Sunday, May 21, 2006

Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 15
9I have loved you, just as my Father has loved me. So remain faithful to my love for you. 10If you obey me, I will keep loving you, just as my Father keeps loving me, because I have obeyed him.
11I have told you this to make you as completely happy as I am. 12Now I tell you to love each other, as I have loved you. 13The greatest way to show love for friends is to die for them. 14And you are my friends, if you obey me. 15Servants don't know what their master is doing, and so I don't speak to you as my servants. I speak to you as my friends, and I have told you everything that my Father has told me.
16You did not choose me. I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last. Then my Father will give you whatever you ask for in my name. [a] 17So I command you to love each other.

I enjoy long lines at the supermarket. How else will I get to enjoy magazines? It's not that I'm too cheap to buy them. And I'm certainly not counseling you to read and not buy. It's just that I have an abiding interest in the types of tests that appear in a certain genre of magazine. Suddenly you are thinking "Michael would like to read Cosmopolitan, but he's not brave enough to buy it." Maybe so, but tell me that you can resist articles with titles such as "I think my boyfriend is a moron: Take the Test."

To satisfy your desire for tests, (and to save time at the supermarket) I give you, self-described as "the world's largest testing centre." Every type of test imaginable is there, ready to burn away the hours as you discover endless things about yourself and the people around you. In the spirit of John's gospel, and following our theme of love, I give you a few test examples:

Emotional IQ Test
Jealousy Test
Love Diagnostic Test
Relationship Satisfaction Test
Self Disclosure Test for Couples
Commitment Readiness Test
Giver-Taker Profile Test
Do I Need Therapy Test
Procrastination Test - Abridged

I love the last one. It makes sense that the procrastination test be an abridged test. Clearly too much time was spend wasting time for the procrastinators to have a full test.

At the end of most tests is the scoring portion. You know the drill: you tally your responses (a, b, c...) and add the assigned numbers and voila! Every question is now answered. "Yes, your boyfriend is a moron," or "Maybe you should give him one more chance" and so on.

Sometimes authors will describe places to find yourself on some sort of spectrum without giving you the test. They will introduce a range of possibilities and the challenge is to see yourself (and others) on the list. For today's purposes, I want to share just such a list by M. Scott Peck, author of The Different Drum: Community-Making and Peace.

According to Peck, there are four stages of human spiritual development:

* Stage I is chaotic, disordered, and reckless. Very young children are in Stage I. They tend to defy and disobey, and are unwilling to accept a will greater than their own. Many criminals are people who have never grown out of Stage I.
* Stage II is the stage at which a person has blind faith. Once children learn to obey their parents, they reach Stage II. They tend to follow authority without question. The majority of good law abiding citizens never move out of Stage II.
* Stage III is the stage of scientific skepticism. A Stage III person does not accept things on faith but only accepts them if convinced logically. Many people working in scientific and technological research are in Stage III.
* Stage IV is the stage where an individual starts enjoying the mystery and beauty of nature. While retaining skepticism, he starts perceiving grand patterns in nature. His religiousness and spirituality differ significantly from that of a Stage II person, in the sense that he does not accept things through blind faith but does so because of genuine belief.

Like all good theories, this one needs time to rattle around in your sub-conscious mind for a while. Rattle at will.


I have loved you, just as my Father has loved me.

You did not choose me. I chose you and sent you out to produce fruit, the kind of fruit that will last. Then my Father will give you whatever you ask for in my name. So I command you to love each other.

Reading John is a bit like eating the juice concentrate without adding the water. Some of us prefer it with three cans of water and some of us with four, but this is concentrated ideas one atop another until we risk losing sight of the very thing we want to know. For the preacher, every verse in John is a sermon begging to be preached, every collection of verses too much to take in.

Standing back a bit, verses begin to speak to one another and patters appear: "I have loved you, just as my father has loved me." And a few verses later: "You did not choose me. I chose you." Love and chosenness go hand in hand here: The disciples did not pursue Jesus and ask to be loved, it happened in quite the opposite way. Jesus' love extended to all people and he chose the twelve as the first ones to have the most direct experience of his love. This was part of an overall plan to create a lineage of love: First the twelve, then those they witnessed to directly, and the churches they founded, down through the ages. I have always been intrigued by the idea of a Christian genealogy, and the possibility of tracing my Christian lineage back to Jesus through the lives of 20 centuries of faithful people.

As intriguing as this idea is, it remains unnecessary when we imagine that the church continues to be animated by the Holy Spirit and continues to embody the Risen Christ. In this sense, Jesus' love for us is direct and immediate, and we continue to be chosen: to be his friends and those with whom he wishes to walk on the way.


Let's look back at Scott Peck's stages of human spiritual development and try to describe some people on the various stages of development:

Stage one people imagine that faith and religion are attempts to control them or subvert their will. They imagine that all churches and all ministers are by definition corrupt and add nothing to the fabric of society. Like toddlers, there are moments when these people are hard to love.

Stage two actually describes most religious people. They have a "blind faith" and show marked disinterest in questioning the received tradition. They prefer answers to questions, and fear that a slight crack in the facade of their faith may cause the whole thing to crumble. They are interested in correct-thinking and protecting themselves and others from dangerous ideas.

Stage three people have a really hard time with mystery and the unscientific elements of the tradition. They "demythologize" and "deconstruct" and struggle to know where this process ends. For many stage three people, the question "how can we know" leads to the end of their faith.

Stage four people understand faith as a way of life. They have moved beyond the idea of correct belief and the need to know with absolute certainly and have settled in a region with some mystery. Peck called these people "mystics," recognizing that mystery and genuine belief travel together in a mature faith.

It is hard to examine the various stages of spiritual development without sounding judgmental. Certainly there is an element of this, particularly in world challenged by fundamentalism and the problem of "blind faith." Peck would argue, I think, that all of us travel through the various stages and will hopefully reach the last and most mature stage. We are all in a process of becoming. It leads me to one of my favourite passages of scripture, one that is frequently read at funerals:

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (1 John 3.2ff)

Like children, we develop at different ages and stages and work toward the same goal: to be faithful to the call to love God with all our heart and love our neighbour as ourselves. Henri Nouwen pondered all these things on the way to becoming one of the most widely read Christian authors and a true mystic. "The real 'work' of prayer," he said, "is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me." He learned what it meant to be loved my God and chosen for the task of loving others. He learned to dwell less on what he achieved and what people said about him and more on what it meant to be a child of God. Filled with God's loving presence as he ate and talked and worked and went day by day, he become a blessing to others and showed God to others.

May each of us find the same silence and be blessed. Amen.


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