Open My Life, Lord

Written for Saint Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + Lenten Midweek Service + February 17, 2016

Reading: Galatians 2:15-21

St. Paul would have made my English teachers proud. “Show, don’t tell,” they always used to say, meaning something like, “Don’t just say this happened, then this happened. Paint us a picture. Bring us into the experience.” Though of course when we were learning to write essays, they drilled into us the importance of telling through thesis statements: “Tell us what you’re about to say.”

In the letter to the Galatians Paul accomplishes both; he shows us and tells us how God has opened his life. He tells us: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” God has so opened Paul’s life that the barrier between Christ’s living presence and Paul’s life has been torn down.

Paul isn’t saying that he’s perfect. (He proclaims his own sinfulness too often for that to be the case.) When Paul says, “It is Christ who lives in me,” I think he means that every part of his life is open to God. Every part of his life is now a part of God’s action in the world; every part of his life is open to being part of Jesus Christ’s continuing mission.

Paul also shows us how God has opened his life. In the opening paragraphs of Galatians Paul reminds us of who he used to be. He says, “You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.”

Paul’s whole life had been devoted to what we might call “establishment Judaism.” The Judaism of the powerful, the Judaism supported by traditions and rules and writings. He was so devoted to it that when a new Jewish sect rose up and challenged the establishment in the name of some crucified man from Nazareth, Paul tried to squash it and protect the tradition he knew.

But then God revealed Jesus to Paul. And we can see how Paul really did die to be raised with Christ. The man who tried so hard to protect establishment Judaism was dead, and alive and running was a man whose energy and values and traditions were thrown open to Jesus Christ.

This letter to the Galatians is like a case study in how Paul’s life was opened to the mission of Christ. Once Paul would have clung tightly to the Law as something that set him and other Jews apart as a holy people; he would have refused even to eat with non-Jews. Now we see Paul subjecting the Law to Christ, saying it is Christ who makes people part of God’s holy people. And this theological point shows in his life: He calls out Peter for refusing to eat with Gentiles (Gal. 2:11-14). He tries to convince the other leaders and the people that when Gentiles wanted to join the church of Jesus Christ — still very much a Jewish group — the Gentiles did not have to be circumcised to become part of the holy people of the God of Israel.

God opened Paul’s life. And this was such a radical transformation that the old Paul had to die so that the new Paul could live in Christ, and Christ could live in him. No part of Paul’s life was left untouched by God.

In Lent the Church sets aside a time for us to think about how we, too, must die so that we can live in Christ, and Christ in us. Where is there still a barrier between “my life” and the life of Christ? What part of myself and my way of living am I still clinging to, saying “This one thing, at least, I have control over — it is not God’s, it’s mine”?

There are many ways our culture encourages us to keep some things separate from God. We talk about how are faith is a “private” thing, to be kept out of our public life or our political talk. Or, we think as if the way we treat and use our bodies is not part of our life of faith. Or we defend the importance of the individual having control, taking care of himself, being her own boss.

Sometimes our surroundings help us to divide our lives into “God’s space” and “my space.” I’ve always thought it funny when people say things like, “Don’t lie in God’s house!” As if when we are in the church building we need to be especially Christian, but at all other times we kind of forget about being disciples of Jesus. It’s easier to live by the rule that when we are around other Christians, we live the Christian life, but at other times we live our own lives.

Sometimes we keep parts of our lives separate from God out of a misplaced sense of humility, or an unhealthy sense of guilt or shame. “This part of me is not good enough to be part of God’s plan,” we think. We might mean something is too ordinary for God to bother with: “My job isn’t all that important,” or “I’m not special enough to be of much use to God.” At other times we might mean that something in us is too wrong or sinful and must be kept apart from God.

But when God opens our lives, God opens our whole lives. Everything in us, everything we do, everything we are, have been, and will be is cracked open, and God invades it all. God takes up every bit of it. Some parts will suffer and die. In fact, it will be like we are being crucified with Christ. But then we will be raised to a new life, a life that Christ lives in us and that we live in Christ.

Alphonsus Rodriguez lived in Spain in the 1500s. He married and had three children, but by the time he was in his 30s his wife and his children had all died. He devoted his life to strenuous religions practice, and he tried to join the religious order called Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. They denied him entry because he did not have enough education. He tried to complete more studies, but he couldn’t get through the program. Eventually, the Society of Jesus admitted him as a lay member.

Rodriguez took on the humble job of a doorman at Jesuit college, and he remained a doorman for the remainder of his life — 46 years. “His duty was to receive the visitors who came to the college, search out the [priests] or students who were wanted in the parlours, deliver messages, run errands.”[1]

But God opened Rodriguez’s life, and so as “just a doorman,” Rodriguez influenced many, many lives. People who had no one else to turn to would talk to the doorman about their troubles, and word spread that this man gave good comfort and good advice. Eventually he was asked to preach during dinners, and the crowds would stay past dinner time to hear him preach.

Rodriquez “was devoted to finding God in every moment” of his life. He would pray “Lord, let me know you. And let me know myself.” It is said that each time the doorbell rang, he would look to the door and envision that it was God standing outside seeking entrance. On his way to the answer the door, he would say, “I’m coming Lord.”

Today, this doorman is a recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

St. Rodriguez gives us an example of a life opened by God. The tragedies he faced did not keep him from God; his lack of education did not keep him from ministry; the humility of his work did not keep it from being holy. He, like Paul, had been crucified with Christ and could say: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives within me.”

May the lives of St. Paul, St. Rodriguez, and all the saints who have gone before us help remind us of how God opens our lives, our whole lives, so that Jesus Christ may live in us, and we in Christ.

Let us pray. Open our lives, Lord, to reflect your glory. Lead us to the cross, to the grave, to the empty tomb, and into the world as imitators of Christ. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.[2]


 

[1] Prayer from Melissa Mole, “Midweek Lenten Series: Open My Life, Lord,” Seasonal Rites for Lent in Sundays and Seasons, Year C 2016 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2015), p. 108.

 

[2] Joseph Tylenda, S.J., Jesuit Saints and Martyrs, quoted in James Martin. S.J., The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, (New York: HarperOne, 2012), p. 100. Material found in that book supplemented by Wikipedia’s article “Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez.”

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