THE WAY TO EXCEL
February 2, 2014 by Ken Dale
Tony Campolo writes of his experience as a college professor, counseling students who are thinking of dropping out because they need time to “find themselves.”? His answer to them: “What if, after you peel away each of these socially prescribed identities and socially generated selves, you discover you’re an onion? ?What if you take that long guru journey into yourself, and when you get there — nobody’s home? ?Stop to consider the fact that if you peel away all the layers of an onion, guess what you have left? ?Nothing! ?And it just may be that when you take that trip to the innermost recesses of your soul, that’s exactly what you’ll find.”
The self, Campolo continues, “is not an essence waiting to be discovered through philosophical introspection. Quite the contrary! ?I believe that the self is an essence waiting to be created! ?We create who we are through the commitments we make. ?And without commitments we have no identity.”
I love his thought that the self is an essence waiting to be created ? and that we create who we are through the commitments we make.? Think about it in terms of relationships ? how our marriages, being a parent or grandparent, a person of faith, a member of the church, a friend – all those things we commit ourselves to, do shape us and create who we are as a person.? No doubt the same is true for gatherings of people ? like family or faith community.
The Scripture readings this morning from Micah and Matthew can shape us.? Consider the passage from Micah.? In the passage God has a controversy with the people of Israel and it will be settled in an unusual kind of courtroom ? God making the charges and the people will answer.? Serving as judge and jury will be not a group of people but the mountains and hills.? God questions ? ?what have I done to you??? ?In what have I wearied you?? And then proceeds to remind them of deliverance from Egypt and the leaders that were provided.? The people respond convicted of their faithlessness and ask, ?With what shall I come before the Lord and the list is made.? The point is clear that they are willing to give anything to be restored to a right relationship with God.? No price is too high.? And God?s response is that they already know ? God has already told them ? the minimum requirements are simply to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
Simple ? but not easy.? That is what God?s people are to commit to and in doing so will be shaped by God.? So we are called to commit to do justice ? in every aspect of life ? treating others with fairness, equality, especially showing concern for those who are weak, powerless, or exploited.?? Doing justice is also addressing the causes of such suffering. ?Doing justice is the work of bringing the love of Christ and the justice of God?s realm to those in need.? Love kindness refers to the Hebrew word hesed which is the love, loyalty and faithfulness that lies at the heart of healthy human relationships.? It can be seen in actions such as a father who drives through the night to bail his drug addicted son out of jail.? It is love that can be counted on ? that does not give up but is steadfast, loyal, rock-solid faithfulness that is kept at the center of relationships.? Walk humbly with your God.? Walking with God ? of course is two-fold ? God is there with us in the ups and downs of life ? but God is expecting us to follow God through the ups and downs. ?Walking humbly is remembering who God is ? and who is not God.? Walking humbly is trusting that God enough to follow.? And we see who to follow in the life of Jesus.
Those familiar beatitudes also shape ? they are not just poetically beautiful.? I read of three principles for living into the spirit of the beatitudes: simplicity, hopefulness and compassion.? Simplicity is to hear their words clearly and in doing so receiving more courage than fear.? One commentator captured it as hearing Jesus say You are blessed in this life whenever you demonstrate humility, bring peaceful presence, open your heart to others, and show mercy on those who cry for it.? (Charles James Cook)?? As we clearly hear the words of the Beatitudes we can hear hopefulness ? hope to the hopeless!? To live in the world in such faith is to approach life with a spirit of hope that despite the outward signs that indicate otherwise ? we stand in the world sure of the possibility that the day will come when mercy, humility, peace and love are the descriptions of what it means to live. (Cook).? And finally there is the principle of compassion which Henri Nouwen says ?grows with the inner recognition that your neighbor shares your humanity with you.?? Yes we are all unique ? distinct ? but we all also share that gift of being created in God?s image.? We do all belong to one another.? So if we seek to live into the spirit of the beatitudes with a commitment to simplicity, hopefulness, and compassion we are shaped ? and shaped by God.
So ? back to the onion.? If you peel away the socially prescribed identities and socially generated selves what do you find?? But if the self is an essence waiting to be created and is created by the commitments we make ? are we willing to let God create us?? Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with you God.