The early days of Christianity were no less muddy than they are today. There were so many issues, laws, rules, rites, rituals, and traditions that had to be navigated in this new world of Christ’s new creation. To circumcise or not? To eat kosher or not? When and how to worship? Who can lead worship and who cannot? We haven’t resolved many of these issues, even today. It can be very easy for us to get bogged down in the minutia, so that we lose sight of what truly matters – that we love God, others, and self (and that our thoughts, actions, and words are manifestations of that love – it’s never quite that simple, is it?).
I’ve found that people have gotten so used to focusing on the small stuff that we lose sight of what’s really going on. Here’s what I mean. Think of the last time someone snapped at you uncharacteristically aggressively for something benign, like forgetting to turn off a light or purchasing the wrong brand of staples? When you dig a little deeper, you inevitably find that there is something deeper going on, like a parent’s illness or a pending divorce. The interesting thing is that, often, the person who’s upset doesn’t even know that they aren’t really all that upset about their neighbor’s 7am lawn mowing. They think they are mad about that because perhaps it’s too scary to look at the thing they’re really upset about. To look at it makes it real, so it’s safer to let off steam over burned chicken. (Not that I’ve ever burned chicken – just sayin’.)
Once I ran into a woman who was in the early days of a sober living environment. She came into the room madder than hell because one of the other residents had mopped the wooden floor against the grain. It wasn’t hard to see that her angst wasn’t really about the floor. She was anxious because she was newly sober, having to live with people she didn’t know well, had lost all control over her life and was looking at having to rebuild that life one small, slow step at a time. Yeah, that would make anyone anxious. If we could be brutally honest with ourselves about what’s really bugging us, maybe we could ask for help instead of alienating those who want to help us the most. It’s a tricky business, being honest with ourselves. But such freedom comes from being acutely self-aware. When we know ourselves we can recognize our limitations and our limitlessness at the same time.
See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.