Good morning, Christ Church!
Sheltering in place has certainly given us plenty of time to think. Frankly, being alone with our thoughts over an extended period of time may not always be best for us, especially if it leads to brooding and becoming overwrought. On the other hand, the freedom to think without the usual busyness of life tugging at us is a real gift. (I recognize that those of you now teaching your children at home may find that none of the above applies!)
I have been thinking these days a great deal about the people and communities I have known over the course of my life: from my childhood through high school, college, and seminary, and then the congregations we joined and served following ordination. These are the people who loved us, and we loved them back. We were all together shaped by the joys, sorrows, celebrations, and challenges we met along the way. These shared experiences formed us and helped us become the people we are today. In my estimation, that is what God’s love is about.
Of course, time moves on and our communities change. There is always the promise that we will stay in touch, but then life gets busy in our new circumstances and our connection with former friends wanes and sometimes ends. “I’ll call them next week” becomes “I’ll call them next month” and so on.
But I find that this “social distancing” has brought about a change of heart. Instead of excuses and delays, I am making an effort to reach out to old friends that I have not talked with in years. Yes, many of those I have known and loved have died and therefore reunion with them will have to wait. But the renewing of these acquaintances, from 50 years ago to the near present, with those who are still alive has been such a great joy. Yes, awkward at times, but still a joy! Furthermore, I already have the maps out on the dining room table and, once we are free to move about again, we are planning to make a visit to each stop over the course of our life’s journey. I don’t know whom we will find. I don’t know what we will find. But I do believe that, in God’s grace, making the effort will be a blessing arising out of a change of heart, and in that blessing, God’s peace.
God invites us to change, in the name of love, our patterns and behaviors every day. Even when sheltering in place, that old adage, Carpe Diem, still applies. Seize the day, my friends. Seize the day.
Friday, May 1, 2020 RCL Daily Office Readings, Year 2
“From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.”
Talk about the ultimate mission statement. In one brief sentence, Jesus announces the whole purpose of his life and ministry. Yes, there will be signs and wonders, teaching and healing, and the embracing of those on the margins who have spent their lives being shunned and cancelled by the smug and self-respecting. But here, in Matthew 4:17, we hear the divine plan. (By the way, this is also the mission statement that John the Baptist proclaims, as found in Matthew 3:2. Obviously, Matthew wants us to know that this is really important.)
There are two “components” to the proclamation. Let’s take the second part first. We are being invited to believe. As promised by the prophets over the course of the centuries, when that moment comes, God will send “Messiah”, one who will represent God’s victory by way of saving the people from sin, death, and everything else that arises when we are alienated from God. Well, that moment has come. In the person of Jesus, God’s kingdom has entered into our world. Again, this will all be vividly demonstrated over and over again during the course of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. But that does not necessarily answer the question that is daily raised by this announcement: Do we really believe that this is true? Has God come near to us in this itinerant rabbi from Nazareth? Where are our hearts when it comes to faith, for that’s what we really treasure? What can we honestly say about our faith in these very difficult days?
The condition of faith leads us back to the first part of the mission statement: “Repent.” Honestly, repentance is not one of our favorite subjects. We have grown accustomed to the way that we are, both the good and the not so helpful. Besides, repentance sounds like really hard work and might involve some real pain and suffering, which it sometimes does. So we are inclined to just keep on keeping on, resisting repentance, even though there are aspects of ourselves that we know deep down are getting in the way of our relationship with Jesus, and thus with one another.
But here’s the kicker: “change” and “repentance” are one and the same. The Greek equivalent of “repentance” literally means “to change one’s heart.” Repentance, truly understood, is not about beating our chests while crying “Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!” over and over again. It is not about groveling in guilt or feeling badly about ourselves. Instead, repentance is about believing that God’s kingdom is here. That kingdom is built on the hard rock of God’s infinite love for all of us. And now that love has come into the world, not to punish us, or to make us feel miserable, but simply and purely to change us, thereby removing all obstacles that keep us apart from God.
The kingdom of God has come near. May our faith in Jesus Christ continue to change our hearts, and in changing us, set us free.