Outrun by God

Scripture: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10, NRSV)

Reflection: The 1999 romantic comedy film, Runaway Bride: Catch Her if You Can, starring Julia Roberts as Maggie and Richard Gere as Ike, focused on Maggie’s fear of commitment. Maggie gets cold feet and flees from several fiancés on their wedding day, jilting them at the altar. Ike discovers that Maggie is hesitant to enter into a long-term relationship because she suffers from people-pleaser syndrome. Ike accepts Maggie for who she is, falls in love with her, and gives her the space to be her differentiated self. Eventually, they have a small private wedding and enter into marriage, springing up joy and celebration for each other, Maggie’s family, and friends. 

Fear of relational commitments is real. Fear of commitment to long-term relationships can be caused by numerous factors such as complicated family dynamics while growing up, attachment issues, former unhealthy relationships, trust issues because of past hurts, child trauma or abuse, and unmet childhood needs. Some go as far as to sabotage healthy relationships to avoid commitment.

The prophet Isaiah proclaims that God, like a jilted but determined groom, is at work to redeem, reconcile, and restore the broken relationship with Israel, God’s bride. God wills to take a people prone to run away, stay away, and stray away from a relationship with him back and start again. With tender love and mercy, God is willing to receive, forgive, bless, clothe with garments of salvation, cover with righteousness, adorn the nation with jewels, and restore their lost fortunes. 

Many jilt God, reluctant to enter into a relationship with God through Christ, afraid to be bound by the promises, privileges, and responsibilities entailed in the relationship. Some jilt God because they feel unworthy or believe the Christian life is too difficult, incapable of living up to their end of the relationship. François Fénelon (1651-1715) wrote extensively about the absolute love of God. He emphasized the spiritual life was the only way to the joy, not drudgery, of life. Fénelon recognized that viewed from the outside, following Christ appears demanding, but insists that Christ’s spirit of love makes such a life easy, led by God’s peace and love within, which sweetens and enables our capacity to sustain the relationship with joy. “God is so good,” says Fénelon, “that he only awaits our desire to overwhelm us with the gift which is himself. If we feed ourselves with Jesus Christ and his word, we shall be like a vessel in full sail with a fair wind.”

The Christmas story is about God’s relentless love for and faithfulness to a world prone to jilt God and God’s love; reluctant to receive and reciprocate with its love and commitment. While it is humanity’s nature to run away, stay away, and stray away from God, it is the loving, merciful nature of God to outrun us. God wills to receive, forgive, bless, clothe with garments of salvation, cover with righteousness, adorn with gifts, and overwhelm us with the gift which is himself. Christ made God’s love known to us through the incarnation, his merciful ministry, and his overwhelming love for us. 

This Christmas, we can stop running away, staying away, and straying away from God; we cannot jilt and outrun God’s searching love and mercy for us. We need not fear committing ourselves to God, who has already committed himself to us through and in Christ. We can trust that God is faithful, and God will help us remain loyal to our commitment with the overwhelming gift, which is himself, always for us, in us, and with us. 

Regifted

Remember that we are the clay, and you are the potter. We are all the work of your hand. We are all your people. Isaiah 64:9 

Pottery sherd I found at Sepphoris, Israel, while on the 2020 Great Plains Holy Land Pilgrimage

Regifting happens during Christmas. Regifting is the act of taking a gift that has been received and giving it to somebody else, sometimes under the guise of a new gift. Rule # 3 in an article in Money Crashers, “8 Rules for Regifting Unwanted Gifts Etiquette,” says only brand-new items should be regifted. 

What happens then, when we regift ourselves back to God? What if we are slightly damaged, broken, even shattered like sherds of shattered pottery? Will God accept us in that condition? 

Pottery and pottery making is mentioned several times in the Bible. Isaiah and other prophets and preachers used pottery and pottery making as object lessons to teach spiritual truths. 

Making clay pottery requires an idea design, materials, and a process. A finished piece of pottery begins with an idea design in the imagination of the potter of what the final shape and purpose of the created piece will be. Materials such as clay, a pottery wheel, water, and a kiln to fire and dry the pottery to keep it from returning to mud and breaking are needed. The process of pottery making involves the selection of properly prepared soft clay made from mud, the shaping of the mud on the potter’s wheel by a skilled potter, and the firing of the piece of newly shaped pottery in a kiln. 

