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.
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.
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).
The paradox of religious faith today is that the church has, on the one hand, never been as irrelevant as it is today. On the other hand, the faith of the church has never been more essential. In a world that becomes ever more secularized and so, less religious, the role that faith played in the world has been abandoned. To me, it means that love has become scarce just when it is most needed.
Our theme for Advent this year is, “It’s About Time.” Advent is a season where we look back to the promises of God fulfilled eventually (don’t rush here) in the birth of Jesus. We look ahead to the time when Jesus Christ will come again to bring the process of New Creation to its consummation. Advent is about waiting with hope and patience for that time to come. Advent is about the present time of preparation for the way Christ comes to us every day, every hour. It’s about time.