Following Jesus Christ 3

This is the third post in this series. It contains what I am sending to my high school classmates as we celebrate 55 years as graduates. Although this is written for mostly Christians, its truth is available to all. The Spirit of Christ that I will refer to below is available to all. Gandhi was never a traditional Christian, but he certainly admired Jesus. Gandhi’s life was marked by some of the same characteristics that can be seen in Jesus–and one was the way of gentleness, which is a pathway into the presence of God.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the gentle; they shall
have the earth for their possession.”
(Matthew 5:5)

Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn
from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart.”
(Matthew 11:29)

In my teaching, I have insisted that way too many people “believe” in Jesus, but don’t “follow” him. And sometimes I fall into that crowd. But that does not mean we all can’t do better. We can learn gentleness and humility from Jesus. Again, I say—read the gospels.

The character of Jesus is marked by patience, colored with gentleness. Does Jesus ever get angry? Well, yes, we can see that from time to time. A gentle person can get angry when the situation calls for that kind of confrontation. But for followers of Jesus, Christ-like gentleness is never far beneath the surface.

In looking out at today’s America (and the world), I see that we are flooded with anger, violence, and hatred. Even some Christians, sadly, are more characterized by a bullishness and rage than they are Christ-like gentleness.

As followers of Jesus, our character should mirror Christ’s gentleness. That is possible because the Spirit of Christ lives in us. Listen to what characterizes the Spirit work in our lives (hint: it does not include aggression and hatred!) “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control….If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:22-25)

Peace, LaMon

Following Jesus Christ 2

It has been over a month since my last post about following Jesus. I mentioned then that I was writing short pieces for a virtual class reunion which I would then use in this blog, because following Jesus is one way to experience the presence of God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matt. 5:9).

You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evil doer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also (Matt. 5:38-39).

You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:43-45a).

In some ways, the call to practice non-violence and love of enemy is the most difficult of Jesus’ teachings. This is true for Christians all over the world—though there are wonderful exceptions in denominations like Quakers and Mennonites.

America was birthed in violence and war. It is part of our national DNA. We patriotically support any war or military conflict that America engages in. We promote a gun culture that seems to support a level of violence that the early Church would never accept.

Now I know that some of you may be a bit angry at this point, but I hope that you will persevere and read the rest. Some wars can be justified and the defense of our family and the weak can be justified. Nevertheless, if we want to follow Jesus, we must take his teachings seriously and not simply ignore that which doesn’t fit our world view.

Violence should always be the last resort. When violence is finally the only answer, we must strive to use the least amount of violence possible to promote genuine peace. We are called to love our enemies, not hate them. Killing may be necessary, but we will never, if we follow Jesus, rejoice in the death of our ‘enemies’. Following Jesus is rarely easy or popular. But I have found it one great way to experience the presence of God.

Following Jesus Christ I

This year my high school class is celebrating our reunion virtually. In fact we are celebrating it for several months. One of the ways, is that some of us have been asked to write meditations from time to time. I decided to write on following the teachings of Jesus. The theme of all of my blogs is ways or paths to experiencing the presence of God. One way is to follow the teachings of Jesus. So I will be sharing these on my blog in the months to come.

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Luke 6:20

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3

Luke and Matthew affirm that Jesus taught this to his disciples. Matthew’s version simply amplifies the plight of the poor, i.e. they are dis-spirited, crushed, without hope.

If we are to take this saying of Jesus seriously, what must we do? Jesus could say that the poor were blessed, because he knew that his followers would care for them as much as they could. We are called to a practical compassion for the poor. We are called to individual actions of charity, but also to support programs the seek to alleviate the suffering of the poor.

This becomes clear in Matthew 25 where the peoples of the world are judged, not on what they believed, but on what they did. The sheep—those on the right of the Son of Man—cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, and the imprisoned. Because they acted this way, Jesus said they were blessed by the Father. The goats, on his left, did no such thing and they were cursed.

I honestly don’t claim to know what this all might mean in terms of eternity, but this I know: people following the teachings of Jesus will be more interested in blessing the poor than in shaming or blaming them. We are called to compassion.

Peace, LaMon

Ecclesiastes Haiku

Recently I decided to read through the Book of Ecclesiastes and write haiku that captures it’s thought. It begins in verses 1-11 with an almost numbing melancholy. Creation seems to be, for the writer, an unending cycle of meaninglessness.

life is meaningless

begins Ecclesiastes–

weariness is the norm

Today perhaps we can appreciate this view in light of pandemic, injustice, and race riots. Disease and violence return like months of the year. But Jesus rescues me from this debilitating worldview. Ecclesiastes expected nothing new, but Jesus brought a fresh breeze from God, that cleanses the staleness of our inner rooms if we will but open the windows of our souls. It is a cleansing that renews my hope for a better day, a better world. It enables me to speak confidently for compassion, justice, and reconciliation.

