(This is another reflection from my week at The Academy For Spiritual Formation, and is drawn from our morning sessions on The Spirituality of the New Testament.)
I had an interesting moment of theological synchronicity today – two lines of thought, running concurrent, that turned out to be somewhat parallel.
Our presenter this morning spoke about the spirituality of the gospel of Matthew, and focused quite a bit on the Sermon on the Mount. He shared that the gospel of Matthew shares with us about the character of the kingdom, the character of righteousness… God-authentic character. He then shared (reminding me of an earlier post here) that “God… effects this transformation; God works this kind of character within you.”
The character in question, and which I desire, is that character Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount, including the “purity of heart” that I wrestle with. I left the session for our hour of silence, and walked the garden grounds.
As I did so, I was thinking about my son Will. Lately, Will hasn’t been going to sleep as easily as he once did. He demands – screaming if it doesn’t happen, and not just attention screaming but downright terror screaming – that he needs someone to stay with him. And when he wakes up in the middle of the night, he searches one of us out, to help him go back to bed. He says “I need somebody to keep me safe.”
As I was walking, I wondered/prayed/questioned of God, “when will you work this character in me?” I desire purity of heart, true righteousness (not to be confused with self-righteousness!); I desire to see and know God. And I’m aware of the darkness in my heart and in my soul. So in response to the spirituality of Matthew and the Jesus who teaches of this character I found myself asking, yearning: “when will you work this in me?”
And suddenly the Johannine Jesus responded with the simple, “I am.”
This is a work of God within me – not an instantaneous miracle. Not a sudden alteration. Like God having to “deal ” with sin – through the mysterious work that is the incarnation/crucifixion/resurrection – God/Christ is at work and has to “deal” with that which is not of this character within me, my heart, my soul, my life…
One of our hymns this morning, in a worship service focusing on the celebration of Epiphany, was to the light of Christ. It invited the light of Christ to “shine in my heart. Shine in the darkness.” Likely these were intended as two concepts, but as I heard them this morning they connected together for me – an invitation to Christ to shine in the darkness in my heart, in the depth and wholeness of my being. And there, in the dark, to work. “I am,” Jesus says.
Likewise, at night when my son wakes up and comes to us (and last night he woke on 4 different occasions, inconveniently alternating with when his baby sister woke up!), “I need somebody to keep me safe.” “I am,” I want to say. I can say. Because I – and his mommy – are doing the work to keep him safe and, more importantly, to help him feel – and know he is – safe in an uncertain world.
Lord, may I come to trust that you are doing your work in me, building the character of the kingdom, just as my son grows confident that we seek to keep him safe. Amen.