Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Christ in you, the hope of glory, Part 2

Recently we have been reflecting on what it means to imitate God in the way that the gospel suggests we should. We talked about imitating his forgiveness, his patience, and his love. I mentioned last week that I felt that we needed to pause in the midst of these reflections in order to consider the dynamics of how God makes us able to imitate his character and we took note of this staggering truth: when we come to follow Jesus, in a deeply mysterious, deeply spiritual way, Jesus himself - through the invisible but powerful work of the Holy Spirit - comes to live his life in and through us. We went on to talk a bit about how that mind-bending truth does not immediately feel like good news to some of us or many of us. At least for some of us at many times in our life we would rather not think of Jesus being so close to us at all times and in all places. However, I insisted that we come to see this truth that Paul summarizes as “Christ in you the hope of Glory” as really very good news, an essential aspect of the gospel.

This is what we said about that last week in summary fashion. From the homily recap from last week:
“Building on these thoughts in the homily I remarked that we need to hear and believe that Jesus’ intimate presence with us at all times is really good news. I simply don’t think many of us think about passages like “Christ in you: the hope of glory” as good news. For many of us the thought of Jesus’ intimate presence with us makes us uncomfortable or ashamed. But we know that Jesus is comfortable in our skin because he is 100% committed to helping us become who we are meant to be by calling us back to ourselves over and over again, tirelessly reminding each of us of his love for us. It is vitally important for us to learn to recognize the truth of Christ’s presence in and among us as good news and cultivating the discipline of speaking and hearing the good news as a spiritual good in and of itself. As Saint Paul says to the Romans, “For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’

Let’s move on in our discussion though and consider together how our response to this good news can help us grow. I suggest that it is our response to this aspect of the gospel (Christ in your the hope of glory) that can help us relate to ourselves, our fellow human beings and the rest of the world more and more in the way Christ has related himself to us. Lets flesh that out some.

In the history of the church’s discussions about spiritual formation there is a great tradition of talking about God’s desire to make us holy - be holy as he is holy. This discussion often has touched on the great thought that God is intimately at work within us to make us holy. However, sometimes when people have talked about this they have emphasized that the main thing on God’s heart when he thinks of us is that he wants us to be sin free like he is. And so the discussion immediately becomes about working in overdrive to get rid of sin, a conversation that quickly turns into moralistic emphases that invite people to run towards perfectionism on the one hand, or denial, on the other. Despair or apathy often accompany a moralistic emphasis. There is also a tradition, though, of talking about being holy as God is holy as being more like Jesus. This approach is a good one I think but the discussion of imitating Christ can often fall into vagueness and platitudes. What I want to suggest to you is that the first step to becoming holy like God is holy is to recognize the way in which God has revealed his holiness to us. When Paul calls the Philippians to a deeper experience of God’s holiness he tells them a story. It is the story of who God is and how God is, what is often referred to as the Christ poem:

Philippians 2:1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Then, later in the same chapter, Paul gives an example what this self-emptying looks like in a person within their community of brothers and sisters in Christ. The person he offers as that example is Timothy whose life is characterized by not looking to his own interests but to the interests of others.

2:19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. 20I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22But Timothy’s* worth you know.

In Timothy’s life, the mark of God-likeness is that he lived according to the patten of the same self-emptying that characterizes God’s nature as revealed in Christ. This is what, in turn, gives us a clue as to how God makes us holy. For God, the movement of self-emptying reveals his holy character; God is who he is by giving himself away. For us, self-emptying takes the form of receiving this self-giving, self-emptying love - of being inhabited by it. God, from all eternity, has existed in a dance of love given and received perfectly between Father. Son and Holy Spirit, Now, in Christ, God has included us in that dance!!! But for us growth in holiness comes from the dance - a tango of God leading us in self-emptying, self-giving love complemented by our reception of the same. For God, self-giving love is who he is. For us, self-emptying love is who we are becoming as we continue in the dance.

For us to keep our feet and bodies faithfully in the dance - and this is how I hope we will avoid the vagueness and platitudes I warned against earlier - we need the additional movements of confession and supplication. We confess when we resist God’s self-giving love and we beseech God to give us a deeper desire to experience his self-giving love from day to day. However, we must develop the discipline and habit of specific confession and specific petition - generalities are not enough. Here are some examples of specificity. If drinking too much keeps us from being alert and alive to the love and care we want to give and need to give to friends, loved ones, and work, then God's mercy needs to wash over that aspect of us as we confess and petition; if our flashes of anger make people afraid to approach us then we need God's mercy to wash over that aspect of us; if our sexual fantasies are robbing us of our capacity to enjoy genuine love and affection then we need God's mercy to wash over that aspect of who we are. It is the process and the trajectory of repenting of our resistance to God’s self giving love that yields the fruit of holiness. Last week we said that we need to remember that hearing the good news as good news is a vital spiritual discipline in and of itself. This week we added another layer: naming our sin, naming our lack of experience in and participation in God's self-giving love around specific sins of omission and commission will shine light in places that were dark and help hope take root where there was previously apathy or despair. We need to start recognizing our movement towards holiness as God's purifying work in us and not allow our imperfection, incompleteness, and continued sinfulness to tell a story about us that is not true. Our story is Christ in us, the hope of glory!

1. Why does a moralistic approach to holiness lead many to despair or denial?

2. Why does simply saying that we should imitate Christ lead to vagueness and platitudes?

3. Can you think of certain things you should be confessing of in particular that you have left too vague and general in the past?

4. Does the metaphor of the dance help you to think through what growing in holiness might look on a daily basis in our lives?

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