This is from the SNEUCC Starting with Scripture from March 15.
Jeremiah 31:31-40 (NRSV)The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Thus says the Lord,
who gives the sun for light by day
and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar--
the Lord of hosts is his name:
If this fixed order were ever to cease
from my presence, says the Lord,
then also the offspring of Israel would cease
to be a nation before me for ever.
Thus says the Lord:
If the heavens above can be measured,
and the foundations of the earth below can be explored,
then I will reject all the offspring of Israel
because of all they have done,
says the Lord.
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt for the Lord from the tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah. The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the Wadi Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate towards the east, shall be sacred to the Lord. It shall never again be uprooted or overthrown.
Reflection: Righteous AngerThe days are surely coming when I can get a COVID vaccine. Right?
To be honest, I've really held off on worrying about this vaccine. When pressed in discussions of how to get it, and who can get it, and which one to get, I've just said, "I'll wait my turn." A friend said, "but you are going to get it" and I got impatient. "Yes, I'll get it. But I'm not going to spend time fretting about it."
Then it was my turn. I went to the website to schedule a vaccine about 10 minutes after I was authorized. The website crashed. And now I am fretting. Refreshing the screen. Texting others, whining on Facebook, pounding my desk. Lent is a time of reflection, quiet, of giving things up. But suddenly I’m obsessed with getting what is rightfully mine.
We focus, as Christians, mostly on Jeremiah’s lovely image of God’s covenant written on our hearts. “I will be their God and they will be my people” says our creator. That is appealing. I’m ready for this new day! One where God’s love is expressed in vaccinations and a chance to visit with my family and my friends.
I remember when we locked down, just about a year ago, when we shut everything down for two weeks so we could flatten the curve. The days are surely coming when this is over, right?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. As much as I wish for it, prophets do not predict the future. Instead they tell us what to do with present. And Jeremiah is talking here about the ways we have, I have, broken God’s covenant. What would it mean to consider the ways I have not been faithful? If God’s word is not on my heart, today, this minute, right now, here in the middle of these hard times, what can I do to fix that?
I will need to calm down. Take a deep breath. Focus my breath on God. Perhaps picture my heart with the word Love written on it. Righteous anger has its place, mostly in critique of a system that has not enough vaccines, and not enough effort to get them to those suffering the most. Yelling at my computer is not an example of righteous anger.
It is so easy to see all the world through an interpersonal lens. “This is hurting me.” But the interpersonal lens is quite narrow. It hides systemic oppression—for example the reality there are not enough vaccines and that we aren’t making sure what we have is accessible to black and brown communities. And it hides cultural oppression—our unwarranted confidence that everyone has computers to make appointments and transportation to get to vaccination centers.
When I can stop focusing on the interpersonal, when I can calm down, I can see that the fact that it is hard for me to get an appointment is not the big problem here. Solving COVID is not, mostly, about me.
Which begs the question—what is this covenant that I want written on my heart? Is it a promise that all will be okay? Or is it a promise that I will work for equality, that I will pay attention to my neighbor, that I will give God the righteousness They are seeking in our world?
The days are surely coming when my heart will ache for God’s covenant of justice.
PRAYER God of all people, write your covenant on my heart. Help me to see the systems and cultures and assumptions that maintain oppression, and to work to change our ways. Amen.
We live in risky times. The risk is not just to ourselves, there is risk also that we will harm others by our mere presence in their lives. In response we have the call to stay away from one another. In church that is almost completely unconnected to social media, I offered online worship last Sunday. The experience was surprisingly positive; we had real conversation, heartfelt prayer, we struggled with scripture and it’s meaning for today. The next morning the state called for us to stay physically separate until April 7. Now it seems likely to last even longer. For the social well-being of our neighbors, we will follow this guidance.
The risk/benefit balance between whether we should worship together or apart is clear. God can handle our absence from the sanctuary, we can handle finding remote ways to connect to each other and to God. The side affects of feeling disconnect, anxiety, and loneliness are worth the benefits of protecting our neighbors from illness. Not all acts of distancing have so few side affects.
When those of us with ample resources stay away from people who have few resources—when we stay away from people who don’t have homes or who are food insecure, when we decide against volunteering at the shelter or the food pantry or the meal, the risk/benefit analysis is quite different. Yes, we are reducing the risk of sharing illness with people who are possibly at high risk. Yes, we are reducing the risk of bringing illness from the streets and into our homes. We are also leaving people hungry and isolated. Isolation for someone who is already shunned by our society is more dangerous than isolation for those of us with extensive community supports. I can talk to my congregation, my family, a circle of friends. Homelessness is both caused by social isolation and exacerbates it.
