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A Tale of Two Kingdoms

A Tale of Two KingdomsA sermon preached on June 10, 2018 for the 3rd Sunday After Pentecost on Mark 3:20-35, Genesis 3:8-15; and 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas on June 10, 2018.

 Our readings this morning tell us a Tale of Two Kingdoms. The stage is set at the very beginning of the Bible in the story of Genesis. Adam and Eve live in the Garden of Eden where they are surrounded by life, love, and sustenance—The kingdom of God. But the serpent tempts them to enter the kingdom of the enemy—a kingdom of rebellion and sin, blame and brokenness, and they bite.

The Gospel of Mark continues the tension of this age-old human struggle between good and evil. Chapter one sets the stage for the Tale of Two Kingdoms: when Jesus was baptized and received the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God intensified its efforts. But so did the kingdom of the enemy because Jesus immediately battles satan’s temptations for 40 days in the wilderness. Jesus wins the battle and starts the Kingdom of God with a flurry of healing.

In the first 2 chapters of Mark, Jesus healed a man with demon, and Simon Peter’s mother-in-law from a fever, along with crowds of people who were sick and demon-possessed. Jesus went on a preaching and healing tour of Galilee, restoring more and more people to health, including a man with leprosy, a paralytic lowered through the roof by his friends, and a man with a withered hand. Jesus also called the disciples and gave them power over unclean spirits; more people are restored to health and community, they are given dignity and hope. Jesus really had the Kingdom rolling, and the gauntlet against evil has been thrown down.

The very first congregation I served in 1989, was in an urban neighborhood of a major Midwestern city. The community was 85% African American and the congregation was about 30% African American. When I interviewed there, they said they wanted to be a neighborhood church and grow in membership and ministry within the surrounding community. I thought, “Great! Let’s do it!” This was the multi-cultural, urban ministry for which I had prepared.

There were three wise women in the neighborhood who became my mentors, we expanded the summer program for children, trained the youth as leaders in that program, and built relationships with families around the church. In the first 2 ½ years, we took in about 40 new families from the neighborhood, and on Easter Sunday of 1992, we had 8 Baptisms! Who knew church could be so fun?! We started to include more hymns from Spiritual and Gospel traditions, started training deacons, and participated in a joint confirmation program with other Lutheran churches. We really had the Kingdom rolling!

In our text from Mark 3, Jesus then arrived at home; the crowds, who had been pressing in around him to touch him for healing, had followed him there. They were so excited to participate in the power and life of the Kingdom of God they experienced in Jesus, he couldn’t even take time to eat. But Jesus quickly learned that getting the kingdom rolling, was not good news to those who ruled by power, domination and fear in the kingdom of the enemy. Empowered, healthy people are harder to control, more difficult to tax, and less easily manipulated by fear. Abundance and possibility, hope and opportunity make it harder for the powers-that-be to maintain their position. So the battle with the kingdom of the enemy began again in earnest.

Jesus’ family showed up—not to support him and say, “That Jesus who’s healing everybody? That’s my son! He’s my brother!” No, it wasn’t pride and hope that brought them out, it was shame! They said Jesus had lost his mind and tried to contain him! No wonder Jesus redefined what family is—family is not just those who are connected to us by blood, but those who live and work in God’s Kingdom for the power of love, and all that is good!

The Tale of Two Kingdoms continued as the religious establishment attempted to discredit Jesus. The Scribes were the theological experts of the day who had religious authority and impeccable credentials. The Scribes recognized that Jesus had power, but they labeled his power as evil, that Jesus was an agent of satan. They called him Beelzebul, a demon associated with the Canaanite god, Baal with whom Elijah did battle in 2 Kings. That was "blaspheming against the Holy Spirit"—to call the healing of God, the work of the devil (many today teach that suicide is the unforgivable sin, but this is a hurtful misinterpretation of this text). The religious experts in Jesus' day preferred to keep their power, even if it meant serving satan’s kingdom in the guise of religion.

