If you were to ask my kids what I was like as a mom, I’m sure they would have a number of both good and not so good things to say (after all, I’m not perfect and they are in their 20’s and figuring out who they are because of and in spite of their family story). But one thing I think they would agree on : I was the energizer bunny…. They called me that actually. I was also an eternal optimist, always trying to see the best in people, make the best out of a bad situation, find the silver lining. I’m sure it was annoying for them.
There are times I have wondered if my faith was “polly-anna-ish” – that is, was I able to have faith because my life hadn’t held much pain, compared to the lives of others? I had a stable home growing up, I knew I was loved, and my parents always encouraged and supported me. I know that is not everyone’s story nowadays. Yet the dark side of life with all its hardship didn’t remain at bay for long. Like many of you, my faith took a beating every few years – and for a variety of reasons. Stories of the faith beckoned me to remember my God was sovereign over the storms of life and the darkness it can bring. Wilderness and winter seasons of the soul tested my resolve: was God only good and real to me when things were going well?
True to who He is, the love of God, the stability of the anchor of my soul to a world beyond this one hasn’t failed. Jesus’ promise of building a life on his teachings, his love, has held fast.
I say this not for my sake, but because along with this I recognize a deep longing to mourn with those whose faith has been dashed on the rocks and who can hardly make it back to shore. Sometimes what they have been taught of God pains me to hear. Sometimes what they have suffered at the hands of those who profess the name of Christ (yet who were acting in a way NOT like Jesus at all) causes me to weep in solidarity with them. Sometimes they are just not able to hold on. It’s hard to watch, hard to hear. I long to validate their worth, their humanity, the image of God they bear, in hopes that it will be a new fragrance that might woo them back.
The scriptures speak of Jesus leaving to find the one lost sheep, and we always see pictures with him carrying them around his neck….but what if the sheep have forgotten he is trustworthy?
There are times when I feel as if the journey, the job, of those who walk with Jesus in this day and age, in this generation and moment in time, are in the distinct role of being people who can rescue the story of God.
Not that God needs rescue, for who can rescue the One who formed the heavens?
I am talking about people who take God and his call to be a living witness seriously.
To pay attention to how we care for others.
To be people of integrity, mercy, and justice in our everyday, regardless of the cost ….and I mean in more ways than just in our social media posts and rants.
To set aside what people think of us and do more of the hanging-out-with-people-that-can’t-give-back-and-aren’t-going-to-come-to-church … because how else can they bump up against the living God who walks around inside the lives of us filled with his Spirit?
So many seem to be reeling from being told that they are unworthy. That they do not belong, that they are not welcome because they don’t “fit the mold” of being a Christian, because they ask questions, because they just don’t accept everything hook line and sinker without question. Have we forgotten to speak of all those in the pages of scripture that doubted God (Jacob comes to mind) or didn’t fit the mold of being a “good Jew” all the time either (Samson…maybe Joseph’s older brothers… Peter)?
We HAVE to tell a better story.
I remember coming into seminary with the shadow of a thought that I didn’t know what to do with:
Jesus forgave sin before he was every crucified. So did Yahweh, in the Hebrew Scriptures.
So the work of the cross HAS to be bigger than just personal redemption.
Why else would Jesus go about preaching the Good News when he was still alive? The “good news” wasn’t that he had died for our sins at that point (see when Jesus says he has to preach the good news to other towns in Luke chapter 4)… yet that is often all that our gospel story holds.
What is this good news, and why is it good today?
Well, to be honest, its going to depend on whose ears hear it – right? In the gospel stories, we see the good news is that Yahweh has come, he is inaugurating (setting up) a kingdom right under the noses of the empire. As proof, his authority over sickness, death, and the visible and invisible realm is shown in a variety of miracle stories. He raises up those who are downtrodden and overlooked. So our gospel today, the good news, should speak about and work towards that end in every sphere under heaven.
What does that look like in your corner of the world?
Do you know kids that are overlooked not due to negligent parents but due to the fact they are working their tails off providing, and you can partner with them to love their kids? Because the gospel has a community feel, its not just all about independence
Are there teens that you may feel you do not get at all, but you can find a way to step into their world and just speak words of encouragement to, sharing the foundation Jesus talked about? Because the gospel is about inviting people in and letting them know they have value, and helping them see God at work in their lives
Do you see people being treated with partiality or in an unjust way at work or in your community? Is there a way you can step in to help? Because the gospel is about helping right the wrongs when they exist in systems
Are there widows or widowers you can bring a bit of laughter to every now and then, or take them a meal? Because the gospel runs towards those that are forgotten
Are there refugees moving into your town that don’t speak your language (but everyone speaks the language of food and an open table, in every culture!)? Because the Torah, whose principles still matter to Jesus, tells us God cares about the refugee (Deut 10:17-19)
Is there a gay couple that lives in your apartment complex that you don’t usually talk to because you don’t think “that lifestyle” is ok? How can you set aside your bias and serve them and get to know who they are, without any agenda? They are real people, with dreams and talents and desires just like you. Because the gospel crosses lines we never thought would be crossed, and because God accepts people we never thought he would (Matt 15:21-28, Acts 10)
Is there someone at your church or in your family that sits opposite you in political views and your relationship is broken (or toxic) because of past conversations? What does forgiveness and mercy look like in this case? Because the gospel is also about working towards peace in relationships.
Jesus last command to his disciples was to love. To walk in unity. The church (at least in America) is struggling to do this now. Yet its time to stop living in a place of condemnation and judgement and LOVE the world that Jesus came to meet, walk in, and die for.
Paul talks about those that follow Jesus being a kingdom of priests, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9) – and I love this quote from Barbara Brown Taylor in her book Leaving Church, a Memoir of Faith (New York: Harper One, 2001), p 44
“To be a priest is to know that things are not as they should be, and yet to care for them the way they are”
My prayer for all of us, today, is that we can walk, caring for our world the way it is, and yet always hold out the reconciliation, hope, and love that Jesus offered when he was here in the flesh.
Here’s to radical love, setting down our own ideas we’ve built up over the years, and believing so deeply in the desire of God for His kingdom to be here and now that we’re willing to let his Spirit lead us in love in new ways. Blessings, my friends!