Making Space: Risk Taking Service Acts 8: 26-40

Making SpaceMaking space requires the fundamentals of radical hospitality, passionate worship, and intentional faith development.  Those are space-making skills improve as a faith communities repeat the proper techniques they learn.  It takes something deeper to integrate risk-taking service and extravagant generosity into the fabric of the followers of Christ who make up the Body of Christ.  While some growth happens naturally, the kind of significant growth that is needed for these last two practices happens to those who are willing to take the inward journey of spiritual growth.

Phillip goes to a wilderness road after being told by an angel.  There he meets the never-named eunuch, minister of Candace, Queen of Ethiopia.  The eunuch is reading from Isaiah as Philip joins him and asks if he understands what he is reading.  The eunuch says, “How can I unless someone guides me?” They read the scripture together.  We read: “Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture, he told him the good news of Jesus.”  Philip opened his mouth, and told the story of Jesus.  my-story

Let’s linger on the phrase, “He told him the good news.”  Philip spontaneously told him the good news of Jesus.  He didn’t have time to prepare or to speak from notes.  He jumps to it, despite being on a dusty road in the middle of nowhere.  He told the story of Jesus because it was his story; it was the fabric of his values and motivations, knowledge and experiences that had shaped his life and identity.

I keep my sermon prep and devotional life separate.  They are both equally important; I don’t one to substitute for the other.  This last week, during the early hour, I’ve been reflecting on the stages of spiritual growth with the help of the Richard Rohr.  It became clear to me was how stages of spiritual growth and these last two space making practices, risk-taking service and extravagant generosity, go hand in glove.  Risk taking mission happens when we open ourselves to deep inward growth until the Jesus story is our story and our lives, along with our words, tell the story.

light-to-darknessSpiritual growth is movement toward oneness with God, each other, and our very self.  This involves the human-divine connection; unity with other persons; and our heart, mind and body coming together.  What prevents us from be willing to make all things one is our ego insisting divisions.  Our desire to compare and contrast our lives to others rather than seek what we have in common can stop spiritual growth dead in our tracks.

What usually jumps start spiritual growth, so we can move to the next stage of development is a curtain falls and we enter into a nighttime experience in life-a season of pain or a time when we’re no longer assured as we once were.  What we have been doing doesn’t work.  So, we take a faith step; we go beyond learning about faith to have faith.

Love is our goal; but it is our faith that moves us closer to loving of God, others and ourselves more fully.  We can be thankful for the grace of any circumstance that moves us to the next stage of growth, particularly when we come to the place to takes steps toward risk-taking service.  I will unpack stages of spiritual growth this and next week that can change our lives and others when we serve and give in these deeper ways..

Infant Eating Baby FoodThe first stage focuses on the fleshly person, the most fundamental parts of the human condition.  It is at this stage we have not yet integrated body, mind, and heart. Paul makes reference to the saints in Corinth as “infants he fed you with milk, not solid food, for they were not ready”.  At this stage, the admonition by Jesus to not worry about the secular trinity of what we eat, drink and wear makes no earthly sense.

A few persons will get stuck at this earliest of stages; failing to align their body, mind and heart.  They become overly concerned for their own pleasure and security. They are often suspicious of education, arts, spirituality and culture.  Their moral compass points them only to places that help them maintain their place.  However, the great majority or persons will not get stuck here because something will happen that will shine a less than favorable light on the folly of pleasure and it strips away all illusions that they can secure their own lives.  Can I get a witness?

The second stage focuses on corporate behaviors that establish the group.  We become focused on keeping laws, codes, and behaving as expected.  We want to look good for the sake of the group.  This is a required step of spiritual growth; it fosters a sense choseness that establishes our identity and boundaries that will aid us in moving toward future uniformity

Eventually, someone in our group will disappoint.  A person will act unkindly, dishonestly or worse.  Sometimes persons will work hard to sweep under the covers these unexpected behaviors.  This gives birth to our shadow self, which hide behind pretense, so all will look good on the outside; speaking and behaving as expected.

We can’t remain to long in this place; lest we end up living in a childish dog-eats-dog world for most of our lives; emitting a spirit of destructive We must be willing to do the necessary shadowboxing with our shadow selves so our true self comes out hiding and we can grow deeper in our faith; loving God, neighbor and ourselves even more deeply.

shadowboxThe third stage focuses on thoughts and feelings, forming the individual who wants to break out of the group.  We embrace common sense and critical thinking.  At this stage, we’ve probably experienced a degree of education and/or accomplishment.  We have read a few books and we can quote sources that reinforce our faith in new ways.  Through self-discovery, we’ve learned to express our feelings and share our thoughts.

Most of what we think and feel is self-preferential, which trap us to our egocentric lifestyle.  One mark of this stage is we don’t play well together we like our feelings and thoughts.  Dying to self for the sake of the common good of others is hard.  Most of us do not want to pass through that grief.  This is why most of educated Europeans and Americans are stuck; we’re good people whose good conversations make good friends; but we are not willing to go beyond our egocentric world-view.just-be-nice

The false or ego self must die to keep growing.  In order for this to happen we have to linger for a while between stages three and four; growing into the possibility of dying to self.  This prolonged time of darkness and not knowing forces us into letting go so the ego can die.  What usually motivates us (has to motivate us) to remain in this limbo state is the desire to know a greater love in life.  We long for such love that we are willing to undergo a great suffering, major setback, or even public humiliation.  It is during these times the ego (false) self goes into shock. This is the great dying, which Jesus spoke when he said, “Unless a grain of wheat dies, it remains a grain of wheat. If it dies, it will bear much fruit.” (John 12:24)

growthWe can see why most persons are slow to take this step of faith.  Sometimes initiation rites like confirmation, baptism, or a private or corporate encounter with the living God gives a person a taste of stage four.  Once a person experiences this dying to self in a significant way, spiritual growth will continue, for they understand that dying to self is central and necessary for all spiritual growth.

Once we have repeated the practice of letting go, risk-taking service naturally pours out of our lives.  We no longer have to be certain of every step along the way; making us more tolerant of ambiguity and able to embrace paradox. The meaning of faith becomes clear; we are called to walk in the darkness with trust; into places of risk taking service, like Phillip to open our mouths and tell the good news of Jesus.

Published in: on February 9, 2014 at 9:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

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