It’s heartbreaking to contemplate, isn’t it? People who dedicated their lives to God, completely dismissed the possibility of God’s power, restoration and healing. They saw people set free from demons, experiencing wholeness and dignity for the first time! Jesus promised forgiveness to all, including them: Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter! The scribes could see, touch, hear, and witness miracles right in front of them, yet, they were devoid of hope, blind to forgiveness, and held nothing but contempt for God’s work.

It was also heart-breaking, to experience the very same thing in my first congregation. Right when it was going so well, and it was so exciting, it all started to unravel because some, thankfully not all, but many of the long-time white members were too uncomfortable with their loss of power. They began to undermine the success of all the ministry and community we had built. Someone went so far as to commit racial slander against two African American female members of the Council at the Synod Assembly. I had to remove that person from their leadership position, and after that, it got pretty ugly. I was called some terrible, racist names, that I won’t repeat, and people spread lies about me. Some members had so much internalized racism, that they could not see what was really happening until after I left. It was indeed, a Tale of Two Kingdoms. Like the Scribes, many of the white people preferred to keep their power, even if it meant serving the enemy of racism in the guise of religion. It was so devastating, that I sought counseling for about eight months afterward to put me back together, emotionally and spiritually.

Why do I share this story? To make it clear that the Tale of Two Kingdoms is not limited to Bible times, and the history books. The Tale of Two Kingdoms isn’t out there somewhere else on the other side of the world. The struggle between two kingdoms, between good and evil, between God and the enemy of God is in our hearts, and in the church, and in our families, and in our work places, and everywhere we go every day of our life.

My husband Dan spoke this week with a woman who left her job at a real estate company because another employee was stealing business from colleagues and undercutting their sales. When she reported this to her boss, she was told that the unethical employee was producing sales, so nothing would change. A Tale of Two Kingdoms.

A friend of mine recently told me she had to confront her boss about his request for her to submit a reimbursement for the same expense to two different companies. She refused to do it; fortunately, her boss reconsidered his behavior and she kept her job. A Tale of Two Kingdoms.

Today, Jesus invites us again to choose the Kingdom of God. Choose life, choose wholeness, choose forgiveness, choose justice, choose love, even when it means sacrificing something that we value, so that others may live or heal or eat.

• When children are dying in our schools from automatic rifle fire, and politicians and citizens act as if nothing can be done, whose kingdom are we choosing? If we as people of faith cannot find a way to respect the second amendment AND prevent children from being killed in school, then we have abdicated the power of the Gospel to save and transform us.
• When immigrant parents come to our border asking for asylum, even legally, only to have their children taken from them, who’s kingdom are we choosing?
• When more than ½ million people in north Texas are food insecure, including 1 in 4 children, whose kingdom are we choosing?

Through the power of Jesus Christ within us, we have all the power we need to choose Life, to choose God’s Kingdom and live by the values of love, and wholeness and dignity for all people. Our reading from 2 Corinthians reminds us that we have the power to speak and to act in accordance with our belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world. Verse 14 exhorts us, we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus… so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart.

We do not lose heart in extending grace to more and more people! The power of God that raised Jesus from the dead resides in YOU, in ME, in our life together as the church. In case we forget or feel empty—we get a free re-fill right here at this table every week, where we are being renewed day by day. We are renewed in the power of Christ Jesus to speak and to act, to live lives of bold justice, radical love, and all-inclusive grace. One way to choose the Kingdom of God is to participate with Faith in Texas, an organization that works with religious communities to address issues in the metroplex—right now it’s working on issues in public education. They have a training coming up in two weeks, and you can talk with Gail, Emily or me for more information.

When we choose the kingdom of God every day, God uses our hardships to bring more blessings and abundance in the next place. 

• One of the women who was slandered in my first congregation went to seminary and became a Lutheran pastor!
• The building of that congregation is now being used by a non-denominational church that’s reaching out to the community.
• After I resigned from that call, and got some healing, I served as an Interim Pastor at another urban congregation. It was only because of that painful experience at my first call that I was able to help prevent similar destructive behavior from happening in that congregation.

