Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year’s Resolutions & Reflections

Happy New Year!

Once upon a time, in a land not far away, and in a time that some still remember, there were people who sought always to do their very best at everything that they undertook to do. This was especially true regarding their vocations. They took great pride in doing well, not only for the sake of doing things right, but more importantly, they counted their efforts as service to others. A name was applied to these people, especially those who built and crafted and repaired things — they were called craftsmen. They were looked upon as people to admire and to emulate.

Eventually, however, a new wisdom was instituted as the highest of all wisdom. Within this new expanse of wisdom the altered form of psychology was ordained by society to rule the new understanding. With this change came a change in understanding of all of the most important aspects of life. Now, among other changes, came a very drastic alteration of how craftsmen should be perceived. This change was not immediate, but gradually became the prevailing perception, so that today, new nomenclature has been applied to these servants of others — perfectionists and workaholics. These people who once were admired are now derided. Those once emulated are now eschewed and spurned.

Of course, ever since that fateful day in the garden of Eden, there have always been those who seek to be perfect according to their own abilities and to accomplish great things by relying solely upon their own works. Such people have indeed been enslaved. But a slavery has been imposed from the opposite perspective today. This slavery is really identical to the previously identified perfectionism. For in striving not to be perfectionists, once again people are trapped by the notion that they must make of themselves what they are not, and seek by their best efforts not to be what they should not be. What is this except perfectionism redefined?

What is worse, is that under the slavery of this delusion, people imagine that they are avoiding that to which they are actually devoting themselves in even greater degree. Ultimately, the slavery can be summed up in another word: selfishness. The focus is entirely upon self and what self must be and what self must do. The person is seeking only what is best for self. This becomes self-evident especially in the way the service to others and compassion and love become understood. Rather than love and compassion and service being about the other person, they are approached as about self.

There is a way by which true freedom is known. It is the exact opposite of what people expect and presume.
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)

St. Paul says it like this:
For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. (Romans 14:7-8)
And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men. (Colossians 3:23)

Even this is often received in the opposite manner of the way of freedom. Even this is often turned upside down and inside out so that it again is a thing to be pursued and sought after.

Yet the Lord presents this as His promise. This is a work that He sets forth to do. He says that He will put His Law in our inward parts and write it in our hearts so that we depend upon Him as our God and live as His people.

We seek a declaration of independence and become slaves to our efforts to live by our own strength. The Lord comes to us with His Testament that is sealed with His own sacrifice so that we are free to live in dependence upon His goodness, His righteousness, His love, and His providence. He sets us free from the worries and concerns that we bring upon ourselves. He takes all things upon Himself so that we have all our burdens lifted from us. This is the power of the preaching of Christ crucified. This is the freedom into which we are sealed by Baptism. This is the cause of Thanksgiving into which we are renewed through the Holy Communion.

This is the freedom that does not require anything from us, but is received purely as a gift from God. When we realize this, then we are free to live, truly live. Love then is a joyous part of our being rather than something that we must conjure up within ourselves or produce toward others. Compassion then flows from our knowledge of having been baptized into God’s kingdom, made one with Him and with all who are in true communion with Him. Then what we do on behalf of others, even our enemies, is no longer an effort, but an extension of who we are. Then our works of righteousness are not even taken into account in our hearts, minds, and souls, because we simply are not concerned about trying to be righteous, rather, we believe the declaration of God in Christ by which we know that in Him we ARE righteous. We confess our own works as sinful and totally corrupt, joyously receiving God’s absolution by which we receive His righteousness as our own. Then we are truly free to live.

Truly this is the resolution that we should seek for the new year. For this is the resolution or clarity of vision by which we see the image of God restored to us in Christ in even the most minute detail. Then we see that the details of the Law of God are not in what things we must do, but in what God has done for us in Christ. Then we are free simply to live and do as the Lord has inscribed in our inward parts and in our hearts.

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