Monday, February 20, 2012

I’m Converted, But I’m Not Converted That Far

An Ash Wednesday sermon:

Joel 2:1-2,12-17; Psalm 51:1-17;
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

E. Stanley Jones was a missionary in India. While there, he established a Christian Ashram. An Ashram is a sort of spiritual community and retreat center. Jones recounted this story:
In the Ashram, we gave the servants, including the sweeper, a holiday one day each week, and we volunteered to do their jobs for them. The sweeper’s work included the cleaning of the latrines before the days of flush toilets. No one would touch that job but an outcaste, but we volunteered.

One day I said to a Brahmin convert who was hesitating to volunteer: ‘Brother, when are you going to volunteer?’ He shook his head slowly and said: ‘Brother Stanley, I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.’
Devotional Classics, Selected Readings for Individuals & Groups, Richard Foster and James Byyan Smith, ed., p. 303-304

“I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.”

You’ve got to appreciate the honesty. Here we are again - Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This is the time in the spiritual rhythm of the church year when we take an honest look at the state of our faith, thestate of our souls, and ask ourselves, How far am I converted? Is my conversion limited? What limits it? What holds me back from loving God with my whole heart, mind and strength? From loving my neighbor as myself? Do I live each day shaped by the knowledge that God’s kingdom has broken into the world and into my life; God’s kingdom of love, truth and joy; justice, freedom and peace? I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.

Where am I storing my treasure? Am I caught up in the madness of accumulating more and more or am I learning to let go, learning to give more and more? I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.

Am I dying to self so I can enter more fully into the joy of God and live for others? Do I see every person I meet, every encounter, as a gift? I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.

Do I receive each day with expectancy? Have I made peace? Is there forgiveness I have yet to give? I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.

In the reading from 2 Corinthians, we are told that, for our sake, God made Jesus to be sin - he who knew no sin. Jesus took on our humanity and, in so doing, took on the end result of human sindisconnectedness, brokenness, suffering, and death. He defeated Sin and Death and everything
in-between. Now, by the power of his victory, in him we can become the righteousness of God.

To be the righteousness of God means to live according to our original purpose - right with God, right with one another, to be free to live in the direction of our truest joy. This is the Gospel. This is the Gift (which is what grace means in the passage). But, we are free to live into that gift or to not live into it. We can receive it in vain - to no effect. I’m converted, but I’m not converted that far.

Paul encourages us - entreats us - to be converted farther, to become the righteousness of God. Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. The gift is free, but the full experience of it depends on openness and preparedness.

Here are some ideas that can further our conversion and help us to enter more fully into God’s purpose for us:

1. Pray – Set aside 20 - 30 minutes a day during Lent for prayer. Sit quietly with God. Rest in the gift of God's love and pray for wisdom to love those you will engage each day.

2. Meditate - Sit quietly and meditate on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). What might it mean in your life to become more poor in spirit, meek, merciful, pure in heart, etc.? (Here is something on the Beatitudes for congregations that might also be helpful for individuals.)

3. Read the Bible – Read through the Psalms or the Gospel of Mark this Lent.

4. Find someone you can talk to about what you are learning in prayer and scripture.

5. Act on what you know – serve others, love with abandon, seek the welfare of the least of those around you. Develop a specific “action plan” for serving others during Lent.

6. Reconcile. Seek reconciliation with a person who you need to forgive or from whom you need to ask forgiveness. Or reach out to a person from whom you have grown distant.

During Lent, let us never forget that the gift of God’s grace is free. But let us look carefully at where we have fallen short, and at what hinders us from receiving more of the gift and from living it more with those around us.

We will be reminded again, in a few minutes, that life is short and that we are not our own. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” One life to live, will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.

I am converted, but not converted that far.

Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.

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