God uses all of it!--the good, the bad and the ugly--to bring life and love and hope anew, because that’s the way of God’s Kingdom!  God is always working life in us and through us. So, do not lose heart in extending grace to more and more people! The Tale of Two Kingdoms is on-going, Choose life! Choose the Kingdom of God.

Image: http://www.religiousrecovery.org/inspiration/above-all-else-choose-love

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Clay Jars Need Sabbath Rest

Clay Jars Need Sabbath RestA sermon preached on Mark 2:23-3:6, Deuteronomy 5:12-15, and 2 Corinthians 4:5-12 for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost on June 3, 2018 at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas ~with apologies for late posting due to my last intensive class for my Certificate in Spiritual Direction!

It was the summer of 2005 and we were visiting my husband, Dan’s parents in Madison, Wisconsin. His mom, Joan, had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for about 3 years, and we went to spend time with her, to support Dan’s Dad, who the kids called, “Baba,” who was taking care of Joan at home. Baba had learned how to cook in his 70’s as well as other household and care-giving tasks he had never previously imagined as a pastor and denominational leader.

One afternoon, Leah, who was six years old at the time, looked at her grandpa asked, “Baba, why are you so mean to grandma?” (Out of the mouths of babes!). Baba’s face dropped with the realization of the truth her question revealed; an expression of resignation and sadness replaced irritation as he looked at himself in the mirror Leah gave him.

Of course, he didn’t intend to be mean to grandma, he was just exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed, tired of repeating himself, worried about her wandering off, planning the next meal, organizing companion visits, and all the while, grieving the relationship they once shared. We have this treasure in clay jars to make it clear that this extraordinary power comes from God and does not come from us. Baba needed rest—he needed Sabbath rest, but as many caregiver’s experience, rest is hard to come by when caregiving requires nearly 24-hour vigilance.

Our Gospel reading today entails an argument about the meaning and purpose of the Sabbath and the rest it requires. The 3rd Commandment exhorts that, “you shall honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” The religious leaders were no doubt threatened by this upstart, wandering preacher named, Jesus, from the backwater of Galilee.

He was disrupting the community and their religious system with his healing, and teaching. I can understand the Pharisees’ suspicion. I’ve met more than one arrogant intern over the years who thinks they have this whole ministry business figured out and I think to myself, “you don’t know anything.” But I digress.

The ensuing discussion really gives us a window into a first century bible study. The Pharisees and Jesus take differing views on how to interpret an ancient text –the giving of the Ten Commandments, recorded in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5—and how live it out in their current context. Can the commandment to “Honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy” include plucking grain in a field and healing a man’s hand, or does it forbid them as work?

The answer is not quite as straightforward as it might first appear. Unlike other commandments that just give a single phrase, like, “you shall not kill,” the giving of the 3rd commandment is quite detailed which we heard in our first lesson. After describing that everyone and everything should rest on the Sabbath, Deuteronomy continues with God’s rationale:

Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

Escape from slavery in Egypt was still a fresh memory for the Israelites when the Ten Commandments were given at Mt. Sinai—they knew what it was like to work 7 days a week with no rest, no holiday, no family time, no sick leave, no worship. When they were slaves, they were not allowed to rest, so now that God liberated them, God commands them to rest from work—and not only them, but their entire household, including family, workers and animals, and the whole community, including immigrants.

God puts the very first labor law on the books--faithfulness to God does not include workaholism and perfectionism, but rather rest and renewal. In other words, God started the very first weekend!

To people recently liberated from slavery this must have sounded strange and wonderful. Instead of engaging in forced work, God invited the people of Israel into “forced grace.” This forced rest served both as a remembrance of the freedom God had won for them, and as a celebration of the goodness of life, wholeness, family, and community that God provides.

