The big news story this week is Simone Biles, the twenty-four-year-old gymnast who bowed out of Olympic competition because she needed to take care of her own mental health. Because of her tremendous achievements in the sport, she is seen as the “greatest gymnast of all time.” That’s quite a yoke to place on the neck of a young woman.
I have a couple of shoe boxes on the top shelf of my closet that contain notes – love notes. They are from my wife and span the thirty plus years we’ve been together. We met in a distant past where people still wrote letters to each other. Those love notes, in letter and card, tell our love story. Once, in a moment of insanity, I took them down to throw them away figuring that I knew well enough the sentiments the boxes contained. This interrupted our marital bliss for a moment, until I came to my senses and placed them securely back on the shelf. My wife knows more about devotion than I do.
It is hard for congregations to become a manifestation of Christ’s Beloved Community. There are many reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason in our age is consumerism. Our culture, driven by economic values and personal satisfaction, turns everything into a commodity. We “shop” for churches. In the same way we decide not to go to a restaurant that gave us a bad burger, we decide to find another church because of a slight from another member, a sermon with which we disagree, or a song that we disliked.
The first step to being a part of The Beloved Community rooted in Christ is not to love others. Being able to share ourselves in a Christ-like way with another person must be preceded by being beloved. “Christ loves me.” That is the beginning. Sounds easy, right? But which “me” does Christ love? Is it the “me” that shows up at work every day? Or is it the “me” that carts my children to all those activities? Is it the loving spouse or the guy that gets road rage in traffic? Is it the “me” I try to be or the one that ends up falling short so often? Is it the “me” I let people see, or the one that is hidden so deep it never sees the light of day? In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius counsels, “To thine ownself be true.” Who is my “ownself?” Is it the me I present to the world or the me that Christ knows, that God made?
Last week, I offered an introduction to the whole Church, and our congregation, as a Beloved Community constituted by The Beloved Community of the Holy Trinity. God’s love makes community, it draws people together, it glues disparate people and personalities together in community that shares love with the world. Every Christian congregation is a divinely constituted holy, messy, sacred, flawed community and each of us has been drawn by the Spirit to be here – in this place, at this time.
This coming Sunday the Church observes the Festival of the Holy Trinity – The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Grasping the meaning and essence of the Trinity is not an easy task. In fact, it is ultimately impossible for it is the attempt at trying to express the deepest mystery of a God who is as close as your breath and as distant as the farthest galaxy; as intimate as your most inner thought and as transcendent as time itself. When the Athanasian Creed teaches, “We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being,” I find myself over my head and out of my depth.
This is, by far, the most frequently asked question staff and leaders receive these days. I understand how anxious you are - we all are! – to gather again and re-establish some sense of normalcy after more than a year of pandemic practices. I also know that, on the one hand, some have been very supportive of the precautions taken to keep everyone safe. On the other, some have been frustrated – even angry – that we have waited this long.
The season of Easter continues, but the excitement fades as we tuck Jesus safely into the future, anticipating his return, (but not too quickly, or he’ll spoil the fun). For many of us, the step after resurrection is the ascension which separates us from God’s Messiah and makes us settle into a very long wait.
Well, I’m not sure any of us would say that we expected – or even welcome – the passing of a one-year anniversary for the pandemic. And yet… On the other hand… Looking at it from another angle… There is call for thanking God for the last twelve months. Despite the upheaval, the change, the challenge, the constantly moving reality that has been pandemic-patterned lives, we have been the Church for all 365 days of the last year. In frustration, I’ve heard folks say, “But we’re not doing anything,” probably referring to gathering for worship. Nothing could be less true. Here is a brief look at what I give thanks for this day (sorry, the list is long).
Sheryl Crow sings, “A Change Will Do You Good.” I like Sheryl Crow and will likely be listening to her a lot next week when I take a few days off. We were supposed to go to Santa Fe with friends to enjoy the mountains, landscape, city, and the green and red chile. We booked the time so I could rest a bit before Pastor Pam goes on sabbatical from April 5 – July 5. (I obviously won’t be leaving town then!) Due to the pandemic, New Mexico would rather we stay away. Lately, our lives have made us a bit more cautious as well. So, vacation will be a staycation where I work in the basement and cook New Mexican Cuisine. It is a change. But the change will do us good.