The prophet Isaiah passionately implores God not to give up on his people. He reminds God that the formation of the people is a work in progress, and God’s work with his people is not yet finished. He calls upon God to come down from heaven and return to the potter’s wheel and finish shaping them with his guiding, loving, and merciful hands.  

Isaiah confesses that the people have not been easy to work with (64:5b-7). The centrifugal forces and pulls of life pushed them to separate themselves from God’s shaping hands. They failed to yield to God’s will. They stopped calling on the name of the Lord and neglected to take hold of God as the center of their personal and communal life. The people chose to live life on their own, without remembering or seeking help and guidance from God for their daily lives. They experience the dread that comes from feeling God’s absence and hiddenness. Without God at the center of their lives, they became spiritually and socially wobbly and uneven, spinning out of control and out of relationship with God. As a consequence, God gave them up to their own sin (64:7). Nevertheless, Isaiah’s prayer reminds God that the people are still clay in his hands and still his people. 

The harsh experience of the exile has softened like clay the hardened and rebellious hearts and minds of the people. The people have tried life without God as their center; it brought them humiliation, loss, and suffering. They are now ready to be reconsolidated and reformed by God. They desire a restored relationship with God, to again call upon his name for help and guidance, gladly do right, remember God in their ways, and place God at the center of their life together. 

Isaiah stands between the people and God as the people’s pastor, priest, and prophet. He offers a gift to God that already belonged to God – God’s very own people. The people Isaiah offers God as a gift have been through some hard times. As exiles in Babylon, they had no form or majesty, they were despised and rejected, and held of no account. They were stricken, struck down, afflicted, wounded, crushed and bruised (Is. 53). The years of exile beat them down and broke them like thousands of unusable pottery sherd pieces.

Nevertheless, Isaiah has absolute faith that God has the power to restore broken people and broken relationships because God is faithful and merciful to keep God’s promise to never leave or forsake his people. His prayer appeals to God’s restorative mercy which is greater than all of their human brokenness, weakness, and sin. 

Christmas is a season for giving gifts; sometimes regifted gifts. We give because God so loved the world that he gifted us his only son Jesus Christ so we might have life, abundant and eternal. Many of us will give gifts this Christmas season to loved ones, to our church so the word and deed gospel can be shared, and to charitable organizations so others can be cared for, fed, clothed, and housed. One important gift we can include is the surrender and regifting of ourselves to God, even if we find ourselves in this season of Advent spiritually wobbly, broken, struck down, wounded, crushed, bruised, or disconnected from God. Regifting ourselves to God will cease our sense of loneliness and abandonment. Pope Francis in his book, The Church of Mercy, says that in surrender to God, we will discover a fuller existence, lit up by faith and the love of the living God. We will find a love of God so great, so deep, a love so unfailing that always takes us by the hand and supports us, lifts us up, and leads us on. 

Let’s regift ourselves to God this Christmas season – even if life has left us somewhat wobbly, broken, and shattered into bits and pieces. God will receive us with open welcome and joy! The message of Advent is that God is not finished with us yet. He continues to shape us and the world to be more loving, merciful and just through new life in Christ. We can regift ourselves to God this Christmas – even our brokenness and shattered pieces of our lives – and trust that our lives will be beautifully reconsolidated and shaped by the Master Potter for good works in Christ Jesus (Ep. 2:10). 

The Final Word

Scripture – I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. Ephesians 1:17-19(NRSV)

Reflection: The writer of Ephesians hears of the faith of the church in Ephesus. He remembers them, gives thanks for them, and prays for them.  He prays that they may know that Christ is and has the final word over all things. He prays that the church would come to know the hope to which God has called them, the riches of their eternal inheritance, and the immeasurable greatness of God’s power at work for them that has made them alive together with Christ who is seated at God’s right hand in heavenly places. 

He does not pray for healing of sickness, work for the jobless, food for the hungry, relief from threat of evictions, or a robust economy. His prayer does not deny human troubles; it assumes them. He prays that the Ephesians will focus on what God, the Father of Glory, has done for his Son Jesus Christ and all who place their faith in Christ. He desires they know that the exalted Christ is now enthroned in heaven as King over all creation. No flesh and blood, ruler, authority, cosmic power, or spiritual force of evil can ever defeat him. Christ’s power and reign is limitless, timeless, and cosmic, ultimately ruling above all kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers, dictators, emperors, tyrants, and czars.

