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empty-churchIn the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent Jesus gives us these instructions:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

Not an easy teaching. And what are we supposed to do with this?

Someone recently said that I have a Nicodemus spirituality. You remember him, he’s the Pharisee who comes at night to visit Jesus and tells Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Pretty close to a declaration of faith but he has a few questions. That’s me you see – close to a declaration of faith – but a few questions.

“…those who want to save their life will lose it…”

What is this about? We seem to have an idea that it means some kind of heroic, sacrificial life. But does Jesus really need or want our sacrifice? I believe that what we do matters but that’s more for evangelical reasons. How many people, after all, will want to hear about Jesus if we are walking around being jerks all the time.
But God doesn’t need our sacrifice. As Milton said in his sonnet on his blindness, “God doth not need either man’s work or his own gifts: who best bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.” We bear his mild yoke and hope for the best. God loves us all the time 24/7/365.

“…those who want to save their life will lose it…”

What about those times when it seems like we have lost everything? You may not have had that experience. I have been blessed to have it happen many times. Blessed? You seem to have that incredulous look on your face. Yes, you see I have been reflecting a lot lately on failure. At least, that which felt like failure at the time. I will give you an example: A long time ago I was in a Roman Catholic religious order. I had reached the time when I would make my final vows – forever – not year to year as it had been during my training. This also means that the community makes a lifelong commitment to me “for better or for worse”. The director of formation summoned me to his office and told me that I would not be allowed to make my final vows. He said that I was too critical of the church. I sat before him and felt my life drain out of my body. It felt like failure. I think I had just recently decided that I wanted to be there and I was being shown the door.

I didn’t have a “Plan B” available. I found a little apartment on 16th Street, seven blocks from the White House. I was in Washington, DC and seven blocks makes a big difference. It was a very little apartment. I needed to get a job so I went to a temp agency and they sent me to an accounting firm for a one-day job. That one-day job turned into several weeks and then several months. They took me on as a full-time employee and eventually promoted me to being Administrative Manager. This led to my next job at the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill which led to my becoming Administrator of a large Unitarian Universalist Church. The path was not without its own set of disappointments. I remember joking in an AA meeting (that’s a whole other blog post) that I knew I was getting better because I was hating better and better jobs and I then hated the best job I ever had.

I also met a person along the way (and it took a major disappointment for us to connect) who was to become my wife. Joining my spiritual path to hers has opened up a richness in my life I could never before have imagined. I’m not at the end of the journey but I am struck by the fact that it took a unique synchronicity of seeming failures to arrive at this point. I had to feel my life drain out of my body so I could be positioned for an even greater abundance of God love for me. It’s hard to see at times, but I beg you, do not give up.

God has God’s own set of conditions for the possibility of something wonderful.

“…those who want to save their life will lose it…”

Rev. Fred


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The Synchronicity Of Failure