Reflections to start the week
Monday, May 19, 2014
I read recently that when the missionary E. Stanley Jones met Mahatma Gandhi he said, “Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is it that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?” Gandhi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject Christ. I love Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike him.”
I’ve been intrigued with the spiritual journey of Mahatma Gandhi since my teens, when for several months I lived with an Indian family as an exchange student in Mumbai (then Bombay), an adventure for a teenager who had rarely left the bubble of suburban New York. I learned a lot from the deep spirituality embedded in that culture. In retrospect, it changed my life. I also learned about the history of how some Christians treated some people like Mahatma Gandhi, and so I was not surprised that he chose not to sign up for the newcomer’s class at the local parish. On one occasion, after he decided to attend a church in South Africa, he was barred at the door. “Where do you think you’re going?” an Englishman asked Gandhi. Gandhi replied that he would like to attend worship. The elder responded: “There’s no room for kaffirs in this church. Get out of here or I’ll have my assistants throw you down the steps.” So much for radical welcome.
Thoughts about Gandhi’s spiritual journey have been triggered for me recently by daily readings appointed by the Book of Common Prayer. In that lectionary, we’re working our way through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus’ discussion with his disciples about what it means to put faith to work in the world. Over the history of the church, that sermon has been transformative. It shaped the call of Leo Tolstoy to give up wealth for the sake of the poor. Gandhi applied Tolstoy’s learning to his own context, bringing non-violence and soul force to the struggle for freedom and justice in India. Martin Luther King Jr. in turn, studied Gandhi and applied those same learnings to his context in this country. And so it goes, all the way to this Monday morning in May, when we are given the chance and the challenge of putting the teachings of Jesus to work in the world. Today, how might we increase love in our hearts, for God and neighbor (especially neighbors who might be hard to get along with, perhaps even enemies)?
It matters how we do that, not only for the sake of our relationship with God. It matters for the sake of our relationship with those around us, in our household, in our workplace, in our church, in the community. It matters for a grace-starved world. Our prayer book, when it speaks of the ministry that each of us have in the world, says that lay people, bishops, priests and deacons all share this call: To represent Christ and his Church. That’s a responsibility, for sure. I remember a sermon I heard many years ago. The preacher asked: If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? What do our lives say about what we profess. Is there a gap between profession and practice?
It’s also an opportunity, because we have the chance to reflect, indeed to magnify, the grace we have received. The early church grew exponentially because people looked at the early Christian community and said: “See how they love one another.” A far cry from Gandhi’s experience. Is it a far cry from our own?
I’m mindful this Monday morning of the gap between Christ and this Christian. But wherever we are in the spiritual journey this morning, there is always a small step we can take to close that gap, to grow in spirit, to follow Christ more closely, as he calls us to reflect his way of being in the world, so that the world will know the wonders of his love, so the world will know we are Christians by our love.
– Jay Sidebotham
From the Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others?
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you for this is the law and the prophets. Enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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