On this Christ the King Sunday, we are reminded that Christ the King is and has the final word over all created things, visible and invisible. We are invited to sing, bless, thank and glorify God who has raised and made Christ sovereign over all creation. The prayer reminds us that we are not helpless victims because Christ is now in charge and we belong to Christ. The same power of God at work in Christ is at work for us. This realization grows and matures over our lifetime.

We are bound by the experiences of human life. In spite of all temptations to surrender, we can persevere through life’s daily struggles because all the world is truly under the power of God in Christ. This precious knowledge of God’s power at work in Christ and for us is enough to enlighten the eyes of our heart, enabling us to live and sing praise to God with unshakable hope, especially when we face days of clouds and thick darkness (Ezequiel 34:12).  

The two stanzas below in the hymn, “This is My Father’s World,” best capture this hope: 

This is my father’s world. Oh, let me never forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. 

This is my father’s world. Why should my heart be sad? The Lord is King. Let the heavens ring. God reigns. Let the earth be glad.

Author: Maltbie D. Babcock (1901)

Wising Up

Psalm 90:12 “So teach us to count our days so that we may gain a wise heart”

Reflection: The psalmist reminds us that life is short and precious. He writes in Psalm 90: Mortals fall asleep (die). They are like grass that flourishes and renews in the morning and fades and withers in the evening. Life is filled with toil and trouble, then it’s gone with a sigh – it flies away. 

The psalm’s message is not “deathophobic.” Rather, it reminds us to embrace and wisely use the brief life that we do have while we have it. It calls us to deepen the quality of our lives now with a wise heart centered in a full trust in God that leans toward wisdom, goodness, and love that blesses and makes a positive difference in the world.

Paul describes this kind of living this way: 

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9). 

The ongoing rising U.S. death toll caused by the coronavirus pandemic – 247,000 – has us at least thinking about the possibility of death more than which we are accustomed, especially when the virus touches our lives in one way or another. It also brings us to think about the purpose and quality of our lives.

My uncle Manuel, my dad’s brother, prematurely died of COVID-19 complications this past August. My three cousins and their children still ache over his physical absence from their lives. They are sustained by their hope in God’s unfailing love and by the quality and beautiful memories of my uncle’s love, goodness, and care for my aunt Anna Maria, for them, and their children. 

As I read and reflect on Psalm 90 within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the coming Thanksgiving Holidays, I solemnly think about and pray for all the families that will have loved ones physically missing from their lives and their tables this year because of COVID-19. May the blessed memory of lives wisely-lived by our absent loved ones and the quality of goodness, kindness, and love we received from them gladden our spirits and give us peace in knowing that our everlasting God is our dwelling place from generation to generation. And may God’s Spirit rest upon us, enabling us to live our brief lives with a wise heart and joy – before we fly away.

Listen to the Eyes

Scripture: Psalm 123 To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until he has mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud. 

Reflection: Mask wearing has made us listen more to people’s eyes. We can gather a lot of information about a person’s emotional state from looking at their eyes. Eyes can convey love, affection, cheerfulness, joy, and confidence. They can convey surprise, understanding, wonder, hope, trust, compassion, and mercy. Fear, anger, pain, sadness, judgment, worry, panic, and depression can also be detected when looking into someone’s eyes.  

Proverbs 30:17 listens and observes how a look of the eyes can convey mockery and scorn. Jesus said that the eyes are like lamps that are either lit or dimmed by the condition of our souls. If goodness is in one’s soul, the eyes are lit and bright. Darkness and evil in the soul, on the other hand, dims the light of the eyes. 

The prayerful eyes of the psalmist reveal the pain and darkness in his soul caused by the ugly and dehumanizing experience of scorn and contempt. The psalmist’s eyes also prayerfully communicate the light of trust and a confident expectation that God will respond to alleviate the dehumanizing effects of scorn and contempt on him and his community. 

While the eyes of the psalmist look to God, God also looks into the eyes of the supplicant and all who suffer scorn and contempt. God is moved by faithfulness and steadfast love to respond with mercy through the means of spiritual comfort and hope available through prayer and through the goodness, skills, means, and power of people committed to the common good of humanity. 

The prayerful plea of the psalmist resonates with many in our world that experience more than their fill of the ugliness of scorn and contempt. Like the psalmist, their eyes prayerfully lift up to God and to all people of good will entrusted with the stewardship of life-saving resources, policies, goods, and services that can restore and make whole their dignity and humanity. 

