In the pre-modern age, asking the question, “Who needs God anyway?” would have been unthinkable. Everything in heaven and earth was an expression of the transcendent reality of the divine. Today, this question is a quite mainstream question, even a rhetorical question that assumes the answer is, “No one!” Now, there are still plenty of folks who would answer that we all need God in some way. We might bemoan the fact that so many people even think such things. We might blame the problems of the world on those who don’t think we need God.
Grief, on the one hand, is a universal human experience. On the other, grief is as varied and particular as everyone who walks its path. Grief is not a journey we choose. It can seem like a force that hijacks our trip through life. Sometimes grief can seem like an unwanted guest who shows up to stay and we don’t know the duration of the visit.
The most common form of greeting for just about anyone we meet, close friend or total stranger, is, “Hi. How are you?” For most of my life, the standard response from an optimist, or one who wants you to mind your own business, was, “Fine.” Others might answer with something less committal like, “I’m upright.” George Carlin, the late, great comedian once said he liked to respond, “I’m not unwell,” just to throw people a curve. These days, however, the most frequent response to my query, “How are you?” is, “I’m busy.”
There are many things Jesus said that challenge me, that vex me, that give not comfort, but trouble my soul. Among them is, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Be perfect? Seriously, Jesus? It seems utterly impossible to strive for perfection. It actually seems a little brazen, don’t you think?
Watching my retirement savings dwindle and the grocery and gas bills soar is a little unsettling. All indications point to an economy with higher interest rates and prices, a bear market for investments, and a cool-off of the real estate market, and that is but the beginning. The result is fear.
“The human being is an animal who has received the vocation to become God.” – Basil the Great, 329-379 AD
What if God’s whole plan is to make us into divine partners in the work and wonder of creation? One of the greatest teachers of the Church taught exactly that. The vocation, the calling, of every Christian was to allow the Holy Spirit to so consume us that we become divine with God. How’s that working for all of us?
Though she had watched many years go by in her long journey of life, she possessed a gentle and joyous spirit. The wrinkles and creases of age in her face framed normally sparkling eyes and a quick laugh. She was one of the saints. She exhibited the “fruits of the Spirit” Paul talked about (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. - Galatians 5:22-23) as naturally as anyone I knew. Yet, in this visit, she appeared troubled. When I asked why, she looked at me and asked, with great sincerity, “Pastor, am I saved? I mean, will God let me into heaven?” I answered, “Without a doubt. God loves you.”
This week we will celebrate the Festival of Pentecost, the culmination of the season of resurrection which began on Easter Sunday. Some think of Pentecost as the “birthday of the Church.” Luke the Evangelist, writer of the gospel that bears his name and of a sequel, the Book of Acts, certainly helps that along a bit. The prayers, expectations, and announcements of the first chapter of Luke and the first chapter of Acts set the scene for God to break into human history. First, in the birth of the Messiah, fulfilling the prophecies of Jewish scripture. Then in the events of Pentecost which are the fulfillment of the prophet Joel’s vision.
Yesterday eighteen kids gathered up backpacks and books, they grabbed their favorite colorful lunchbox, and they headed to school. None of them ever made it home. Along with two adults, they are the latest fatalities of the gun-happy, violent society we have built. Tragically, I wrote about the deaths in Buffalo, NY last week. This is America.
This past week, a young man went to a grocery store in Buffalo, New York and started shooting. The location chosen, after a prolonged period of planning by the shooter, was in a Black neighborhood. He shot victims for one reason and one reason alone: they were Black. The white shooter was convinced that a vast conspiracy was afoot to “replace” all the white people in his world, including himself, with people of color, immigrants, and Jews. He was driven by hate cultivated by paranoia, fear, and just plain old stupidity.