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It always amazes me how God’s message for us and our reality tend to go hand in hand. September’s worship line-up is no exception. As I considered the lectionary scriptures for this month, one glaring theme became apparent; don’t complain and figure out how to get along. Now I try not to get too into politics, but I will say that is a great reminder for the fall of an election year. Of course, this is no ordinary election year. Tensions always get ramped up a bit during an election year, but add in social unrest and global pandemic and it seems that all we do is fight with each other.
If you are not on social media (good choice), you may not be aware of how heated things are getting, but my guess is that you are still encountering the unrest. In our collective memory (of the last 100 years or so) we can’t imagine a time that has ever been as bad as this. But then, we look through our Bible and realize that what we are enduring is nothing new. This is what it means when we say that the Bible is the Living Word of God. The Holy Spirit will show us examples of how God wants us to handle our current situations with examples from history.
This month’s lectionary addresses how we should behave under pressure, that is by walking with the Israelites as they went from bad to what they thought was worse. It has Jesus giving us examples of what fairness means. In Sunday worship, we will delve a bit deeper into all of this. I will give you the overall message now: “You can’t see the big picture, so trust God and try to realize that we can have different perspectives.” Essentially, don’t judge your neighbor just because you have a difference of opinion.
It can be very helpful to educate people we know about the realities that we have, but the flip side of that is that we need to be willing to learn from their point of view as well. It’s a conversation, not a lecture. At the same time we need to resign ourselves to the understanding that agreeing to disagree does not mean casting judgment or holding grudges. The best thing we can do for people we perceive as wrong is pray for them. No, threatening to pray for them is not helpful.
Friends, there is a lot of anger and hatred in our world right now, and it is exaggerated by the fact that nothing is normal.
There are no areas of our lives where we can go to escape what is happening in our world; everything is affected by the pandemic. Well, almost no areas. We can still go to God. We can still seek God’s peace and refuge from the unrest in our world. We can still ask God to help us trust in Him, and remain calm when our friends say things that make us angry. It won’t be easy. God never promised easy, but we won’t have to do it alone. God will be with us every step of the way!
The Coming Flood
“I just want things to get back to NORMAL!” While I haven’t uttered these words aloud, other than in jest, I have definitely felt them a lot lately. I feel them every time I have to remind myself not to hug someone on Sunday morning, or even when I quietly hum the words to a favorite hymn. I feel them when I can’t pray with someone (in person) before surgery, and as I try to figure out what we can “do” without gathering. It is frustrating having to distance and learning all of the new, ever changing rules. It is easy to get discouraged and feel hopeless, but then I am reminded of the disciples.
In August, we will be looking at the miracles of Jesus in worship. As I prepare even now for those worship services, I think about how the disciples must have felt. These were men who left their everyday normal lives and followed Jesus on a mission, stranger than they could have ever conceived. He showed up out of nowhere, called them to walk away from their jobs and families, spoke in riddles they rarely understood, and performed miracles beyond their wildest imaginations, usually in answer to their frustration.
The thing is, I really want things to get back to normal. I want that because I know what to do with normal. I know what to expect, how to react, and even what needs to be done. In the middle of this season I am tired of the unknowns, but I also know that progress requires change. When I was in college a pastor helped us understand change this way: Rivers have set paths. In order for a river to change course it requires a flood. Only when everything is destroyed and the flood waters recede can we see the new direction.
Friends, right now we are in the midst of the flood. We are up to our eyeballs in Covid “rain,” and it seems like it may never stop. Here’s the thing though; even when it stops we will still have the flood to deal with. There will be businesses that won’t return, there will be families who have lost loved ones, there will be new school practices, and yes, the way the church functions will probably not be the same. This doesn’t have to be all bad.
Already we can see ways that this has changed our course here in the church. We have become more technologically savvy, both from a church and an individual perspective. People who would have balked at the idea of worship online are finding the blessing in having it available. We have doubled our efforts in communicating with those who have been shut-in, and I know that has been a blessing for both the callers and the callees. In the future there will be many more things that we are forced to do differently and so we will do them better, or will do something new. Just like when Jesus called the disciples into something new, the good news is that God is on this journey with us. Even though we long for what was, even though our limited vision is frustrating, the good news is that God has something incredible for our future. We just need to hold on a bit longer and put our trust in him.
The Moral of the Story
Through most of the month of July we will be spending time in worship learning from the parables. As someone who has loved stories my entire life, the idea that Jesus would most often use stories to teach right from wrong brought me much joy. As a kid I always assumed that the entire Bible was made up of stories. I mean, most children’s Bibles are. It makes sense; children most easily learn from stories. That is after all, the entire reason fairy tales exist. Though it makes sense for children to learn this way the question remains, why would Jesus use stories when teaching adults?
There are a few possible explanations for this. Some people argue that when Jesus addressed the crowds there were people of all ages there, so he spoke in a way everyone could understand. Let’s be real, even the most mature among us learn best from illustrations. We can understand situations and scenarios far better than directions and rules. Jesus spoke in parables, because he knew we wouldn’t understand the guidelines. After all, we have been debating the meaning of the “Big Ten” ever since Moses brought them down the mountain.
What I really appreciate about the parables Jesus tells is that even though he tries to speak in simple terms, the people hearing them still have trouble understanding what he means. In at least one of the instances we look at the disciples acting all scholarly and stoic, only to beg Jesus to explain the meaning the second they get him alone.
So, here’s the thing about the stories of Jesus. Unlike my childhood understanding of the Bible as a moralistic storybook, the parables and teachings of Jesus are only half of the story. Just like the disciples needed Jesus to interpret the story he had told them, so too do we need God to explain what the stories mean for us. Otherwise, they are just good tales from days gone by. We need the Holy Spirit to help us understand Jesus’ stories in the light of our reality. The lesson doesn’t change, but the situation it applies to certainly does. I am looking forward to seeing what God has to teach us as we look back on the parables Jesus told. I pray we can hear the words of Jesus as they apply to our current reality. May you be blessed and be a blessing!