Names are important. They are more than a means of identification. Names are part of knowing someone and being known by others. This is especially true in scripture. God gives Abram and Sarai new names, calling them Abraham and Sarah. It may seem a small change, but it identified them as not just heads of a family, but blessings to the whole world. Jacob is renamed Israel. Saul becomes Paul. In each case, they are known by God and their name is important.
The turkey is defrosting. The house smells of pies baking. Preparations for the annual Thanksgiving Day are underway. One preparation is still undone – a list of the things for which I am thankful. Steeped in the mythic stories of the Mayflower and the big spread shared by indigenous Americans and their English guests, we will focus on the feast and the harvest time. Certainly, we will give thanks for family and friends. Maybe we are grateful for health – and if we are honest – wealth. The list is long, and I’m glad I only must do this once a year! But then I read scripture.
Rest. It shouldn’t be counter-cultural, but in today’s world, it is. We can think that the times have changed, and we can pine for a time when rest was something that people regularly did. But rest has always been elusive for the American culture. It is evident in our “pull yourself by your own bootstraps” mentality. Collectively, we praise those who over-work and give side looks to those who aren’t pulling themselves up. (Even as we ignore the fact that many of those we give side looks to don’t have bootstraps to pull.)
As I write this, it is evident that autumn is here. The farmers are busy harvesting corn and beans. The air is thick with dust from the fields, and it doesn’t matter if you live in the middle of town or not, dust travels and covers the landscape. Unfortunately, it also lands on the end table in my living room.
Five hundred and five years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, touching off a debate and conflict that came to be known as The Reformation. Thus ends the most predictable sentence a Lutheran pastor could type in the days leading up to Reformation Day. It would now be predictable to shout the praises of brother Martin and point to the eternal truths revealed in that historic moment. I’m not going to do that. I’m actually tired of doing that.
Saturday the 15th of September is the day we remember Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), a nun and spiritual reformer whose influence on the church continues to grow to this day. One of the most beautiful contributions to the Christian faith she left with us was a reflection on how the incarnate one, Jesus, once raised from the dead continues that incarnation through the faithful.
What exactly does it mean to be ordained? It doesn’t really mean that one is called to follow Jesus. That calling comes to every Christian through the sacrament of baptism. To be a Christian is to be called to serve.
I was taught that the “golden rule” was “do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus says this. The Buddha does too. In fact, this rule is part of nearly every spiritual tradition known to humanity. There is a cynical rework of this rule I learned later in life: “The one with the gold makes the rules.” While it is cynical, it is also true. Money and wealth are not just possessions, but power. Those who have vast wealth have lots of power.
“I just don’t understand.” These are perhaps the most frequently used words spoken by loved ones in the wake of a suicide or suicide attempt. They are wise words. The fact is, we can’t understand the pain, despair, weariness, or hopelessness that leads to suicide. Each struggle is unique and takes place in isolation. From Willie Loman in Arthur Miller’s The Death of a Salesman, who becomes convinced his family is better off without him to Robin Williams who could not sustain his struggle with his mental health; from the retiree who suddenly lost his investments and was overwhelmed with a sense of failure and shame to the teen who just cannot take another day of bullying, shame, and despair; from the LBGTQ+ person who has been rejected by family, friends and seemingly, the whole culture to the newly diagnosed cancer patient who is terrified and cannot imagine healing, we can only understand in part, at best.