Sunday, May 1, 2016

May 1, 2016
The Sixth Sunday of Easter
Do you recall the day you first learned to write in cursive?

Most of us probably don’t; we merely hold onto a memory of doing it. You probably don’t remember when you learned to read either.

You may remember the process. You might remember life in first grade when you were taught to read, or life in third grade when you were taught to write in cursive. But you don’t remember when reading and writing actually “happened.”

Not like learning to ride a bike. You’re either pedaling like crazy and keeping your balance, or you’re lying in a twisted heap with your ankles through the spokes. You might remember when you learned to ride a bike.

Back to cursive writing. The S had the bends in the right places, and the W rose and dropped wonderfully at the command of our tiny fingers clutching that big pencil. Then, beaming brightly, we unveiled the writing to our parents, who happily approved our advancing skills. It was a moment of victory to slant those letters precisely the way the teacher instructed and within the lines, too. Mastering cursive writing was one of those skills that marked a rite of passage; not only was our schoolteacher proud of us, better yet, writing in cursive clearly meant we were becoming grown up. 

Okay, that might be an exaggeration. But only slightly. 

But cursive writing and the teaching of cursive is on the way out. Cursive writing is gradually being deleted as more and more students rely on keyboards for communication. Text messaging, instant messenger, email: These are the skills that students are relying upon, and with that reliance has come a steady decline in handwriting skills. 

So, cursive writing is disappearing. One could say, so what? Isn’t digital communication better, easier and more efficient? 

Maybe, but easier and more efficient is not always better, especially when it comes to developing character and building relationships. The question is: What happens when you gradually begin to lose skills that were once used to build character and demonstrate that a person was maturing because she was able to master a skill through careful practice? It is not surprising that along with the gradual disappearance of cursive writing has gone the habit of letter writing; a habit often called an art. So the culture loses cursive writing and no one notices, because in its place is faster, easier and efficient — the triune god of our time. 

But while this god is wooing us night and day, Alan Wolfe, author of the Transformation of American Religion, comments that cursive writing is not the only thing that is gradually disappearing. A host of important religious concepts along with the moral practices that undergird them are also disappearing, and not only in secular culture but among many, if not most, congregations.

For example, over the last two generations, the notion of a Holy God whose love will not tolerate sin and to whom all lives are accountable has nearly disappeared. It has been replaced by a benign Being whose love winks at personal sins. This God is often described in the vaguely religious language of contemporary spirituality and defended by those who decry the punishing, grace-less God foisted upon the people by fearful religious institutions and the preachers who offer a poisonous brew of guilt and shame. People do not want to hear about sin nor even a hint that they might be sinful.

Sin itself is a concept that depends upon a biblical moral universe of duties and obligations where people are accountable to one another and answerable to God. The concept has disappeared, rendered hopelessly quaint or even tacky, a sign of poor taste in public conversation, replaced by personal choices whose consequences are measured by their effects on one’s sense of personal well-being, rather than a larger universe of moral obligations that have their foundation in a response to a righteous and just God. 

As C.S. Lewis famously reminded readers in Mere Christianity, a fuzzy, tolerant God is a far distance from the God whose mercy and grace are amazingly profound for the simple reason that God despises immorality. Grace is meaningless when there is no sin to be forgiven. In the wake of this steady cultural trend to throw off oppressive moral codes, including those of institutional religion, people have also thrown off the notion of binding moral obligations that are nonnegotiable. We believe that whatever good we do, we do because we want to, not because we have any obligation to do good. Think about it; in most cases, you know I speak the truth.

Under these conditions, where everything is optional, how shall Christians respond to the instructions of Jesus to keep his word? In his final conversation with the disciples, he repeatedly tells them that loving him and obeying his commandment belong together. Cutting against the grain, Jesus actually says that by our obedience we show our love for him. The very thing that many associate with feeling and personal choice — love — is what Jesus says his disciples are to do because he commands them to do it. 

This is not simply a possible option among many options that we can keep when it’s convenient for our schedule. It’s a binding moral obligation for the followers of Jesus. Period. 