As always, if you like what I have written, feel free to share it with others and encourage them to become followers.

Peace, LaMon

Trials and Temptations

This is the last in my series of meditations on Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. Since prayer can be one of the ways we connect with God, it seemed to good idea to look at the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray. It is one of those pathways into God’s presence.

The last phrase according to Luke’s version reads, “and do not bring us to the time of trial.” (NRSV) A footnote indicates that it could be translated as “do not bring us into temptation.” The connection between the two translations is clear. Trials may tempt us to abandon our trust in God. Trials may tempt us to fall out of love with God our Father (or Mother, if you prefer).

The disciples were going to face a lot of trials and temptations in the years to come. In this prayer, Jesus encourages them to ask God to protect them from those trials or temptations that might destroy their faith or dry up their love.

One question that needs asking is, does God intentionally lead us or bring us into temptations or prayers? I say, “No.” In fact when I pray the prayer (as in Matthew’s version), I follow the French Catholic practice recently adopted by the Pope. So I pray, “Do not let us fall to temptation.”

I can pray this with confidence because I know the love of God revealed in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.

Forgiveness

We have been meditating on the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father as it is found in the Gospel of Luke. Prayer is one of the ways we experience the presence of God. In today’s passage we will be reminded of the importance of forgiveness, which action, I believe, is another significant way to know God.

This month we have come to “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” This does not have the words “transgressions” and “transgress” that many of us have used over the years. Neither does it have the words “debts” and “indebted” that others are used to. The word “sins” and “transgressions” are close enough to be used as synonyms. And in Luke’s version the prior word “sins” must be used to interpret the phrase “indebted to us.” So, to make it clear, in praying Luke’s version we are asking God to forgive us our sins because we are forgiving those who have sinned against us.

So, two ideas are at work. On the one hand, we have a need to be forgiven because of our own sins–doing wrong against God and others. And we have a need to forgive others who had done us wrong. I would simply point out that in this prayer, we are basically asking God to treat us like we treat others!!?!

While that sounds frightening, it need not be, as long as we understand what forgiveness entails. Forgiveness is seem most clearly on the cross. There, God in Christ was forgiving the world for its sin. This involved two types of acceptance. First, God in Christ accepted the pain of our sin without retaliation. The pain stopped on the cross. Second, God in Christ accepted the responsibility to help those who had caused the pain. (Remember Christ praying, Father forgive them.)

In forgiving others we accept two things. First, we accept the pain without trying to get revenge. We absorb the hurt as it were. Second, we accept the responsibility to help the other person. This can be most easily done by praying for that person’s own well being.

Forgiveness in it’s most basic elements does not involve forgetting (which we can’t will anyway!) nor the emotions of liking or loving.

Paul understood the connection between our forgiveness and our forgiving: “forgive one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 5:7).

May we know the presence of God as we pray even for our enemies that God’s mercy would prevail in their lives.

Bread for the Day

We continue to think about Luke’s version of the Our Father or the Lord’s Prayer. Today we will look at the phrase, “Give us each day our daily bread.”

In the ancient world of Jesus’ day, food security was not a given. Lack of nutrition and gnawing hunger would have been near at hand for many of the common people of that time–even as it is in parts of the world today. So, Jesus was encouraging his disciples to pray for daily needs. God cares about the total person, not just disembodied souls.

However, I imagine that all who read this blog will have access to the food you need, so, we can pray this portion of the prayer with a sense of thanksgiving for the physical blessing we have. In praying thus we recognize our dependence on known and unknown factors that impact our well being. We ask God to bless us–bodies included.

On an earlier occasion Jesus affirmed that we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. That word is another kind of bread or nourishment–not for our physical being but for our spiritual being. So, we look for words from God to feed us. These words may be found in the Bible and other written material, in our inner life, and in conversations with others. At my church we respond to the reading of Scripture in this way: “For the word of God in Scripture, for the word of God within us, and for the word of God among us, thanks be to God.”

Finally, I must mention one other use of bread in the Gospels. It became a synonym for the presence of Jesus Christ with his followers. The bread of Communion is called the body of Christ. Whatever your theology of the Lord’s Supper, all of us can affirm that in some way, Jesus is with us as we participate.

When I pray the Lord’s Prayer, I am not literally taking the bread and the cup of Communion. But every time I pray “give us each day our daily bread,” I am asking Jesus Christ to be with me and near me in that day. It adds a wonderful dimension to the prayer and one that has come to mean a lot to me. I hope it may help you too to experience that Presence.

