They moved from enslavement to liberation through a parted sea across a wilderness and a river. Miram played her timbrel then. They packed up what they could carry while the blood of lambs dried on lintels and God passed over. Miram placed her timbrel then. They left behind every thing - everything predictable and familiar oppressive days and captive nights. Miriam didn’t leave her timbrel then. Step by step Egypt faded into memory manna and quail fell from heaven water flowed from rock Miriam’s timbrel jingled in her pack then. The timbrel traveled for forty years waiting for that last river crossing to be remember, played as Miriam danced before the whole assembly. How many timbrels lay at the bottom of packs through the hunger, thirst, and anguish, Through the wandering days and the bleakest nights? Tens, hundreds, thousands? Timbrels waited. The women trusted, knew days of praise would come again when the wandering ended and the Promised Land was underfoot for the first time in generations. Miriam’s timbrel, the other women’s timbrels played, then. We’ve traveled far and long since those ancient days. Do we still follow the prophets (old and new) with timbrels in our packs, quiet reassurance of praise-filled days yet to come? Are we brave enough to do as Miriam did? She inspired the other women to make room for timbrels, room for future songs and praises knowing wilderness lay between now and then. We are held captive by pharaohs, all who endorse White supremacy, White nationalism and proclaim God’s whiteness. There is a wasteland between captivity and liberation. Pack now for the journey. Leave behind fear, hatred, and distrust of neighbors. Listen to the Prophets (ancient and new) who call us into new life. There is enough blood drying in our streets. God has not passed over us; we have passed over God who holds the bleeding and dying and grieving waiting for us to notice God is only in the love. We need the timbrels, jingling on the journey, waiting for the days of freedom and praise. I am Miriam’s child. Are you? The quiet sounds of my packed timbrel guide me. It will be hard for you to join the praise later, after the journey, if you leave your timbrel behind. We need the secret sounds of promise now if we are to sing and dance and praise then. We do not go into the wilderness alone. Miriam’s timbrel echoes there still and the pillars of fire still burn the ground is as sacred now as it was then. Join me on this journey into all that is possible – Love your neighbor as yourself… Repair the breach… Sing praises right out loud. Let’s not wait until then is now. Let’s begin in this moment, timbrels at the ready. Miriam waits…
If the realm of God is like the scattering of seeds that sprout mysteriously, I wonder if we are actually doing any of the seed scattering. Or, for that matter, receiving any of the seeds scattered by others. I don’t think we are very comfortable with mystery, let alone Mystery. Contemplating the realm of God seems a bit heady or lofty given the struggles of everyday living, right? However, if we shift our perspective just a little bit, then the realm of God and all its Mystery becomes part of everyday life, perhaps even alleviating some of the suffering.
In Mark’s gospel, the Good News is that the realm of God is at hand. It wasn’t about salvation or a “personal relationship with God.” The Good News was about the closeness of God’s realm and the invitation to join in the work of brining God’s realm into our world. This wasn’t the task of any individual; it was the task of the community of believers. Jesus wanted his followers to repent of our lack of labor on behalf of the realm of God, repent of our self-focused ways of living in this world. God and the realm of God are near; the seeds of heaven are growing everywhere if we have the capacity and the desire to recognize what’s happening.
For the last several days in Minnesota, the temperatures have been between 90 and 100 degrees. This is exceedingly hot for early June. These high temperatures are an indication of climate shift, global warming that has resulted from human beings misusing the planet in large and small ways. We are destroying our oceans by over-fishing and dragging miles of seabed. We are destroying our forests by strip mining and excessive logging. Our water supplies dwindle because we’d rather over-supply things like almond milk than pay attention to what the earth can sustain. Our consumerism is literally destroying our planet. And as long as those with privilege have air conditioning, clean water, carbon fuels, and excessive food supplies, the harm done to the earth will continue. This is not the way of God’s realm.
Repenting from consumerism without regard to the needs of our neighbors is a good start to bringing the realm of God a little bit closer. In fact, anytime we consider the needs of those around us before making decisions about how we will live, we bring the realm of God that much closer. Seeds of loving-kindness germinate and become thriving relationships. This is how we change what is into what pleases God.
