The Sunday Voice: Thomas Kelley

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daily text logoOctober 11, 2015

2 Corinthians 5:17

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 

CONSIDER THIS

NOTE TO COMMUNITY: On Sundays, beginning today, I will be hosting a guest writer. Some will be from the past, as found in today’s reading. Others will be contemporary voices to our own. It is a way of being faithful to the long term sustainability of my own calling while enriching you, the Daily Text Community with other resonant voices from across the Church. 

This week’s reading comes from Thomas Kelley (1893-1941), a Quaker whose most notable work, A Testament of Devotion, was published post humously. In every age there are those who have been gifted to glimpse the heavenly vision of the possibilities of human life lived on the supernatural terms of the Kingdom of God. Because of their vision, countless thousands of others see God in ways that completely change the course of their lives. Today’s excerpt is taken from The William Penn Lecture, delivered at the Arch Street Meeting House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1939. I heartily recommend both this lecture and the book, A Testament of Devotion. THIS WILL BLESS YOU. The excerpt from the address follows:

Meister Eckhart wrote: “There are plenty to follow our Lord half-way, but not the other half. They will give up possessions, friends and honors, but it touches them too closely to disown themselves.” It is just this astonishing life which is willing to follow Him the other half, sincerely to disown itself, this life which intends complete obedience, without my reservations, that I would propose to you in all humility, in all boldness, in all seriousness. I mean this literally, utterly, completely, and I mean it for you and for me—commit your lives in unreserved obedience to Him.

If you don’t realize the revolutionary explosiveness of this proposal you don’t understand what I mean. Only now and then comes a man or a woman who, like John Woolman or Francis of Assisi, is willing to be utterly obedient, to go the other half, to follow God’s faintest whisper. But when such a commitment comes in a human life, God breaks through, miracles are wrought, world-renewing divine forces are released, history changes. There is nothing more important now than to have the human race endowed with just such committed lives. Now is no time to say, “Lo, here. Lo, there.” Now is the time to say, “Thou art the man.” To this extraordinary life I call you—or He calls you through me—not as a lovely ideal, a charming pattern to aim at hopefully, but as a serious, concrete program of life, to be lived here and now, in industrial America, by you and by me.

This is something wholly different from mild, conventional religion which, with respectable skirts held back by dainty fingers, anxiously tries to fish the world out of the mudhole of its own selfishness. Our churches, our meeting houses are full of such respectable and amiable people. We have plenty of Quakers to follow God the first half of the way. Many of us have become as mildly and as conventionally religious as were the church folk of three centuries ago, against whose mildness and mediocrity and passionlessness George Fox and his followers flung themselves with all the passion of a glorious and a new discovery and with all the energy of dedicated lives. In some, says William James, religion exists as a dull habit, in others as an acute fever. Religion as a dull habit is not that for which Christ lived and died.

There is a degree of holy and complete obedience and of joyful self-renunciation and of sensitive listening that is breathtaking. Difference of degree passes over into utter difference of kind, when one tries to follow Him the second half. Jesus put this pointedly when he said, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:3), and Paul knew it: “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17). . .

. . . The last fruit of holy obedience is the simplicity of the trusting child, the simplicity of the children of God. It is the simplicity which lies beyond complexity. It is the naiveté which is the yonder side of sophistication. It is the beginning of spiritual maturity, which comes after the awkward age of religious busy-ness for the Kingdom of God—yet how many are caught, and arrested in development, within this adolescent development of the soul’s growth! The mark of this simplified life is radiant joy. It lives in the Fellowship of the Transfigured Face. Knowing sorrow to the depths it does not agonize and fret and strain, but in serene, unhurried calm it walks in time with the joy and assurance of Eternity. Knowing fully the complexity of men’s problems it cuts through to the Love of God and ever cleaves to Him. Like the mercy of Shakespeare, “’tis mightiest in the mightiest.” But it binds all obedient souls together in the fellowship of humility and simple adoration of Him who is all in all.

I have in mind something deeper than the simplification of our external programs, our absurdly crowded calendars of appointments through which so many pantingly and frantically gasp. These do become simplified in holy obedience, and the poise and peace we have been missing can really be found. But there is a deeper, an internal simplification of the whole of one’s personality, stilled, tranquil, in childlike trust listening ever to Eternity’s whisper, walking with a smile into the dark.

See you back here Monday where we will continue our journey through Corinthians.

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All Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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