We have learned how to rely on and listen to the eyes, the windows of the soul, over the past eight months for communication because of the use of masks. We have listened to eyes that show scorn and hold others in contempt, and we have listened to eyes that have experienced scorn and contempt. We have also listened to eyes that show care, compassion, and mercy. When I reflect on the passages of Scripture where Jesus “saw” the people who came to him, I believe he saw into their souls by listening to their eyes then responded with acts of healing and mercy that brought wholeness. Jesus commands his disciples to do the same for others. May those held in scorn and contempt experience the listening eyes and healing acts of Christ and God’s goodness through us. 

The Example, Church!

1 Thessalonians 6-7: And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 

How we example to the world our way of living as Christians matters. Our lived example is on public display as individuals, congregations, denominations, and as a local and global ecumenical body of Christ whether we like it or not, are intentional about it, or unintentional. 

My oldest son Aaron shared that his 15-year-old daughter, Karina my granddaughter, calls him out when his actions stray from Christ-like behavior. All she says to him when she observes or hears his actions and words misaligned with the ideals of Christian faith, hope, and love is, “The example, dad! The example.” Meaning, is that the Christ-like example you really want for me to follow? 

Paul’s opening greeting in his letter to the Thessalonians beautifully commends and affirms them for their joy in Christ in spite of persecution and for the Christ-like example they exhibit to all believers in the region. Their example positively influenced and strengthened the faith, love, and hope of other believers. Their life-changing influence made Paul’s pastoral work easier because the foundation of faith and what it meant to live a life of faith was firmly established in the lives of the Macedonian and Achaian Christians because of the joyous, faithful, loving, and hope-filled life exampled by the Thessalonians. 

My granddaughter watches her dad’s actions and hears his words at all times. I do not think she looks to “catch” him. Instead, she expectantly looks to her dad to learn how to live a life that is more joyful, more faithful, more loving, and more hopeful. My son says that he is aware that he does not live in a bubble and that what he does and says affects others, especially his own children. 

Christians do not live in a socially insular bubble; our baptism does not allow for it. To claim we are Christians is to live a private and public life worthy of God who has called us. Such a life carries with it a set of expectations by a watching world that we are a people of joy, of faith, hope, abounding in love, mercy, and justice. The message of the gospel that has come to us, not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction enables us to hold fast to what is good and abstain from harming ourselves and others with our words and actions. 

We are examples to a watching world whether we like it or not, whether or not we are intentional or unintentional about it. Our missional commitment to seek the spiritual and temporal wellbeing of our communities, our nation and our world examples our faith, hope, Christ’s abounding love, mercy and truth. Our call to break down social barriers and see people as people, accepting others who are different than us, is needed today more than ever as a divided and hostile world looks to those that follow Christ and cry out, “The example, church! The example.” 

God’s Abiding Peace – Priceless!

“Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9, New Revised Standard Version)

Inner peace eludes so many today. Billions of dollars are spent every year in efforts to acquire inner peace, and peace of mind. For example, mobile phone users spent $195 million in 2019 on meditation apps. Other ways we try to buy inner peace and peace of mind is through the purchase and use of natural supplements, prescription drugs, security systems, insurance policies, and other risk preventative and safety enhancing goods and services.

A Psychology Today article identifies four types of peace; ease, tranquility, awareness, and the peace of what’s unchanging.[i] Inner peace as a state of ease is achieved when a pressing task is completed, or a problem is resolved, and we don’t have to worry about it any longer. The peace of inner tranquility is a body and mind state of non-reactivity and inner stillness.  Peace of awareness is described as noticing or being aware of trouble all around but not getting inwardly troubled by outward troubles. The fourth type of inner peace, unchanging peace, is a peace that is based on what is reliable, transcendent, and eternal.

The church at Philippi is experiencing the absence of inner peace, calm, and safety. Paul directs the church at Philippi to seek an unchanging peace that is based on God’s unchanging nature of love, mercy, and reliability. He shares how to mature into living in a state of unchanging peace in God even when everything around them was volatile, uncertain, chaotic, ambiguous, and ever changing. He calls upon the church to rejoice in the Lord always, to practice gentleness, humility, prayer, supplication with thanksgiving, and to practice focusing their thoughts on what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable. He invites them to learn from his example of life and the inner peace with God he has attained even though he was under house arrest awaiting trial to defend the gospel.