It isn’t simple. The ways of White supremacy tell White folx that we deserve the best of everything and have every right to pursue material and financial success without regard to those around us. White supremacist culture tells us that we can take what we want and not have to worry about whether or not others have what they need. Think about how Flint, MI still doesn’t have clean water. Think about Enbridge’s plans to put a pipeline through tribal lands violating treaties. Think about the ways in which highways were built to destroy Black neighborhoods. The list goes on. We have the power to change all of this.
If we think about the realm of God growing from the tiniest seed (kindness or compassion or a thought about the greater good) into an enormous shrub where life is sustained, how can we not try harder? How can we not try harder to live with the larger community in mind? How can we continue to justify the way things are? How can we continue to contribute to the suffering of our neighbors and the suffering of the earth if we’ve heard Jesus’ call to repentance?
Jesus called for repentance again and again. He also invited his disciples to participate in brining the realm of God into the here and now. Today is an excellent day to scatter seeds and seek out the ones that are already germinating. The realm of God thrives on loving-kindness, and we all have the capacity to participate in its growth.
The failure to recognize the obvious always catches me by surprise. Long, long ago Samuel told the people of God that no good could come from the rule of kings. They insisted on being like all other nations. And along came the kings who took their children for soldiers and servants, their goods and grains for self-serving purposes. Still, they did not learn. What is our excuse? We still fall under the rule of kings and presidents, queens and congress, to what avail? Our children are still taken as soldiers and servants, dying to preserve our sense of safety and superiority. All is an illusion. Jesus sat with a crowd of misfits and miracle-seekers and called them his own – siblings in body and spirit. Yet, we side with those in power, ignoring the needs of our neighbors, sanctioning state violence against those we fear, huddling just this side of status quo, ignoring the distance between this existence and the realm of God. When will we learn? Samuel’s wisdom still holds truth: there is no need to be like other nations. We can turn our attention to the greater good, the needs of our neighbors. Soldiers and servants need not be the future for anyone’s children if we consider what God requires. Where is that holy highway for all to travel in peace accompanied by mercy and justice? Jesus showed us the way. All that is required is to recognize siblings where the world labels “other.” Can we serve God with more than our lips? Can we shatter the illusions of difference and division created to keep us under the control of death and violence? Can we let go of fear to make room for justice and love our neighbors as ourselves? For the love of God and all things holy, may it not be too late to save us from conformity, fear, and destruction.
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Nicodemus is a familiar character. He was a pharisee who snuck off to talk with Jesus in the middle of the night. I wonder what burning question made him take the risk of being seen with Jesus. All we know is that he went to Jesus and affirmed that Jesus was “from God.” Then the conversation just gets weird. And you know what? The Christian church has never made sense of this strange passage in any useful way.
“Born again” is a phrase that makes my heart beat faster and my blood pressure rise. It’s been used as a litmus test for faith, the “right” faith. Nicodemus didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about and I don’t think many of us understand any better now. The dreaded, “when were you saved?” or it’s alternate form, “when were you born again?” sparks both anger and sadness in me. If I don’t have a dramatic conversion story to share, that means I’m not a true Christian? Why can’t it be a slow growth, a dawning awakening to the power and presence of God in my life? I’m betting that’s how it was for Nicodemus.
Nicodemus recognized something in Jesus that drew him out into the dark of night to have a conversation. Of course, the conversation was quickly out of his hands and beyond his understanding. A person cannot be born more than once. It’s that simple. Or maybe it isn’t. Jesus didn’t think anything about a person’s spiritual life was simple.
I remember Dr. James Loder in a course on human development talking about how the Holy Spirit enters into our lives, breaks through our ego defenses, and shoves our ego off-center. After a while our defenses are a pile of rubble and we can say with Paul, “I, not I, but Christ.” This is what we are after, this union of human spirit and Holy Spirit. It’s slippery and very seldom does the union fully hold after any single experience. Our egos are stubborn and we are wired to think we are at the center of things. When the Holy Spirit pushes our ego enough out of the way, we realize that being at the center of things with Christ is a healthier way to go. Even then, though, we have a hard time holding onto the Holy. We are always human first.
