Thursday, February 01, 2018

Christ in ALL Persons

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Book of Common Prayer, p. 305

Throughout our exploration of the Baptismal Covenant of the Episcopal Church, you might have noticed that two things are happening with regard to the direction, the orientation and the scale, in which we are moving. The promises of practice, to which we respond "I will, with God's help..." continually increase in breadth and magnitude. The breadth increases in regard to how far out from our inner selves and personal relationships to broader, more universal engagement. The magnitude increases in regard to the mandate we receive for us to take our faith, as we receive it from the apostles in the name of Christ, from contemplation into action. That action began with personal formation and repentance, expands to proclamation and then explodes into collective summonses to be engaged with our whole selves in not only proclaiming the incoming kingdom of God, but also to enact it. It is not enough to aspire to being the people God is calling on us to become. We are called to BE those people, and then to EXPAND that being to compass human society itself.

Truth is, we don't as a rule welcome having the breadth and magnitude of our mission in this life expanded to universal parameters. We struggle to implement those high standards on a personal level, and fail often enough at that...and now we are called to take those teachings of the Kingdom out into the world? Moreover, we are also to practice in such a way that those who experience us, who see what we do, will be called and moved to emulate us, join us....become us? Who is ready for that frightening standard?

Technically, and truly, we are.

The Christ we follow was someone who in the Gospel of Mark simply did not tarry. From the first moment we meet this Jesus, he is on his way...always on the way. The path this Son of man takes continually brings him into contact with people who are seeking, wondering, hoping, suffering, toiling, waiting for the Good News. Wherever he goes, he meets people who are waiting on the proclamation, and en-action, of the Good News of God's in-breaking reign. The fishermen drop their nets to follow him, so they might fish for people. The man with the troubled spirit is exorcised and restored to his right mind. The sick and afflicted find healing. The possessed find relief and release. In Sunday's Gospel, the mother-in-law of Simon Peter experiences healing. She goes from fevered to refreshed. She goes from debilitation to renewal and restoration.

This Christ moves smoothly, it appears, from moment to moment enacting something we promise we will do with God's help...he recognizes and connects to the divine spark that burns in each person's heart. There is a rightness he connects with in each of them, and each of them experience an expansive resonance that lifts them up from their toil and into a greater life, the life of the Christ. They will never be the same again, and with that encounter their transformation means being vested in a testimony that they KNOW what it feels like to feel the Kingdom draw near. They can share what it feels like to be restored, healed, cleansed and called.

Paul gives voice to what it really means to seek and serve Christ in all persons in Sunday's passage from his first letter to the Corinthians:
If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
His conversion on the Damascene road rocked not only his world, but ours as well. He was a persecutor of the early Church, carrying a commission to expand the purge begun in Jerusalem to the synagogues in Syria. When confronted, and loved, by the risen Christ, he began a process of transformation that resulted in a renewal of his commission from persecutor to proclaimer of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ. With that conversion, his blindness is broken by new sight...and that sight means that when before he saw targets for destruction in the followers of Jesus, he now sees brothers and sisters. It means that whereas before he saw those different from himself as enemy, as adversary, he now knows that we will do anything, even become anyone to them in order to bear witness to the Christ he is seeing revealed to him in their very presence.

The practice of seeking and serving Christ in all persons should make us quake with humility, not because we can't possibly measure up, but because it is in its essence one of the simplest points of conversion to Christ-mind we can embrace. The quake comes because after that moment that we willingly being to actually see Christ in all persons, we can never go back. Worse, when we inevitably stumble and fall in that practice, it is the Christ in us that cries out for repentance and correction.

The grace is that when our hearts soften in the warmth of that Christ-seeking gaze, we are gentled and opened to relationships that were before impossible. We are also liberated to love in ways we did not know were possible. We are quickened to service we thought was impossible. We are empowered and emboldened to speak in ways we thought improbable.

We are become, like Paul, all things to all people.

...and it is something that we realize Christ is working through us. Not so hard after all...

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