This is the fourth installment of a series of blog posts outlining principles of inner-reformation taken from the life of St. Francis and Martin Luther. This series was prepared as a series of talks for the Order of Lutheran Franciscans 2017 Retreat.
Inner Reformation Principle 3: Sacrificial Obedience
The third step of inner reformation that we can learn from Francis and Luther is that of sacrificial and courageous obedience.
Upon hearing the word of the Spirit through their prayerful obedience, both Francis and Luther respond to the Spirit’s leading with sacrifice and courage. This, it seems, has been the very definition of faith from the very beginning. In the Book of Genesis, we are told of the call of Abram, who hears the voice of the Spirit calling him to leave his land and family and trust God’s leading to a new, unknown land. The writer of Genesis says, immediately following the text of the Spirit’s call, thus Abram departed, just as the Spirit commanded. It is in this moment that becomes the sign of true faith, lauded throughout the rest of the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament.
Both Francis and Luther follow in this same path, hearing the Spirit and responding without hesitation to do that in which they are called to do. Francis strips off his expensive clothes and renounces his father and family wealth in the town square, and immediately sets out to preach the Gospel to the lepers in the wilderness. Luther is awakened to the profound simplicity of the path of faith through the grace of God, apart from works, and responds by speaking out boldly against the very institution to which he belonged. Both actions required tremendous courage and a willingness to sacrifice comfort, privilege, and power for the good of the world.
This courageous, sacrificial faith is at the heart of any true awakening. To quell any sense of doubt about the experience itself, and instead, to seek to justify the experience with action. Courage and sacrifice requires that we live with open hands, ready to work hard to manifest the more beautiful world that God desires, while also recognizing that we are but channels of the Divine and that all that we might accomplish isn’t ours, but belongs only to God, and therefore, we are willing to give our all and sacrifice everything in courageous confidence that God will have the last word in the end.Often, the sacrifice that comes as a result of our courageous obedience is painful to our ego. At the end of his life, stricken with illness, Francis was pushed to the edge of the religious order that he founded and was forced to resign as it’s leader. Luther’s own spiritual movement was morphed into a violent protest against the Church, which ultimately resulted in Luther being excommunicated from the Church and forced into hiding for many years to avoid being imprisoned. Both men suffered greatly for their obedience to the Spirit’s nudge in their lives, but their sacrifice only served to galvanize the reforming work that God was doing in and through their lives.
As we seek to allow the Spirit of God to reform our lives from the inside out, we must be obedient, courageous, and sacrificial. We must respond to the prompting of the Spirit without fear and with complete faith that God is with us and in us and will bring us to the day of redemption, as the Apostle Paul proclaims. Sometimes the path of sacrifice will lead us into the valleys of suffering and loss, but even there, we can be assured that God’s rod and staff will guide and comfort us.
Nearly every spiritual tradition teaches that sacrifice and suffering precede full awakening- this does not mean that we must search for suffering, but rather, that when we live courageously and obediently, suffering will emerge as a season that we must endure in order to be refined and to put to death the ego at work in our obedience to God.
If we are to be agents of reformation, we must be willing to respond to the Spirit with courage, sacrifice, and faithful obedience, not counting the costs but keeping our eyes on the prize: redemption.