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Mar 7 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

March 6, 2011

It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. (Lk. 6:12; read verses 12-19)

INTRO: In 2005, I was able to spend a month in a monastery

Later, when I was talking about my experience with a man from the church–a rather cynical person–, he asked, “How do they justify their lives? They have it sort of easy, don’t they? All they concern themselves with is their own spirituality. What are they doing for others?”
Leaving aside the spiritual support they give to others simply by being there, through counsel, and through their daily prayers for the world, I simply replied, “Given the billions of people in the world today, don’t you feel that it’s justifiable if just a few of them are totally devoted to glorifying and worshiping God?”

His question highlights a common misperception about Christian spirituality; namely, that it is an escape from life, self-focused, and that it does nothing that touches the world
– the truth is, there’s a rhythm to Christian spirituality that can be compared to the tide, breathing, or our heartbeat
– we are drawn inward, to the center (like the blood to the heart), renewed, and sent out to share what we have received
In the same way that physical life is sustained by these basic rhythms, so is Christian spirituality

This passage illustrates how Christian spirituality is three-dimensional

Verse 12, First Dimension: We connect with God in prayer

This is a primal longing of every child of God
– the psalmists say it really well:

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD
And to meditate in his temple.
(Ps. 27:4)
As the dear pants for the water brooks, 
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God . . .
(Ps. 42:1)
O God, You are my God; 
I shall seek You earnestly; 
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, 
In a dry and weary land where there is no water
(Ps. 63:1)

– this is desire for God himself
– it comes before any other concern (daily needs, etc.)

In the language of the Bible, there is a side to prayer that involves

  • seeking God (and seeking his face)
  • waiting on the Lord
  • hearing God or listening for (and to) his voice

So Jesus “went off” – to withdraw from distractions to draw near to God
– the mountain provided seclusion but also natural beauty
– prayer always seems to be enhanced by the beauty of creation (it stirs the soul)

This sort of “going off” requires a certain amount of free time
– when we are not pressed by life’s demands or consumed by some conflict
– as a friend of mine once said, “I love those smooth spots in the grace of God”
– if we don’t come to a smooth spot, eventually we will have to go off and find one

“It’s like when we’re on the phone with a friend who has something important to tell us, and we move out of the noisy room with the TV on and the vacuum running and shut ourselves in a closet so that we can really hear what our friend is saying. That’s the kind of attentive listening that silence and solitude engenders.” Tony Jones

If we find this place with God, some anxieties simply go away by themselves
– they evaporate in the sunlight of his presence
– some of our questions are resolved (without even being answered)
– some of our needs are instantly met
Just being aware of God we are drawn into his infinite majesty

On the glorious splendor of Your majesty
And on Your wonderful works, I will meditate
(Ps. 145:5)

– why do so many Psalms that begin with sniveling complaint end in joyful praise?
– because when God fills our mind, there’s no room for anything else
When my heart and mind are brought back to awareness of his limitless power, turning from my petty anxieties and with embarrassment I say, “Oh yeah. That’s right, You’re God.”

Prayer that focuses on God takes discipline and practice

In pointing out the spiritual value of the skills we learn in school, Simone Weil said, “The key to a Christian conception of studies is the realization that prayer consists of attention. It is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable toward God. The quality of the attention counts for much in the quality of the prayer. Warmth of heart cannot make up for it.”

Each sentence of that paragraph deserves slow reading and meditation

Verses 13-16, Second Dimension:We connect with other believers in community

What is a “spiritual community”?
– this is an important question seeing that we are “Reflexion – A Spiritual Community”

Spiritual community is a network of relationships forged and maintained by the Spirit of God
(for example, 1 Corinthians 12 or Ephesians 4:3, “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”)
– every human community has a center (or central concern)
The center of our spiritual community is Jesus
– notice that he calls the community of disciples together and he defines it, “whom He also named as apostles”
– the community was defined by its relation to him and by the work he assigned to it
We share a passion for God and the pursuit of a more intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ (Php. 3:8-14)

Although it’s a spiritual community, it is made up of humans
– “Simon, whom he also named Peter”
Jesus was able to find Peter in the clutter of Simon – the true self in the clutter of the false self
– that is spiritual progress, as we move from the old (sarchotic) self to the new (pneumatic) self
– community does not consist of perfect individuals

“One of the secrets of life is that the reason life works at all is that not everyone in your tribe is nuts on the same day.” Anne Lamott

“and Judas who became a traitor”
– try not to be too shocked or scandalized by a “Judas”
Hopefully we’ll know that person through the heart of Jesus prior to their act of betrayal
– then we’ll find we still love them even when wounded by them

Verses 17-19, Third Dimension: We connect with the need in our world

“Came down” – this is the path of Jesus (the theological word is kenosis, “to empty”; Php. 2:7)
– his descent into flesh and blood existence and our human situation

“a level place” – no one is privileged and no one is disadvantaged
– no cripple has to crawl up a mountain, no blind person has to grope his way down a hillside

Jesus, for his part, brings himself to us – within reach
We, for our part, bring ourselves and our need to him
– we are trying to touch him

There are two things I want to say about this descent into the world:

First, reading these verses what grabs our attention is:
the enormity of human suffering and the effectiveness of Jesus’ healing
– but what happened the day after this event?
– the world went right on maiming people and generating more suffering
Obviously, a day of healing did not change the world
– but did Jesus make any difference?

  • now there was hope – people realized that the world did not have to be the way it was
  • there was a community in the world that was committed to healing

In the next passage, Jesus will go on to describe that community and its work

This brings us to the second point I want to make about Jesus (and our) descent into the world
Jesus is about to teach a lesson about radical inner change and how it transforms a person’s behavior
– these two dimensions of change must be held together – i.e., the internal and external

We cannot live the gospel of love and accept the world as it is
– we cannot agree that injuring people is simply “the cost of doing business”
– to the extent that any decision we make affects the life of another, we are our brother’s keeper
– we cannot adopt models that devalue, exploit, or harm others and then console them with God’s comfort
The love and ministry of Jesus does not stabilize “business as usual,” but upsets it

He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones,
And has exalted those who were humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things;
And sent away the rich empty-handed.

From Mary’s song (Lk. 1:51-53)

– we are God’s solution to human situation, not the problem

CONC: Recently I have found myself in several conversations about judging people

When we put a label on someone, it gets in the way of our coming know the person
– judging can be more than acknowleding something as “good” or condemning something as “bad”
– there is a personality type whose judgment is utilitarian: “You can do something for me. You can’t”
– they have nothing to do with the people who cannot do anything for them

These people limping or groping their way to Jesus could do nothing for him (other than drain his power and exhaust him)
– and I am one of them

I am in the process of becoming part of a community
I am in the process of becoming an agent of healing
– but in the meantime, I am broken, and needy, and confused

That brings us back to the rhythm of spirituality – back to the beginning where we connect with God
– if you’re like me, then bring all your energy and attention to prayer and in it, try to touch Jesus
– for it is by being with him on the mountain that we are empowered to help others in the valley

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