Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Letter to My Pastor

Though I’ve very little time for writing I cannot let another Sunday come without telling you how much I appreciated last week's sermon.

As I think you know, my husband and I, and our three daughters, have been living in a low-income apartment on Franklin Road. Though a far cry from the kind of poverty I have encountered in other parts of the world the environment in which we live is nevertheless marked by a degree of external brokenness that far surpasses anything I’ve ever experienced before on a daily basis. 

I believe that, like Abraham, our decision to get out of our father’s country, and move to this land that we did not know, was an act of obedience. And yet I have been surprised - even offended - at the degree to which God has demonstrated His grace to me by exposing my sin, and my need for Him, rather than – I now realize, I somehow vaguely anticipated – ushering me into a season of spiritual vitality.

Like a character in a Flannery O’Connor story, I am being given essential pieces of self-knowledge through violent means. “Violent” in the sense that God has wrenched from my grasp those people and things which – unbeknownst to me – had taken hold of my heart's affections, giving me a sense of security and worth apart from Christ; in exchange, He is showing me the grotesqueness of the sin in my heart, and my need for grace, which is, in itself, as Miss O'Connor would affirm, a grace.

For example, I have, very naively, never considered myself someone who harbors what Malcolm Gladwell terms, “racial preference.” But living here, on Franklin Road, has shattered my self-image: I not only recognize, in a much deeper way, why racial prejudices form, I see their seeds struggling to take root in my own heart.

This raises troubling questions: how can you love someone whom you are tempted to look down upon? Whom you judge? Toward whom you feel a paradoxical combination of pity and contempt?

You can’t.

At least, not without Jesus.

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl writes, "When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." But as a Christian I recognize what is simultaneously liberating and devastating news: I cannot change myself.

I need Jesus for that, too.

Yesterday, while walking up the soiled stairs to my apartment, my mind was suddenly struck with the phrase: change or die. As far as slogans go, this is a fine one, for a Darwinian economy. Alter it only slightly and it becomes better suited to describe the life of the Christian: for to follow Jesus means answering the call both to change and to die, though not in that order. 

For the Christian must die in order to change. 

Perhaps more accurately, it is as we die - to those loyalties and affections which keep us from loving God and our neighbor -- that we change. We come alive in the truest sense. Not overnight. But slowly, painfully... 

I wonder if this is not the meaning of Paul's admonishment, "You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies!" (1 Cor. 15:36). As we die, we not only discover a life hidden with Christ in God, but we come alive to the world in a deeper and more authentic way.

As you said, we learn to love God more and to love people more.

This kind of change is always a process. It is also always a gift of God's grace. As Flannery O'Connor herself says, "All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful."

Your sermon inspired me to stop resisting. 

Under The Mercy

HM Baker


MRM said...

Nice spying on you! -Monica

Heather Beiler said...

Love & Blessings to you <3

Becca said...

Beautiful. Pray for me that my resistance will be less and the dying will be easier. Thinking of you & praying for you. Love you!