Spiritual Development 2016-17 Annual Theme

“Undivided: The Character of the Kingdom”

Theme Verse: Psalm 86:11

Teach me your way, Lord,
that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.

Summary

The 2016-17 annual theme, “Undivided,” is not a claim but a prayer, like the psalm from which it comes (86:11). It does not describe who we now are, but who we aspire to be. This year, in worship, wisdom and the Word, we seek how both a heart and a people might more wholly unite to love and fear God, praying “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10).

Discussion

God calls Christians to wholeness and integrity. Love for God aims at the “all”—loving “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mt. 22:37). The ancient Christian call to purity of heart simply meant a heart that was undivided, where the love of Christ filled us up, and beliefs and virtues went all the way down.

Living a divided or “double” life, however, is as tempting as ever in this superficial age. To call it “superficial” is only to say that surfaces dazzle and dominate our attention like never before. The surfaces of the world, of course, are God-created and glorious, and through which we, his embodied creation, are designed to take it all in. And yet, we have become anxiously attached to the faces of things, not only because much glitters, but because much depends upon the daily social and commercial tournaments where the best image wins, if only for a moment. Surface is no longer expected to predict substance. We are only mildly surprised now at the divide we discover when the public images of our celebrated figures are defaced by revelations of their private lives.

In the “Sermon on the Mount”—a manual of discipleship praised by activists as diverse as Tolstoy, Gandhi, Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King-- Jesus shocked his listeners by calling for a “righteousness” that “surpassed” that of the image-conscious scribes and Pharisees. Jesus sought something that is still there after you scratch the surface, something there when no one is looking, something less fragile, more sturdy. Jesus wanted something whole, something undivided. This is the character of the kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount.

The psalmist knew that such division between surface and substance, was really a symptom of a divided heart. So he prays, “Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11). Let’s be clear: no one is pure; we all have divided hearts by degrees.

This is not a call for perfection, which is impossible here and now, but for a direction. We want to become more whole-hearted, full-bodied Jesus followers, even through the repentance and humility that come with failure and its sobering self-knowledge. As always, these can only serve to deepen our trust in the gospel, rather than ourselves, if we let them.

Becoming whole-hearted Christians will include explorations in heart and mind, action and habit, silence and speech, knowledge and wisdom, confession and joy, grief and gratitude, prayer and dialogue, art and understanding, and what David Brooks describes as “the humble path” undertaken in “the awesome presence of God.”

This year in our Monday Word chapels, we will meditate on the Sermon on the Mount and the prayers of the psalmist as we seek to become undivided, whole hearted Christians. May we all settle and center on Jesus Christ, who receives us right where we are, and bids us each and together to follow Him.

-Todd Pickett, Dean of Spiritual Development