Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children--
“My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.” Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline?
So do you want the good news or bad news first? I always pick the bad news first- so let’s start there. You and I need to be disciplined. Ugh, gross, right? Who likes discipline? I don’t. Give me a choice between chocolate and broccoli? Chocolate wins. Chatting idly with a friend or listening to the story of a stranger? Chat, every time. Binge-watching my favorite TV show or reading the Bible? Binge-watching happens more than I would like to admit, friends.
So what, are chocolate, chatting and watching TV really all that bad? Well, not exactly. The bad news is that none of those things leads to better health or greater kindness or a changed heart. We humans don’t naturally gravitate toward disciplined living. Or at least, this human doesn’t. A choice between what is easy and what is hard? We choose the path of least resistance, right?
Here’s the thing: The author of Hebrews isn’t pulling any punches about what Jesus expects of us, you and I who choose everyday to live into our Christian identity. Cast aside sin. Run with perseverance. Sacrifice immediate gratification for something much greater: the discipline of the Lord. Gosh, that sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Why would we want to do this?
Well that’s the good news: discipline or spiritual disciplines ARE life-giving. It’s like this: chocolate is momentarily delicious, but broccoli gives us the strength to more fully pursue our passions. Chatting with a friend brings happiness, but creating a new friendship brings potential for greater joy. Binge-watching TV satisfies our hearts for a moment, but engaging in sacred stories transforms our hearts for a lifetime.
And if it's good news that spiritual disciplines are life-giving, it’s even greater news that each of us possess the capacity to actually practice a spiritual discipline. You do, and you likely already are! That’s a major part of our Christian tradition during the season of Lent. Disciplining our appetites, to make more room for the spirit to stir in us.
Now, I don’t think discipline for the sake of rule-keeping is what Jesus asks of us. Not at all, mostly because a lot of rules, especially religious ones, originated with humans, not God. That means I can’t prescribe for you the right spiritual discipline in your life. That’s up to you and God. What I can tell you, is what I know to be true about the result of spiritual disciplines.
They change our hearts. They change our lives. They create greater awareness of what is actually preventing us from experiencing wholeness. In short, they help us identify sin (meaning, all that keeps us from full connection with God, with others, and with our best selves) AND give us a framework for repenting of the sin and making a turn toward greater spiritual health.
So maybe it wasn’t actually bad news after all. You and I need to be disciplined, yes, and that CAN BE a really beautiful thing; enduring discipline, spiritual discipline is worth it, because it leads to a firmer identity in Christ, the author and perfector of our faith- the ONLY one who can lead us to lives of redemption.
Over the next 5 weeks, I’m going to introduce to you a helpful spiritual tool that can lead to greater self-awareness and transformation of our hearts. The tool is called the Enneagram, a philosophy of 9 different “personality types” that each respond to a primary motivation. Richard Rohr’s work in particular helps us see what can be sinful about our primary motivation AND what can be sanctified about it. The best part is this: WE HAVE AGENCY OVER SIN, but only when we learn to recognize it. Only when we discipline our spirits to be discerning and wise.
Becoming co-creators with Christ in our own redemption stories is possible when we are willing to engage the sin at work in us. In fact, self-reflection (and all the hard, vulnerable work involved) may just be the most important spiritual discipline that you and I will ever practice.
I’d like to leave you with this thought from Dietrich Koller, whose wisdom accompanies Richard Rohr’s book on the Enneagram. “Now no book and no counselor, no therapist and no Enneagram can spare me the work of transforming myself. Transformation is at once a task and a grace. Unless I work on myself, divine grace cannot become fruitful. And without divine grace, my work is in vain. Repentance is a process in which my work and God’s work becomes simultaneous. God grants conversion, but I have to make use of it and concretely convert. 2 Cor. 7:10 says, “this is a repentance that no one regrets,” And we don’t regret it, Koller says, because it actually creates healing and saving.”
I am excited to introduce you to the Enneagram, and I am even more excited to explore how YOU and I can become co-creators in our redemption stories. Welcome to the Lenten journey.
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.