Proper 18C; Jer. 18:1-11, Luke 14:25-33
Lex orandi, lex credendi.
I've mentioned this phrase before, and I used it in my Worship Notes article for the September Soundings. It can be translated a number of ways, but the most common few are: How we pray is how we believe; the rule of prayer becomes the rule of belief; and, praying shapes believing. There is a strong tie between what we do and what we believe. Jesus knew this and, in another place in scripture, says, “Where your treasure is, there is your heart also.” In other words, people say their faith or church is important to them, but what does their bank statement say?
I bring this up because I find the idea of lex orandi, lex credendi embedded in our readings today.
God tells Jeremiah to go down to the potter's house where he will hear the words of God. While there he watches the potter mold clay, which gets spoiled and the potter reworks it into something else. “Can I not do with you just as this potter has done?” asks God.
We've probably all heard interpretations of this passage saying something along the lines that we are clay being molded by God into a vessel of his choosing. We are each molded by God to become teachers, preachers, musicians, lawyers, firefighters, nurses, or whatever it is that God calls us to be. God sees our talents and capabilities and molds us in a way that best uses those skills. Songs proclaim that we may be molded and shaped by God to accomplish his purpose. But all of this neglects the rest of the passage.
“I may declare that I will destroy a nation, but if that nation turns from its evil . . . I may declare I will build up a nation, but if that nation does evil . . .”
Yes, God will mold and shape us to accomplish God's purpose, but if we do not hold up our end of the relationship, or if we choose to begin a relationship with God, then things can change. We cannot simply say, “We are God's children, so we need not worry,” because what we do matters. What we do has consequences. How we behave shapes our relationship with God, and our relationship with God shapes how we behave. Lex orandi, lex credendi.
I think the gospel passage has this same theme. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and the cross. He knows where he is going, but those who follow have not yet grasped the seriousness of it all. They are still living with the fantasy that Jesus will overthrow the Roman invaders and reestablish the kingdom of Israel. Today's passage is Jesus' response to that misguided desire.
Note that Jesus here isn't calling people to follow him. Instead he is responding to and answering those who are voluntarily chasing after him. They are chasing after him, but they are completely unprepared for what they will catch.
Jesus addresses the crowd by saying, “Whoever does not hate father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, life itself, cannot be my disciple.” These are strong words from the man who told us to love our neighbors and enemies. He expands on that by saying, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Which is then followed by the stories of building a tower and going out to war.
First, let's get this out of the way: Jesus is not calling us to hate others. What he is doing in these verses is laying out the demands of discipleship. Discipleship is no easy thing. In our own webs of life there are any number of pressures and expectations placed upon us. Jesus is asking us to count the cost of discipleship – we are either all in or we are not. Jesus is reminding us that Christian discipleship should not only take precedence in our lives, but it should redefine every other relationship and commitment we have.
How will we relate to our spouse and families in light of our discipleship? How will we navigate the world in light of our discipleship? This is not something we willy nilly jump into; but it is something for which we are intentional, it is something for which we need to count the cost. In living into intentional discipleship, our lives will be changed.
Lex orandi, lex credendi.
At our July Fun Day we focused on prayer. Bridgette Coyer showed us how to string prayer beads, and Karen Frietag gave a presentation on Benedictine spirituality. Karen relayed a story about Sister Joan Chittister, a famous Roman Catholic nun, who asked a group of people, “When do you pray?” Their responses were typical: before meals, bedtime, stress, etc. She finally said, “I pray when the bells ring.”
I thought about that, and she's right. People in monasteries and convents, seminary student, visitors to retreat houses, all pray when the bells ring. On my retreat this past July the monastery bells rang at 8, Noon, 5, and 8:30, calling us all to prayer. Life centered around prayer. The rule of prayer defined life in the monastery. Lex orandi, lex credendi.
We are the clay that God molds, but in order to remain malleable and open to God shaping us, we must remain in relationship with God. Our prayers will allow God to shape us. Our prayers will allow us to be open to God shaping us. Lex orandi, lex credendi.
We are in relationship with any number of people, but those relationships must be defined by our relationship with God. We must count the cost of discipleship. Lex orandi, lex credendi.
With that in mind, I challenge you to make prayer a regular and daily occurrence, if it's not already. “I pray when the bells ring,” said Sister Joan. Most of us have a cell phone. Take it out and set up an alarm three times a day – mine is set for 8, 12:30, and 5 – and label it “Prayer.” While you're doing that, the ushers will pass out Daily Devotional cards taken from the BCP. If you're watching online, let us know you want one in the comments, or call the office and we'll get one to you. Carry it in your purse, pocket, phone, or wherever is most accessible. Then, when the bells on your phone ring, take some time out of your day, slow down, and pray. Spend some time with God.
May this prayer practice allow God to mold you. May this prayer practice help define your relationships and commitments. May the shape of this prayer practice shape how you believe.
Lex orandi, lex credendi.