The sabbath, in all its aspects, is about freedom—a life-giving liberation from all that holds us captive, whether it’s work or sin, brokenness or addiction, pride or irritation. On the Sabbath, we rest from earning anything—and step into a moment of forced grace—a time each week of opening ourselves to simply receive the peace, wholeness, blessings, and freedom God so deeply wants to give.

The Pharisees in this discussion got caught up in following the letter of the law down to the details—you can’t pluck grain, prepare food, or heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus argues that the proper function of the Sabbath is to promote life, and to celebrate God as liberator from all that enslaves us—including following the letter of the law when there is a greater need at hand. As religious experts, the Pharisees understood this view of Sabbath, but like Baba and us, it was hard for them to stop trying to be perfect; they even tried to rest perfectly. We have this treasure in clay jars to make it clear that this extraordinary power comes from God and does not come from us.

Instead of indulging a legalistic and perfectionistic view of the command to rest, Jesus argues that plucking grain for food promotes the life that Sabbath is designed to sustain. Healing a man of a crippled hand promotes well-being, wholeness, and freedom from a life of begging—also life that Sabbath is designed to sustain. The question is not so much, “What’s the list of things you can’t do on the Sabbath?” as it is, “What is life-giving, nourishing to the body and soul, and promotes peace, rest, and well-being?” The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.

Although we still have a couple of Blue Laws in Texas restricting the sale of cars and alcohol on Sundays, we as a culture, are notoriously bad at Sabbath. Even though we have added Saturday to the “weekend” that God started with the 3rd Commandment, the Puritans left us with a work ethic that doesn’t quit (literally!).

When I exercised at the YMCA in St. Louis, I would use an elliptical machine that would track my miles, heartrate and calories burned. When I paused for a minute to take a sip of water, the readout on the screen would say, “climb faster.” We live in a “climb faster” culture where there’s always more to do, to attain, to earn, to buy, to accomplish. Rest feels like laziness, or that we’re giving up on our goals, or that we’re being selfish or self-centered, especially when, like my father-in-law, we are devoted to caring for a chronically ill spouse or family member.

It takes a 6-year old to ask, “Baba, why are so you mean to grandma?” to catch us up short and confess that Sabbath rest feels strange and unfamiliar, even after 3 millenia. Leah’s question reminds us that, We have this treasure in clay jars to make it clear that this extraordinary power comes from God and does not come from us. We are very useful clay jars for God, but also limited, even fragile. From our vantage point, it becomes clear why God made rest, and the freedom and well-being it offers, a commandment. Forced grace. Stop and receive life-giving rest.

For Baba, rest and Sabbath came in the spring of 2006 when, after being on the waiting list, a spot opened for Joan to move into the Memory Care unit at a Senior Living facility. But when we are accustomed to doing everything, Sabbath grace is hard to accept. Of course, Baba’s first response was that he was not ready to put Joan in a care facility, and he could continue to care for her at home. Like most of us, he believed he should “climb faster” and try harder. His four adult children thought otherwise, and he eventually agreed. Forced grace—admitting to being a clay jar—became an invitation to step into rest and well-being for both of them.

As a family, we will be forever grateful to Judy, the director of the memory care unit, who explained to Dan’s father that when he allows the staff to take care of bathing, dressing, preparing food, and giving medicine, it frees him to do what only he can do—offer Joan love, affection, memories, and the continuity of relationship that defined their life and ministry for over five decades. Without knowing it, she described Sabbath rest which would free Baba to love Joan as only he can. Baba spent time with her every day—he helped her eat, they took walks, and looked at pictures—all offered without irritation, because Sabbath was now a part of both their lives. In Paul’s words, they life of Jesus was made visible in their bodies, when they accepted they were clay jars. Joan actually improved for a while, and they both had an increased quality of life for her remaining 1 ½ years.

As the calendar turns toward summer, it’s the perfect time to ask yourself what Sabbath rest your body and soul crave. What will bring you freedom, nourishment, wholeness and well-being? What will restore your soul, making you, as a clay jar, more useful to God?