Gospel Reading

In my last blog I talked about there being many spiritual practices or exercises that can help us experience the presence of God or the Divine. Most of the religions in the world seek to find and follow a path or paths to God. I have found spiritual treasures in careful readings of the Tao Te Ching, the Upanishads, the Dhammapada, Zen writings, the Songs of Kabir, a host of poets, and, of course, the Bible. In the Hebrew scriptures, I have been especially drawn to the Psalms, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs.

However, most significant to me has been reading the four gospels in the Christian scriptures. Some 25 years ago, a spiritual adviser encouraged me to focus my scripture reading solely on the four gospels–at least for a time. Of course, as a Christian since childhood, I had read in the gospels off and on for many years, along with all the other books in the Bible.

However, as I began to focus primarily on the life and teachings of Jesus, I was changed. Jesus became more than just the one who died on a cross and rose from the dead for the sake of our ‘salvation’. Jesus became the paradigm for how I was to interpret everything else. Jesus became the model or example for how I was to live and think. In this eye-opening understanding of Christ, my own connection with God deepened.

Of course, I read many things these days, but my pattern always includes a portion of a gospel reading. I read and then reflect and/or pray in my journals. (Unless I am determined to write a few lines in a journal, my reading can become shallow and meaningless.)

In the next few blogs I will write about other practices that connect me to God through Jesus Christ. However, if you want to try this practice, I suggest that you begin with a journal to write in and begin reading the Gospel of Luke, and next on through Mark, Matthew, and John. Then repeat and repeat and repeat. For 25 years it has not gotten old!

Pathway(s)

Pathways to God is not strictly speaking about how one can be ‘saved’ in the traditional Christian sense. It is about how we can experience the presence of God. In one Hindu pattern there are three ways–the way of knowledge, the way of selfless work or action, and the way of love and devotion. In Neo-Platonism, the divine can be approached through beauty, truth, and goodness.

As in other religions and philosophical traditions there exist a variety of routes to the presence of God, so in the Christian spiritual tradition there are many practices or disciplines that have been used successfully. One important thing to remember is that not every Christian practice will be effective for every person, nor will one Christian practice always and forever be effective. That is, your particular needs in the spiritual life may change from time to time, so that what was helpful before is so no longer. Other practices need to develop.

For example the practice called Centering Prayer is very popular today among many Christians. It is a way into silence by quieting or emptying your mind. As I noted, many Christians have found this practice helpful. Me–not so much. But I would never denigrate the practice. It has helped a lot of folks. It is one way into silence.

A pattern that has been a better one for me also includes silence, but it is not the same kind. I no longer try to empty my mind, but I want to fill it. I have taken the advice of the Apostle Paul, “From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8)

There is one who embodies all of these. That one, for me, is Jesus Christ. So, I try to fill my mind with him. In the next few blogs I will share some of the ways that I do this. I hope you will join me.

As always, anything you find helpful that I have written, feel free to share it with others.

Images from a Contemplative Retreat

It was still dark as I walked to the guest cafeteria. The Rosemary bush was waiting:

Early morning walk                                                                                                                              Caressing the Rosemary                                                                                                                        The day’s first blessing

Later walking to the chapel to chant with the monks and praise God another blessing from Nature:

The path to worship                                                                                                                              Covered in Honeysuckle                                                                                                                      Aroma of God

I have always been blessed to experience the beauty and glory of God in Nature. It was no different at Mepkin Abbey whose beautiful grounds boarding on Cooper River afforded ample opportunities for silent meditation.

In blessed silence                                                                                                                                    I heard the presence of God–                                                                                                              Music of Nature

I came to the retreat hoping to grow in love for God and acquiring more of the compassion of Jesus. One day I walked in a labyrinth marked off by wildflowers.

In the labyrinth                                                                                                                                      Unbidden a song arose:                                                                                                                        More love to Thee

In those seven grace-filled days, I also meditated on Scripture. With the psalmist, I learned to sing my own song, “All my life I will sing to you, my Jesus.” Over and over again as I read in the Gospels, I experienced the glad-hearted kindness of Jesus.

Blessed are the kind                                                                                                                              For they are children of God                                                                                                              Kindness is divine

I was loved by God on this retreat and I returned home with more love and compassion for others–at least for a time. The ordinary world often makes compassion difficult, doesn’t it? So, my growth in love and compassion is far from complete. But in that wonderful retreat perhaps I sprouted a new blossom or two.

Trust in God’s slow work                                                                                                                      Transformation takes ages                                                                                                                    For each one of us

Addendum:

  1. As always, as you are moved, you may share this with others.
  2. If you are interested in retreats you may check out this web site: http://www.theanchorage.org.