Inner and abiding peace with God is important for our total well-being. God’s inner and abiding peace with us enhances our hope, joy, resiliency, creativity, and outlook on life in the now, for tomorrow, and for eternity. Peace is a gift from God that comes to be “with us” even when the world around us is intimidating. The good news is that God’s unchanging peace is a gift that is accessible and attainable by gaining Christ through faith, knowing Christ, being found in Christ, and becoming like Christ through imitation and the sustaining practices of faith. God’s gift of peace with us is priceless.

Do you have the gift of peace with God with you today? 

Can others clearly notice the peace of God with you as shown forth in your actions, thoughts, and words?  

Peace.


[i] Hanson, R. (2016, November 09). What Is Your Sense of Peace? Retrieved October 11, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-wise-brain/201611/what-is-your-sense-peace

Declaration of Dogged and Deliberate Hope in The Lord

We look around us and become painfully aware that we are a frail and wearied humanity. We see that we are weary from the countless struggles and threats brought about by an infectious microscopic virus and the havoc it has wreaked all over the world. We see that we are weary from wrestling with unresolved racial tensions and hatred. We see that we are sick of arguing with opposing ideas on how to care for ourselves and others, for whom to care, and why we should or should not care. We see how weary we are from grappling with uncertainties. We see the effects of the growing disorder of our individual lives and the social structures that dehumanize, hurt people, distort relationships, and estrange us from each other. Our world seems dark.

Our chronic – now turned severely acute – awareness of our disordered human condition leads us as people of Christian faith to seek The Lord’s light and healing for our souls and the soul of our world.

As Christians, we are stubbornly and deliberately hopeful, not helpless, because we know by faith that The Lord never gives up on humanity. N.T Wright says that “hope” as conceived within the Jewish and then early Christian world, is a virtue not a feeling. It is a “dogged and deliberate choice when the world seems dark.” [i]  Dogged hope depends on faith in the One God, Creator of heaven and earth. Dogged hope is certain that God can be trusted, is true to his promises and will sort things out even if it is on the other side of terrible suffering. This certain and dogged hope, this assurance of things not yet seen, is a call to worship, bless, and praise The Lord as we anticipate and participate in God’s saving work in the world.  

The world is a dark place for many people today. By faith in our One Creator God, I am declaring this morning with the writer of Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21, my dogged and deliberate dependence and hope in The Lord for myself and invite you to do the same for yourself and our world.  

By faith, I doggedly and deliberately declare: 

The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (145:8)

The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made. (145:9) 

The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. (Psalm 145:14)

The Lord gives food to all the eyes who look to him in due season. (145:15)

The Lord opens his hand and satisfies the desires of all living things for wholeness – shalom. (Psalm 145:16)

The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings. (Psalm 145:17)

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. (Psalm 145:18)

The Lord fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. (Psalm 145:19)

The Lord watches over all who love him. (Psalm 145:20a)

My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever. (Psalm 145:21)

Amen.


[i] N.T. Wright. Paul: A Biography. (San Francisco: Harper One, 2018) p. 45.

Kingdom-Oriented Life and Activity

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” 

Reflection

“I gave a little blood on that bridge,” said the late US Rep. John Lewis from Georgia years later after reflecting on what happened to him in Selma, Alabama on “Bloody Sunday” when at age 25, he helped lead a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge for voting rights in 1965. Lewis’ skull was fractured that Sunday when he was struck by an officer with a club during the march across the bridge. Lewis went on to say, “I thought I was going to die. I thought I saw death.” Today, a military honor guard will escort Lewis’ body across the bridge for the last time as part of a six-day memorial ceremony honoring his life.

Jesus explains in today’s gospel reading what a kingdom-oriented life and its activity in the world is like through the use of symbolic speech. The promise and vision of the kingdom of heaven to come orients his disciples to care about public living conditions and safety. It orients activity that kneads hope and potential into whatever sustains and nourishes life in our world. It orients one to a seriousness and unswerving loyalty to the kingdom values that have both present and generational implications. It orients a disciple to a perseverant search of the depths of beauty and goodness in the world no matter how tumultuous life around can be. And a kingdom of heaven-oriented life never tires of casting an invitation to others to join in the gracious and life-giving activity of God in the world. 

