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.
A cashier in Decatur, Georgia, recently came to work and never made it home. An argument with a customer over wearing a mask – encouraged by the store – led a man to walk out to his car and return with a gun. He shot the cashier dead. A month earlier, in Flint, Michigan, a store security guard charged with enforcing the store’s “mask up” policy was shot in the head and killed. Three members of a family are charged with first degree murder. Official responses to the incidents have voiced some form of, “Well, masks are a sensitive matter and tensions are high.” Seriously?! The response in my mind is “Have you all lost your minds?”
Last Sunday, about 100 people came back to worship in the sanctuary after more than a year away. As expected, things went off without a hitch for the most part. The preacher did somehow fail to get his mic turned on during the service at one point. The streaming of the video had a hiccup quickly resolved. Overall, though, it turns out that we, who had been worshipping virtually for a year, did indeed remember how to do it live, together. And it was glorious.
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.
In the gospel lesson for this week, Jesus tells his disciples (and so us), “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” (John 15:16-17)
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.
This year we mark Earth Day as an observance that spans three days – April 20-22. So, it is more appropriately “Earth Days.” Given that a day is measured as one rotation of the earth, there are really 365 “Earth Days” each year. Perhaps if we thought about it that way, if we took time each day to note our dependence upon this spinning sphere that holds life as we know it, the earth would be in less trouble.