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The Last Will Be First

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Spirituality of Imperfection: Week 1

The Last Will Be First
Sunday, July 17, 2016

The message of falling down is very counter-intuitive, yet it is found in most of the world’s religions, especially Christianity. We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That might just be the central lesson of how spiritual growth happens, yet nothing in us wants to believe it. I actually think it is one of the only workable meanings of “original sin.” There seems to have been a fly in the ointment from the beginning, but the key is recognizing and dealing with the fly rather than throwing out the whole ointment! Falling down is how humans come to consciousness.

If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially in ourselves. What a clever place for God to hide holiness, so that only the humble and earnest will find it! A “perfect” person ends up being one who can consciously forgive and include imperfection rather than one who thinks he or she is totally above and beyond imperfection. It becomes sort of obvious once you say it out loud. In fact, I would say that the demand for the perfect is the greatest enemy of true goodness. Perfection is a mathematical or divine concept; goodness is a beautiful human concept that includes every part of us and all of us. “There is only Christ: he is everything and he is in everything” (Colossians 3:11, The Jerusalem Bible). That alone is perfection!

Because none of us desire, seek, or even suspect a downward path to growth through imperfection, we have to get the message with the authority of a revelation from God. Even Jesus makes it into a central axiom: the “last” really do have a head start in moving toward “first,” and those who spend too much time trying to be “first” will never get there. Jesus taught this clearly in several places and in numerous parables, including the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) and the publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14). And Paul shouted it loudly with his infamous and much disliked statement: “when I am weak, I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). If you are unwilling to be utterly surprised, you will probably never be ready for such a “divine revelation.”

Gateway to Silence:
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” —Zechariah 4:6

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), xxii-xxiii.

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