Knowing Who We Are ©

  Thursday morning, November 1st – All Saints Day, Jolynn and I will leave Fort Worth for ten days. Two of those days are taken up with travel. The first event is a day spent in Georgia attending the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) Global Gathering. I will be preaching a sermon entitled “Unashamed!” at the opening worship. The text I am using is Romans 1:15-16 – “That’s why I’m ready to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome. I’m not ashamed of the gospel: it is God’s own power for salvation to all who have faith in God, to the Jew first and to the Greek.”  Sunday, November 4th, we will begin the fall meeting of the Council of Bishops (COB) at Saint Simons Island, Georgia. Wednesday noon the formal meeting of the COB closes and the active bishops transition to a three & ½ day learning retreat. In my weekly phone meeting with my spiritual director, the Rev. Dr. Sid Spain pastor of Eagle United Methodist Church in Eagle, Colorado, we focus on how to stay spiritually grounded in widely divergent gatherings where there is such a strong disagreement and contentious emotions tend to dominate conversation. I find myself coming back repeatedly to a passage I intentionally share with people in situations of congregational angst and anger.  It comes from the Apostle Paul’s counsel to the Philippian church. “Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:” (Philippians 2:1-5) As Sid and I conversed in our spiritual reflection and mentoring time, he shared a part of a sermon he preached on October 21st based on Mark 10:35-45. The reader may recall that the passage opens with James and John lobbying Jesus for status and position. With permission, Pastor Sid Spain’s comments follow: “The disciples suffer from short-term memory loss and sometimes so do I. A few weeks ago, someone treated me rudely. I was surprised by their attitude and momentarily I felt a spark of righteous anger—self-righteous anger. I looked at the man and thought, “Don’t you know who I am?”  I’m not kidding. I really thought that!  Really now—if ever there were a small fish in a small pond, it is I. The cosmos stretches billions of miles toward forever, particles collide inches from my face and in the darkest reaches of outer space. Babies are being born, truly great people are struggling, sacrificing, suffering and dying; countless acts of kindness are being done in secret by loving souls. Geysers are erupting in Yellowstone, flowers are blooming in Australia, polar bears are snuffling on polar ice caps. Artists are painting masterpieces, authors are writing classics, composers are composing symphonies—and I am thinking “Don’t you know who I am?” Later that night I prayed about that absurd moral stumble and realized my ego had turned the idea upside down. The question in that moment of rude encounter was not “Don’t you know who I am?” but “Don’t you know who you are?”  You’re better than this—there is no reason or need to be caught in such a place. It is not that the person who treats us shabbily doesn’t know who we are; it is that he or she doesn’t know who they are. They are created to be beautiful in the image of God. Each of us is created to be an agent of kindness, goodness, and grace. I need to remember who I am in Christ. We need to remember who we are in Christ—and we need to help others discover who they are in God’s love. All the jockeying for place and prestige is such an exhausting waste of time. Worldly wealth, prestige, and power are entangling; they suffocate the spirit and imprison us in illusion and fear. The leveling love of God takes us down from illusion to lift us up and set us free.”  (Dr. Sid Spain, Pastor Eagle UMC, Eagle, Colorado, October 21, 2018) I pray that it may be so for me as well in these contentious upcoming days. I too need to remember who I am in Christ. The application of knowing who we are obviously moves beyond the life of the church and into our wider society. With a contentious election close on the horizon, we need to remember who we are in Christ!  St. Francis’ prayer comes back to me. Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. (St. Francis of Assisi)