Jesus told the struggling Nicodemus that God so loves the whole of the cosmos that God gave God’s only son so that all who believe might have eternal life. The love is ongoing. Eternal life is communal. We cannot do it alone. In order to bring God’s realm into the here and now, we need one another. We need to be bound together by the Holy Spirit into the Bodymind of Christ, the church re-envisioned for the world in which we live.
Nicodemus made the mistake of thinking that Jesus’ words were literal and meant just for Nicodemus. Many of us have made similar mistakes. We think the words are meant to be taken literally and that they are only for those who share a certain belief. However, God’s love that sent Jesus into the world is a love that encompasses the whole cosmos. It is our belief that allows us to enter into the truth of God’s love. It was never meant to exclude anyone. It was meant to build and strengthen and create beloved community.
As we have observed the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder this week, I wonder when we will set aside our harm-filled interpretations of scripture. I wonder when those who claim the name of Christ will live in love with all neighbors, not just White ones. When will we who claim to have Christ at our center stop living in fearful hatred and demand justice and equality for every human being, without exception?
Jesus said that God loves the entirety of the cosmos. Now is an excellent time to claim this truth and live it into being. No one can truly be a follower of Christ and hate people based on race, religion, country of origin, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, class, ability, health, mental health, or any other aspect of human identity. God loves the entire cosmos. That love sent Jesus to teach us how to love one another. When will we learn?
I wish love was simple and uncomplicated. Jesus talked about it so much because love challenges us, often to go beyond our perceived limits. I didn’t grow up with the best role models when it comes to love. I have no doubt that my parents did their best. Yet, what they communicated to me was that love was conditional, based on following the rules and being “good.” In many ways, the church communicated the same thing to me. Starting Sunday School at eight meant that I missed the basics of preschool and early elementary school. I didn’t learn “Jesus Loves Me,” the song, until I was in college, and by then it was almost too late.
In John’s gospel Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” I wonder if that was hard for those first disciples to grasp. In my mind they were very young men, perhaps between the ages of 15 and 20 by the time Jesus would have spoken these words. They lived in a society very different from ours. What lessons had they learned about love before they met Jesus? Jesus spoke about agape, unconditional love, and it’s possible that no one else really did. Maybe they knew something of storge, affection, or philia, brotherly love or friendship, or eros, romantic love. But outside of the synagogue and the need to be involved in charity, where would they have encountered agape?
I don’t know. Certainly, anyone of them could have had an encounter with God that unfolded the meaning of agape for them. Or maybe being with Jesus for three years was enough for them to begin to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ commandment to “love one another as I have loved you.” I’d like to think those early disciples got it, understood it, and went on to live in relationship with each other guided by agape. However, what I remember about early church history indicates that they probably didn’t.
So this leads me to the question of how, when, and where do we experience agape today? If we’re lucky, we learn about unconditional love from our parents. And for those of us who weren’t lucky enough to have healthy, loving, emotive parents, then it would be great if the church would step in and fill that gap?
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Maybe we can dedicate the month to communicating the love we have for one another and for all our neighbors. What if everyone who joined our worship services or Bible studies or Sunday Schools heard and believed the message that they are God’s beloved, that they are loved and valued for who they are in this moment? What if we stopped caring about all those things we’ve labeled as sin, and just focused on loving whomever shows up?
How many lives could be saved if we communicated clearly that Queer folx are loved by God? That people with addictions are loved by God? That people with disabilities are loved by God? That people with mental illness are loved by God? That people experiencing homelessness are loved by God? That people who are divorced are loved by God? That women who’ve had abortions are loved by God? That people living in non monogamous relationships are loved by God? No change needed. Right now, whoever you are, whatever you are doing, whatever you are experiencing, you are loved by God. For real. Seriously, how many lives could be saved with this simple message?
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I invite every preacher, every church leader, to make agape the mission and the message. Let’s set aside everything we think makes proper theology and proper church practice and figure out how to embody agape for those who most need to know the saving power of God’s love for the whole of creation.
Sometimes I feel like I keep saying the same things and the echoes go on and on with no one listening. It’s how I’m feeling now as I contemplate the familiar words of 1 John 4:7-8: 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. How have we failed to take in these words and let them shape our actions, our relationships, our communities? These words are not consistent with the ways in which we have divided ourselves one from another, even within Christianity, never mind outside of the church.
