Tuesday, July 05, 2016

The Benedict Option, part III: stability

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
1 Timothy 6:1-10
Matthew 10:1, 5-15

“Stability refers to the importance of community and commitment in life ... While we all may not be a member of a monastic order, we can make our vow of stability to our families, to our faith communities … and to our fellow pilgrims along the journey of faith.”  Friends of St. Benedict

The community can always count on us; this is the essence of the vow of “stability”.

The “journey of faith” we share in discipleship as a community in Spiritual Revival is measured, as our own Bishop Mueller said at Annual Conference, not as a moment, and not “another [dadgum] program” … but as a movement, consistent with our Wesleyan heritage.  Yet it is only in “stability” by which we can and must first reconnect to our essential “Vine” from which we as spiritual branches grow (John 15:5).  It is those who are stuck outside of this community, trapped in chains of their own making to whom Jesus commands of His Twelve and of His Church to share, “The Kingdom of Heaven has come near” (Matthew 10:7).

What is significant about this - for us and for those trapped outside the community - is the assurance that “the Kingdom has come near” right where we happen to have been found.  Good News indeed!  Yet it has also been so well stated that even though this Divine Love sought us out and found us with much joy – like the lost coin or the lost sheep (Luke 15:8-10) – we are nevertheless too deeply loved to be left where we were found, because where we were is not where we are to stay.  Whether literal or metaphorical, The Lord has redeemed us by His own Sacrifice and therefore calls us out from our bondage – to serve His purposes, not our own.

This is the most interesting component of the early monastic movement in which the faithful removed themselves from the decadence of the Roman culture (much like our own today) to more deeply connect to The Lord.  Yet the faithful found themselves called and equipped to teach and then to send back into that decadence devoted disciples who would also call others out of the immoral darkness of that cesspool and back into fellowship with The Lord and His ekklesia, the community of saints, the Church.

This can make the idea of “stability”, of staying put, seem somewhat contradictory until we consider more carefully what is implied in “stability”.  “Staying put” in the literal sense is not a fair summation, yet there is an undeniable spiritual component that keeps us connected in a meaningful way as a community even if The Lord compels us to physically relocate – not for a better job or a bigger home or a more enjoyable retirement, but for the sake of a vocation to which each of us is called according to our spiritual gifts – and all for the sake of creating and preparing the next generation of disciples.

We live in a transient and somewhat entitled and self-centered society, however.  Not only do we relocate as our jobs sometimes require, but many switch churches almost as often as they change fads in clothing!  And for the same reasons!!  Keeping up with the “popular” crowd.  Often the change is not out of necessity due to a lack of holy function but because we are seeking only to please ourselves, not The Lord.  And we tell the community we were once devoted to; “No, you cannot count on me after all”.

The usefulness of “stability” can only make sense, then, if we first understand the necessary “order of the community” and our necessary place within that community, the ordered life of the congregation centered on appropriate worship of The Lord, growing in discipleship, and making disciples ourselves.  This is what makes the ordered life, the 1st point of the Benedict Option, fit neatly into a life devoted to “prayer and service”, the 2nd point. 

Then comes our connection to that order and embracing the purpose it serves, the 3rd point.  Though our United Methodist vows of membership do not specifically state “stability”, it is implied.  The vows we freely take, much like our marriage vows, are centered on the “ordered life” of the faith community in “prayer and service” in support not of “clubhouse rules” but as members supporting the church devoted to making and equipping the next generation of disciples; and we do this by declaring – through word and deed – that The Kingdom has come near

There is no place in the ekklesia for the so-called “spiritual but not religious”; individuals devoted only themselves – not unless or until they are willing to embrace and abide by the Rule of the community.  Though the root of the Latin “religio” is disputed as to whether it only means “piety” or “religious practices”, there are other linguists who maintain the deeper root of “religio” may be “ligare” from which the English word “ligament” is derived.  This means to be not only connected but connected in a purposeful way.  That is, our ligaments connect our muscles so our muscles can function together within the framework of the whole body; “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function” (Romans 12:4).

Not the same function individually, but within the connected community the same shared purpose. 

Many think of “freedom” in terms of being free and able to move from church to church as they please in search of something they cannot and do not define theologically, but the deeper truth is this relentless pursuit of the BBD (Bigger, Better Deal) is itself a subtle form of bondage to hedonism, the pursuit of self-pleasure.  “The idea is that moving around constantly, following our own desires, prevents us from being faithful to our calling.  The far greater challenge for us in the 21st century is learning how to stay put — literally and metaphorically — and to bind ourselves to a place, a tradition, a people [with a shared purpose].  Only within the limits of stability can we find true freedom.”  (Rod Dreher, American Conservative, “The Benedict Option”)

The practice and discipline of “stability” helps us to focus more on the mission and purpose of the greater Body and exert less energy and devote less time to a relentless search for that which will likely never be found outside of what we already know to be good and true and right.  As Paul wrote to the Romans: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped the creature [self and others who suit our own purposes and desires] rather than the Creator” (1:25).

We must find ourselves within and as the Body of Christ with mission and with purpose – just as our Lord Jesus was so completely focused not on “personal” salvation but community purpose and support.  This requires of us, however, the discipline to focus less on ourselves and our own demands and more on the Gospel and the Kingdom.  For only in our binding together in Christ will we find true freedom at last.  Happy Independence Day, indeed.  Amen.

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