This sermon is part of a Lenten preaching series on “Growing a Rule of Life.”
Rules of Life & the Rhythms of Nature – Br. James Koester
Our Relationship with God – Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Our Relationship with Self – Br. Mark Brown
Our Relationship with Others – Br. David Vryhof
Our Relationship with Creation – Br. Keith Nelson
Living in Rhythm and Balance – Br. Luke Ditewig
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More information here: SSJE.org/growrule
Romans 12:9-21, Luke 6:27-36
This evening is the fourth in a series of sermons on “Growing a Rule of Life.” In the three previous weeks, we have looked at how we might make use of the monastic concept of a “Rule of Life”
- to weave healthy practices into the rhythms of our lives,
- to focus our time and energies on what we value most,
- and to live more intentionally the abundant life God offers us in Christ.
We have examined how a Rule of Life might support our relationship with God, and our relationship with our own selves. Tonight we consider how a Rule might inform how we relate to others.
The need to relate to others is a given in life; none of us is self-sufficient and all of us are called to live in community. As we state in our community’s Rule of Life,
“In community we bear witness to the social nature of human life as willed by our Creator. Human beings bear the image of the triune God and are not meant to be separate and isolated. All of us are called by God to belong to communities of personal cooperation and interdependence which strive to nurture and use the gifts of each and to see that our basic needs are met.”
The Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, p.8
There are many kinds of communities, and most of us belong to several communities. There is the community of our family and our circle of friends, the communities in our places of work and of worship, the communities in which we live, the community of the human family, and the interdependent community of all living things.
These communities can be sources of joy and of pain; of healing and of hurt. They can reflect the “reciprocal self-giving and love” that characterizes the communal being of God, or be toxic places that spawn hatred, fear and violence. How we live together in community makes all the difference.
St Paul describes the nature of Christian communities in his pastoral epistles. In the lesson we heard tonight from the Letter to the Romans, for example, he calls on his fellow Christians to “love one another with mutual affection” and to “outdo one another in showing honor.” He asks them to “be patient in suffering” and to “extend hospitality to strangers.” He challenges them to “live in harmony with one another,” to “not be haughty” and to “associate with the lowly.” “Live peaceably with all,” he counsels them, loving even “those who persecute you,” “[rejoicing] with those who rejoice [and weeping] with those who weep.” These are the marks of a healthy and godly community.
In community we are to reverence others, appreciating the ways in which they are different from us and valuing them for the gifts they bring. As we pledge at our baptism, we are to “respect the dignity of every human being” and to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” (BCP, p.305). This can be difficult to do, day in and day out. In our community’s Rule, we brothers are reminded that
The first challenge of community life is to accept wholeheartedly the authority of Christ to call whom he will. Our community is not formed by the natural attraction of like-minded people. We are given to one another by Christ and he calls us to accept one another as we are. (Rule, p.10)
We are also called to accept with compassion and humility the particular fragility, complexity, and incompleteness of [each member of the community.] (Rule, p.11)
Our differences can and do, on occasion, lead to tension. But the Rule is clear that these tensions – which are to be expected and which occur as a matter of course in every community – whether it be in a family or in a church or in a workplace or in a neighborhood – these tensions are not to be seen as signs of failure, but as opportunities for growth. The Rule states,
Our diversity and our brokenness mean that tensions and friction are inevitably woven into the fabric of everyday life. They are not to be regarded as signs of failure. Christ uses them for our conversion as we grow in mutual forbearance and learn to let go of the pride that drives us to control and reform [others] on our own terms. (Rule, p.11)
In our communities there will always be people who test the limits of our generosity and love. They may at times be very difficult to love. We might think of them as our “teachers,” because through them we may cultivate the “fruit of the Spirit:” especially the fruits of long-suffering, of patience, of gentleness and kindness, and of self-control. “Christ will use them for our conversion,” if we let him.
We must be careful how we choose to think and to speak about others in community. It is so easy to criticize, to label, or to disparage another. One of the keys to living well with others is to exercise patience by withholding judgment, and by being always ready to forgive or to ask forgiveness. Once again, the Rule offers us wisdom and perspective:
In silence we honor the mystery present in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, strangers and enemies. Only God knows them as they truly are and in silence we learn to let go of the curiosity, presumption and condemnation which pretends to penetrate the mystery of their hearts.” (Rule, p.54)
Think of it. Even those whom we know the best, our closest friends and family members, are still “mysteries” to us; “only God knows them as they truly are.” Understanding that this is true frees us from the inclination to judge them – (let God be their judge) – and helps us to appreciate the mystery of who they are. We are free, then, to “let go of the curiosity, presumption and condemnation which pretends to penetrate the mystery of their hearts;” free to go our way without having to change them; free to accept and appreciate who they are; free to let God work in their lives as God sees fit. We will find it far easier to live in community if we continually remind ourselves of these things.
So how, exactly, might a Rule of Life help us to live out these principles in our daily lives, at home and at work? Let’s consider what a Rule might address in relation to three communities: (1) the community of our family and friends, those whom we love; (2) the communities to which we belong, such as our church community or our work community; (3) the community of those who share the earth and its resources.
First, the community of our family and friends, with whom we share a deeper level of intimacy. Think for a moment about your most intimate relationships: what characterizes an intimate friendship? Trust, certainly. We need to know that this person will listen to us with compassion and understanding, will speak the truth to us while at the same time withholding judgment, will respect our deepest values, and will always treat us with dignity, even when we are wrong.
These kinds of relationships take work. A Rule of Life can help us order our lives so that we have sufficient time to invest in relationships that nourish and support us. A husband or wife might make specific their intention to spend quality time with their spouse. A father or mother might set aside time to listen and to play with their children. A friend might schedule a time to regularly check in with those for whom he cares. How might you tend your closest, most intimate relationships – giving them time and space in which to grow and deepen?
Sometimes a different approach is needed. If we find our interactions with a person hurtful or diminishing, we may choose to place boundaries on the relationship, or distance ourselves from the hurtful person. Recognizing our limitations helps us maintain healthy relationships.
Secondly, what about the communities in which we work, or worship, or play? What guidelines might we adopt that would help us to live in greater harmony with them, that might help us face and resolve conflict, that might help us keep the lines of communication open? How might our Rule of Life address these things, especially in those relationships which we find most challenging? How might we better embody the love of Christ towards these others? Will we pray for them, take time to listen to them, refuse to speak ill about them behind their backs, refrain from labeling or otherwise condemning them? Perhaps I could regularly recall each of them, giving thanks for all that I am learning from my relationship with them.
Finally, how might our Rule of Life help us live in harmony with all of humankind, even those whom we perceive to be our “enemies”? Might I resolve, for example, to read the newspaper in a prayerful and enlightened way, observing my thoughts and feelings in such a way as to free myself from prejudice and from my inclination to judge? Might I pray for the suffering people in our world, and even for those who inflict suffering on others? What can I do to express my concern or my solidarity with others, especially with the poor whom God so loves? How will I seek to “serve Christ in all persons”? What will I do?
Remember always that a Rule is a form of spiritual discipline, a tool that can help us on our path of conversion. Make sure your Rule is helpful and not burdensome. Craft a Rule that offers guidance and support, that expresses what you value most, and that enables you to live the life you desire to live and that God desires for you. Keep it brief and clear and flexible. And seek God’s help every day in keeping your Rule and in “living a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (Ephesians 4:1)
We honor God by how we live our lives and how we relate to those around us. How can we make ourselves available to others in ways that feed and nourish them and us. Jesus can show us the way. It is his command we are striving to obey: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
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