Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Words, Lifestyle, and Lent

Rev. N. Adiel A. DePano Lenten message from FUMC Pasadena.

Words have the power to create. Henri Nouwen writes:

When God speaks, God creates. When God says, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), light is. God speaks light. For God, speaking and creating are the same. It is this creative power of the word we need to reclaim. What we say is very important. When we say, “I love you,” and say it from the heart, we can give another person new life, new hope, new courage.

Stories of healing abound in the gospels. One such story describes how Jesus went to minister to Jairus’ daughter who had just died (Mark 5:35ff). Let’s pick up the story from verse 38:

When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly.... After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.

What strikes me about the healing stories in the gospels is that people sought Jesus and flocked to him in droves! They recognized the power of his words spoken in compassion. The experience so compelling that they recognized in Jesus a great prophet! In Mark 6:53-56 we read:

When Jesus and the disciples had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

You might be saying, “What do I need healing for?”

Our society is full of words: on billboards, on television screens, in newspapers and books. Words whispered, shouted, and sung. Words that move, dance, and change in size and color. Words that say, “Taste me, smell me, eat me, drink me, sleep with me,” but most of all, “buy me.” With so many words around us, we quickly say: “Well, they're just words.” Thus, words have lost much of their power.
But it seems that we have not lost a beat on our ability to inflict harm with our words. Words also have the potential to destroy as Henri Nouwen writes:

When we say, “I hate you,” we can destroy another person.

Our internal dialogue with the self could be anything but affirming and nurturing of the seed of God that is planted in our hearts. We are so capable of bombarding our inner self with words that harm – I’m not good enough. I’m an idiot. I’m a failure. I can’t do it. I don’t have what it takes. Our lives can be messy, filled with addiction, fretfulness, and fears.

For God, speaking and creating are the same. The holy season of Lent is a rich and potent season to experience the transformative and creative power of words of the Word of God! The Word that was made flesh at Christmas speaks volumes of God’s love, forgiveness, healing, acceptance, joy, and hope to us. Lent invites us to prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline in order to make room for the indwelling of the Spirit. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ – his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial and resurrection – so that his life-giving words and life-affirming teachings can take root in our lives and increase our capacity to speak and love as he did.

John Wesley gave Methodists “three simple rules” to abide by in growing our ability to be Christ-like in our lifestyle:
  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Stay in love with God.

John Wesley believed that living a holy and good life required help from a caring community, commitment to the practice of spiritual discipline, and ongoing instruction. 

Wesley gave the Methodist movement General Rules which were the practical application of what it meant to follow Christ – they were outlined and the people were instructed on them within the class structure. Accountability for practice was centered in the classes that formed the United Societies.  Thus, the General Rules became distilled into this “behavioral trinity” we refer to as the “three simple rules”.

Living in a new way, becoming a new creation is risky business. Learning and speaking words that build up rather than tear down is hard work.  It requires sacrifice – the willingness to undergo a radical transformation – it requires creating a way through the wilderness where there was no way before. Richard Rohr, OFM brings it home for me:

Christianity is a lifestyle—a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving. However, we made it into an established “religion” (and all that goes with that) and avoided the lifestyle change itself. One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain in most of Christian history, and still believe that Jesus is one’s “personal Lord and Savior” or continue to receive the sacraments in good standing. The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great.

In closing, let me share this invitation straight out of The Book of Worship:

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to observe a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.

There’s that ‘Word’ again!

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