Hearing these words in conjunction with the story of Peter baptizing the eunuch in Acts and Jesus’ explanation of the vine and branches in John, I wonder how it is we have gotten to a place where church is declining. Peter had his misgivings about the eunuch and then could not refuse to baptize him when the opportunity came. Shouldn’t this story be an invitation for us to baptize all those who come seeking with passion and commitment? Moreover, shouldn’t this story invite us to journey with those we perceive to be different from us? I mean, we never really know through whom God is working, do we? Peter certainly didn’t think a eunuch would be called by God, and yet…
While I strongly suspect the words in John 15 about the vine and branches are more the Fourth Evangelist and less Jesus, there is truth in them, though maybe not the truth that is usually extracted from them. Jesus is the vine. God is the vinegrower. We are the branches. We are connected to one another and to the Sacred and function best when we live into that connectedness, that interdependence. Let’s not worry about who isn’t abiding in sacred community; that isn’t our job. Our job is to grow, to thrive, and to bear fruit, fruit that will last. Fruit that is nourishing and inviting for all those who feel disconnected and lost and, yet, are still seeking – maybe like that eunuch. Who can be part of the vine is not ours to determine; it is up to the vinegrower and the vine itself. We are simply meant to invite and enfold those around us with radical inclusion and hospitality. There’s nothing that says that every branch is identical or every fruit the same.
In a time when we long for pandemic to be over and we know that it is not, practicing love for one another must be our first priority. Now is not time to stop wearing masks, keeping physical distance, and staying apart. Those who say they are Christian and refuse to wear a mask and insist on acting as if pandemic were not real, are not loving their neighbors as themselves. 1 John isn’t talking about easy love, like loving chocolate cake or loving kittens, puppies, and babies. The writer is inviting us to live in the challenging kind of love, agape, the love that God has for the whole of Creation, the Love that Jesus embodied, the Love that the world could not tolerate, the Love that brings new life from dreadful tombs of death. This is hard and it takes our attention and intention. I’m not sure it comes naturally to human beings.
Think of all the ways in which human beings display their lack of love for neighbor and/or self. There are wars. There is gun violence. There is domestic violence. There is racism. There is White supremacy. There is fear of those who seem to be other. There is judgement. There is division created by human beings where God intended unity. What will it take for us to abide in Love, to attach ourselves to the vine in ways that bring new life to ourselves, our communities, our neighbors?
I honestly believe we can do better at embodying Divine Love. With intention, we can dismantle the systems of hatred and create systems of justice. Trusting that we are all Beloved and that God’s ways are all about Love, we can stop our fear-based responses and become better stewards of Creation, including church in all its varied forms.
May we all abide in Love, especially in the uncomfortable places, and allow that Love to calm our fears, educate our ignorance, and heal all that is broken – one person at a time if need be. Beloved, let us love one another…
Palm Sunday. During pandemic. Again. I’ve heard too many clergy colleagues asking how to preach this Holy Week during pandemic. Sure, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are comparatively easy. How to preach good news on Palm Sunday and even more so on Easter is the repeated question. What does new life look like when the pandemic has not ended, though an end may be on the horizon? What does new life mean when congregations are failing or haven’t met in person in over a year or many members have died or the doors have permanently closed? Can we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant return to Jerusalem when we are still held captive by COVID? The short answer is yes. Yes, there is new life. Yes, there is a way through grief. Yes, the church is still vital and necessary in the world. Yes, celebrating Jesus’ return to Jerusalem is both possible and important.
We are all stressed by the experiences of this last year. Most of us could not have predicted that we’d be facing our second Holy Week of virtual worship. We thought it would all be over by now. Now it’s not. And we are weary on top of the on-going stressors pandemic brings. All the more reason to take a closer look at the events of Holy Week, and to remind ourselves that the week goes from celebration to suffering to death to New Life. This is the story of the human journey. This is the story of our spiritual lives. We move through these stages. We, too, experience betrayal and loss and death. We grieve. We celebrate. We remember. We live. So, let’s begin.
