...but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God---what is good and acceptable and perfect.-Paul to the Romans 12:2
What a good way to start the day.
I was sitting with Trinity's deacon this morning. We meet weekly, as best we can, to talk and pray together. First comes reflection on the life of the parish, and then as we finish up we settle down into sharing Morning Prayer. This morning, we were a bit rushed and didn't have time for the "full" liturgy, so we opted for the shorter form of devotions for families and individuals. I was the reader, and chose today's chapter from Paul's letter to the Romans. I chose it for the personal history I am beginning to share with this passage (more on that in some other post), but also because as I continue my reflections on humility this section and the verses following it hit me right between the eyes. Humility is summed up in the exhortation Paul offers to the Roman churches: "For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned." Romans 12:3
As life unfolds before me and as I look back on the things I have done and left undone in my personal and vocational lives, that one little bit comes back to me again and again, that I too oftern look at myself out of context with the measure of faith given to me. When I am out of sync with living into what God has given me in a particular moment, I find myself casting about for worldly props and helps that can get me through it all instead. I fall back on old habits and tricks of coping (never successful). I fall back on the assumptions of personal or professional authority without taking the time to earn respect (the old "because I said so" argument-again, never successful). I get mired into trying to get away from the conflict at hand, or I get caught up in responding to it in a way that is beyond or above my proverbial pay grade. Worst of all, I refuse to ask for help. Any help. I want to do it all by myself.
Paul is knocking some sense into me today. Truth is, I can't do it all by myself. If I am going to be faithful to Church, I have to be willing to accept that it takes the whole assembly with all their various and sundry gifts to pull this thing off that we call "community in Christ." The body of the Church has many parts just like we do, and Paul calls upon us to honor each part for its nature and the role it plays in contributing to the whole. No one person is above another. True, some have been charged with more authority. Some possess more power than another in any given moment; but each individual cannot assume that they are the center of attention in the room for any other merit than that they have a role to play in the "right now" for the benefit of the whole.
The challenge of the isolation we all have embraced over the past few generations (we like to call it individual freedom) is that we have lost the ability to put our egos in check and then work together for the overarching good of the Body's health. The individuality track is the default mode now..."I do what I want, when I want....come, look at me." That default makes committing to community life all the more intimidating to attempt. It is risky, because having embraced our individuality (and our egos), in order to live into Paul's image of a community where all "Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor;" (Romans 12:9) means we are then having to give up power-power that we usurped in the first place when we assumed individual importance.
I guess that is what it means when we start talking about "breaking the cycle of addiction." When we are willing to take that first big step away from demanding control of ourselves and the world around us we are submitting to the reality that is and surrendering the one that we would project. I think that is the first, honest step we can make toward living lives that are truly just and humble. Paul is saying that when we lead, we serve; when we offer up control, we receive freedom. Talk about living without a net. This new reality would be great; but there have been too many times in my life when I tried to do just that and have gotten trounced as a result. Power-hungry people will take all you can give and more, so what is the point? "Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God..." Romans 12:17-19a
It all comes back to that, doesn't it? Render to Caeser that which is Caeser's, and to God what is God's. Good stuff, Jesus. Help me to live like that....