Image via WikipediaToday's Propers for the Daily Office include readings from Jeremiah, Romans and the Gospel of John. Each reminds us that God always stands ready to receive us, to reconcile us to God's self, and to bring us into right relationship with God. In Romans, Paul says, "Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance" (3.4b). In John, Jesus heals a man who had been ill for thirty-eight years - a true act of generosity and kindness. This kindness led Jesus to attend to the man's spiritual well-being as well, offering him the gift of right relationship with God (5.14).
In Jeremiah, the prophet laments that both Israel and Judah have strayed and lived "faithlessly." Both have "played the whore." God sends Jeremiah to say to the people of Israel, "I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful" (3.12). Then, in a prose addition that is probably later, Jeremiah has God say, "I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding" (3.15).
Jumping a couple of chapters, we read a challenge proclaimed by Jeremiah in a sermon at the temple: "For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly with one another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever" (7.5-7).
These texts each remind us that living as God's disciples requires commitment, a conscious choice, and a willingness to repent and reorient when we go astray. Discipleship requires that we create for ourselves and our spiritual communities a rule of life that shapes our thoughts, our decisions, our interactions with other people and the world around us, and that makes provision for return when necessary.
Episcopalians find this rule embodied in the words of our liturgy. We celebrate the presence of God in our lives as we hear the good news of the Gospel, pray for ourselves and others, ask for forgiveness and receive absolution, and then break the bread of God's presence as a community of redeemed people. As we live out that liturgical drama during the week by functioning in the world, we recognize that God continues to call and guide us and to push/pull us towards the reconciled relationship that God has for us.
There are many rules of life, of course. Some take the liturgical ebb and flow and apply it to our daily living. Others modify existing trditional rules in creative ways. John McQuiston has written a little book called, Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living, in which he takes the Rule of St. Benedict and applies it to the busy modern world. You can read this little book at Google Book Search.
McQuiston states his first rule: "Live this life and do whatever is done in a spirit of thanksgiving. Abandon attempts to achieve security, they are futile. Give up the search for wealth, it is demeaning. Quit the search for salvation, it is selfish. And come to comfortable rest in the certainty that those who participate in this life with an attitude of Thanksgiving will receive its full promise" (17-18). Tough, counter-cultural, perhaps counter-intuitive words - but words to consider carefully as we travel the spiritual path!
Another rule was written by the folks at Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, and can be found here. This rule incorporates careful attention, through prayer, study, and action, to the Millennium Development Goals as part of a broader spiritual discipline that will help us to live faithfully according to God's purposes and desires. It fits particularly well with the words of Jeremiah 7 quoted above.
To summarize, regardless of our shortfalls, our fits and starts, our turning away, God responds with kindness, reaching out with God's unconditional and gratuitous love with the singular intention of restoring us to right relationship with God. As we exercise the discipline of discipleship, we find that we turn from whatever distracts or pulls us away and move back onto the path that God has set for us. How blessed we are that God is with us regardless of the challenges that we face, regardless of the stubbornness of the human heart, regardless of our spiritual blindness. God opens our eyes to God's truth, to love, to compassion, to generosity!