The kingdom of heaven is here and it is to come even when it appears to be invisible. Like a seed planted deep in the ground, yeast mixed in with dough, a hidden treasure in a field, a pearl of great value at the bottom of an ocean floor, or fish swimming underwater, the kingdom of heaven is not visible to the naked eye. But those awakened and oriented toward its reality and Christ-promised fulfillment know by faith it exists. They commit their loyalty to its promised fulfillment. They trust that God is actively growing it. They see signs that it is fermenting stale life with flavor. They desire to discover more and more of its infinite value. They search out the unfathomable limits of its greatness. And they never tire of casting and believing with conviction in an assured hope of its ultimate actualization, as they remain anchored by faith in God’s faithfulness rather than human hope alone.

John Lewis attempted to cross the Edmund Pettis bridge 55 years ago because he and so many others with him that day and across our country saw a better day ahead for all people, even when not all people could see it. On that Bloody Sunday in 1965, his kingdom-oriented actions sowed a tiny seed of promise, they added yeast that would flavor life for people with staled lives, and they showed forth the treasure of a new humanity made possible by Christ on the cross. His courageous actions were committed to a kingdom vision of racial reconciliation and justice and his actions openly proclaimed what he believed and hoped for in the depths of his soul. 

We each have our own bridges to cross on our march toward the promised kingdom of heaven on earth as it is in heaven that includes and seeks the well-being of all of God’s children; especially the most vulnerable.  We are grateful for all that have gone before us and have “given a little bit of blood” along their walk toward a vision of a world where all people live in harmony. In the meantime, we orient our lives and actions toward the kingdom of heaven, believing for those that do not believe, loving for those that will not, dreaming for those that cannot, until God – in cooperation with our actions – makes what we hope for a reality. 

Prayer: God of all creation and hope of all nations, orient our wills and actions in the power of the Spirit toward your vision of your kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Suffering and God’s Rest

Scripture: 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen. 

Reflection: Peter sees the whole global Christian community suffering through unjust mistreatment, violence, lack of access to food, health care, housing, and the basic human freedoms and necessities of life. He sees his community restless, on the verge of despair and hopelessness, tempted to abandon their faith. 

Peter tells the Christian community that they, like all other Christians throughout the world, are all simultaneously experiencing suffering of one sort or another. Their experience of suffering is not unique to their particular community, although they may believe that it is. He says, “for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering (1 Peter 5:9).” 

Peter does not minimize or romanticize suffering or the pathema (Gk) that the community is experiencing. Peter understands that suffering is real, brutal, and deadly because he has seen his Lord Jesus Christ suffer from rejection and ridicule and he has seen his Lord suffer and die on a torturous cross. Suffering for Peter is not an abstraction or a topic of detached conversation. Suffering is visceral. It takes a toll on the body, mind, and soul. Peter knows suffering firsthand (Acts 5:17-42). 

He encourages his community by reminding them that in their suffering, they are blessed because the Spirit of God rests on them. It is the spirit of God that leads them to seek the grace of God with humility so they can be strong in God’s strength to endure. The Spirit generates their trust in God with their troubles and cares. The Spirit sustains them through the discipline of prayer, fasting, study, worship and gathering as a community of faith. The Spirit keeps them alert to new possibilities God opens. And, the Spirit uses the pain of shared suffering to unite the community, producing the collective resolve to resist the pressures to abandon their hope. Finally, the Spirit and power of God restores, supports, strengthens, and establishes them in their nowness and temporality of their suffering and forever. 

Peter’s words of encouragement to his suffering community are timely for us now, not only as a Christian community experiencing the devastating impacts of the coronavirus at local levels, but for all of the suffering and quarantined human community throughout the world. As a global community, we are all in this together as we collectively face this coronavirus pandemic that has caused human suffering of various kinds. The whole human race is all in need of God’s Spirit of rest and blessings for strength to endure, care for our anxious souls, nearness, unity, resolve to resist despair, and confidence in a future with hope and faith.

Prayer: Shelter Me by Michael Joncas 

1. Shepherd and sheep, my God and I:
          to fresh green fields you led my steps in days gone by.
          You gave me rest by quiet springs
          And filled my soul with peace your loving presence brings.
 
Refrain:  O shelter me, O shelter me: the way ahead is dark and difficult to see.
               O shelter me, O shelter me: all will be well if only you will shelter me.
 
     2. Yet now I tread a different way:
         Death dogs my path with stealthy steps from day to day.
         I cannot find your peaceful place,
         but dwell in dreary darkness longing for your face.  (Refrain)
 
    3.  I will look back in days to come,
         and realize your faithfulness has led me home.
         Within your house I’ll find my peace,
         trusting that in your mercy you have sheltered me.  (Refrain)