July 19th, 2016 by Carl Buffington
One of the few fun things about moving is that thorough search for that ever-elusive item that you know made the move, but you just don't know where it is now. And in the process of the quest, you stumble upon a different treasure. It's not what you were looking for, but it's a valuable find, none-the-less.
That happened to me this week. I was looking for a quotation, from which book I couldn't recall nor discover, and as they had all been thoroughly shuffled hither and yon in the move, my hopes were dim. And while I didn't find the quote I was hunting, I did cross paths with this one, which is a treasure for me and I hope for you as well.
"My conviction is that the church is the community that God has set at the center of the world to keep the world centered. One essential aspect of this centering is commonly called spiritual formation - the lifelong formation of the life of Christ in us. It consists of what goes on between the moment we realize and accept our identity as Christians and the time when we sit down to "the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:9). It deals with the way we live in the time being, the time that intervenes between kneeling at the altar and getting hit by the Mack truck." (Eugene Peterson, LIVING THE RESURRECTION)
And after the Mack truck comes the appearing before God as the psalmist reminds us -- till each appears before God in Zion. I believe that. I believe one day we will all stand before our God.
(i.e. The parable of the talents: you know where some got X, others Y, and some Z. And no matter how much they were given, God expected a proportional return on His investment in us.)
And I don't believe it is up to us whether we stand before God or not. Some, maybe a bunch, might say, "I'd rather not," or "no thank you," and would prefer another option if one were available. But I suspect at this point, to this issue, our opinion doesn't count.
I do believe we have some input to the first part of this verse, however, i.e. going from strength to strength. And listening to the quote above, it's a life long process until the Mack truck crashes through the door to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And this life-long process is called formation, which is about being changed, growing, maturing into Christ-likeness. As Peterson likes to put it, "First comes birth, then growth."
How do we do that?
We can hear a number of answers in the quotation above. For example, being part of God's community. While solitude is one of the disciplines, formation doesn't happen in isolation but in the context of the body of Christ. It has to do with, how we live in the time being, the time that intervenes between kneeling at the altar and getting hit by the Mack truck."
And how we live in the between time is meant to be filled with learning, loving, and living into the story of God, the narrative. And like the people trying out for the Olympics, it involves training as well -- repetitiveness, doing it over and over again, practice, and lots of it. The difference here is huge! For all those who run this race there is a crown, not just for the top three.
But to do any of the above we need to be focused on the goal, the prize. In focusing we are transformed. As Paul says, "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." 2 Cor 3.18
Karisse Schilling died at the age of 37 on May 18th. These words of hers -- she was an author as well as an abolitionist, missionary, advocate and mentor -- were quoted in her funeral bulletin. She lived a focused life. "I have learned a new way of living. A new way of looking at life. I have learned to not let the little things bother me. I have learned that Life is short, and we must live it well. I have learned that Jesus is all there is, and he is good even when circumstances aren't."
When we are so focused and so practiced, then the Holy Spirit does the work of formation that we cannot do on our own, and does it in the context of the community of faith.
For our part, I believe it's first an issue of our priorities and how we spend the between time of our lives. In the gospel Sunday Martha gets distracted with many things. She appeals to Jesus to get Mary to help her and Jesus says. 'Martha, you are so distracted. Mary is doing what matters most -- only one thing is needed.' Jesus is all there is.
Whether here or in Africa -- One of the greatest hindrances to discipleship is simply distractions!
Now here's the thing I want to underline and it has to do with the marriage supper of the Lamb, the one here and now. All the basic elements for formation happen in our liturgy every Sunday morning! It's the formative life in Christ in a nutshell. There is the narrative, the story of God and His people; there are the disciplines of confession and absolution; there is the mystery of sacrament of His body and blood; there is the "re-membering" of his body; the epiclesis (invocation) of the Holy Spirit to bless and sanctify; not to forget the response of our praise and THANKSGIVING to Him for what He has done for us! Disciplines and training are repetitive things, and so we do them with constancy and consistency.
For those who come seeking, expecting, focusing, turning their eyes to heaven; glimpses of the marriage supper of the Lamb are available, a sense of the communion of saints and the church victorious can be picked up, for the veil is indeed thin in our worship. I suppose you can come and miss it all, but you don't have to, and why would you want to, especially if you realize one day you will stand before your God?
With all that said, there is still something more. I suppose with our God there will always be something more, but I saw something in Africa as I celebrated the Sunday Eucharists that I had not seen before. I've run out of room here, so come Sunday. And don't miss all that is going on. Can you imagine all of us going from strength to strength? God can!
Blessings to You All!