Saturday, October 6, 2012

the communion of the saints

I've been thinking about Communion, as the Church usually considers it: a holy sacrament that carries formal traditions. My home church in NC takes communion together weekly, my local church here in IN takes it quarterly, some friends go to a church that takes it annually, and I'm sure there are churches that fill up the spectrum of frequency and style, from high liturgical order with strong wine in goblets, to grassroots homechurches with grapejuice around a dining room table. My brother Kevan likes to lead communion at a local barbeque restaurant with friends breaking hush puppies.

We all have our own concept of how this sacrament should look, and I don't think it is something that should divide us in anyway... I'm pretty sure if we all agree that Jesus told us to do it, and we agree on why we do it, then we're in unity. But as I read the passages in the Gospels that talk about the Last Supper, I wonder if we have all made it a bit more formal and structured, and frankly, more complicated than Jesus ever intended it to be.

When Jesus wanted people to understand an important and spiritual truth, what did he do? He told stories and gave object lessons. Think about seeds, vines, buried treasure, houses on sand, bread, well water, fig trees, nets full of fish, wedding feasts, even the healing of the blind and crippled; all of these were ways that Jesus explained profound truths so that we could see and touch and wrap our earthly brains around them. God did this in the Old Testament too - think of people like Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Jonah and Hosea, who lived out God's redemptive story in their own times. Yes, object lessons are one of the Father's specialties.

I wonder about that night when Jesus broke bread and told us it was like his body that he allowed to be broken for us... and when he poured a cup of wine and told us it was like his blood that he allowed to be spilled out for us... and when he sat around a table with his closest friends and shared this meal with them and told them to remember him as often as they did this. Did what? I'd assume bread and wine were not unusual elements for their daily meals... What if he was trying to give them a way to daily remember him, in their every day activities? Maybe the point was that there had never been anything really special about a simple meal before, and now he would use something basic and common that we all understand and relate to, to remind us of something profound and remarkable about our relationship with him.

While we all know it is important for the Redeemed in Christ - the saints of grace - to gather together to intentionally refocus ourselves collectively on the sacrifice made for us, I think we could and should apply it more and more often to our daily lifestyle. When we share spaghetti with our families or roommates, do we thank Him for his provision and share how that has been an active part of our day? When we eat pizza with friends, do we tell stories of how relationships are being restored and hearts are being changed? When we make s'mores around a campfire with neighbors, do we talk about how our lives are different because of the love and grace we've been given? When we munch on pretzels after school with students, do we disclose to them the secret to where our peace and hope come from? Do we take the opportunities when we are sitting together, sharing something delicious that sustains and energizes our bodies, to talk about our best friend who sustains and energizes our souls?

If so, and as often as we do, we fulfill Jesus' call to communion, until the day he returns.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

what it means to be free

Well, it happened. After doing two years of highschool English homework with Nawal, she finally read a book for class that I had not even heard of before. Shocking, for both of us. So when she finished her assignments with the book, she said she really liked it and gave me her student edition to read.

The book was written from the first-person perspective of a guy named Equality 7-2521 who lives in a futuristic collectivist society, where no one is unique, there is no individual identity, and even the word "I" is unknown. He slowly escapes this society and fights to become an individual who is free to think and create and choose based on his preferences and desires.

Knowing that the author grew up in Soviet Russia helps to explain her disdain for collectivism in the extreme, and her passion for independence and self-reliance. But the thing that alarmed me so much was that the hero of her story pole-vaulted from having no concept of self to being completely and utterly self-absorbed. Here are some of the "enlightened revelations" Equality 7-2521 came to by the end of the book:

"And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: 'I'." 

"Many words have been granted me, and some are wise, and some are false, but only three are holy: 'I will it!'" 

"My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose...I am a man. this miracle of me is mine to own and keep, and mine to guard, and mine to use, and mine to kneel before!"

"I owe nothing to my brothers, nor do I gather debts from them. I ask none to live for me, nor do I live for any others."

Are these statements distressing to anyone else out there? Can anyone tell me why a high school teacher would want to put these ideas in a teenager's brain? For me, these are disturbing conclusions because they are so opposite of what I've learned that life is about. Here's some of the teachings of the Main Character in my story:

"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it."

"If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

"Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all."

"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."

I have hope, joy, forgiveness, and life because the Main Character, Jesus, did not live for himself, but gave his life for me. And my life has purpose and fulfillment and peace when I remember that my life is not my own - it was bought at a high price. It is all about him and for him, and in that, there is the ultimate freedom! And in following him I find that I can love others, show mercy, extend grace, and lay down my life because he did that for me.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"...To bind up the broken-hearted..."

I never feel quite so helpless as I do when I'm sitting with someone's broken heart that I cannot fix. It's happened more times than I care to recall, and it's why I decided against a career as a counselor. And yet, as often as I try to avoid the situation, it keeps finding me, and once again I feel completely helpless, and all I can do is sit and cry and feel my own heart break too.

Yesterday it was one of my adult ESL students, who came in looking tired, but when I asked how she was, she smiled and said "OK." Then I asked if she had finished her homework, and she said "No." At this point I tend to want to roll my eyes and I think, "For heaven's sake, you had a whole week to practice ten new words, why didn't you?" But as I started to go there, she started to blink hard and managed to say, "My father... very sick... in Burma... I cannot..." and then crumpled onto the table in sobs. I also learned that her father is 85 and she hasn't seen him in two years and probably never will see him again. And on top of that her teenaged disabled daughter, whom she takes care of full-time and who hasn't had a seizure in a year, had a very bad one the night before and had to go to the hospital. And I know her husband has died and she is raising four kids on her own, so her lonliness and weariness is just crushing her, and why should she care about learning English right now and who am I to demand anything from her?

It took me so off guard that I couldn't really do anything for a minute except mentally slap myself for my insensitive assumptions.

My next thought was to grab some tissues, which were in my bedroom, but as I started to move she weakly said, "No, No, I'm fine," and pulled her own wad of tissues out of her purse. Clearly, she wasn't fine, but clearly she didn't want me to leave her side, even for a minute.

My next thought was tea... oh, how we could both use a cup of tea right then! But we were alone and I can't put the kettle on by myself and there was no way I could ask her to make her own tea. And once more I hated my disability for limiting what my heart longs to do.

My next thought was prayer. Why wasn't that my first thought? So I laid a hand on her arm and prayed for her and her father and her daughter.

Then I wondered what I could do next. She doesn't know much English, and I struggled to put into simple terms any measure of comfort. I begged God - not for the first time in my life - for the gift of speaking in a tongue that she could understand. But it didn't come.

I looked pitifully at the ESL workbook and lesson I had laid out for her, wondering how we could possibly focus on the difference between "this, that, these and those" under such circumstances. I chose to be a teacher, not a counselor! my mind screamed in frustration. Then a still, small voice said to my heart, "No, you chose to be a missionary." And what an unpredictable mixed bag that has turned out to be.

My student took a few minutes to calm down, and then threw herself into the English lesson in a way that made me realize it was a kind of escape for her from her hard life. We ended early, and she said she wanted to go home and sleep. I hope she did, and I hope she found rest and peace in Jesus too.