Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Softly and Tenderly, Jesus Is Calling...

As I was listening to one of my favorite artists, Audrey Assad's newest soundtrack, a collection of hymns yesterday, I put one song on repeat. I let it cycle through, four or five times, until I was able to sing and focus on the words.

"Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me. Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling for sinners to come home."

And the words started to sink in a little bit. And they began to resonate with some other things I've been thinking about, well, all summer.

The call of every Christian to evangelize. And how, well, I don't think we're being very successful right now.

Last spring, I read one of the most challenging, and page turning books I've ever read. It made waves a few years ago, but I finally got around to reading it during the Easter season last year. I finished the last page, and turned back to the first. This time with a pen ready.

Sherry Weddell's Forming Intentional Disciples made me think through a lot of things. Most of it had me nodding my head in agreement. But there was part of it throughout that left me unsure. And that part was the most important part.

I knew it was the most important part, even without the author having mentioned that repeatedly. She called that the kerygma.

Most of us would know it as the Good News.

So, here I am, cradle Catholic who always "did all the stuff' and desperately wanted to "do everything right" at church all through high school. The girl who had people comment when after a particularly intense week at a Catholic summer camp was so lit up and on fire that it was noticeable to pretty much everyone that something had changed.

Then college happened, and I let my faith life die so far down that I wasn't even sure I had one. But here's the kicker. I still "did all the stuff". I happily said I was Catholic, went to mass a couple times each week, sang in the choir, participated in Bible studies, went on retreats, taught religious ed for a year, and served as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion nearly every week.

In th midst of that, my dad passed away suddenly. It was like the bottom piece of a Jenga tower had been pulled out, but somehow, everything was still standing. So I kept on, pretending everything was completely fine.

I began my first year of teaching, confident that I would be able to do everything independently and stubbornly, just like I'd always done. Confident that I would be able to balance everything, and to continue to hold that breath that was keeping the Jenga tower from crashing down.

Well... I didn't quite succeed in that.

Through none of those four years of college or my first year back in Ottumwa would I have ever said I wasn't seeking God. I would have said that I was. I was going to church, and I was still "doing all the things". Well... except for that one thing. The praying thing. It had been a good long while since I had done that in any way more than saying words. My last entry in the prayer journal I had started for college was written a couple weeks before my dad passed away. I started a couple different journals, each time writing one entry and then casting it to the side. I wanted God. But I didn't really think he wanted me. After all, I was doing all the things. Why wasn't He answering that cry?

All of a sudden, I was unable to hold my breath. Well, maybe it wasn't so sudden. Maybe I'd been holding my breath for over two years. But I finally had to let out that breath. I finally had to feel again. I finally had to stop the doing, and let God.

In a simple moment on a cool spring night, I felt God's grace wash over me. And for the first time in years, it wasn't me, doing. It was me, receiving.

Ready for the kicker? A year or so later my best friend asks me what the most important part of my faith is. And I turn around in the middle of the street, and I stare at her. Because even after that year of healing, even after a year of learning about my faith and throwing myself back in, and actually starting to pray, I still didn't get it. I was on fire for God. But I still couldn't answer that most important question. "Jesus," I mumbled. But inside my heart, I didn't know how to answer. Why? Why was Jesus so important? He changed my life, yes, but how? How did I encounter Him? How did He continue to work in my life?

I didn't have the answers.

All I knew was that I was supposed to know.

When I read Weddlel's comments on sharing the kerygma, I was back in that street again. Looking down at the shadows of the streetlight, not quite sure how to answer. The kerygma? The mystery? The Good News? What Good News? My life has changed. But how?

So... fast forward to yesterday and today. And the last few months as I've been studying how to evangelize. Pope Francis' trip to the US, the upcoming Year of Mercy. How does this all fit in?

This morning when I listened to my daily reflection, it focused on the Gospel of today- Luke 11:37-41.

After Jesus had spoken,
a Pharisee invited him to dine at his home.
He entered and reclined at table to eat.
The Pharisee was amazed to see
that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal.
The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees!
Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish,
inside you are filled with plunder and evil.
You fools!
Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?
But as to what is within, give alms,
and behold, everything will be clean for you.”

The reflection talked about the importance of doing things with our hearts, and not just on the external. Yikes.

When I got to Mass after school, the first reading from Romans 1:16-25 was even harder to ignore.

Brothers and sisters:
I am not ashamed of the Gospel.
It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes:
for Jew first, and then Greek.
For in it is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith;
as it is written, “The one who is righteous by faith will live.”

The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven
against every impiety and wickedness
of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
For what can be known about God is evident to them,
because God made it evident to them.
Ever since the creation of the world,
his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity
have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.
As a result, they have no excuse;
for although they knew God
they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks.
Instead, they became vain in their reasoning,
and their senseless minds were darkened.
While claiming to be wise, they became fools
and exchanged the glory of the immortal God
for the likeness of an image of mortal man
or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.

Therefore, God handed them over to impurity
through the lusts of their hearts
for the mutual degradation of their bodies.
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie
and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator,
who is blessed forever. Amen.

Wow. Leave it to St Paul to hammer it in even deeper.

The love part has to come first, because God has to come first. When we do it on our own, we will never be able to do more than the motions, because our heart isn't Christ's heart unless we give Him our heart.

We need to change the way we evangelize. We need to stop looking at people and judgementally saying, "you sinner- we can fix you. Follow this plan." We need to humbly start looking at ourselves first. Our first words should give praise and glory to the goodness of God, the mercy of God, the love of God, that we have experienced. We need to tell the story of how we are being sanctified. Isn't that how one of the most popular hymns of all time tells the tale?

Amazing Grace... how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.

Putting God first in our story doesn't mean that we change the actions. Rather, it gives meaning to the actions, a purpose to the reverence, and reminds us that we are only strong in Him. that we are weak. It is humbling, and in so being humbled, we are made whole and uplifted. Because our God, seeing His child ready to receive His grace wastes not a second of pouring it into to our open hearts, our open ears, our open mouths, our open hands.

So, rather than complain of the problems of the world, that have always been there, will always be there, and are there to draw us out of the world and into our Creator's arms, we should speak the life that is in us, and share the love that fills us. Not from pride, but from humility and joy. Not from our strength, but to share the news that God has come! That He is Risen!

It is only when we realize that the problems of the world are a reflection of the sin in our hearts, that we can begin to root out the evil. As long as we are pointing fingers, as long as we are viewing ourselves as having all the answers, we will never be able to love. We need to give charity freely to all, in our words and actions, and focus our judgement on our own hearts. Do justice, love freely, speak the truth. Live as Christians. Acknowledge our own faults and work to fix them.

And that's the story that needs the telling. The story of how Christ wants to save us each as He sacrificed for all, if only we will let Him in. The story of a sinner, once lost, now daily lifted up by God, a God who calls out each day so that each can respond again. Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling. To you... and to me.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful, Susan! Thank you for sharing. I'm posting on my facebook -