The Land I Will Show YouFirst Sunday of Lent
Last Sunday, 32 of us gathered after worship for discovery and discernment. We met to be motivated and energized as a community of faith. We didn’t begin by identifying problems, we identified assets with greater clarity. For example, the kitchen is not just a kitchen but a space with commercial capabilities. What are the possibilities and undiscovered opportunities we see from a broader framework? Around the table, we learned things about one another we did not know. We shared our individual and collective talents, gifts, interests, and desires.
We didn’t make any decisions. We discerned possibilities. We named what we have and we clustered assets to make new connections in ways we hadn’t previously considered. We didn’t make decisions about how this might work or name limitations. We were challenged to consider: How do we embrace our higher purpose as the Body of Christ?
Ruth Haley Barton, author and spiritual director defines discernment as an ever-increasing capacity to “see” the work of God in the midst of the human situation, so that we can align ourselves with whatever God is doing. Discernment is a quality of attentiveness to God that, over time, develops our sense of God’s heart and purpose in the moment.
In the scripture from Genesis, David read, the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” Abram was 75 years old, this was not an easy decision. “The land that I will show you” is not a definitive place and there will need to be continued discovery and exploration on Abrams’ part. Discernment is ongoing and takes time.
Go to the land that I will show you…
In the wilderness, Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights, and his need for food was understandable. The tempter said to him, “If you are the Son of God, turn these stones to bread.” With a quick decision, Jesus could have done that. With the same quick decision, Jesus could have not only have solved his immediate need but the complex needs of a hungry world.
Then the tempter took him to the temple, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down so the angels can rescue you.” In other words, make a big showy splash and you will become immediately powerful in the world’s eye. Jesus knew who he was called to be, turning to God was a matter of the heart.
Again, the tempter took him to a mountain and showed him all the kingdoms that could be his. The tempter doesn’t say this time, “if you are the Son of God.” Rather, the tempter speaks as God and claims to give Jesus the power over the world’s kingdoms. Jesus has already discerned that greater power is in service: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Go to the land that I will show you…
Our greatest tests are in the midst of those things that we think will make our life better: shiny objects, progressive ideas, and powerful people. We are always most tempted to see life through the easy answers that meet our immediate needs. We are tempted to place God at our own disposal and ask first: What is in it for us?
But, Jesus was being called to his identity as God’s Beloved, more than a decision.
For Henri Nouwen, Dutch Jesuit Priest, “spiritual discernment is hearing a deeper sound beneath the noise of ordinary life …to the interconnectedness of all things, to gain a vision of how things hang together in our lives … Biblically, discernment is spiritual understanding and experiential knowledge, acquired through disciplined practice, of how God is active in our lives, which leads to a life “worthy of our calling” (Col. 1:9). Go to the land that I will show you…
Remember the town hall meeting in September, 2019, when our historical timeline reminded us of where we have been and who we are now as a result. Over the course of the next year, Elders responded to questions to offer their understanding of God’s activity in our present and guidance forward. They have grappled to interpret what we are being called toward and we have to acknowledge that difficult time when church life was dramatically altered. You may have been a part of one of the focus groups that met on zoom to answer the same questions. Discernment as an ever-increasing capacity to “see” the work of God in the midst of our human situation so that we can align ourselves with whatever God is doing.
In her book, How to lead when you don’t know where you’re going, Susan Beaumont challenges that she is “dismayed at the disconnect between the spiritual and organizational lives of congregations.” As she worked with church groups, it was rarely evident that she was working in a faith-based environment. However, in her book she encourages, “A community deepening its discernment practice is a community learning to get out of its own way. It is a community coming to understand that prayer is not simply a means of getting God to do what we want. Through prayer, stillness, and dialogue we place ourselves in alignment with God’s purpose for us. Humility, awe, and wonder permeate the life of a congregation that practices discernment.” Go to the land that I will show you…