May 7th, 2015
One blessing that comes to us in the Gospel is an indissoluble identity. That was the point we tried to make last Sunday from Paul’s words in Romans 8:12-17. We outlined the shape of that identity and some implications that derive from it.
But while coming to the Table seeks to re-impress the sense of our identity every time partake of it, is there anything else that can reinforce the blessedness of the blessing?
I’ve had the privilege this semester of co-teaching a course on preaching alongside our own Prof. Dan McCartney of Redeemer Seminary. Among the resources we’ve passed on to the students was a recent lecture given by Tim Keller who was out to summarize the essential mandate of preaching (surely a taste of the book he’s about to release this summer). But early in the talk he references a topic germaine to our consideration of identity.
He appeals to St. Augustine’s sense of how the reality of God can move more deeply into us–how the truth of who He is, and who we are in view of Him, becomes a more lived reality than just a set of categories to which we give mental assent. Central to that task was, as Keller summarizes Augustine, processing one’s own emotions: noting them, coming to understand what’s driving them, evaluating them for their truth and goodness (or the lack thereof), and then finally placing them, if you will, before God to address and refine them.
In other words, Augustine was instructing that we take to heart the Psalmist’s words at the end of Psalm 139 (“Search me O God and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any unclean thing in me. And lead me in the way everlasting.“) If our emotions are windows into our most deeply held beliefs, then it’s our emotions that help us identify, confront, and repent of those underlying beliefs. That only happens by inviting scrutiny and expecting to have to act decisively toward them, which is just one form of what Paul meant by “putting to death the deeds of the body.”
Seeing how many of the beliefs underlying our emotions relate to what we believe about our identity, processing them would seem as crucial to having that identity refined and reinforced as receiving the Sacrament. Analyzing those emotions may not be as mysterious a work as eating and drinking the Body and Blood, but it as an act no less a work of the Spirit who dwells in us.
[You’re welcome to listen to his whole lecture on preaching (I’d actually love feedback on where I can improve on the six marks of good preaching). But his comments about emotions range from around the 7-12 minute mark.]
Speaking of Augustine, David Brooks (whom we also appealed to Sunday) considers the 4th century N African bishop about the most brilliant mind he’s ever encountered.
His observations about human psychology and memory are astounding, especially given the time. What’s even more amazing is he combines it with emotional storms. He’s at once intellectually unparalleled and emotionally so rich a character. I portray him as sort of an Ivy League grad. He portrays himself in “The Confessions” as this sexual libertine, but he wasn’t really that. He was just an ambitious and successful rhetorician and teacher who found that being a successful rhetorician was too shallow for him. He felt famished inside. I think his confession is a very brave renunciation of ambition.
The whole interview with Brooks provides remarkably candid comments from the columnist about his own spiritual journey. As spirituality is in part the work of having oneself become more aligned with what is transcendent, Brooks offers his own very concrete way of doing what Augustine spoke of in regards to processing the emotions. Brooks is paid to write about many things. But he’s learned how other dividends come from writing about his own struggles–many of which inevitably center on his sense of identity.
I don’t have 7 tips for better character. I do think identifying your core sin, keeping a journal of how it manifests itself in your life, what behavior it leads to. I have a friend whose sin is hardness of heart. He sits down and reviews his interactions for the day and says, ‘Was I really present for that person?” and tries to do better the next day. I do think keeping a journal is very valuable, and one book going that is of a spiritual nature, a C.S. Lewis or Reinhold Niebuhr and Abraham Joshua Heschel or Kierkegaard.
To be clear, and to offer a slight nuance to the venerable columnist, what the Gospel says to us is more than just “try to do better.” It grounds our motivation to seek first His righteousness in the fact of what Jesus’ righteousness has already secured for us. But do you ever think about the emotions you feel? Have you ever written about them–untangled them from the web of unformed thoughts in your head?
We made clear (I hope) Sunday that the identity we have is primarily one we’ve been given; that we are, through Christ, God’s child and heir rests entirely on our Benefactor’s shoulders. But what Augustine and Brooks clarify for us is that while that identity is received, it is just as surely internalized through our struggling to see it realized within.
This Sunday we turn from the blessing of an indissoluble identity to that of an irrepressible hope. With a little help from C.S. Lewis–okay a lot–at the bottom of that hope is a notion that finds its way far and wide–even into 90s pop music. We’re in verses 18-25 this Sunday. (You may have to click on the video a second time to take you to where it’s hosted.)
You gave over $1100 in a special offering for those afflicted by the Nepal earthquake. We’ll send those and some additional monies from our Disaster Relief budget to MTW in the coming days. We’ll also update you on MTW’s efforts in Nepal as we receive them. Thank you for your generosity!
If you still haven’t had a chance to complete the survey on the shape of our future women’s ministry effort, please take a few moments to do so. Thanks to those of you who already did. Any questions? Contact Karla Pollock.
We announced last Sunday Mark Kull as a man eligible to be nominated as a ruling elder of CtK. The nomination period ends this Sunday. Click here for details on the officer election process and a nomination form if you haven’t had a chance to express your will. The official election will be June 14th during 2nd hour.
I feel a strong need–an imperative, really–to believe something in common; indeed, I feel that any belief I have that is not in some way shared is probably just the workings of my own ego, a common form of modern idolatry. (Christian Wiman)
We’re having our next Intro to CtK Saturday May 16th, 10a-3p. We’ve sent word to those who’d expressed interest previously. If you’d like to know more about the gathering, or about membership in CtK, click here. Registration closes this Sunday.
Lunch will be provided and childcare is available upon request at the time of registration.
Meanwhile, Sunday night we’re gathering at the McAndrews (1215 Rita Ln.) to pray.
It’s what we do the second Sunday of every month. 6-8pm. Nathan Vandermeer will lead us.
Prayer cards will be available Sunday morning. If you can’t attend, drop one in the offering plate or give it to an elder.
Finally prayers are in order for
Rico and Amy Martinez, proud parents of Jack Eli, born Wednesday morning in Mansfield
- Sandi Holzwarth in the loss of her brother
- MTW’s work in Nepal
- our students completing their school semester
- the Rayl family, having reached the one-year mark serving in Japan
- our Community Group facilitators gathering Monday night to plan for the future
- our need of new coordinators for our vital nursery ministry