26 October 2008 * 1Thessalonians 2: 1-8/Matthew 22:34-46
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
Adoration, Adherence, Cooperation
Last Sunday we began an exploration of how the Spiritual Life is not about conjugating the three verbs To Want, To Have, To do, but rather to ground ourselves more thoroughly in the foundational verb, To Be – and that what we are To Be is a people of God in Christ, God’s Beloved, Imitators of Christ and an Example of the Christ-like life for others.
This portion of Paul’s letter to the church in Thessolonika has always spoken to a very deep place within me as to just how we are To Be. So much so that when the Church Deployment Office invites one to write a Personal Ministry Statement of no more than 254 characters (110 more than the 144 previous word limit!), I appealed to this passage as a way of expanding what I wanted to say: Committed to shared servant ministry which seeks to interpret and meet the needs, concerns and hopes of the world in the spirit of I Thess 2:5-8.
It was a way of inviting search committees to do some Bible study and squeezing more into the little box on the CDO Profile all at once. Paul writes, in part, “…we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others…But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”
It is this vision of shared servant ministry Paul so eloquently describes what brought me here to Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills. After nearly fourteen years I still feel the same deep desire to care for everyone here, all those the Spirit brings into our midst, sharing not only the Gospel of God, Jesus Christ, but also my own self – a shared servant ministry.
And no doubt like everyone here, I continue to hear these words from Holy Scripture in all four lessons against the backdrop of a world that seems to grow more and more uncertain as each day of the present financial and monetary crisis deepens and widens.
So loud is the background noise of the crisis, the election, and two wars, not to mention the competing voices of work, family and the mundane details of simply maintaining – maintaining house, home, physical health, mental health, relationships, yardwork, housework, homework, rehearsal schedules, athletic practices, auto maintenance – the list might go on and on and on.
It is such that when we hear Paul or Jesus calling us back to a Spiritual Life we are apt to say, “I cannot do anything more, thank you! I have no time to delve into my interior life. I have no time to develop a more holy, pious and disciplined religious life.”
It is no fault of our own that we sense that whatever one might call The Spiritual Life has something, maybe even everything to do with us, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. As all the great spiritual teachers in every religious tradition try to help us to see, it is not about us. It simply is not about us at all. Yet, most of what passes for Spirituality in the marketplace, on radio and tv, on the bookshelves of our major book retailers all make appeals that sound as if Spirituality is a core constituent part of all the great American self-improvement, self-actualization movements.
So far astray have our notions of the Spiritual Life gone that Bishops Sutton and Rabb spent three days reminding the clergy of the diocese that it is not about us – the Spiritual Life is not about us. It is all about God and others. Late in the conference Bishop Rabb was writing something on newsprint. It was faint and difficult to see. A colleague shouted out, “It’s invisible we cannot see it!” The Bishop replied, “I am just making these notes for myself.” Prompting me to shout out, “It’s not about us!”
It is about God and others. So saith our Lord and Saviour Jesus this morning: Love God and Love Neighbor – look outward and beyond one’s self toward God. And anyone who looks outward toward God will inevitably be drawn into God’s never ending love and care for others – all others, male and female, slave and free, young and old, the just and the unjust, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Zoroastarian, Buddhist and beyond!
It is a rather breathtaking vision of life – real life, the kind of life Jesus promises in abundance!
Evelyn Underhill in her little book, The Spiritual Life, sums up our relationship with God in three words very different from the three verbs To Want, To Have and To do. They are Adoration, Adherence, Cooperation. She writes, “This means, that from first to last the emphasis is to be on God and not ourselves. Admiring delight, not cadging demands. Faithful and childlike dependence – clinging to the Invisible, as the most real of all realities, in all the vicissitudes of life – not mere self-expression and self-fulfillment. Disinterested collaboration in the Whole, in God’s vast plan and purpose; not concentration on our own small affairs. Three kinds of generosity. Three kinds of self-forgetfulness. There we have a formula of the spiritual life: a confident reliance on the immense fact of His Presence, everywhere and at all times, pressing on the soul and the world by all sorts of paths and in all sorts of ways, pouring out on it His undivided love, and demanding our undivided loyalty. … We stand in a world completely penetrated by the Living God, the abiding Source and Sum of Reality. We are citizens of that world now; and our whole life is or should be an acknowledgment of this.” (pp. 59-60)
God’s Undivided Love and our Undivided Loyalty – Adoration, Adherence, Cooperation.
So just how do we enter such a relationship with the Living God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Jesus? Perhaps we can recall the Four Holy Habits: Tithing, Daily Prayer and Bible Study, Sabbath Time, and Weekly Corporate Worship. We are in the Season of Tithing and Pledging. We are invited to begin the Spiritual Life with this first Holy Habit, the Tithe. Against the backdrop of all that is going on around us, can we quiet the background noise long enough to consider our Undivided Loyalty to God here and now as we consider making a pledge? A pledge that reflects our Adoration and Adherence to God in Christ? A pledge that makes Cooperation with God’s will and God’s plan a reality?
Remember, an investment in Christ’s Body, the Church, is a sound investment no matter what the markets are doing. God seeks our Cooperation. God offers God’s Undivided Love in return.