Jesus returned to Jerusalem without a lot of fanfare. He rode a colt, fulfilling prophecy. He was humble and quiet in contrast to Pilot with a parade and a Century of soldiers on horses and wearing shiny armor. Jesus came in humility while the Empire made promises of power and protection that they couldn’t possibly keep. Jesus rode in quietly with only palm branches waving and few shouts of “hosanna!” He promised life to those who would follow him. He rode into town, checked out the Temple, and went to Bethany for the night.
Not much has changed. The Empire doesn’t necessarily come riding into town with soldiers and horses any more than Jesus comes in riding a donkey. However, the Empire is still making promises of power and protection that it cannot possibly fulfill. It’s goal is to keep us separate and powerless so that the status quo may endure even the pandemic. Jesus’ goal, in complete contrast, is to unite and empower so that the oppressed may be liberated and justice may be embodied throughout society. Jesus would have something to say about the ways this pandemic has been managed (or not) by those with power. He would have something to say about the inequity of those victimized and the way the vaccine has been released according to the same old racial divides. Jesus would have something to say about how we have let white supremacy and classism, ablism, and other divisive fears determine who lives and who dies. We need Jesus to ride into town and remind us that there is a better way to face the Empire.
Palm Sunday can remind us that there is another way to be in the face of fear, anger, and oppression. We can humbly remain firm in our love or our neighbors and ourselves. We can be reluctant to let go of the (false) protections of Empire even as we recognize that the way of Love demands an active response. Jesus didn’t ride that colt into Jerusalem because he wanted to; he rode into the city because he needed people to see the Love provides more safety, healing, and hope than might. The God’s steadfast love is the way through all the pain, deceit, and division caused by participating in the power of the Empire. Where is Jesus challenging us to respond differently in this moment, to leave behind the illusions of the Empire?
If we skip ahead to Thursday, we know that betrayal rules the day. Judas couldn’t help himself. In the moment, the money seemed more powerful than Jesus’ love for him. As a result, Jesus was betrayed into the hands of the authorities. Yet, not before some important things happened. There was footwashing to show us that we are all equal before God; not one human life is more important than another, not one is too good to wash the feet of others. And there was, of course, the Last Supper. Here Jesus told us all what he was doing and why. His body would be broken for us to know healing. His blood would be poured out for us to know forgiveness. He would die for us to know that violence and death are not the end. Resurrection tells us that Love always triumphs. How do we move through this week experiencing it all fully and trust the fullness the New Life that is promised and demonstrated?
We know the story. We know that God does not abandon us at any time. God is with us in our moments of being overwhelmed and weary. Holy Week in its entirety can remind us that we are not alone and that the best way to journey together is through all of it – the hope, the despair, the fear, the betrayal, the grief… everything. By going through it all we get to New Life. No thing lasts forever. However, we are changed by our experiences. Life will never be what it was before COVID. As true as this is, there is still hope because we are a people seeking to live into and embody Divine Love. Love that unites and liberates us and instills hope in us for a life that is yet to come. This is the good news. This is the good news writ large this week. May we all have the grace to stay awake, to keep watch, and to bear witness to all that is to come. Blessings on the journey!
I’ve been on vacation for the last few days. These days this means time at home to relax, to watch TV, to read, to be creative, and to think. I haven’t even been able to really enjoy the approach of spring because I am still healing from a stress fracture in my shin. So you might imagine that I’ve spent a lot more time than usual thinking. And what have I been thinking about? The words of the Prophet Jeremiah, among other things. My thoughts keep going to the unbreakable covenant that is promised. A covenant that will be written on the hearts of the people of God, on our hearts.
What, then, is written on our hearts today? I think Love is written on all of our hearts, I really do. However, it gets buried under pain, fear, anger, regret, grief, anxiety, and suffering. Love gets buried under spiritual scar tissue and is sometimes really hard to find. If it wasn’t there, the covenant Jeremiah promised would be broken, and we know that God doesn’t break promises, let alone covenants.
You see, I believe that Jesus is the fulfilment of the covenant that Jeremiah spoke of. If we take seriously the words of John 3:16, “God so loves the entirety of the Cosmos…” then we must ask ourselves what being a member of the Body of Christ has revealed in our hearts. Jesus was all about Love. His actions were about healing and literally re-membering (reconnecting) people to community. His words challenged the Empire and those in service to it. He was all about community, wholeness, and liberation. None of these things were to benefit the individual; everything Jesus said or did was to teach us how to Love – our neighbors as ourselves, as God Loves.
