Sunday, July 24, 2016

Benedict Option, final chapter: Finding the delicate Balance

American Conservative, "Benedict Option", Rod Dreher
Daniel 4:19-27
1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Luke 16:1-13

“A community that is too lax [in its principles and standards] will dissolve, or at least be ineffective [for its purpose], but one that is too strict will also produce disorder.  A [community devoted to The Lord] must be joyful and confident, not dour and fearful.”  Rod Dreher, “The Benedict Option”

If all the churches did what they were supposed to do, we wouldn’t need the Ben Op. Thing is, they don’t. The term “Benedict Option” symbolizes a historically conscious, antimodernist return to roots, an undertaking that occurs with the awareness that Christians have to cultivate a sense of separation [from the rest of the world] as “resident aliens” within a “Christian colony,” in order to be faithful to our calling.”  RD

St. Paul encouraged the Christians in Rome to be “transformed by the renewal of your minds” rather than to “conform to the pattern of this world” (12:2).  This “renewal” Paul speaks of must be taken as something more than a single event in which we think this “transformation” is instantaneous with no effort on our part.  Paul was encouraging the Roman Christians to participate in this process of transformation.

So the broader context of this “renewal” should be considered with the depth of the Letter to the Hebrews in which believers are encouraged to grow beyond the basic teachings and start looking deeper (chap 6).  In other words, don’t think of doing “just enough to get by”.  Otherwise we may think of ourselves in terms of the “rich man” who came to Jesus (Matthew 19:16-22) asking essentially the same thing. 

The rich man seemed only to be concerned with a particular thing that would involve no one else but that would assure his eternity.  And judging by his response to Jesus, he was also seeking a deed that would not be very costly or too inconvenient.  As we know, Jesus didn’t let him off the hook so easily.  His comfort and trust in his material wealth would have to be the first to go.  Only then would he be freed and thus able to “take up his cross” and follow The Lord.  His loyalty was divided; and as much as he may have desired the things of the Kingdom, he could find no balance when the scales were tipped too heavily to one side.  He “believed”, but he was bound to this world by his wealth.

We have long comforted ourselves with a very basic belief, knowing just enough to get by, but genuine commitment to the Church and to one another has evaded us.  The idea of any radical change in our lives to reflect our commitment to Christ has been watered down to the point that we comfort ourselves with the notion that “only Jesus knows what’s really in my heart” even as Jesus teaches that our mouths will reveal what is really in our hearts (Luke 6:42), and the fruit we bear (good or bad) will testify to what we believe to be true (Matthew 12:33).

So wouldn’t you know it?  Our Lord never seems to mention a single “thing” we must do to inherit eternal life, but the traditional Church has come up with a simple, single thing: just profess Jesus as Lord and Savior.  True enough, but we cannot ignore the fact that Jesus spent three years teaching His followers what that really means; and how costly and inconvenient it really is!

There are no “gray” areas when it comes to religious faith and commitment to Christ, and yet we must also acknowledge that those “gray areas” we believe to exist are created often by our inmost desire to “have our cake and eat, too”.  That is, we want spiritual assurance in our worldly comforts and personal desires.  We can accuse so many of watering down Christianity to the point that it is every man for himself, but we cannot escape the same accusation when our own sins may not be sexual in nature but are still lustful; our slice of the American Dream pie.

Can it be that our required commitment to The Lord through His Church is very clear, very “black-and-white”, we is or we ain’t?  Yet we struggle because we may be too heavily invested in this life to the point that we only give the Kingdom of Heaven a passing glance.  Life is right before us, is very real, and demands a response.  The Kingdom is often abstract and not always so clear, and yet still requires a dutiful response.

We cannot live as though this life has no meaning for us, for our families, our friends, our society.  Like the steward in Luke’s Gospel (16:1-13), however, we may worry more about one than we do the other because decisions we make in this life often have immediate consequences, immediate results.  I don’t think it is that the Kingdom is not real to us, but we are often compelled to make choices based on what is right in front of us according to what the human culture demands of us. 

But how can we find that necessary balance between what is sacred and what is common?  Can we make decisions at all that do not always take into account the fact that we are on a spiritual journey headed some place, that the decisions we make must first be informed by our commitment to The Lord, and that the “fruit” Jesus speaks of often (good or bad) will certainly come according to our decisions every single time, that our carelessness or our faithfulness will reverberate for generations to come?  We cannot deny that our children are watching more than they are listening.

That balance is necessary for us to find because, as Jesus states in Luke’s Gospel, if we show we cannot be trusted in little things (and measured against the Kingdom of Heaven, everything in this world is “little”!), it is very unlikely we can be trusted with big things.  As it is said, the mark of one’s character is measured in what we do when we think no one is watching. 

Yet if Jesus’ assurance is true that He is “with us always, until the end of the age”, then it must stand that He is “watching”.  Even with that profound statement, however, we must not take it out of context to be perceived as some sort of threat.  Rather, let it be the assurance it was meant to be from the beginning – in our daily living. 

Let it be a proclamation from our Shepherd that this statement is one of offered assistance rather than of judgment!   That when life hands us difficult choices, He is there to help guide us through those choices … on Kingdom terms – because the Kingdom is where He wants us to be.  Not later … NOW!  “For the Kingdom of Heaven has come near!”

So Jesus’ declaration that we “cannot serve two masters” is also not a threat or a challenge.  Rather, our Lord is stating the obvious and is offering us some very good advice about how to navigate this world ON KINGDOM TERMS.  We cannot separate our allegiances any more than we can divide our emotions.  “Love one, and hate the other”.

If there are two things directly opposed to each other, it is impossible to commit to both without compromising our integrity.  It is like the myth of multi-tasking. We possess the capacity to do several things simultaneously, and our bosses may well demand this of us, but we will not do any one of these things well.  Something will be missed because we are distracted by some other thing hanging over our heads.  We may do just enough to get by, as the rich man in Matthew 19, but we likely give short (or no) attention to the one thing that matters most.

It is as St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor 10); we have all been baptized into one baptism and we all drink the same Spiritual Drink, but many among us are “scattered in the wilderness” of life in this world by trying to embrace a spiritual assurance while purposefully pursuing worldly comfort.  And what is missed when we are so “scattered” is the one thing that stands between us and the Kingdom: our inward desires informed by our outward demands.  In a word, it is “lust”.

When we commit ourselves to prayer, both private and communal, Scripture study, and fasting as well as the Sacraments of the Church and the other means of grace given for our well-being, we will still have to make these choices.  These will not go away, but we can learn to navigate these choices on Kingdom terms – together - when we align ourselves and the practices of our community to fully engaging the Kingdom.  In other words, we fully trust The Lord rather than to merely believe He exists.

I cannot tell you in simple terms that a little of this and a little of that will be compatible with the Kingdom, but I can tell you The Lord has already shown us the Way.  It is within the community and fellowship and faith of the Church in which accountability comes when one of us becomes too “lax” with Kingdom standards and another among us may become too rigid.  The balance is found within a common community with a sacred purpose and trust; to “love one another” as Christ has loved us. 

Remember “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom”, but we must also remember the Kingdom comes on the Kingdom’s terms – and that comes with a price; our whole life, and not just a piece of it.  Only in this will the proper balance in our lives be found and finally restored to the whole Christian community.  Only then can our nation have any real hope. 

The Lord be with us as we move forward from here.  Amen.

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