May 26, 2020
Written by Martha Spong
The end of everything has come. Therefore... - 1 Peter 4:7 (CEB)
In the past few months, blogposts, think pieces, and memes have offered both recommendations and explanations for human behavior during the new abnormal of pandemic response. We list our Netflix favorites, or share our accomplishments, or fuss at people handling things differently, or offer to let ourselves off the hook entirely for the basics of life.
The letter we call 1 Peter went out from Rome, we think, to a young Christian community. As the community grew deeper in their faith, the writer offered a word about how to live alongside the “normal” way of being for first-century people. They were a minority in their beliefs, which included the belief that normal was temporary. The end of the world was coming, they thought, when Christ would return and all the bad things would be over and God's goodness would prevail.
How do we know how to act and what to prioritize when everything we counted on seems to be over? The letter recommends exercising self-control, remaining clear-headed, showing sincere love for others, and serving people in need by using the gifts God has given us.
It’s a good word for this season, when we may be spiraling over the news and tempted to deny what’s happening and play games on our phones instead. The situation in the world is complicated, and it feels like the end of everything we have counted on for our security.
Take a minute, an hour, a day to do what helps you feel better, but let’s not give up on what matters. Let’s look around for something, one thing, we can do to help someone else.
Holy One, help us to help each other, for your sake. Amen.
May 25, 2020
Written by Donna Schaper
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. - Luke 18:1 (NIV)
One of my students in a chaplaincy course this spring was a 70-year-old psychoanalyst considering transitioning to a chaplaincy role. She said to the class at the height of the Covid-19 crisis, “I woke up this morning and said to myself, ‘Why bother to get out of bed?’”
She did get out of bed, showed up to tele-meet her first patient, and took a kind of counselor’s risk: “I took my first patient and she said to me, ‘How are you doing?’ And I told her I woke up this morning wondering why bother? Then of course I turned the question on her. 'Why did you wake up this morning?’”
“She said, ‘So I could talk to you.’” That response kept my mature student going.
Sometimes we give up prematurely. Sometimes we hang on too long. Sometimes we over function. Sometimes it is just hard to function.
Sometimes we do too much. Sometimes we do too little. When Covid-19 is all gone and but a faint memory, I wonder what story we will tell about ourselves.
O God, help us be the subject of the story we tell about ourselves and not its object. And let us surely receive the gifts others make to our stories. And never to be afraid of our weakness. And never to stop bothering. Amen.
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A, B, C, D, E, F, G
May 24, 2020
Written by Mary Luti
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear …
though the mountains should shake
in the heart of the sea. - Psalm 46:1-2 (NRSV)
In a recent pastoral letter, the Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts told this story: A man was caught in an earthquake. Stricken with terror, he tried to pray but couldn’t find any words. He’d recited countless prayers all his life, but in his panic, he couldn’t recall a single one. So he recited the only thing that came into his head. He prayed the alphabet. “A, b, c, d, e, f, g…” he offered fervently, “…h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p…” It was the most genuine prayer of his life, and there can be no doubt God heard him.
These days, lots of us can’t focus. We forget what day it is sometimes. Things that once came naturally to us seem unfamiliar and require concentration we don’t have. The ground beneath us is shaky. The danger is real. So is the dread.
We cope with it by paying loving attention to the details of daily life, observing the rules of confinement, sharing our resources, being patient, and mustering hope and good cheer. This is what life is now, and it’s good. It’s also exhausting.
This is no time to be worried about finding the right words or looking good or getting a hundred on the quiz. It’s not the moment, if there ever was one, to prove anything to anyone. It’s a time to be real, and to let that be the good thing it is.
We’re all praying the alphabet as the world shakes. It’s all we can manage. And it’s fine.
Hear my prayer, O God: a, b, c, d, e, f, g….
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God Is Still Sleeping
May 23, 2020
Written by Kaji Dousa
Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We're going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. - Matthew 8:24-26 (NIV)
The idea of Jesus sleeping seems … bizarre. It is hard to imagine God asleep. With eyes closed. Did Jesus snore? Did he kick in his sleep? Did he wander about in holy somnambulance? If so, did that make the disciples nervous?
Even asking the questions of what Jesus asleep might look like feels … irreverent. For me, imagining the contours of Jesus’ humanity makes him feel more human than my faith has prepared me to consider.
But the Gospel tells us that Jesus slept.
The story of Creation tells us that on the seventh day, God rested and Shabbat – or sabbath – was introduced. The Decalogue made it a commandment: Remember the sabbath and keep it holy.
So if rest is so holy and if God has rested since the dawn of Creation, then why do I have such a hard time letting Jesus sleep?
Could it be because there's always a storm raging somewhere? Could it be that I worry that God will sleep through my own storms and ignore my pleas for help? Might it be all well and good that God rests, but what about when the waves sweep over my boat and I fear it will pitch over and take me under? God can rest except when I need my rescue, I feel.
Jesus’ words to the anxious disciples in their own “furious storm” are instructively salvific. Rest matters so much that even God does it. But faith means knowing that when we need to be saved:
God will calm the lake.
Maybe we think, O God, that you are sleeping away our salvation. Thank you for sending Jesus to show us better. Amen.
No Good Christians
May 22, 2020
Written by Matthew Laney
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of good works, so that no one may boast.” - Ephesians 2:8 (NRSV)
I sometimes hear people say that Christianity is all about being a good person, or becoming a better person. While I appreciate the sentiment, I think it’s off-base.
For me, Christianity has little to do with being a good person. The essence of the Christian faith is this: God loves us not because we are good but because God is good. The above text says it best.
Christians are not measured by their good deeds or bad deeds. In fact, let’s ditch the notions of “good Christian” and “bad Christian” altogether. Christians may do good out of gratitude for the goodness of God, but if we fail to do good, well, God still loves us and the core truth of Christianity is undisturbed.
Does that mean a person can be an authentic, faithful Christian while being a lousy human? Absolutely yes. I’d be happy to introduce you to a few, including me in my worst moments.
Please do all the good you can. Our world can’t get enough. But no amount of good deeds can save you or earn God’s love, which is a free gift. That is not only good news, it’s the best news ever.
Let my life be my hallelujah in response to your gift of unmerited grace.
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Clothed with Power
May 21, 2020
Written by Talitha Arnold
“Wait in the city of Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high.” - Luke 24:49 (WEB)
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is much in the news right now. From grocery clerks to medical staff, bus drivers to nursing home aides, essential workers need protective clothing, goggles, and other gear to ward off the coronavirus and stay safe. The rest of us also need masks and gloves, not just for our protection, but to protect others from ourselves.
In Luke’s final resurrection story, the risen Christ reminds his disciples of their need for another kind of PPE, too. “Wait in Jerusalem,” he tells them, “until you are clothed with power from on high.”
Like the disciples, we need to be clothed with God’s power, especially in this time. Whether we’re on the front lines in a hospital ICU, stocking groceries at a supermarket, or sheltering in place in our apartments or homes, we need to be clothed with the power of God’s love that overcomes despair. Clothed with the power of God’s peace that calms our anxious spirits. Clothed with the power of God’s compassion to stay open to the needs of others. Clothed with the power of God’s wisdom to know what we must do, and clothed with the power of God’s courage to do it. Most of all, we need to be clothed with the power of God’s presence that holds us, comforts us, connects us even in isolation and quarantine.
We need God’s PPE right now. Whether at home in our pyjamas or clad in scrubs, masks, and gloves, we need to let God wrap us in power and hope, love and wisdom this day. Every day.
God, remind us to pray every morning for you to clothe us all with your power, wisdom, and love. Amen.
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