Discernment, Discernment, Discernment

It is frightening how often we human beings face a situation in which we must make a decision that will affect the lives of others. Will the choice we make be one that promotes good, or will our choice empower evil? All too often many of us make decisions without thinking only later to regret what we have done. While there are individuals who have been given the spiritual gift of discernment most of us have to work at the practice of spiritual discernment.

As a spiritual director I have no doubt that the level of usage of the tools of discernment is influenced by our motivation, values, and priorities. The more our motivation is centered in our desire to be influence by the Holy Spirit and a humble commitment to spiritually advance the stronger our faith will be. However, even our motivations should be examined, and the principles of discernment applied.

It is the motivation, or the spirit behind the action, that determines whether the action is part of the solution or part of an ongoing problem.[1]

When examining our motivations, it is important to be totally honest with oneself. This is not always easy. We human beings are very good at self-deception. If you are not sure of why you do something, write down all the reasons why you think you might be doing something (i.e., for payment, position, pleasure, power, etc.). Which of your motives are based on serving the Lord and others? After you have done this make a list of benefits of what you are doing. Then make a list of the consequences of doing what you are doing.

Finally, look over the material and ask God to help you truly understand your motive.

If your motive is pure and fits within the motives our Lord, we should then continue in confidence. If a person is not such of their choice, perhaps they should re-evaluate what we are doing or why we are making the decision we are making.

Never has the need for discernment been so great. There are so many things that can tempt, distract, deceive, confuse, and damage us spiritually. Thankfully we have a Lord that understands what we face and is willing to walk with us and guide us if we will but be open to direction.

[1] Skurja, Catherine. Paradox Lost. Whitaker House. Kindle Edition.

Lectionary Sermon for September 14

Mark 8:27-38   Who IS this Guy

An egotist pastor was travelling with a younger friend when the pastor asked his friend, “How many great preachers do you think there are in the world right now?” He friend replied, “One less than you do sir, one less.”

As human beings, we like to be affirmed by others about our identity and worth. Most of us do care what other people think of us.

Jesus asks his disciples a serious question, “Who do people say that I am?”

Why does Jesus ask his disciples this question? Is there any evidence of what motivated Jesus to ask such a question?

Well, we are told that Jesus wanted to avoid any kind of seeming political motive.

John 6:15 Therefore, when Jesus knew that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king,1 He withdrew again to the mountain by Himself. (Jn. 6:15 CSB)

If we read ahead know what is to come when Jesus travels to Jerusalem. There, again, the crowds try to make him King. First there is the record in Mark, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!” Mark 11:10 Next, a parallel passage, John 12:13 “took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, “Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD, even the King of Israel”

Jesus did not want to be identified with a social, political revolution. This was not Jesus’s intent. Jesus made this clear when tempted in the wilderness. Jesus is shown all the kingdoms in the world. Satan offers them to him as a temptation. We are then told, “Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'”

Jesus had one agenda and it was the will of the Father. Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth. Jesus, God incarnate, has no interest in the kingdoms human being build. They will all pass away. Jesus is interested in us and hopefully we are or hope to be interested in him.

When Jesus asks this question, he knows the disciples are struggling with what is being said and what they themselves will or will not believe or accept. Some of the followers had left Jesus because of what he was saying. The populous, the ever-possible mob, had all kinds of ideas about Jesus.

No one was ready for the suffering servant. The concept of a spiritual leader who must die for the sake of others is not the kind of Messiah the people were wanting. We know the disciples were not ready. We find that out when Jesus tells the disciples the suffering he is about to go through, Peter tries to confront Jesus about this. Peter cannot accept this. Jesus rebukes Peter and tells him he is being like Satan. Peter just does not understand, yet!

It is hard to understand how seeming weakness is strength. It is his hard to understand how the first will be last, how surrender is victory, and how death become life? Paradoxes every one of them. Not either-or choices but both-and choices.

Jesus is the God of paradox. Jesus, God incarnate who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilot, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended in Hell. On the third day he arose from the grave, ascended into heaven and sits by the right hand of the Father from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. Jesus who is completely God and completely human, the grandest paradox. This is our statement of faith. Our embrace this faith opens up for us the opportunity to

The disciples tell Jesus what they are hearing. Some think he is John the Baptist come back from the dead. The big problem with this is that Jesus was alive at the same time John was. In the Gospel account of John (not the same John) we are told, “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”

 (Jn. 1:29-30 NRS)

John the Baptist is clear the Jesus is greater than he. Jesus does not fit the place of Elijah. John the Baptist did and claimed to carry that torch,

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, “John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with1 the Holy Spirit and fire. (Lk. 3:15-16 NRS) We are told of John, “He (John) went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'” (Lk. 3:3-6 NRS)

Jesus himself deals with this idea concerning Elijah, And the disciples asked him, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He replied, “Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” (Matt. 17:10-12 NRS)

OK, what about the idea of Jesus being a prophet? Even Islam says Jesus is a prophet.

A prophet is someone who speaks for God. Jesus did not have to speak for God. Jesus was God. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.

The Father and I are one.” (Jn. 10:28-30 NRS)

Peter gets it right even if he does not yet fully understand. Jesus is the Messiah. Messiah in Latin is translated Christ which in turn translates to Anointed. Jesus is God’s choice as the one who can bring us back into the Divine Community. Jesus is the one who shows us what real love means. Jesus is the one who can forgive us, restore us, renew us, revive us, and call us to life as it was intended.

I know we were not there the day Jesus spoke these words. Yet, these words are not confined to written pages. These words can speak to our hearts. The question is still, “Who do you say that I am and what does this mean for you tomorrow, today, or even right now?”

What is your answer?