This summer accept God’s gift of forced grace, scheduled rest, and unhurried renewal. With Baba, you will be freed to love more deeply and live more generously, making visible the life of Jesus through you!

 

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Jumping In with Our Whole Heart

Jumping In with Our Whole HeartA sermon preached for Holy Trinity Sunday on John 3:1-17 at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas on May 27, 2018

When I was in college, I was thinking about becoming a pastor, but I wasn’t completely convinced it was a real call, so I had two pathways out. I chose a double major—one combining Political Science and History, so I could go on to law school; the other major was Psychology, so I could become a psychologist.

My senior year of college, I did an Urban Studies semester in Chicago. My family moved frequently growing up, but always to white middle class suburbs. I thought that if this call to ministry turned out to be real, I had better learn something about living in a city with more diversity and poverty. Maybe I would also gain some new knowledge about what I should do with my life.

I became a tutor in the Cook County Jail, living in a poor community. A homeless woman named, “Love” would sometimes sleep in our living room. For my independent study project, I thought I would try to live as a homeless person for a weekend. I’d heard this idea from another student at my school who had done it the year before.

It was early November, so it was chilly, but not yet frigid. I put on old clothes, left my cash in the apartment and headed downtown. I wasn’t too worried about finding a place to stay that night; I expected to stay at the Salvation Army center downtown. As dusk set in, I headed there. The problem was, that the shelter was already full, there was no room for me. This possibility had never crossed my mind. It was dark and cold—now what was I going to do?

Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, under the cover of darkness because he is seeking understanding and the truth about God. He wants Jesus to give him the right answer, so that as a Jewish leader, he can fit Jesus’s life, healing, preaching, and ministry into his knowledge base and structure as a Jewish leader.
But Jesus isn’t much help. He doesn’t give Nicodemus the facts he seeks, but instead Jesus talks about being born from above, of being born anew, and being born of water and the Spirit.

“What are you talking about?” wonders Nicodemus. Jesus’s words make no sense to him, so he takes them literally. "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born again?"

Of course, Jesus is not talking about an earthly birth, but rather a spiritual one. God calls us into a re-birth, a new birth, to be born again spiritually—into a relationship with the God who made us.

“Don’t you see, Nicodemus?” says Jesus. “God wants a relationship with you. That’s why God sent Me, the Son of Man, so that through a relationship with me, you would give yourself—not just your mind and your correct doctrines, not just your adherence to the law, and your good behaviors—but that you would give God your heart, your love, your devotion, your deep trust.”

Jesus uses birth imagery to evoke the experience of love and trust between a parent and child. God loves us the same way a father and mother love their child, and God deeply desires for that love and trust to be returned.

When our kids were little, Dan and I did what all parents do—we taught our three children how to read, and to count to 100. We taught them how to look both ways before they crossed the street, how to share toys, and how to dress themselves.

But if our whole interaction with them ended with giving them correct information and getting them to behave properly (most of the time!), it wouldn’t have been a very satisfying relationship. The moments that made all the dirty diapers and sleepless nights worth it were when our kids wrapped their arms around our neck and gave us sticky kisses; when they climbed into our laps and snuggled in for love and comfort, and when they jumped into our arms with total trust from the edge of the swimming pool.

Jesus says to Nicodemus, “You’ve got the information about Scripture and the law, and your behavior is stellar, but you haven’t yet jumped into God’s arms from the edge of the pool with love and complete trust.

“God keeps holding out these strong, loving, inviting arms with a desire to give you all that need, but you haven’t given God your heart.”

“Thinking with your mind is good, doing the right thing is important, but without feeling, without love—you are a noisy gong or clanging symbol. Without love for God, you have nothing.

“God wants all of you—thinking, doing and feeling—for an intimate, trusting relationship! Jump into the pool, Nicodemus— be born of water and Spirit as God’s very own child who loves you, embraces you, and who desires to give you everything you need for fullness of life. That’s why I came --so that you would know that God wants a loving relationship with you, all of you.”

