Friday, August 29, 2008

Lighten Up . . . Seriously

They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking” (Luke 5:33).

When I read the story of Levi I’m slightly unsettled by the scene in which Pharisees and teachers of the law complain about the party being thrown in Jesus’ honor. These days I am by vocation a teacher of God’s word, the Law. Would I have been reclining at the table, swapping stories, laughing at the jokes, reaching for more bread? Or would I have stood aside, watching, grumbling? I don’t know.

Back in my days as a seminarian chaplain I had a supervisor who basically told me I was too serious. He wanted me to have more fun, lighten up. This was not the kind of “clinical” feedback I was expecting. It troubled me. I guess I took it, well . . . seriously.

Some time later I shared this with my parents on a visit home. Surely Mom and Dad would rush in with just the right word of affirmation. Well, not quite. My mom replied, "you’ve been serious since you were three years old.” Great.

The Pharisees were very serious about God’s law. To be fair, what Jesus was doing at Levi’s house had troubling implications for their reading of scripture. After the party they confronted Jesus with the example of John and his disciples. “Those guys fast and pray – but you and your followers eat and drink.” In other words, get serious.

Throughout the history of our faith there have been, broadly speaking, two ways of living out the Jesus life. One path leaves the heavy traffic, withdraws, seeks solitude, listens for God’s voice and answers back in prayer. On this path the Jesus way is a rigorous way, marked by discipline.

There is another way that engages the world, that touches the leper and eats with tax-collectors and sinners. It isn’t offended by prostitutes or inconvenienced by the needy. On this path the Jesus way is marked by open arms and a ready embrace.

The Pharisees trouble me because they were serious about living in a covenant relationship with God, but not serious enough about bringing others into it. They would have done well to lighten up, seriously.

In his fine book “O2” Richard Dahlstrom maintains that living the Jesus way is like breathing. We inhale and exhale. To inhale is to take in the life giving oxygen of prayer and scripture and solitude. To exhale is breathe out in service and hospitality and generosity and compassion. We must do both. We can’t live without breathing, and we can’t follow Jesus with out breathing either.

Some of us on the Jesus way are always inhaling, seriously practicing the spiritual disciplines, and sucking the life right out of everything and everyone around us. We need to engage this world that Jesus loves. Maybe a raucous banquet with folks who drink a little too much would do us good.

And others of us never take deep breaths that draw life giving Spirit into our existence. We’re too busy changing the world . . . and turning blue in the process. Sit down. Stop talking. Breathe deep. Think, reflect, pray.

So what do you need to do today?

(You still have a couple of days left to respond to this week’s poll at the top of this page.)

Lord Jesus, you taught us that the greatest commandment was to love God and love neighbor. Teach us how to do that. Make us serious about those practices that feed our souls. Make us serious about engaging the world. And in all our serious obedience to your great command, make us a joyful people we pray. Amen.

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