But, there’s more: Jesus promises that the consequences of a life of obedience to love are peace, intimacy with God, the abiding presence of the Spirit. In other words, according to Jesus the path to human fulfillment — peace, meaning, integrity — lies in a life of obedience to him made visible by our loving others, day in and day out. 

This kind of life requires hard work and practice. You could call it Cursive Obedience.

And it’s not something you remember learning to do. It doesn’t “happen.” It’s a learned process. It’s a life. It’s a lifestyle.

Remember how hard you had to work to learn to write in cursive? The purpose of all that practice was not just cruel punishment, (those old nuns will be glad to hear that said) but the ability to communicate well in writing. Without the practice, there is no fulfillment. 

Thus, to practice the commandment of Jesus in a cursory way, choosing if and when to obey him based upon our own inclinations, will never lead us to a deeper relationship with God where we know that peace that is promised. We don’t like to link obedience to fulfillment; it seems graceless and stern. But in fact, those who live a life of obedience often testify to joy and peace. 

Love is neither easy, fast, nor efficient.

Annalena Tonelli was a humanitarian who spent her life working for human dignity and setting up tuberculosis centers in Kenya and Somalia. When she was assassinated in October 2003 in Somalia, by rebels who objected to her work among the poor, The Washington Post featured a story about her life. She was asked what gave her the motivation to devote her life to some of the poorest and sickest people on earth, especially over so long a time when most people give up in despair or exhaustion. 

What was it that enabled her to be so positive and even filled with gratitude? She rarely ever talked about her religious foundation, thinking that people would dismiss her, but on this occasion she spoke of the key to her sense of peace and fulfillment and named the reasons that others often fall away. 

The reason that more people don’t feel this way [peaceful, joyful, grateful] is that they don’t try hard enough. You have to give time, you have to be patient; and then year after year, you’ll see that what matters is only love. But if you are impatient because people are not grateful or you were full of limits, you will not be happy. You need time.” 

You need time. But then, you’ll see that what matters is only love. Annalena Tonelli said it, and that is what Jesus said to his disciples, too. Keep my commandment, love through thick and thin, day by day, year after year, and you will know the peace of God. 

How do we obey Jesus’ commandment to love over a lifetime without becoming grim or simply falling away? After all, love is only easy on Hallmark cards; in actual life it can be quite demanding. On the one hand it is akin to the practice of learning to write in cursive or learning any other skill. You simply do it in faith. 

But there is something else, too, something that brings the necessary delight into our obedience. In his book Living the Message, Eugene Peterson comments on the secret to faithful obedience in Jeremiah’s life. He says, “He did not resolve to stick it out for 23 years, no matter what; he got up every morning with the sun. That is the secret of Jeremiah’s persevering pilgrimage — not thinking with dread about the long road ahead but greeting the present moment, every present moment, with obedient delight, with expectant hope: ‘My heart is ready!’” 

What a wonderfully hopeful way to imagine discipleship over the long haul: with obedient delight offering our hearts to God day by day. 

This obedient delight, says Jesus will bring you the peace that this world can never give. Learning to follow Jesus’ commandment and living it, helps make all the other “sins” disappear. Because, when you think about it, all those laws, rules and moral codes come down to one thing; loving your fellow man!
Let us pray.
Father God open our minds and hearts to living as You have commanded us. Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ who came among us, He has fulfilled the law and by so doing, helped us understand how we meet the expectations of the law by Loving as He loved us. Following the law became so much easier. 
Yet, still today, we find that we do not like doing some of the things that loving one another would require us to do. Help us to understand to love others is to love You. To love those whom we find hard to love is to Love You. As Jesus made it clear; all of the law of the prophets and Moses fall under two commandments; to love only You, our Lord God and to love our fellow man. Give us the help and motivation we need to love all whom we meet. Help us to learn by Your Son’s example, but to also know that we each are not perfect either ad one day may need the same love we give to someone else today. Thru Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.

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