Sunday, August 25, 2013

Part-time _____; full-time _____"

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 139
Luke 12:10-17

“Being religious means asking passionately the question of the meaning of our existence and being willing to receive answers, even if the answers hurt.”  Paul Tillich

For Tillich (20th-century German theologian and existentialist), the essential questions of human existence are associated with philosophy and, more specifically, ontology (the study of being). This is because, according to Tillich, a lifelong pursuit of philosophy reveals that the central question of every philosophical inquiry always comes back to the question of being, or what it means to exist as a finite human being within the realm of eternity.  Who am I, and what am I doing here?  All relative, of course, to the Christian revelation - that is, who we are to the Lord, to the Church, to one another, to the Kingdom of Heaven; none of which is exclusive.  All are connected.  This is "existentialism".

It is unlikely we have all been called to be "prophets to the nations" as Jeremiah was, but it is a spiritual certainty that none of us came to be strictly by chance.  If it is true that any one individual was known before "being formed in the womb", if any one individual was "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14), it must be equally true that ALL are known "before being formed in the womb", that ALL are "fearfully and wonderfully made", that the Lord "saw my substance, being yet unformed" (Psalm 139:16); meaning we "existed" before we were even born!  And not only did we "exist", we existed with "substance, being yet unformed"!  This means there is nothing "random" at all about human existence!  And as I have shared in the past, though there are certainly unintended and unplanned pregnancies, there is never an "accidental" or useless human life!

Who we are to the Lord and His Church especially goes beyond our mere "existence"; ALL are endowed with certain spiritual gifts - it is our "substance".  And in the environment of a continually declining Church in America and a society that has completely lost its collective mind and sense of purpose and meaning, it is time for the faithful to discover or reconnect to these spiritual gifts so that we may go about the business for which we are ALL called and to which we are ALL baptized as the Body of Christ, the Church: to make disciples of Christ.  And this mission is literally a matter of life and death to those outside the Covenant, as Catholic Archbishop Chaput expresses: "The Church exists not for itself but for others. We exist for evangelization, for the health and welfare of souls." 

So it is the task of the "baptized" - clergy and laity alike - to grow the Church by making disciples rather than recruiting members; the Trustees can see to the maintenance of the building, but ALL baptized Christians are responsible for and accountable to the Church, the "ekklesia", the congregation of the faithful.  It is important, then, to understand that while we are not all called to be prophets, we are all called to be - and to make - disciples, utilizing our God-given spiritual gifts to that end.  And make no mistake; it takes a disciple to make a disciple.  It is not possible, as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, for the "body" to function as it is intended to function if all the "parts" are not both present and doing as they are designed and intended to do; "God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased" (1 Cor 12:18).  "As HE pleased ...", not as we choose.  And not randomly, but purposefully. 

As the language itself suggests, this was put into place before we were "formed in the womb ... with substance" already present.  In helping the faithful to understand their spiritual gifts, the Church has over time suggested that if it is enjoyable for us and if we seem to have a natural inclination toward a particular thing, then that must be our "gift".  There is an element of truth in such an assessment, of course, because some are naturally talented in certain areas while others are more strongly suited to something entirely different.  The miracle of such a Grand Design in humanity is evident in those who are strong in math and the sciences while others are better suited for the arts.  These don't make one "better" or "smarter".  It is what makes the pieces become "whole".  It is how the Lord "set the members ... in the Body just as He pleased".

There is also a misleading element in suggesting that if we enjoy doing a particular thing, that thing must be our natural talent.  Needless to say, there are many inappropriate, sinful, and entirely selfish things we can do that may be enjoyable for us, but these things are also equally destructive not only to us but also those whom we willfully neglect.  The lie is also attached to the notion that Divine Will allows us to do only that which we enjoy because it blurs the fine line between "lust" which is self-centered - and - "love" which is always outwardly projected for the "edification", that is, the building up, of others in and for the Church.

Understanding what we have been specifically gifted for in the Kingdom of Heaven while on this earth, then, must go beyond what we "like" to do.  It is understanding the gifts and graces with which we have been endowed and actively seeking the wisdom AND the heart-felt love of the Church to put those gifts to good use as the Church has need in its mission to make disciples.  

It is in the fellowship of the Church and our love for one another that we are willing to hold up our end and do our part so that our fellows will not be overwhelmed with doing their own part and having to carry us as well.  This is when the fellowship and the mission of the Church begin to falter.  The fellowship falters when fellow members come to realize other fellow members simply do not care that others must carry their load.  And when the mission of the Church falters or becomes non-existent, souls get left behind - and the Church relinquishes its claim as the Body of Christ and surrenders its moral authority. 

Doing only what we care to do or doing only what we feel like doing cannot be construed as "love" except for love of self.  The genuine love we have first for our Lord is exemplified not only by Jeremiah but also by Isaiah and by Moses, to name only a few.  Jeremiah was clearly not very excited about what he had been called forth and set apart to do, but he was also not left alone to the task. 

He had our Lord's assurance that he would not be alone in the task to which he was called.  So did Isaiah, and so did Moses.  So do we, but we must first be willing.  In order to be willing, then, we must first believe we are a part of something much bigger than self.  If we are unwilling to believe that or unwilling to embrace that spiritual reality, then we reject a significant portion of New Testament theology that teaches us how everything and everyone are intimately connected in the spiritual realm of the Most High God.  Nothing is exempted - NOTHING.  And certainly NO ONE.  Not even "organized religion".

Religion is not the dirty word so-called "spiritualists" try to make it out to be.  Rather religion is the whole and holy means by which we draw closer to our Lord in and through the Body of Christ - the WHOLE Body, not just the portions or persons we "like".  Religion is the means by which we discover what the Lord has in store for us, by attending to the Sacraments of the Church, by attending to the study of Scripture, by prayer and fasting, and by worship attendance with one another - to ask "passionately" the hard questions we might rather side-step or avoid altogether for fear that the answer we might receive will not be the one we "like".  And that is simply running away - as Jonah attempted to.  It did not work for him; it will not work for us - for our Lord's purposes WILL BE FULFILLED with us or without us.  "So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth.  It shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish what I please.  And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11)

It all goes far beyond simply "going to church"; it is about becoming and being the Church, the Body of Christ, within the Covenant of Christ.  To attend worship (as opposed to just "going to church") is an act of faith itself within the religious expression and draws us closer to asking the question: who are we?  It is about attending to all these means of grace first by completely emptying ourselves so that we may be filled.  We are all at least "part-time humanists".  Yet all these means are made available to us through the Church so that we may one day become "full-time disciples".  Discipleship is the intentional and hungry pursuit of holiness, of perfection which transcends the cheap religion of "personal salvation" filled only with excuses and little else.  There is more - MUCH more.  For "Personal salvation" is where it all begins; not where it ends.

"Before you were formed in the womb, I knew you".  What our Lord "knew" then is what we are to discover now in the Name and in the Body of Christ.  Amen.

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