So, are you on the naughty or nice list this year? You don’t have to confess or anything but just wondering if you’ve thought about it. Right after Santa’s visit, well, there is New Year’s and all those resolutions to do better. Nothing like a good guilt trip to ruin a holiday and leave it to a pastor to remind you of it!
But seriously,have you thought about it? I know I have. Being a parent has a way of doing that to you. How have I done as a parent? Did I find the right mix of patience and punishment or did I lose my temper too much and now my kids are scarred for life. How about my job as a spouse? As a son or as a friend and neighbor? Dang, I could just go on and on
Start talking about religion and it only gets worse, I know. Nobody wants to see the clergy coming around, everybody tries to run and hide. If not, you get caught trying to run through excuses as to why you “can’t do this one thing” or “couldn’t be at that thing the other night.” I get it. It really isn’t the most important thing to lay it out before me every time you see me.
You’ve got me all wrong. My work is to help you misbehave!
I wrote in a previous blog post, “A spirituality that only informs or conforms and does not transform is not Christian spirituality.” Christian theology points out the human race is corrupted by sin right out of the gate and God has made a way in Jesus Christ to redeem us. Christian spiritual formation reveals the way by which we respond to God’s grace and then, misbehave with the status quo of sin.
Why have we so dismissed the Biblical understanding that there is a prince in this world other than the Prince of Peace? Why, when this really does explain a great deal to us regarding God’s insistence on coming to save us? One of my favorite authors at this time, Fr. Simon Tugwell, puts it well, “...it is the devil who is the prince of this world (Jn 14:30, etc.). We are being incited to misbehave in his court, as well as to behave ourselves in God’s court!” Tugwell draws on an ancient hymn to describe how we are called, “...to be unfaithful to our first love and forsake the snake who wooed and wedded us ("Prayer: Living with God," pg 26).”
What are we really getting away with when we run from God and do our “own” thing? We are getting away with no thing as we fall again and again for the nature of the accuser, of evil itself. All we are offered is lies (John 8:44).
While I am "Jedi Pastor Ken," I don't throw around Star Wars quotes, often or lightly, but I cannot help but think to the scene of Star Wars: A New Hope, as Luke Skywalker and Han Solo make their attempt to rescue Princess Leia from the Empire. Dressed in stolen stormtrooper armour, they make their way to the Princess’ cell. Upon declaring to the princess that they had arrived to rescue her, Leia responds, “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?”
Do we not blow off the incarnation in the same way? “Isn’t a baby a little small for a messiah?” “Isn’t the church a little archaic for changing the world?” “Aren’t Christians a little too arrogant about being the ‘only way?’” This is why spiritual formation matters to us today for we shouldn’t be surprised when our salvation, our new life of freedom, comes in an unconventional package by the world’s standards.
God calls us out, beckons us, implores us, “hollers” at us, or what ever by a grace which never ceases. We are called to be a peculiar people in this world. We need to look no further than Paul’s letter to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2, NRSV)”
Spiritual formation, by any means of grace, be it prayer forms for private prayer, the community of faith in worship, by public or private reading of Scripture, the sharing of the communion meal, etc., is evidenced in our transformation and how are minds are renewed to be attentive to God. In large measure then, our lives should no longer resemble the pattern of the world.
I’m not so worried about keeping Christ in Christmas as I am about keeping Christ in Christian. We aren’t called to measure ourselves by how we conform to the world but by how we are being transformed into the image of Christ...even if we do come up short, God’s grace is abundantly sufficient.