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

The Lord’s Prayer in a Time of Pandemic

Last year, I wrote several blogs on the Lord’s Prayer (or the Our Father). It is certainly the most prayed prayer in the history of Christianity. Many churches use it every Sunday. Many individuals pray it daily. I am one of those.

The truth about praying prayers created or written by someone else is that, it is possible to say the words and not think about them. In order to really pray these prayers, we must learn to pray them with intention. This means pay attention to what we are saying.

During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, certain phrases from the Lord’s Prayer have become filled with new meaning for me. When I pray them with intention, I am brought more closely into the presence of God.

“Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I think about God’s desire for love to rule the day on earth as it surely does in heaven. So, in that phrase, is the implicit request for an increase in compassion on earth.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” I remember all the lines of people waiting for food in this time of scarcity and joblessness. They become a part of my concern.

“Let us not fall to temptation.” (This is the phrase I picked up from Roman Catholics which seems clearer than “Lead us not into temptation.) Two temptations are especially prevalent in today’s world; a temptation to despair and a temptation to anger. Both can be found in sad abundance, though the second one is more likely to rise in my heart. So, my concern for the emotional and spiritual welbeing of others and myself highlight this phrase.

Finally, there is “deliver us from evil.” I think of the evil of the virus and I think of the evil of divisiveness in American society. Both call for deliverance.

May praying the Lord’s Prayer bring you closer to God and to God’s will for your life.

As always, feel free to share this post with others and encourage them to click the follow button, if they like it.

Peace, LaMon

A Prayer for Today

It has been a while since I last wrote. I have been busy writing some memoirs for by grand-kids. What a great experience, going back over 40 years of journals, and remembering various events in my life.

Of course, that may not be the only reason I haven’t written. What can one write during these days of pandemic? Here is something I have found helpful.

Richard Rohr’s Center Center for Action and Contemplation sends out five meditations every week. Included with those meditations is this wonderful prayer:

O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.

I pray this prayer everyday. And I spend time praying for my “heart’s longings for the healing of our world”–for individuals, for groups special to me, and for the world. Perhaps you can find this prayer a helpful outline for expressing your own intentions.

As I have said before, prayer is one path into the presence of God–the “Great Love” of all creation.

Peace, LaMon

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.

The Mystic Path: Purification

Last time we considered the occurrence of awakening in the mystic path–that happening in our lives when we become awake to the divine or God’s presence all around us. Today’s topic is not as exciting, but I hope not to lose any readers!

According to the mystics once we are awakened to the glory of God, we can become aware of our own imperfections. The path to ultimate union with God leads through a period (or probably periods) of purification.

Some of our imperfections are caused by our environment. Another way to say that is that we are impacted by sin. On the other hand, some of our imperfections are the result of our own bad choices. Or, we commit sin, e.g. we nurture wrong desires or do wrong things.

Our imperfections may appear in a variety of forms. Not being able to distinguish right from wrong is an imperfection in our intellect. When we can’t seem to make a decision or stick to those resolutions we do make, this is an imperfection in our will. Regularly struggling with unhealthy feelings points to an imperfection in our emotional center.

I have largely avoided talking about ‘sin’ because the word has been wildly misused over the years. When I was a young person growing up in rural Alabama in the 50s and 60s, dancing was considered a sin in some circles! And going to the movies on a Sunday was a definite taboo.

Nevertheless, the word sin still has value when we consider the imperfections in our moral center. Jesus taught us to love one another, which means seeking the other person’s welbeing. When we fail to do that, we are imperfect or we are sinners.

Mystics have suggested a threefold way of purification that can help us along the path to union with God. First is contrition–a sense of sorrow for our imperfections or sins. Second is a full confession–acknowledging, at least to ourselves, that we are not perfect. Third is the resolve to change. Of course, for Christian mystics, all of this is done in the presence of God who is ready to forgive and to help us grow into the divine nature.