Thursday, July 21, 2005
More on Method
The Rule of Saint Francis starts as follows:
“In the name of the Lord, the life of the lesser brothers begins.
The rule and life of the lesser brothers is this: To observe the holy gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
I have always loved this phrase. "Our rule of life is to observe the Gospel". Francis is saying “our way of life is an attempt to put into practice the teachings of Jesus”. Francis understands that to have at our disposal a way to blesseness is indeed Gospel. We do not normally think of the teaching of Jesus as “gospel” or good news, but the fact that there is a way to a heavenly quality of life and that way has been tried and tested and found to work is great news.
The Franciscans could simply say if you want to know true blessedness do what we do as we follow Jesus. Now, don't get lost in theology on this point. Certainly to put into practice the teachings of Jesus includes believing that His atonement made the life of God available for the soul of man and that this faith is a grace from God in itself. In fact, Jesus' first teaching is to be poor in Spirit and approach God like a tax collector and not a self-righteous Pharisee.
But observing the Gospel an entering a heavenly quality of life is more than just being reconciled to God but also allowing the rule and reign of Jesus to invade every aspect of our lives. How do we observe this good news of Jesus' rule and reign in heaven and on earth and is there a simple path to follow to at least have the priorties of the kingdom?
This simple path is what the Franciscans called "observign the gospel".
How would you describe what observing the gospel of Jesus Christ looks like? Surely, it is a life of forgiving our enemies, of caring for the poor and suffering, of prayer and worship, of material simplicity, of humility and servanthood. Surely, the observing the Gospel is a life of mission and disciple-making. Surely, observing the Gospel is a life filled with visiting the sick and dying. But it is still more. Observing the Gospel is a life of learning to accept trials without depression or anger. Observing the Gospel is a life of circumspect speech, of refraining from gossip and slander. Observing the gospel is a life without boasting. Observing the Gospel is a life of conscious contact and awareness of God.
In the 13th century, the Franciscans had a particular and, to many of us, a peculiar way of living out this obedience of faith. As followers of Jesus in the 21st Century, following Jesus, though similar in principle, may be quite different in practice than that of Francis and his brothers. These differences are a manner of method. Today we cook cookies or bread different than men and women did in the 13th century but the outcome is quite similar in flavor.
The Need to Embrace Method and Find Method as Communities
Jesus said “seek and you shall find”. Seek what? Seek answers to your prayers. Seek conscious contact with God. But can you seek answers in pray and the presence of God any which way you desire? If I seek God through drugs or alcohol will I find Him? If I don’t find Him can I say, the principle "seek and you shall find" is false? No!! May it never be!! The principle is this “seek God in the way I have taught you and you will find Him”. Seek the kingdom through these simple ways and you will find the kingdom. The difference between those who find what they are looking for and those who do not is entirely a manner of methods.
If I desire to teach my daughter how to bake cookies, I will go step by step through the process. If I am a good teacher and I personally know how to bake cookies, then the chances are very good that we will enjoy the fruit of our labors and eat nice moist cookies. Jesus is the best teacher of all, and, through the Holy Spirit, we can find the methods that can help us, together, find how to enter the desired outcomes of the teaching of Jesus. But, we cannot expect to attain to any level of true happiness and a heavenly quality of life if we do not seek effective methods.
If someone were to ask you, teach me to pray, how would you respond? If the person you were teaching followed your instructions would they find what they were looking for? Would they find conscious contact with God and pleasure in Him? Would they find the path to answered prayer?
Jesus answered this question and taught the orientations of the beatitudes in prayer. Begin with worship and lowliness, enter into a posture of meekness and surrender, begin petitioning for the kingdom like you seek for food and sustenance, practice forgiveness and mercy in your prayer life, and finally pray for purity and peace. This model prayer and its model attitudes in the beatitudes is method. In fact, the Lord’s model prayer is rather strict method which His early followers understood as a model for our approach to Go if our prayer life is to have the desired outcomes.
If a person asked you how to pray, would you use model prayers or a model of certain attitudes that are necessary to find God in our prayer life and to pray rightly? Would you teach boldness in prayer? Would you warn against rote prayers and vain prayers? Would you warn against selfish prayers like James does?
The basic assumption in this series which I am beginning is that if we follow the teachings of Jesus as outlined in the Sermon on the Mount, we will enter the Kingdom of heaven or a truly happy and heavenly quality of life. This is a big assumption. Do you believe it? If we follow the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, and all the teaching of Jesus for that matter, these teachings will lead us into the blessed life. The Sermon on the Mount gives to us clear instruction with respect to a Spiritual program which leads us into the kingdom. It is a spiritual program based on our utter poverty in ourselves and our utter dependence on the grace of God, but nonetheless, it is a program and a method. Though our method and our application may look different technically from the generations before us, we must like generations before us find a repeatable and clearly articulated method. Without a method, which is developed together as communities, we will in no way be able to find a repeatable path to the kingdom nor will we be able to lead others on the path when we find it.