Growth=Change: Re-cognition

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Last week we started a series called Growth=Change and we talked about our first step in the process, recognition. Recognition means we must first realize the need for change. If we cannot see the need to change, we won’t. We are broken by the lives we have led, each in our own way. The first step is coming to a place where we change direction, the literal meaning of the word repent. With that in mind, we come to the second step in this process, re-cognition.

On the surface, this would seem to be the same thing, but it’s not. Recognition is tied to realization. It is coming to understand the need for change. Re-cognition is learning to think and see the kosmos—all the created order—around us in a different way. It is working with the Holy Spirit to retrain our minds and spirits, to see the Jesus Way of living and being more clearly so we may live it more fully. 

I believe the biblical account encourages this way of thinking. Consider a part of the passage we read this morning, “And you who used to be a stranger to God, at odds with God in your way of thinking and being, are now reconciled…” (Colossians 1:21-22, my translation). These words tell us rather simply that at one time our way of thinking and being was different from that of God. We had to repent—change the direction we were going—and realign it to the direction God called us to go. By changing direction, we are now reconciled or reconnected to God.

Another example comes from Philippians, where we are encouraged to think like Jesus. This is part of an ancient hymn honoring Jesus’ humility. The encouragement for the reader/hearer of this hymn was imitation. Philippians 2:5 tells us to “be in the same frame of mind” or “be of the same attitudes” as Jesus was. In other words, change your way of thinking to imitate Jesus Way of thinking. 

A final example comes from The Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. Jesus follows others in the great prophetic tradition of correcting the wrong thinking and practice of the Israelites. The entire sermon is a teaching on learning or relearning a new/better interpretation of the Law. Repeatedly Jesus says, “You have heard…” and then responds with, “but I say to you…” Jesus is telling the crowds listening that they have learned their practice of faith the wrong way, with the wrong motives, and wrong focus. Jesus is setting the record straight on the Law of Moses and the Pharisaical misunderstanding/misuse of it.

While the bible speaks of people changing to orient toward seeking God and changing to understand God, people often refuse. We talk about things like original sin and how terrible we are and how we are so lucky that God loves us. We sing about being worms and the unworthy and the woeful. If we’re so terrible, so awful, why do we fight so hard to hold onto our supposed beliefs? If they aren’t being practiced, what good are they? If they aren’t being practiced, you really don’t believe in them. Why fight, get angry, get in a tizzy over someone believing differently than you or moving forward in their faith when you refuse to do anything but sit and soak? Why do we struggle with recognition (realizing the need for change) and re-cognition (learning to think of change positively) as we grow? The writer of Hebrews may have an answer. The letter of Hebrews addresses a group of Jesus followers and is talking about the Order of Melchizedek. The writer knows they don’t understand and says, 

We have a lot to say about this topic, and it’s difficult to explain, because you have been lazy, and you haven’t been listening. Although you should have been teachers by now, you need someone to teach you an introduction to the basics about God’s message. You have come to the place where you need milk instead of solid food. Everyone who lives on milk is not used to the word of righteousness, because they are babies. But solid food is for the mature, whose senses are trained by practice to distinguish between good and evil.

Hebrews 5:11-14

Harsh, but probably accurate for some. However, I don’t think everyone who fails to grow in their faith is lazy. I do think people get very comfortable with what they think and how they feel about faith. I think people get very comfortable with their roles in the church and church life and become complacent. I do think people come to regard faith as a list of things to believe rather than a way of life. And I believe all these things can easily get in the way re-cognition, the way of rethinking our life and direction. 

Re-cognition takes work and practice. It isn’t something we do once and are done with it. If we continue to learn and grow, as we should, we will constantly have to adjust our perspectives to accommodate the new things we learn. Jesus said as much speaking to the disciples at the Last Supper. In the high priestly prayer of John’s gospel (John 14-17), Jesus tells the disciples he will send someone to assist them, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will teach them new things and remind them of the things Jesus said to help them understand the new things (John 14:26). This isn’t a one shot, get it all in one sort of proposition. The understanding is we will constantly be having to ruminate or meditate on what we have learned while listening for the Spirit to teach new things. We must develop good study, prayer, meditation, and following habits to be good disciples. 

 I am aware that some will resist these ideas. They will say there is no reason to change, everything is fine like it is. Is it? Is it really fine? Is it okay to create a club around your own personal religious preferences and still call yourself a disciple, one following Jesus’ example of openness and hospitality? Is it okay to shut people out and refuse to engage with them, open the doors of community to them because they don’t fit your interpretation of Christianity? Is it okay to flounder around in what you call the faith when it is little more than an extension of personal and political ideas? 

You might say yes to all those things. But if you do, can you call yourself a disciple, a follower of Jesus? Can you say you follow the compassionate healer when you have no interest in showing compassion unless it fits certain criteria? Can you say you follow Jesus, the one who challenged the religious authorities and called them out on their backbiting and hypocrisy, when you have more in common with the Pharisees he condemned? Can you say you are a follower of Jesus when the attitudes and behaviors of your life are in direct contrast to Jesus’ teachings?

I can’t answer those questions for you, but I get the feeling you know already know the answer. But perhaps we can learn something new this morning, a practical way to sum up things and leave us with a bit of homework. There is a practice that began among the Jesuits called The Examen. St. Ignatius of Loyola, one of the founders of the Jesuit order, created it as a daily exercise. It is one of the few standing rules in the order, all monks must practice the examen at noon and before bed. The examen calls them to,

1. Become aware of God’s presence.

2. Review the day with gratitude. 

3. Pay attention to your emotions.

4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.

5. Look toward tomorrow.

I think this is a great practice, one that helps us be aware of our relationship to God and others. But what if we tweaked it a bit for the purpose of re-cognition or learning to rethink our discipleship? What if we prayed and read the bible with this in mind,

1. Become aware of God’s presence

2. Review the bible with an open mind/being aware of our preconceptions

3. Pay attention to our reaction to it/what we think we already know about it

4. Think of other possible ways to interpret the words

5. Look to the Holy Spirit to teach us

6. Engage with others about what we read and think 

The first five may be easier than the last. The last calls us to accountability, to vulnerability. It means we may express something, learn something, think something that makes us different. It means the community of faith may regard us with suspicion, perhaps derision. We may be labeled unbelievers, apostates, or even heretics—literally someone with a different opinion than the status quo. But let me ask you, which would you rather be sitting dead still in your faith, going nowhere in the ‘acceptable’ company of modern Pharisees, or following God as a ‘heretic’ to new pastures, deeper spiritual relationships, and a more robust understanding of God.

Choose, but choose wisely.