The depth of what is written on our hearts can only become clear, can only rise to the surface in relationship, in community. We need one another to heal, to removed the scar tissue, to allow Love to come to the fore. Church ought to be the place, the community, that fosters healing and wholeness. Never should the Body of Christ add to the scarring that obscures the Love that is in our spiritual DNA.
The pronouncement coming out of the Vatican this week is inconsistent with what is written on our hearts. Excluding LGBTQ+ folx from the fullness of community is hurtful. Saying that queer folx are welcome but saying that our sexual expression and our marriages are sin fractures rather than heals. It is not loving to accept only the surface level of a person’s identity. It’s like saying that brown-eyed people are welcome only if they wear dark glasses because their brown eyes are a sin. Besides, when it comes to the Body of Christ, if one of us is queer, the Body of Christ is queer and all the rules, judgment, and exclusion becomes self-loathing. Isn’t this the very opposite of the covenant made manifest in Christ?
When will we start holding up our end of the unbreakable covenant? It’s only unbreakable because God doesn’t let go of God’s end of it. God’s steadfast Love really does endure forever, no matter how deeply we bury it. Though why we bury it is another question.
There is enough in the world to add scar tissue, to obscure Love. Why do we add to it, especially as the Body of Christ? It’s time we ask ourselves what is written on our hearts, not on the surface but deep down where only God has a clear view. Living at the surface where all the scarring is only adds to more scarring.
We can do better than this. Healing. Liberation. Wholeness. Community. These things allow the Love that is written on our hearts to come to the surface. If we are not welcoming, forgiving, serving, loving then we are likely adding more scars.
Isn’t it time we live out our truth as the Body of Christ, make manifest the Love that it written deep within?
In the wilderness, life is difficult. The space between what was and what will be is uncomfortable, and often distressing. For the Israelites who were on their way from captivity to liberation, misery met them in the desert. They came to the realization that the journey would be long and hard and there was no turning back. They complained to Moses about the lack of water and food. They blamed God for their plight. They were miserable and unexpectedly longing for those days in Egypt where they knew what to expect and there was enough food and water.
Then the encountered the poisonous serpents. They believed these were sent by God as punishment for their sins. I don’t believe God really works this way. I think they encountered the scorpions that live in the desert. Or maybe the serpents are metaphor for the way in which dwelling on our own misery lets a kind of poison in. Either way, people died. And the survivors repented.
Repentance made them look for a different way. Moses made a bronze serpent that made them look up in order to live. In effect, it made them stop looking at their misery and, instead, look to God for hope and life. And their journey continued; they did not die. Eventually, they made it through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Eventually, they accepted the challenges of the journey and began to imagine a new life for themselves.
We have much to learn from these ancient wilderness wanderers. We have been in pandemic wilderness for a year. It is uncomfortable and distressing. Grief weighs heavily on all of us. Some of us don’t have the resources they need to get through a day, much less the days ahead. It becomes too easy to focus on the hard parts, the miserable parts of pandemic. Some have even blamed God for COVID, for people dying, for all the challenges of the past year.
I don’t find this helpful or healthy. God does not cause suffering. God did not create COVID-19 and all its variants to punish us or teach us anything. We might learn something from this time of pandemic at some point, but that doesn’t mean God sent the virus to us. Perhaps, we need to do as the Israelites did and repent of our focus on our misery. Perhaps it is time that those of us who are able, look up. Look up to find hope, healing, and guidance in God.
This looking upward does not negate all the suffering and grief. It does not deny the reality of pandemic which is not over. The change in focus for the Israelites was life-giving. It can be life-giving for us as well. Focusing on God means not focusing on the limits pandemic has imposed on us. Focusing on God means taking deeper breaths and appreciating the blessings in the midst of the challenges. It means asking ourselves how we can use the resources we have to benefit another. It means recognizing that the people of God have been in similar places in the past; God knows the way through loss, through grief, through injustice… through it all.
The Israelites didn’t suddenly have more food and water on their journey. They didn’t suddenly arrive on the other side of the wilderness. However, they were able to look up, focus away from their misery, and recognize God’s presence in their midst – at least for a little while. They would forget again. They would be overwhelmed by their circumstances again. And they would find God in their midst again. We can follow their lead. Where do you find hope in these wilderness days?
