Even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Friends, the fact that you are worshiping today tells me you too are still pressing on. Still yearning to know redemption. Still open to the stirring of Spirit within. The UCC is certainly not perfect, but as a denomination we proclaim something about God that I just love. God is Still Speaking. The word of God isn’t written in scripture alone. God’s word has been written on our hearts! And we MUST take our habits of the heart seriously if we are to understand what this means. Paul says even I, who got all the rules right, I am STILL PRESSING ON to listen for God’s voice at work in me- because God is still speaking.
As preparation for ministry, many pastors receive a Master of Divinity. I was so grateful for my time at Princeton Theological Seminary, but in the midst of all the academic work and invigorating conversation with colleagues, one truth became quite clear. When it comes to getting God right…we never actually arrive. I didn’t really become a master of the divine. If anything, seminary taught me how little I know.
So here’s the very anticlimactic reality about being Christians: Following Jesus is a life-long practice. I mean really- we have to PRACTICE in order to align our Spirits with God’s. We heard about this in Ephesians a few weeks’ back, and one key practice is prayer. Paul sums up prayer so well here. He says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.” Amen, right? Paul goes on to say, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” It’s about intimate connection with a still-speaking God.
Here’s the paradox of spiritual strength: Our ability to reach the spirit within often correlates with how willing we are to be vulnerable. You know, that uncomfortable feeling when we admit we don’t have it all together. Yep- that’s actually a GOOD thing, if we give God those broken pieces of our hearts, to make something unexpectedly beautiful.
So let’s get personal. Given what you know your spirit needs to thrive, what habits of the heart are you ready to form- or perhaps revisit after life got in the way of your practice? This is your work to do- I cannot tell you that what works for me will work for you. Trust me, I see the look AJ gives me when I tell him I’m going to jump on a zoom call to sit in silence with other pastors on a Monday morning… and I’m SO excited about it. I see him get all squirmy. Not every habit of the heart works for everyone. Each of us has a spiritual compass that needs certain practices, and mine are not yours.
But because mine ARE what I know best, let me tell you about this group of pastors who gather Monday mornings at 8am on a 45 minute zoom call. This week, after each of us shared what was occupying our minds and our hearts, we simply listened to a Taize-inspired song, repeated three times. This is roughly 15-20 minutes of silence, listening to one phrase over and over, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” The melodic variety of instruments moves in tandem with this very simple phrase: Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.
Here’s what happened in my Spirit. The first time the song played, I had a million thoughts swirling- not focused. The second time, roughly 5 minutes in, I started to feel at rest in the rhythm of the words, a few tears gently rolling down my cheek. If you know me well, you can appreciate this as a sign Spirit has begun stirring. Finally, during the 3rd time listening to: “Jesus, Remember me, when you come into your kingdom” a clear and centering thought emerged, something I’d learned long ago: “What is the chief end of humankind? To glorify God and enjoy God forever.”
I knew what God was speaking that day…as my very important to-do lists grow, text messages run on for days, Spirit is always with me, tenderly beckoning me back to what matters most, “Emily, pause and enjoy the glory of being a child of the living God. This is what you were created to do.” And the meaning of the words shifted for me. Jesus WILL remember me, will I take time to remember him? That is my spiritual practice I need most. To be present in each moment God has gifted me. To take time and wonder at what it all means. And because I’m an extrovert, I practice this habit of the heart in the company of others. I’m here to tell you, on Monday mornings, Spirit shows up on Zoom!
I want to know what works for you. What have you tried that helps you listen to the still speaking voice of God? I’d love to hear about spiritual practices you’ve found life-giving. Trust me, your response to these questions I ask-whether in conversation or email this week, or months later, it’s yet another confirmation that something really powerful happens when we are courageous enough to speak of matters of the heart. It doesn’t matter so much WHAT you practice so long as you DO! What works today might need to shift tomorrow- that’s okay too! We just keep on moving as Spirit moves, finding new and delightful ways to glorify God and enjoy God forever with this one precious and beautiful life we’ve been given. What spiritual habit are you ready to form today? There’s no better moment than now, as we enter Holy Week next Sunday.
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.