For God so loved the world—a better translation is ‘cosmos’—for God so loved the cosmos, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

That’s why we follow Jesus—

• He took the first jump, the first leap into human skin, trusting that God would catch him.
• Jesus jumped into the fullness of human life, experiencing everything from love, family, and friendship to abandonment, grief and betrayal, trusting that God would catch him.
• Jesus willingly fell onto the cross, trusting that even in suffering and death, God would catch him.
• Jesus jumped from the grave showing us and the whole cosmos that no matter what happens in this life, God will catch us.

When the Salvation Army turned me away, they told me of another shelter at a church west of downtown, about a mile away. I had no money, no food, and it was 1984, so no cell phone. They said I could ask a police officer to drop me off at the shelter. But I was too stubborn and naïve to do something smart like that. I felt as if that would ruin the point of the whole learning experience.

I knew the grid system of how Chicago was laid out, so I decided to walk…in the dark…alone…in a part of town I did not know. I was more scared at that moment than I had ever been. It didn’t matter how much knowledge I had, it didn’t matter whether it was the right thing to do. At that moment I needed a God I could love and trust with my whole life and heart. I jumped into God’s arms like I never had before.

In my mind I sang, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say, rejoice!” over and over, as I walked in the dark through an industrial area and made it through to the church shelter. I’ve never been so happy to see a group of homeless people! I was safe in God’s arms.

Our Gospel passage today doesn’t give us the end of its story. Did Nicodemus remain a religious leader who gave his mind and actions to God, but not his heart, not his love, not his trust? We don’t know exactly, but John’s Gospel does give us a hint in Chapter 19. As he hung dying on the cross, Jesus could see someone walking up the hill toward him—no longer coming under the cover of darkness—but in the light of mid-day. It was Nicodemus, weighed down with 100 pounds of aloes and myrrh to anoint Jesus’s body for burial, an act of love and devotion (for no law-abiding Pharisee would touch a dead body).

But, Nicodemus had jumped. He had leapt into God’s loving arms with his whole heart, offering himself, his love and his trust to the God he met in Jesus the Christ.

At the end of my Urban Studies semester, I knew I wasn’t going to become a lawyer or a psychologist. I finished college and went straight to seminary in Chicago, where I could serve as a GED teacher at the jail while I studied. Over the years, I have learned that jumping into God’s arms with total love and trust is something we choose over and over and over again, every day. That’s why Martin Luther encouraged us to remember our Baptism every day, so we can experience our rebirth through water and the Spirit.

Sometimes I wonder what Nicodemus would say if he were among us today. I’d like to think it would be this: “Jump in, St. Luke’s! The love is deep and the water is fine!”

Image: Kim Ruoff, Shutterstock; Royalty-free stock photo ID: 13174942.

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A Visit from St. Teresa of Avila

A Visit from St. Teresa of AvilaThe History of Christian Spirituality was one of my last classes to complete my Certificate of Spiritual Direction at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis. Throughout the semester, we were assigned a "spiritual dialog partner" who had to be a deceased saint of the church. We gave a first-person presentation of them to the class, and then wrote a research paper in the form of a dialog with them. My spiritual dialog partner was St. Teresa of Avila (3/28/1515 - 10/4/1582). She was a prolifica writer, including the Book of Her Life, reflections on the Song of Solomon, and the most famous spiritual treatise, The Interior Castle, among other writings, and 428 extant letters. As a Lutheran, I have not spent much time trying to converse or pray with saints, so this was an interesting project that expanded both my theology and spiritual practices. In order to write the first-person presentation, I spent time in prayer, and invited St. Teresa to join me, so she could share what she would like us to know. What follows is what I received! I added the structure with introduction and conclusion. It was a wonderful exercise in using the gift of imagination in prayer with inner listening to access wisdom from a female spiritual leader, and the first woman named a Doctor of the church by the Pope. Because St. Teresa lived in the 16th century, I used her male language for God, including the phrase, "His Majesty," which she used frequently. If you have a saint from the church from whom you would like to learn, I encourage you to try a similar exercise!

