Imagine Paul writing to us… To all God’s beloved in Dartmouth, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God and the Lord Jesus Christ. These are challenging times you are living in. Your everyday routines and rhythms have been disrupted in a way that is almost unimaginable. You may be anxious, scared, lonely, frustrated, angry. What you are experiencing is grief and loss. And in grief, all norms are thrown out the window.
When someone dies, your minister almost always says to the gathered community: You may just want to be quiet sometimes. You may want to talk and tell stories at other times. You may want to be alone or you may feel the need to gather people around you, in any way that that is possible. You may feel angry: angry at God, angry at life, angry even at the person who does not follow the physical distancing rules. You may feel guilty… things said or unsaid, things done or not done…All of these are normal.Your feelings and reactions will continue to come and go in the coming days and weeks and months…Be kind and gentle with yourselves and with each other… and know that you are held safe in God’s hand.
Normally I would exhort you to gather together, to break bread and share the stories of our faith… stories of the Exodus and Exile… and stories of Jesus. But this is not the time to gather together in one place. This is the time to gather in household units, whatever that might look like for you. Or to use whatever technology you have to gather in virtual spaces. Perhaps this is the time to return to the location of the original Christian practices, the home. You can create sacred space every time you gather to eat; a candle lit, a simple thank you prayer and an amen. A small haven of silence in days that are like a clanging gong. You can create that space even if you live alone.
The church has NEVER been about the buildings. The church has always been the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ. We may be scattered, but we are bound together in Jesus. So, what can you do in this time?
Here’s my top 10 list:
1. Reach out to those who live on the margins; this might be a senior down the street, or the single working person, or the person who frequents the homeless shelter or food bank. Pick up the phone, send a card, call out from the sidewalk. Be like Jesus, who interacted with people from all walks of life.
2. Recognize that this is a marathon and not a sprint; don’t set impossible achievement goals at this time. Are you clean and fed? Are your children? That might be as good as it gets. Be like Jesus, who lived in the present moment.
3. Recognize that this is not normal; expect to be tired out, expect to be anxious, don’t expect to go about your day as if nothing has changed, because virtually everything has changed. Be like Jesus, who got tired and took naps, sometimes in very inconvenient times for his disciples.
4. Share what you have. Perhaps that’s money, perhaps that’s time; donate to financial organizations that are serving the most vulnerable, donate to your church, so that it can continue its ministry, donate to someone who is struggling. If you are struggling, ask for and accept help. Be like Jesus who was dependent on others for food and shelter.
5. Volunteer; many of the volunteers in your organizations are seniors and/or in a high risk category or in a household with someone who is in a high risk category and are unable to volunteer at this time. If you are healthy and able, not working and don’t have children at home, perhaps this is something to give shape and purpose to your day. Be like Jesus who was taught that to give is to participate in the mending of the world.
6. Get your news from a reliable source; there is SO much misinformation going around, you have to make wise decisions about what to consume, otherwise it will consume you. Be like Jesus, who sent his disciples out to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
7. Turn off all media! Give your eyes and brain a rest. Be like Jesus, go to a lonely place and pray.
8. Relax! It’s okay to rest… it’s okay to feed the children cereal for supper, it’s okay to zone out on Netflix. It’s okay and it’s normal to feel out of sorts. This will not last forever and so you must adapt. Remember, all of you are precious children of God. You are loved and valued just for being you. Be like Jesus who told us that God is love and that there is NOTHING you can do to stop it.
9. Practice an Examen at the end of the day, with your partner/roommate/children or just yourself. That ancient practice of reflecting on God’s presence that day. Be like Jesus, who over and over went to God in prayer, in times of rejoicing and lament.
10. Remember that the church was never a building, but a scattered people. Scattered to be Jesus in the world. Be like Jesus, who proclaimed God’s love in the country and the city, in the marketplace and in the field.
Long after I died, your denomination wrote an affirmation of faith called A New Creed.
Listen to those words:
We are not alone,
we live in God’s world.
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.
Remember those words and remember these words that I wrote so long ago to the church in Rome: Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
My friends, you are the church! Amen!
Romans 12: 2-12
March 29, 2020 – SMUC