“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world…”Galatians 6:14-18
Jesus was convinced and, ultimately, convincing that on the other side of death – death in its many forms – is life. Jesus says, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”[i] Here’s the best way for us to lose our life on Jesus’ terms: surrender. Surrender the lordship of our life to Jesus Christ, who wants to live within us. The only way to live life – which can be such a killer – is to allow Jesus Christ to live within us. This was St. Paul’s discovery. In his writings, St. Paul uses one particular phrase more than 85 times: “…in Christ.” He speaks of living his life “in Christ.” “No longer” living life on others’ terms or even on his own terms – he’s “no longer” doing that, he says repeatedly – but now living his life “in Christ.”[ii]
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Ayman Nabil Labib was a Coptic Christian. “Like many Coptic Christians in Egypt, Ayman Nabil Labib had a tattoo of the cross on his wrist. And like 17-year-old men everywhere, he could be assertive about his identity. But in 2011, after Egypt’s revolution, that kind of assertiveness could mean trouble.
Almighty and everlasting God, who kindled the flame of your Love in the heart of your holy martyr Bernard Mizeki: Grant to us, your humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in his triumph may profit by his example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Br. Luke Ditewig assures us that Jesus Christ comes; the question is not “if” but “how.” In what “surprising yet ordinary” ways have you noticed God calling your name? How might looking for God in the ordinary make you more aware of God’s presence already taking place in your life?
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People often ask me: “What has surprised you living in the Monastery?” One surprise is how much we acknowledge, encourage and remember death. We acknowledge our own corporate and personal brokenness and fragility more than I experienced in other communities. We say in our Rule of Life that the Christian life is a path of death and detachment, daily letting go and dying to our old selves, letting go of abilities, personal preferences, and expectations for how God will call or use us.[i]
You may have heard me say in the past that the Christian faith, and specifically the liturgical cycle of feasts and fasts is one of the few ways that connects many of us to the world around or rather, under us. In the past few decades wide open spaces have turned into strip malls. Soil has become a toxic waste, and our feet rarely touch the ground. It is not because we have finally discovered how to fly. Rather it is because out cities have become concrete canyons. In places like Toronto and Montreal there exist a labyrinthine system of tunnels and underground shops, office buildings and walkways which connect most of the downtown to the subway system. There you never have to go outside to swelter on a hot and humid July afternoon, or freeze on a frigid February morning. We have become observers to the world outside us, sheltered from the elements by air conditioning and central heating. Electricity extends the day, far beyond nightfall and what we can do and when we can do it is no longer limited by our need to cooperate with nature, but rather by our ability to harness it.
This week, there is a great festival taking place, drawings tens of thousands of people. It’s not a pop concert, or a political rally. It’s taking place in Marondella, Zimbabwe. For this week marks the anniversary of the death of Bernard Mizeki, who gave his life as a martyr, serving the Shona people of Africa.
We brothers of the SSJE have a special devotion to Bernard because he became a Christian through the ministry of our brotherhood in Cape Town, South Africa. We used to run a school there and as a young man Bernard attended night classes. It was through meeting and talking with our brother, Frederick Puller, that he became a Christian – and was baptized on March 9, 1886.
“Do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well, love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love… So I was taught that love was his meaning.”
Words of Julian of Norwich, the 14th century English mystic whom we remember today. In her “Revelations of Divine Love”, the “Showings,” she recalls that “when she was young” she desired and prayed for “three graces by the gift of God”: 1) recollection of the Passion of Christ, 2) bodily sickness to the point of death, 3) the gift of three spiritual wounds. “When she was young” she wanted these things to happen at the age of thirty—and they did.
O my God, you are here… but always you are where we are, and always you love us, calling us each by name. Amen.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday Jesus tells us that he “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” Well, that’s a metaphor, no matter what sheep-like sounds we might make at odd moments or how much we might sometimes behave like sheep. It’s still a metaphor. We’re not sheep. I feel quite confident about that as an unequivocal statement. But though we are not sheep, we do respond to this picture of Jesus as our Good Shepherd. We respond because he says he has come so that we might “have life, and have it abundantly.” God really wants us to get the most out of life. If we love life, if we choose life, we respond with joy to the one whose deepest desire is to give us life in abundance. If we do not love life, if we choose death, then we respond more readily to the enemy of the Good Shepherd, the thief, who Jesus says, “Comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”