"Thank you for the kind invitation to speak with you today. I understand you’re training to become spiritual directors and I’m so pleased by that! You live in a generation that needs more quiet time to be with God, time to gain self-knowledge and humility, clearing a path for God to transform hearts through loving union with him. After we begin with a brief prayer, I’d like to share three insights about our relationship with God: 1. His Majesty chooses to dwell within us and how to begin the conversation; 2. That He loves us as we are, to transform our hearts; and 3. That our job is to show up and be filled with God’s love in order to serve others. As I share these insights about how God works in and through us, I’ll reveal a little bit about myself and my struggles. Let’s read the prayer on the screen responsively by line:

Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks
compassion on this world
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

You realize of course, that I did not actually write that poem or prayer?! My poems were never that direct, succinct or so well written! But I share it because even though it is wrongly attributed to me, it beautifully summarizes the goal of our spiritual life—to be in such union with God through prayer, meditation, and contemplation that we embody Christ in loving service to our neighbor. If I could have written so clearly and briefly, it would have saved a lot of paper, ink and writing cramps! I don’t have a linear mind, and went off on tangents of all kinds, and then I didn’t have the time to correct what I wrote. I’m surprised anyone bothers with my writing at all, but that is all the working of His loving and generous Majesty! And there-in lies the first insight that I would like to share with you today.

Our God is so great, He takes us from our low stations, and we of little skill or training, and dwells within us, beckoning us into love. I learned from reading St. Augustine that we must look for God within. He can use us in amazing ways we never imagined, and certainly in ways we could never do on our own. Our Majesty and Lord comes to dwell within our bodies and within our souls, and calls us, and woes us, and reaches out for us to be in a loving, intimate relationship with Him!

It’s not difficult or complicated. We start out sitting down like two friends, here right now, in conversation, and the more time we spend in this kind of conversation, the more deeply we are stirred to love our Lord and our neighbor. This prayer time means being present to God with all of your faculties, resting in his presence, focusing on his love and devotion to you and his creation, beholding the suffering Jesus endured to demonstrate this immeasurable love. All His Majesty asks of us, is that we spend time with Him; we sit in this quiet, active recollection, holding the presence of Jesus in us, as we are present to him, lingering there in love. I share this thought on another slide, and I really did write this one, but I learned from reading Fr. Francisco de Osuna that God desires friendship with us:

Mental prayer in my opinion, is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight, but desire to please God in everything.

The more we linger in the loving gaze of God, the more His Majesty can fill us with His love, free us from our temptations, cleanse us of our unkind thoughts, and transform our hearts and our lives into who and what He has made us to be! At first, we expend our effort, focus, and attention in prayer through the first three mansions of the Interior Castle, (if you’ve had a chance to read it), but the longer we dwell here, the deeper we move into God! Then it is no longer we who make the effort with God’s grace, but God completely does the work of transforming our hearts into loving union with Him! In mansions four through seven, God infuses us through supernatural means, with His divine love. It’s like a betrothal, moving toward spiritual marriage—all that we are is God’s, all that God offers becomes ours. We become more fully who God made us to be—imagine it! Our personality, character, and station in life, infused with his Majesty’s divine love!

And that’s the second miracle of God’s love, the 2nd insight I want to share—not just that He chooses to dwell within us and to love us there within, but that He does not want to change us into someone else, something different, something better. No, our God wants to transform us into who we truly are by His creation! We must accept that God made us the way God wants us, because the transformation of heart is only to deeper love! You do not have be different than who you are! At first, I thought God would want to change me into someone else. Wouldn’t God want someone who wasn’t vain as young woman, who didn’t love books of chivalry and romance, who wasn’t sickly, who had a more demure personality, who didn’t love humor, and the tambourine? But no, God loved me as I was with what I brought—sins, hopes, limitations, experiences and all, because transformation in Him is not a change of personality or earthly condition, it’s a transformation of heart!

