September 25, 2012
Needing to Receive
By Tom Ehrich
Jesus said, “For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.” (Mark 9.41)
Jesus told his followers that they would need water and that others, sometimes the most unlikely souls, would bring them cups. They wouldn’t be self-sufficient, above the fray, at a safe distance from personal, emotional and spiritual destitution.
They would fall and need to be helped up. They would go blind and hungry. They would suffer for their faith and would need — not just dispense in noblesse oblige but actually need — help in their travail.
Humility, you see, isn’t just stooping to give. It is also raising one’s broken heart to receive.
The answer lies in Mark 8.34. If we had truly wanted to follow Jesus, we would have had to deny ourselves, accept , and follow Jesus on his road: away from home, out among the needy, speaking truth to power, and sacrificing everything.
September 13, 2012
By Tom Ehrich
Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8.34)
After all this time — after two thousand years of Christian history, millions of sermons preached in millions of churches, countless study groups and institutional consortia, after the expenditure of billions in church budgets, the ordaining of clergy and canonizing of saints — you would expect the world to be a better place.
Progress, however, has come mainly from science, technology and philosophy. With some notable but rare exceptions, Christianity has been either an obstacle or a bystander. Our wars have stained the ground red; our arguments have sent seekers elsewhere.
Why is this? The answer lies in Mark 8.34. If we had truly wanted to follow Jesus, we would have had to deny ourselves, accept , and follow Jesus on his road: away from home, out among the needy, speaking truth to power, and sacrificing everything.
Instead, we have approached religion as one more avenue to meeting our needs and saving ourselves.
“Does this faith agree with my views and interests?” we ask, when we should be asking, “Have I given up everything for Jesus?”
“Do I like the new pews, the new pastor, the new music?” we ask, when we should be asking, “Shall we praise God together on our knees?”
“Am I getting what I want and meeting people I enjoy?” we ask, when we should be asking, “Am I doing your will, Lord? Am I standing in solidarity with people whom you chose for me?”
When Christianity becomes, for us, a path to self-fulfillment, carried out among like-minded people, bounded by traditions we savor and practices we favor, aimed at winning our loyalty, what could God possibly do with us?
When the Gospel is used to justify whatever we want justified, to win whatever battle we want waged, and to celebrate our tastes and wealth through handsome facilities and pleasing words, what have we to say to anyone?
Jesus made it quite clear what faith in him would mean. There’s no mistaking his call: serve with me, suffer with me, die with me. Until we try that call, the world is unlikely to get any better. That’s the long and short of it. Christianity has had little impact on the world, except for some handsome buildings and lovely art, because Christians haven’t yet, in most places, given Christianity a try.
I teach church development. But I recognize that better practices can only do so much. Our future as people of faith, our future as faith communities, and the future of our troubled world depend entirely on submission.
Will we continue to satisfy ourselves, or now, at long last, can we deny ourselves and follow Jesus on his road?
From Fr John Dear: (http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/08/31-2)
Where is God for you in this journey and work for peace?
I couldn’t do this work without faith in God. Two quotations are dear to me: First, from Isaiah 2: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and study war no more.” The other is from Ezekiel: “Hearts of stone have to turn into hearts of flesh.” I’ve come to believe through prayer and bible study about God’s presence in the heart of the earth. People need to change their hearts before they can change anything else. God is love, but unless we can love each other, we can’t know God. We can learn about ourselves and our own hearts of stone as we reach out in love toward others. Even though things don’t change right away, and we’re not immediately effective, it does happen. It just takes time. Change has to come from ordinary, vulnerable people at the bottom, because the power structure is not going to do it.
Just before he died, Phil Berrigan wrote in his last public letter on the need to “embrace our powerlessness.” As we do, we become agents for the power of God to work among us. So we have to deny the self, take up the cross and follow. I recall too how St. Paul wrote about the Spirit groaning within the earth. That spirit gives us power and prays through us. That means a lot to me right now. Even when I feel I can’t pray, all I have to do is be aware of the Spirit and try to let it lead me.
What are you learning these days as you face cancer?
I’m learning more about powerlessness. I’m learning to let go, to be detached. I’ve been upheld by our elderly sisters who pray for me and support me, and that power of prayer is very real to me. I feel it. So I’m learning again that God does the work, not us.
What advice do you have for those who care about peace, justice, nonviolence and disarmament?
I remember Liz McAlister saying once, “Whatever issue you work on is connected to all the other issues.” That means, we have to go deep into the heart of our issue. Also, people should try to join or form a community for this work of justice and peace. We want the world to become a community, and it’s hard, so we have to try to do that ourselves. And we want to form a community conscience that can take a stand on these critical issues. We need other people to help us. With others, we can reflect together on how to resist, and take action that comes from a place of prayer and faith and depth.
What gives you hope?