No matter how much we want this journey through pandemic to be over, it is not. Yes, there are many who are acting as if COVID no longer poses a threat. These are the folx who are focused on the poisonous serpents and are unable to look up and see hope and healing. Denial of pain and suffering helps no one. Acknowledging it and searching for hope in the midst of it, will lead toward healing. Remember, the presence of God in the midst of the ancient Israelites did not change their circumstances. Instead, God led them through their hunger, their thirst, and the poisonous serpents.
We can get through this. Whatever the “new normal” will be is on the horizon. It’s still hazy and unclear, though. The only way through the remaining days of pandemic are together. Those of us who are able to look up and find hope and healing have a responsibility to help those who cannot. We don’t need a bronze serpent to remind us that God, the power of Life and Love, is in our midst; we need one another.
What if we’ve been going about being Christian all wrong, or at least partially incorrect? What if it isn’t about personal salvation at all? What if it’s really about acts of healing (hesed in Hebrew) and acts of mercy (eleos in Greek)? The more I think about this, the more I am convinced that salvation for the “whole of the cosmos” (as John 3:16 says) comes out of our ability to care for ourselves and all our neighbors. This would be embodying Christ in healing and saving ways. Perhaps it’s time we reclaim our communal roots and the goal of tikkun olam, repairing what is broken in the world. This could revitalize the church and make it relevant and vital in the world. If evangelism and soul-saving takes a backseat to acts of loving-kindness, mercy, and reparations, imagine how strong and healthy church could become.
Think about it. Christianity has taken the commandments, the ten given to Moses and the two named by Jesus, to be a kind of moral or pious code of conduct for individuals. To an extent, this is true. And, in a way, this is inadequate. Morality and/or piety do very little for an individual. However, on a communal level, these commandments give guidance for a healthy, safe community. Worship God and not the lesser God’s of our own making. Do not mistreat your neighbors or yourself. Don’t be jealous of your neighbors. Honor your elders. You know, it all comes down to love God, love neighbors, love yourself, and be good stewards of the planet. All this is not meant to elevate the individual. Rather, it is meant to strengthen the community and foster interdependence. Our actions ought not to be guided by a legalistic view of “right” and “wrong” so much as what benefits the larger community.
Several years ago I left a relationship with nothing more than what I could fit in my car. I lived in a friend’s guestroom for 18 months. During that time I was significantly under employed and wasn’t able to find another job. People were generous and caring. My friend let me stay at her house without cost. Other people I barely knew would sometimes hand me money saying things like, “You need this more than I do right now.” And, you know, they didn’t ask me how I spent it; they didn’t care if I paid bills, bought groceries, or went to Starbucks. I was also able to continue in a painting class because the instructor waived the fee asking absolutely nothing in return. What if everyone who fell on hard times was supported by those around them as I was? What if our primary question, as individuals and as communities of faith, became, “How can I/we help my neighbors?” or “How can I share my/our resources?”
I know this sounds idealistic, and I suppose it is. However, shifting the focus of religious practice from the individual to the community could make a real difference in how we are church. Worship would become a celebration of God’s abundance, and a renewal of strength so that the work of the church could continue. Faith formation would be about fostering a sense of being God’s beloved and finding a place in community to best use one’s gifts. How much easier it would be to be a follower of Christ if the church was focused on hesed and eleos to the benefit of all.
Here in the Twin Cities, there are preparations for the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who is responsible for George Floyd’s murder in 2020. Authorities are concerned about the potential for more uprisings. Authorities are trying to prevent protests, marches, rallies from happening in a way that could lead to destruction. Imagine how this would shift if those with power were focused on justice rather than controlling those who have been oppressed for centuries. Surely we can do better than this by setting aside fear, hatred, white supremacy, and our need to otherize. Christians with a communally based identity could potentially shift this power dynamic…
Loving-kindness. Mercy. Repairing what is broken. These are actions the Body of Christ would do well to pay more attention to – communally and as individual members. As I’ve said before, God does not need our help saving souls; God has that covered. God needs our help saving lives by caring for the vulnerable among us and tending to Creation’s wounds.