Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and beyond.
January 23, 2018
With Heart, Soul, and Mind:
What Does It Really Mean to Follow the Way?
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
Let me begin by telling you a story. When I was one of the pastors at Portland First United Methodist Church, there were occasions when I had the opportunity to sit in the chancel area while an amazing violinist and member of our congregation, Becky Anderson, would come forward to play a beautiful piece of music as an anthem or offertory. Becky was a high school student at the time, and she is a truly gifted musician. When she played, I would be sitting just a few feet away.
Here's what I'll always remember. One time, when Rebecca came forward to perform, she put her music on the stand, closed her eyes, and proceeded to play an exquisite piece of music that held us all breathless.
Now I know that great musical talents can do this. They don't always need music in order to perform. But there is something powerful about witnessing this close up. It was a truly mesmerizing experience.
Rebecca is a remarkable, gifted musical talent, who went on to study at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and then studied at Julliard. She now performs all over the world, sharing her musical gift with others. James McQuillen of The Oregonian
said that Rebecca is "captivating with a radiant tone and masterful bow arm married to incisive musicality." My experience was that Rebecca and the music she played simply became one. If you want to see what I'm talking about for yourself, click here
This experience reminds me of something that was said about of Dr. Martin Luther King. I remember
reading that Dr. King would often come to the pulpit with his notebook in hand and then proceed to close it as he began to preach. His "I Have a Dream" speech is a remarkable example of this. In that address, words simply flowed through his body, much like Rebecca's music flowed through her. Both these examples have made me think about what it means to be able to so embody the music or be so attuned to the word....that you simply become one with it.
If you want a reminder of this from Dr. King, click here.
This is what the incarnation is really all about. It is about embodying the essence of God in real time...in one's very life. Now that's a tall order. It isn't about doing nice things; it is about being kindness. It isn't about saying thank you to someone; it is about being filled with gratitude. It isn't about saying you understand how someone feels when they are poorly treated; it is about embodying justice.
How does this happen...for Rebecca in music, for King with preaching...for you or me? I believe it has to do with practicing one's life craft until you actually become the craft itself. You incarnate it. You live it. You be it.
One of my favorite Bible passages is John 1:1. This verse has always made me think about what it would truly mean to become the Word we wish to follow. Indeed, isn't this what Jesus calls us to do? If Jesus is the Word made flesh and we are to be followers of his Way, aren't we supposed to become the Word he taught...and incarnate it in our lives as well?
This seems to me to be the central question of Christian discipleship. How do we become not just more like Jesus, but actually become the Word he proclaims? Friends, this is why discipleship is both absolutely straightforward and simple...and yet so utterly difficult and complex. It is clear, right? You receive the Word, and then you go out and follow the Word. The only problem is that this isn't always easy to do. And so, it becomes a lifelong journey, filled with twists and turns, ups and downs.
Discipleship isn't some elaborate system of belief.
It is simply this: Become the word you wish to live.
Seven simple words. It can't get much more straightforward then that...but it also can't get much more difficult either.
The truth of this is why I often tell people to put themselves in proximity to those who have the traits and qualities they most admire in life...and then watch and learn from these practitioners. If you value kindness, seek out kind people and watch how they embody this characteristic....how they become kind.
I will never be able to play music like Rebecca. Never. Not in a thousand years. I will never preach or teach like Dr. King. Never. Not in a thousand years. And yet I am entrusted with a different instrument and a unique voice to learn, practice with, play, and ultimately master. It is called my own life. It is the only instrument...the only voice...I have to work with. It is a gift...my gift. And in following the Way of Jesus, I am called to become all of it fully...as only I can. It will take time...and practice...and a deep desire to become the unique Word that has been planted within me. But this is what it means to become a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Let us walk in the light of God's love,
Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.