This past weekend was all about virtue. Not a word that we use too much today, but one that is critically important. Our Lectionary readings for the day were:
- 2 Samuel 6:1-5; (the ark is brought into Jerusalem)
- Psalm 24; the glory of God (connect to the ark and exalting God)
- Ephesians 1:3-14;’believer’s blessing Ephesians 1:14 (CEB)14 The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.
- Mark 6:14-29 death of John the Baptist
N.T. Wright says virtue is a revolutionary idea that we need to embrace in his book “After You Believe” (you can pick up a copy on Amazon here. You will not be disappointed)
Here is a word about what virtue is from Wright’s book:
Virtue, in this strict sense, is what happens when someone has made a thousand small choices, requiring effort and concentration, to do something which is good and right but which doesn’t “come naturally”— and then, on the thousand and first time, when it really matters, they find that they do what’s required “automatically,” as we say. On that thousand and first occasion, it does indeed look as if it “just happens” but reflection tells us that it doesn’t “just happen” as easily as that.
In the conversation on Sunday we talked about the difference between luck and forging virtue and character. To someone from the outside it might seem like luck that the cards fall our way, but the reality is we have spent hours upon hours in the ordinary time working to build christian character though the virtue we are called to. We do the hard work when we don’t have to so that when the time demands us to do the hard things we are able to have a kind of spiritual muscle memory to naturally choose the best path forward (even if that is not the easiest choice).
We see the result of this kind of training when American Airlines flight 1549 lost engine power due to striking a flock of geese just minutes after takeoff in January 2009. Captain “Sully” made the tough decisions at the right time that resulted in saving all of the people on the plane by touching down on the Hudson river.
Check out the fascinating story here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US_Airways_Flight_1549
An incredible woman in my church that preached on a life of worship before moving Louisiana recently. If you were to ever worship with Carol you couldn’t help but be caught up in her joy. In her message she told the church that she worshiped so wholeheartedly because she was building an altar with her praise. Then when the storms of life would come she could fall on that altar and it would support her. Likewise when life is going well as our communion liturgy points to, we are to be a living sacrifice. So our alters need to then become the places we stand and reflect God’s glory as that offering.
We have an inheritance that we can access right now, and because of this we sing and reflect the grace of God with a virtuous life:
Ephesians 1:11-14 (CEB)11 We have also received an inheritance in Christ. We were destined by the plan of God, who accomplishes everything according to his design. 12 We are called to be an honor to God’s glory because we were the first to hope in Christ. 13 You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news of your salvation. You were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ. 14 The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.
The question becomes what are you building your alter with? When the training wheels come off and the law has no claim on your life, what do you build with? The materials we use to build that alter are our virtue. We don’t build by luck or life circumstance we build with Christian virtue. With faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, prudence, and temperance followers of Jesus build their alter. We make something that will be the workstation to piece together the brokenhearted, to give food to the hungry and rest for the weary.
Jesus called us to be a people of hope, peace and love and then he lived that out. He took ordinary things and made them extraordinary. He took bread and juice and transformed them into a sample of the Kingdom of God. He built an alter/table where everyone was welcome and there was always more room. His alter could handle and withstand the load of any burden.
How might you build with some of the classic virtues in hopes that your alter can be a refuge during the storms and a lighthouse during the best of days. These virtues are not instant but formed through thousands of little decisions and learning during the ordinary times so that when they are needed most your spiritual muscle memory may take hold and you can make the right choice which has become (over time) the natural choice. May you practice today for what you hope to be tomorrow, someone with an alter of praise.
How are you working on building your virtue in the ordinary time between storms and rainbows? If you have wanted to be someone who follows Jesus more closely or lives into the christian virtue now is the time. The mundane, everyday is the time to work hardest at cultivating a heart and lifestyle of Christian virtue.