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Epiphany 7 Year C
February 26, 2019, 11:01 AM

Epiphany 7 – February 24 – Year C

Contemplatives in Action

 

In recent years, Jesuit universities have become known as party schools.  This reputation can be blamed – at least a little bit – on the reputation of Jesuits themselves.  Jesuits have become known as a partying order of priests. 

 

My undergraduate studies were at a Jesuit university – Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland.  I can, unfortunately, report that Loyola largely lived up to its reputation as a party school.  Don’t worry – your priest did not participate in the party life at Loyola – at least for the most part.

 

Instead, I experienced to another part of the Jesuits’ reputation.  In addition to having a reputation as a partying order, Jesuits are also known for their social justice ministries.  It was at Loyola that I first began to understand the connections between my faith in Jesus Christ and my passion for caring for others. 

 

It was also at Loyola that I first experienced Jesuit spirituality.  The Jesuits were founded in the early 1500s by Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish soldier-priest whose spirituality continues to form and inform others even nearly five hundred years later.  The great example of Jesuit spirituality is Ignatius’ “Spiritual Exercises.”

 

In these “Spiritual Exercises,” Ignatius describes the connection between a person’s faith and a person’s behavior.  This connection – between what we believe and how we act – seems to be a logical connection, but how often does it happen that this connection is broken?  How often do we find ourselves acting in ways that are contrary to what we believe?  

 

A powerful phrase that shows up in the “Spiritual Exercises” is being a “contemplative in action.”  What an interesting and thought-provoking phrase!  A “contemplative in action.”  For many Christians, there can be a pressure to be one or the other.  Either you spend all of your time contemplating the glory of Christ or you spend all your time acting out the glory of Christ.

 

What Ignatius suggests is that the Christian faith needs to be a balance of the two – contemplation and action.  He called this being a “contemplative in action.”  A faithful Christian is in deep need of deep prayer while also compelled by faith in Christ to a life of action.  Faith that is only lived out in a person’s prayer closet is incomplete, just as faith that is only lived out by feeding those who are hungry is incomplete. 

 

I don’t know how popular I would be among Jesuits if I told them that Ignatius did not invent the idea of being a contemplative in action.  Maybe Ignatius was the first to use that phrase – I don’t know – but balancing contemplation and action is an ancient, ancient idea, going as far back as the Hebrew scriptures.

 

For example, in today’s Psalm, the author tells the people to “put (their) trust in God AND do good.”  My guess is that – even in ancient Israel – there was a tension between contemplation and action.  There were probably people who spent all their time trusting in God – a trust that showed itself as spending lots of time in studying scripture and praying. 

 

I also guess that – even in ancient Israel – there were probably people who spent all their time doing good – good that showed itself in spending lots of time caring for those most at risk in society.  And there certainly were people in need of care, particularly widows and orphans and foreigners. 

 

What we hear in today’s Psalm is that we cannot choose one or the other.  We cannot choose to only pray.  We cannot choose to only do good.  Instead, we need to find a balance between the two.  We need to trust God AND do good.  We need to be contemplatives in action.

 

Jesus picks up the same theme in today’s reading from Luke.  In this reading that could be familiar to many of us, Jesus continues the idea of being a contemplative in action.  I started trying to underline all of the action verbs in these few, short verses, but I gave up. 

 

In just the first few verses, Jesus calls us to listen, love, bless, pray, offer, and give.  I’m sure a brilliant preacher somewhere has written a brilliant sermon series on how to live a life marked by these six verbs, but I am not that preacher.  Instead, I noticed how action-oriented these six verbs are: listen, love, bless, pray, offer, and give.

 

I also noticed how hard these six verbs are to live into without an active prayer life.  How can we listen to Jesus or love our enemies or bless those who curse us without praying first?  How can we pray for those who persecute us or offer our cloaks or give to those who ask without a strong relationship with Jesus Christ?

 

If we hear these six verbs from Jesus and just try to hide in our prayer closets, we are pretty much doomed to fail on our journey to become faithful Christians.  Similarly, if we hear these six verbs from Jesus and just try to run out into the world, we are also pretty much doomed to fail on our journey to become faithful Christians. 

 

Just as we heard in today’s Psalm, Jesus calls us to trust God AND do good.  Jesus calls us to be contemplatives in action.  We cannot act out any of the six commands without first having a solid relationship with Jesus Christ.

 

It isn’t just the ancient Israelites who are called to be contemplatives in action.  It isn’t just the original followers of Jesus who are called to be contemplatives in action.  It isn’t even just those troublesome Jesuits who are called to be contemplatives in action. 

 

Instead, all of us are called to become contemplatives in action.  For those of us gathered here this morning, we are doing pretty well at the contemplative part of being in a contemplative in action.  Spending time worshiping God and celebrating Jesus are important parts of being contemplatives.

 

But that can’t be the end of our journey of faith.  We are called to be contemplatives, yes, but we are also called to put into action what we gain by worshiping God and celebrating Jesus.  Worship is a contemplative opportunity to be strengthened for the faithful actions we take for the rest of the week. 

 

We are all called to different faithful actions.  Whatever our faithful actions are, let our time together this morning empower us to boldly take those faithful actions.  Let us trust God AND do good.  Let us become faithful contemplatives in action.  Amen. 

 
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