In the age of social media, there is added pressure to show the world our perfection. We post photos of the kids doing great things or showing how well they are doing in school. The birthday photos and the graduation pictures. The piano recitals and the awards that were hard earned.
It is that time of year when we often “look back” over what happened last year. Christmas letters detail vacations taken, milestones marked, a synopsis of joys and sorrows. Organizations send out summaries of accomplishments, goals met, and accomplishments to celebrate. It is good to look back, especially if we do it with a spirit of thanksgiving for God’s presence in the middle of it all.
It is almost a new year. I find that I am not quite ready for 2023. It seems that we should not be entering a new calendar year because there is so much that is on my to-do list that should have been completed in 2022. Flipping over the calendar (for those of us that still use a paper calendar) can be a stressful act. It is stressful for all sorts of reasons. Stressful because there are so many things left undone. Stressful because there are so many things coming up.
Most of us live busy lives. If you’re a parent, there is pressure to ensure your child is in every activity in the world. It might be one sport during the fall, another for winter, another for spring, and yet another for summer. Then add in band activities and scouting, and every other activity, and it can seem like there is an activity or some place to be every day or maybe even twice a day (or more).
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.