Tuesday, May 01, 2012

A Baptism of Humility

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. - Ephesians 4:2-6

Last Friday, I had the privilege to speak on a panel at Virginia Theological Seminary - the largest Episcopal seminary in North America. The panel discussion was entitled, "Occupy Faith: Leadership for the 100%," and included three other panelists - all distinguished members of the Episcopal Church: George Packard, a retired bishop and Occupy activist; Jim Cooper, the rector of Trinity Wall Street; and Barney Hawkins, the Vice President for Institutional Advancement of VTS. It was humbling to be invited to speak with these respected leaders within the Episcopal Church, and I was grateful for the opportunity to observe another Christian community wrestle with the challenge and opportunity that the Occupy movement represents for us as followers of Jesus.

Occupy provides an opening to reexamine the basic teachings of Jesus, rediscovering the radical call to economic justice and self-sacrificial love that is at the heart of the gospel. Too often, we ignore the radical implications of Jesus' message, preferring to focus on esoteric theology or narratives of personal fulfillment. Whether consciously or not, we distract ourselves. We would prefer almost anything to a Savior who calls us to abandon all worldly security, following him with single-minded passion and wreckless abandon.

So often, we Christians flee from who Jesus really is. He loves us deeply, and he walks alongside us in the way; all of this is true. But his is no cheap grace. Following Jesus does not mean security in any normal sense. Rather, being a disciple of Jesus Christ is an invitation into a world turned upside down - a world in which our old ideas of security and success no longer apply. As we discover who Jesus is, and begin to grow more like him, we discover that our wealth, status and privilege are all stumbling blocks that get in the way of real love. We begin to see that, if we want to be like Jesus, we must imitate his humility.

I saw a glimpse of this kind of humility on Friday afternoon. I watched two men who have been on opposite sides of an ideological battle stand together and celebrate the Eucharist - the Episcopalian rite of reconciliation and communion in Christ. Despite their serious public disagreements - even legal disputes - these two Church leaders were able to re-affirm their bonded relationship as followers of Jesus. I pray that these two leaders might receive the full spiritual meaning of this ritual, and that God will strengthen them to serve together as examples of humility and mutual submission to Jesus Christ.

As Christians, we can never allow our own ideas to be at the center. When we open ourselves to the living work of the Holy Spirit in our midst, we find that all of our competing agendas are relativized. We have ceased to insist on getting our own way, instead praying as one Body, "not our will, Lord, but thy will." When we are baptized into this kind of corporate humility, Christ leads us into the radical, surprising life of service that has been waiting for us all along.

None of this is simple. It often seems impossible for us to drop our baggage and simply wait together on the Spirit to guide us. And yet, what is impossible for men and women is possible for God. Can we bring ourselves to pray for this baptism of humility? Will we ask God to humble us and bring us into unity, transforming us into the people that we were created to be? Are we ready for real change - not just for others, but for ourselves as well?

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