Benediction Online

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A School for the Lord's service

St Benedict's Day Observed
Philippians 2:12-16
Luke 14:27-33

Many of you know that I have a dog, Shadow. He’s quite a nice dog –half German Shepherd and quarter Border Collie – so he needs a lot of exercise and he loves to play with his ball. He is the first puppy I have ever had. It hasn’t been an easy year. He’s big and bouncy and demanding. He thinks he’s the one in charge and if he doesn’t get enough exercise he chases around our tiny little house, bouncing on and off the furniture, braking things and scaring the cats. He chewed holes in our relatively new furniture. I took him to obedience classes and he is obedient, when he knows I have treats. If I don’t, he doesn’t bother. I started taking him to agility classes but he was thrown out for bad behavior.

Now he’s about twenty months old and I am finally coming to really like him. As he is maturing, he’s turning into a nice dog. I even missed him when I was away. He has adjusted to living with us – he knows our habits and our moods. He knows what to expect, what’s going to get him treats and what’s going to make me angry. We are adjusting to him. We have learned that he sometimes communicates his needs with a body slam. Another dog might look wistfully at his leash - Shadow body slams.

Training techniques which are meant to teach who’s in charge have backfired and set us back months. Shadow responds well to praise and to being able to do things his way. Cesar Milan would be horrified.

It’s been a year of coming into relationship with each other. Along the way I have learned a lot about myself. It hasn’t been easy – I’ve threatened to take him back to Animal Services many times. I have been formed by Shadow just as I have been forming him. He is a different dog and I am a different human for this year that we have spent tussling with each other. And when we sit quietly on the sofa together at the end of the day, we really like each other.

And so it is with God.

In the process of our spiritual formation we go through times when we’re ready to call the whole thing off and stop dealing with this radically free Being who seems so demanding. But at other times we are gifted with such peace and joy and sense of connection and significance that the bad times fade from mind.

As the Holy Spirit trains and forms us, God has an advantage. Because, as we heard in the second reading, “God is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” God can get into our minds and hearts in a way I can never get into Shadow’s. If we allow it, the Holy Spirit will work with our spirits to train us and form us so that we can become the Christ-like beings we were made to be.

Benedict created a monastic rule for exactly this purpose. He said:

… we are going to establish 
a school for the service of the Lord. 
In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome. 
But if a certain strictness results from the dictates of equity 
for the amendment of vices or the preservation of charity, 
do not be at once dismayed and fly from the way of salvation, 
whose entrance cannot but be narrow (Matt. 7:14).
For as we advance in the religious life and in faith, 
our hearts expand 
and we run the way of God's commandments 
with unspeakable sweetness of love.
Thus, never departing from His school, 
but persevering in the monastery according to His teaching 
until death, 
we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13)
and deserve to have a share also in His kingdom.

Each one of us who has enrolled in the kingdom of God and who has chosen to become a disciple of Christ is in training.  We are in the process of spiritual formation.

Some of that happens quietly in the solitude of our own hearts and in the quietness of our personal prayer. But much of it happens in community. We are formed by our relationships, by the love we receive and by the daily irritations of living alongside others.

“Do all things,” says the Letter to the Philippians, “without murmuring or arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” Nothing is more difficult in community than someone who always gripes and complains. Someone who tends to see what’s wrong and let’s that fester in their minds so that it slips out in little ways again and again.

But community does make us want to complain. If you never find anything to complain about in your experience with St. Benedict’s, I invite you to come further in. I invite you to participate more deeply in the Body of Christ in this place. You will not be formed by the community, it will not provide you a “school for the service of the Lord” unless you make the commitment to serve and worship God in this place.

St. Benedict was very clear that his monks were not to wander from place to place looking for somewhere where the grass was greener, but to dig in, and stay even when the going got tough. That is one of the reasons marriage is such an important school for spiritual growth; we make a commitment to stay with one person. In a marriage we are forming each other as we deal with the tensions and difficulties as well as the joys and pleasures of being together.

God’s good pleasure is for each one of us to become more and more Christ-like. As the aspects of our personalities which hinder God’s work are moved gracefully away, or sometimes stripped rudely from us through tragedy or confrontation, so God is able to move in and through us in depth and in power. Imagine being so connected and so transparent that wherever you go people around you find themselves having new experiences of God, and being healed.

This will only happen as we cultivate in ourselves a spirit of humility. One of the longest chapters in the Rule of St. Benedict is the one on humility. It’s not a popular concept, but it is an important and vital one as we participate with the Holy Spirit in our spiritual formation. When Shadow thinks he knows more than me he does not learn from me. When we think we know more than those around us we may be arguing with the Holy Spirit.

Humility does not mean imagining that we are worthless. That is delusion. Humility means knowing our place in the world and in God’s love. Humility means knowing that we are 100% dependent upon God and that we may not know as much as we think, because we do not see things with the eyes of the Spirit. Humility is the willingness to learn.

If someone or something makes you annoyed, the way to deal with it is not through murmuring and arguing but to pray about it. Ask to be shown what you have to learn from it. Sometimes reality just isn’t the way we want it and so we get to develop the quality of serenity; sometimes things can be changed in a way that will be better for everyone. Discerning the difference can be a challenge!

Humility means being open to knowing your part in any conflict or difficulty. Humility means being open to feedback from others. Humility means allowing the Holy Spirit to train you. Humility means carrying your own cross – not expecting someone else to and being mad when they don’t.

Humility allows the Holy Spirit to work in you and in the community around you to transform you and make you Christ-like.

Training Shadow would be much easier if he had humility!

Let us pray:
God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
Courage to change the things we can,
And wisdom to know the difference.


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