Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Church, God, Grace, Inspiration, Jesus, Religion, Revival, Sermon, Spirituality, Wholeness
II Timothy 2:8-15
In the 20th Century Catholic mystic Henri Nouwen’s final diaries he relates the death of the profoundly developmentally disabled man named Adam who was part of the L’Arche community named Dayspring where Nouwen was pastor. Adam suffered from violent seizures and could not speak. Yet, during a particularly dark period of his life, Adam helped Nouwen renew his faith. According to Nouwen this mute, mentally challenged man helped him understand the central questions of Christian theology in a way that transcended statements of belief, and instead found joy in existence. Listen to this celebrated Yale theologian and world speaker write moments after the death of one of his congregation:
“I couldn’t keep my eyes away from him. I thought, here is the man who more than anyone has connected me with God and the Daybreak community. Here is the man whom I cared for during my first year at daybreak and have come to love so much…Here is my counselor, teacher, and guide, who never could say a word to me but taught me more than anyone else. Here is Adam, my friend, my beloved friend, the most vulnerable of all the people I have ever known and at the same time the most powerful. He is dead now. His life is over. His face is still. I felt immense sadness and immense gratitude. I have lost a companion but gained a guardian for the rest of my life.”
How can this be? How could a well educated, Yale professor say that a mentally challenged man, who could not speak taught him more than anyone else? It is the power of the unchained word of God. It is the foolishness of the gospel that we are taught in Corinthians by Paul. It is the message of hope that Paul can proclaim even in chains to Timothy. It is the word of God unchained!
When many of us who grew up in fairly restrictive religious communities hear the chains clanking to religion’s cell floor we panic. How can the word be alive, how can God be freedom? Isn’t this religion after all? We must live by rules, traditions, customs, commandments, restrictions, manners and laws? How will we know what is required of us? Then Paul takes us aside to gently remind us that even though we may put those fetters around our own wrists and place ourselves in the solitary confinement of religiosity there is now no law in which binds us. The God who is the same yesterday, today and forever is the same God of death, life, endurance, faithfulness, resurrection, transformation and yes change. It is when we deeply connect our darkest, deepest needs with that eternal source of grace that we find the unlimited nature of love.
Why does this seem so abstract, so indefinable, and so radically different from the paint-by-numbers religion that we are taught to rely upon? There are no self-help books that can give you the living word’s steps to personal freedom. It is not like a political scientist giving a detailed observation about why political freedom has not flowered in a middle-eastern country like Iraq. It is a freedom embedded deeply in God’s own name. When asked at the burning bush by Moses who the heck he was to tell the leaders of Israel sent him the divine response was to tell them, “I am who I am.”
We need an infinite God to respond to our finitude. There must be infinite ways to experience God and an infinite way to respond to God’s love. In our darkness we crave someone who is not too good to wade into the murky pit of our lives and give us companionship. When we have negated our own self to others and beat ourselves down it is comforting to find divine love and a creator that values all of creation. When our ego inflates to historic proportions and we become addicted to power and money there is one who cracks into our childish façade and feeds us humility. Only a God free from our finitude can save us from the demons of life that constantly shackle us to expect far less from ourselves than the divine wishes for us to experience.
While the popular 20th century catholic monk Thomas Merton taught about being a Christian contemplative in many of his books, when reading them I often think that for the word contemplative we could insert a disciple of Christ’s way. Merton points out in one of his letters this very freedom in which God loves us. He says:
The contemplative is not the man or woman who has fiery visions of the cherubim…but simply he who has risked his mind in the desert beyond language and beyond ideas where God is encountered in the nakedness of pure trust, that is to say, in the surrender of our poverty and incompleteness, in order to no longer clench our minds in a cramp upon themselves…The message the contemplative offers is not that you need to find your way through the language and problems that today surround God, but whether you understand or not, God loves you, is present to you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you, and offers you an understanding and light which are like nothing you have ever found in books or heard in sermons.
Only an unchained word of God can free us from our deepest prisons. It is not something that I, or anyone else can define, diagram or parse out for you this morning. It is a living word that requires active engagement and participation in working out its meaning. Lord God free us from those things that fetter us in this life so that we may respond to your living word.
Picture by taciturnal
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