Monday, June 19, 2023

B.H.A.G.s & Spiritual Muscles


Matthew 9:35-10:23

Proper 6 / Year A

Are you at all familiar with the expression ‘B.H.A.G.?  It is an acronym for Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal.  The notion of B.H.A.G. is rooted in the belief every individual and every organization needs something to push and stretch it; something to move it from complacency and comfort to challenge and daring. 

The other day I got to wondering if there is such a thing as spiritual muscles… values, attitudes, disciplines, and practices we need to employ to live a Christ-like life.  If there are spiritual muscles, then do they get weak and flabby from disuse?  When, I wondered, was the last time any one of us came home from church with achy spiritual muscles… not sore from being abused and pushed around, but sore from being stretched beyond our comfort zone?  What B.H.A.G. calls us forward as a community in Christ?  What challenge pulls us out of complacency and promises to stretch us spiritually?

Today’s Gospel reading invites us to ponder these questions.  Think about the disciples.  They have followed Jesus around the countryside.  They have listened to him teach, watched him minister, seen him stand with the powerless by confronting the powers that be, and witnessed his miracles.  To use our language, they have been spiritual consumers… getting from Jesus what they need and more.  But in this lesson, Jesus makes a dramatic shift in the relationship by moving them from consumers to producers. 

Look at what Jesus sends the disciples to do: cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons.  Essentially, he is directing them to venture forth and do what he has been doing.  And, to be sure, if they do what he sends them to do, their spiritual muscles will indeed be sore.  

· Cure the sick: if you have ever stood with someone through a major illness then you know how exhausting it can be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

· Raise the dead: have you ever tried to breathe life and energy into a person who has given up? 

· Cleanse the lepers: think about the most physically revolting person you have ever known.  This is who Jesus sends the disciples to be with, to love, to touch, to heal.

· Cast out demons: again, think about the most troubled, most dysfunctional, most unsettled person you know.  This is who Jesus sends his followers to befriend.

You can bet the B.H.A.G. Jesus lays on the disciples catches them off guard.  And to make matters worse, Jesus basically sends them out with no resources or training.  The whole thing about taking no money, no spare clothes, no food, and no staff suggests the disciples are already equipped with everything they need to undertake this challenge.  And if they accept his commissioning, you can be sure their spiritual muscles will get sore, but stronger.  Eventually they will walk a Christ-like life with more stamina and confidence because pushing themselves spiritually leads to growth, fulfillment, and meaningful living.

Churches are interesting places.  On one hand we come here to be healed and comforted.  When we leave here we want to know God loves us and cares for us.  We yearn for a sense of contentment.  In the midst of an increasingly dangerous and chaotic world we want to come to a place like St. Paul’s and know green pastures and still waters still exist.  On the other hand, we sense the spiritual life consists of more than being comforted and coddled.  We know Jesus drops spiritual B.H.A.G.’s on us from time to time and we know we are impoverished when we continually avoid taking on big challenges. 

I once received an email from a camp director which ended with this automatic message:

Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting “...holy cow... what a ride!”

Jesus shares his ministry with the disciples for two reasons.  First, there is a lot of work to do.  And second, he wants them to experience the joy and thrill of life’s ride.  Spiritual muscles, like the tissue muscles of the body, feel best when used, when stretched, when strained.  St. Paul’s does you a service when you come here and find still waters and green pastures.  But we do you a disservice if we never call you to something that challenges you and tests you and tries you and calls you to be more like Christ than you ever imaged or dreamed possible.  St. Paul’s has to be a place where fearful people take up a calling and in the midst of it shout out, “holy cow… what a ride!”