hour is coming for Jesus to be crucified. Then He compares Himself to a grain of wheat. If the grain of wheat doesn’t die and lie buried in the earth, it can’t yield anything and remains alone. So, too, with Jesus: if He is preserved, safe and secure, He will remain alone. But if He is crucified, dead and buried, then He can rise to bear much fruit, drawing all people to Himself. The Son of God must die if He is to bring to the world the gift of eternal life. Then Jesus applies the same message to the rest of us. He says that we, too, must die in order to live. This is definitely no easy, pre-packaged "cake mix" religion - Jesus says that if we want to be a Christian, we have to lose our life! The cost of faith is too high. If we are to receive the ultimate joy, we must be willing to pay the ultimate price.
At this point, many of us might be wanting to back away and say,. "No thanks, it’s too expensive. I love my life too much to lose it and I’m not quite ready to die as yet. I think I’ll find something to believe in which is a little less demanding." Or, "I think I’ll wait for the clearance sale after Easter, I’ll wait until the cost of Christian faith comes down to a level I can live with."
Maxie Dunnam tells this story about an American businessman who traveled to Europe to see the famous Oberammergau Passion Play. Following the performance the businessman had the opportunity to meet and talk with Anton Lang who portrayed Christ in the Passion Play. Seeing the cross that was used in the play, the businessman wanted his wife to take his picture with it. Handing the camera to his wife, he asked her to take his picture while he lifted the cross to his shoulder. To his surprise he could hardly budge the cross from the floor. "I don't understand," he said to Mr. Lang. "I thought it would be hollow. Why do you carry such a heavy cross?" Anton Lang's reply explains why this play draws people from all over the world to that little Bavarian village every decade. "If I did not feel the weight of His cross," he said, "I could not play the part." If being a disciple of Jesus costs us no pain to acquire, no self-denial to preserve, no effort to advance, no struggle to maintain, then just what is being Christian all about anyway.
If we are so willing to sacrifice and even suffer for things which matter for us in our worldly lives, why shouldn’t we do even more for the sake of our spiritual lives? Why should we shy away from the full meaning of what Jesus said: "If you love your life you will lose it, but if you hate your life in this world, you will gain it for eternal life“.
Over the past month, when we watched the Olympics, what did we see but young athletes who had made enormous sacrifices over the years? They’d sacrificed a normal childhood for countless hours of hard work and pain and solitary training and they did it all just for that moment when they would stand on the winner’s platform at the Olympic Games.
If few of us are Olympians, many of us are parents and what is parenthood but a whole slew of sacrifices? You sacrifice all of your privacy and a piece of your sanity. You sacrifice a neat, orderly environment in which to live, where things stay just where you left them. You make a huge financial sacrifice - between children and taxes, you’re lucky to have a dollar in your pocket at the end of the day - but you do it all for the sake of something which money can’t buy. In these and in many other ways, we are perfectly used to the idea of losing one thing in order to gain something else.
It all makes me wonder: if we are so willing to sacrifice and even suffer for things which matter for us in our worldly lives, why shouldn’t we do even more for the sake of our spiritual lives? Why should we shy away from the full meaning of what Jesus said: "If you love your life you will lose it, but if you hate your life in this world, you will gain it for eternal life“. After all: “When a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it surrenders to new life and bears much fruit.” That is what we are - Grains of wheat. Through death, however, we can become the bread of life. Is this not what Jesus was getting at?