Transformation in God is a transformation into greater love, deeper love, more generous love. Through His Majesty’s transformation of my heart, I came to desire what God desires, so temptations carried no attraction, and limitations became opportunities to love. Transformation in the interior castle of your soul in God’s soul, is to be drenched in the lavish love of the Creator of the universe as you are. God can use your illness, your family problems, your temptations, your sins—whatever it is going on—all as opportunities to bring about greater love in you, deeper compassion for others, greater service to the neighbor in your station and setting in life.

This is what troubles me as I witness the 21st Century and your perfectionism, comparisons, endless ego needs, and social media personas. You approach life as though there’s something wrong with the way God made you, that there must be some improvement or correction. It’ an obsession with appearance and weight, selfies and success, popularity and riches. Let’s just strip all of that away; come before God in the crystal-clear castle of the soul of your life, with all of who you are; come with self-knowledge and humility before the God who made you. None of those worldly things matter here. God wants to be with you to bring you to deeper love in Him and greater love and service to others.

What matters when you serve others and go about your life, is that you are drenched in God’s lavish love, so that when people interact with you, come to spiritual direction, meet you at the store, visit you when you’re sick, they experience the lavish love of God through you! They receive God’s forgiveness of their sins, the grace of the suffering Christ for them, and the affirmation that if God so dwells in you, then God must truly dwell in them too! If there is one thing to learn from my life this is it!

• God blessed me with faithful parents and a beautiful soul as a child, but then I became vain, and as a teen, succumbed to chivalry, romance and the vanities of the world. Yet, God loved me and used my life and wooed me into spiritual marriage.
• I was sick and unable to do much for three years, and yet God loved me and used my weakness to help me depend on Him more fully. He used time in my illness to read the saints and begin to move my will to serve only him!
• I spent a year not praying because I thought it was the humble thing to do; it was a terrible mistake and I regretted it for the rest of my life, and yet, God loved me and used it to bring me deeper into prayer.
• I can’t write a logical progression of thought without going off on a hundred tangents, and yet, God loved me and used me, and still uses my writings and their tangents.
• I was not a theologically trained man, an accepted teacher of the church, and yet, God loved me and used me during the 16th century Inquisition of all times!
• I was not as wise as John of the Cross, or Ignatius of Loyola, and did not have the strength to bring about the reforms of the Carmelites, and yet God loved me and used me to do just that.

Don’t you see how great the love of his Majesty for his creatures? God uses all of it, all of who you are to bring you to deeper love and union with His Divine Love. You don’t have to change who you are, but you must spend time with God, so He can use all of your life. Which brings me to my 3rd insight: Your job is to show up, to make yourself available and present to Christ as often as you can throughout your day, so that over time, God can do the work of implanting deeper love in you. That’s why I wrote The Interior Castle, that’s why the time in meditation and contemplation, that’s why the conversation with God as if between friends. We must simply spend time within, within this beautiful castle, or garden or mountain or whatever setting beckons your spirit.

Your primary goal is spending time with God in love through each stage of your life, so you can grow deeper in love with God, and deeper in compassion for the world. God can use even the limitations of your life as a sacrament of His love for others. So be you, and trust that in your body, in your position, in your location, in your work, and in your family, God wants to use you to show forth deeper and greater love. How do we know we are growing more in love with God? Because we grow in deeper love for our neighbor and shine God’s love through compassionate service.

The path of faith is not about greater striving, it is about quieter meditation and contemplation so that God can transform your heart into one of deeper love and spiritual oneness with His Majesty. The more you show up with all of who you are, the deeper this marital union with God becomes, making you the eyes of compassion, the body, the hands, and the feet of Christ who serves the neighbor with virtue and lavish love."

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