How do we balance the risks and benefits for ministries to those who are hungry, thirsty, in need of clothing, those who are sick, and those who are in prison? Matthew 25:40 (“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”) is certainly relevant, yet when it comes to taking risks, other words of Jesus are also important.
Consider Matthew 16:24-26. “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?’” While in modern times we may think of “the cross” as small challenges we face, in Jesus’ time he was literally talking about the possibility of being killed. I don’t think he meant we must be willing to die for our right to worship (although there are Christians in other countries who are risking their lives to worship). If, as I believe, the true test of our faith is whether we have cared for the least of brothers and sisters, it is hard to see how we are not called to take real risks to do that caring.
Perhaps in your church, there is much angst about deciding these things. Many churches are not coming to a unanimous decision about any of these choices. That brings to mind the battles between children and their parents, fights between members of one’s own household, mentioned in Matthew 10:34-39. Verses 37-38 are especially harsh, I hate when I have to preach these words: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
These hard texts seem distant on ordinary Sundays, but now as we face significant risk, risk to ourselves and risk we carry back to our neighbors, families, to the wider community, we must ask what exactly they mean about what we are canceling in our church buildings. Suspend worship, for sure. Move bible study to online. Certainly get rid of the self-serve buffet!
But we are called to take on the risks that come with continuing to serve the poor, the hungry, the sick, and those that alone. We must figure out what we can do for the prisoner and the elderly, each behind different locked doors. As a church must ask ourselves whether we are the only place that might offer safe space for AA, for the guy who talks to himself on Main Street, for the hungry, the displaced, for those who don’t have homes.
We want to be as safe as possible. Thus we may move our food pantry to the doorway, limit visiting, and pre-package the foods we give away. We may switch our meals to take out, most certainly we will wear gloves as we serve. AA and NA maybe asked to limit their in-person meetings to new comers or to people with less than year of sobriety. Perhaps if your program was two days a week instead of one you can limit the size of each gathering. Send letters every day to people you used to meet once a month in prison or in a nursing home. But take a risk. Do not assume that the only right answer is to cut out all risk, and therefore end all programs.
Christians are willing to risk our lives to make the good news real to others who are suffering.
"Rock balance" by kingzoot is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
I love the images of Jesus eating, eating with tax collectors, eating with Pharisees, eating at weddings and eating with crowds. Jesus eats throughout his journey, on the night before he dies, and again beside the Emmaus road. In an incredible image of plenty—plenty of fish, plenty of bread, plenty of sharing food, drink, and God’s love, Jesus offers us a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.
After the creation of good food in the Garden of Eden God provides daily bread in the wilderness, Isaiah challenges us to eat rich food without cost, and Jesus turns water into wine at Cana. The Kingdom, God promises again and again, is full of good food, great drink, and more than enough to share.
Despite starting his ministry by creating the finest wine, the bread Jesus offers in the feeding of the 5000 is barley bread—not flavorful oats, not the treat of cinnamon raison, not even fine ground wheat bread, or a good sourdough, rather the cheapest of the breads, the most basic of foods.
With this lowly staple, however, he offers the crowd fish, an extravagance, food usually reserved for the Sabbath meal. For the Kingdom of God is not only about having enough to fill our stomachs, the Kingdom is enough food, the Kingdom is rich food, and the Kingdom is more food than we could need.
For there were leftovers that day, twelve baskets leftover, leftovers so significant they had to be gathered and measured. And that is the miracle that fills me with hope when my soul is dry, when my soul is starving, when my soul cannot survive another day. Those twelve baskets tell me again that Jesus will sit and eat with me, despite my selfishness, despite my lack of faith, despite my sinful and disobedient ways. Those twelve baskets of plenty insist that in God’s Kingdom there is more than enough for you, for neighbors, for strangers, for friends, for enemies, and yes even for unfaithful, doubting, and distrusting me. There is a ridiculously vast supply of leftovers.
In God’s world view there is food to spare, drink to share, and yes, above all else, there is love enough to hand out freely, twelve baskets, in fact, left over. And THAT is Good news!
For my organized thoughts, see my book Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Developing Relational Food Ministries. In this spot are thoughts that appear for a moment--about food programs, mission, church, building community, writing, and whatever else pops into my head.