What will our testimony be?
It is easy to fall into self-protective modes of functioning when the world around us seems to be so conflict-ridden, chaotic, and just plain mean spirited. When we are uncertain of our own core values, anxious about the future, or shaky in our understanding of the Christian faith, it can be easier to keep our mouths shut when we see bullying behavior on the streets or toxic presentations of a distorted and divisive parody of Christianity. When we are not clear about our own identity as Beloved of God, or the identity of the other as also Beloved of God, we can easily lose our way.
Jesus said, “I AM the Way, and the Truth, and the Life…”
It is normal and natural as human beings to experience anger. Anger points us to deeper emotions that may be more difficult to express. Jesus’ anger in the temple was expressed physically as he drove money changers out of the place, shouting, “Is it not written, ‘My house of shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers!” (Mark 11:17) His anger came from a sense of outrage at the distortion of God’s love for all the world into something that exploited the poor and divided people from God and from one another. His anger boiled over at this time because it WAS his time. In earlier encounters he showed more restraint. It was not yet his time.
I felt an anger similar to Jesus’ outrage last Saturday when several men gathered with banners, signs, and a bullhorn at the corner of 6th and Commercial during the Anacortes Arts Festival to broadcast their version of hate under a veneer of judgmental Christianity. They wanted people to engage with them, to feed their negative energy. What they stirred up was not a love of Jesus or a desire to follow His way of peacemaking, justice, and love. They did not point toward a Jesus who welcomes children, the outcasts and the broken. Their message caused festival visitors to flee the sound of that assaultive bullhorn. Their method and message in that context caused visitors to scurry past the artists and vendors at that intersection who had come to share their creativity and passion with our community.
Not the time. Not the place. Not the method. Not the message.
But what will OUR testimony be?
The next morning during worship, we opened doors at the Depot, sang hymns, prayed for the world, and welcomed a child into the Body of Christ through the sacrament of Holy Baptism. Riley Elaine Fisher was born in love and is called by Love to be light to the world. She is, and we are called to give witness to the light that cannot be quenched by darkness. We are called together to be God’s hands and feet in this world, to be beacons of hope and healing.
As Christians we are called to extend love in the vulnerability and strength of Jesus Christ. He lived true to his identity as Beloved Child of God. As we study his teachings and practice his Way, we discover the deep Truth that we, too, are Beloved of God. We, too, are full of anger and hope. We, too, sometimes lose it, sometimes make zealous mistakes that hurt others unintentionally. We are human. We are loved. Let’s help Riley and the children of our hearts and community to grow into grace knowing Jesus and the One who sent him.
“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Friends in Christ, this is the core of our life together. This is the authority on which true laws must be based. Laws unanchored in love do not carry the authority of authentic, just, godly government. Behavior toward one another that is not loving is not of God, no matter how many words attempt to cloak and defend the doer in righteousness.
Recently the thirteenth chapter of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Rome was used to command blind obedience to a government policy that ripped apart families, many of whom are seeking safety and asylum as they fled violence that most of us cannot imagine. We who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ must not turn away from the cries of those children. If we ignore the impact of actions that purport to be carried out on our behalf, then we owe it those children to confess our sin, repent of our comfortable ignorance, and rise up in witness to the Gospel of that same Christ Jesus.
It is not enough that an executive order has been signed today. Listen to the cries of the children who remain separated from loving parents. Let the tears ripped from your eyes pull your heart along, too. Let your heart beat strength into your lungs, your lips, your hands, and your feet. Let your heart beat courage into your relationships. Let your security rest in Christ alone, not in legalism. Your reputation means nothing if it prevents you from confronting attitudes and behaviors that harm others.
Let your response be non-violent and strong. Let it be “firm, fair and friendly.” We should seek common ground wherever possible, but if the other continues to do harm to the vulnerable, it is incumbent upon each of us to lay down our very lives, as Jesus did, in witness to love itself.
Speak out when you hear scripture twisted and distorted in ignorance, malice, or hatred. If we fail to do that, we have to recognize the sound of the cock crowing in the courtyard, and with Peter, weep in shame.
Do we have a common purpose as Celebration Lutheran Church? Will you speak together AS Celebration Lutheran Church against these actions of the government which we participated in electing? We have declared consensus on the matter of homelessness. These children ARE homeless. Their families ARE vulnerable. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In this case, the answer is, Yes.
I laid out a labyrinth behind our house, traced into a thick layer of bark mulch, currently outlined with stakes and little white plant tags. It’s a classic 7-circuit design that goes back centuries. A labyrinth is used for walking meditation, GREAT for someone who doesn’t easily sit still.
The first time I ever walked a labyrinth, I began with an enormous amount of skepticism. How could walking back and forth do anything for my spiritual life??? But there was something about the rhythm of footsteps, the simplicity of the path, and a minimal openness to God that brought me to my own center as I reached the center of the pattern and simply stood quietly for a while. It was as if I had left behind the distractions of daily life and found a calm within the center of God’s heart. Walking back out by the same path I felt a steadily building joy stayed with me for the rest of the day.
Every time I walk a labyrinth, the experience is different. I come with different questions, and I receive different insights. The invitation of the labyrinth in my backyard is like a friendly beckoning from the Spirit to come and spend time with God, even to start my day with walking prayer.
Today for the first time I actually took a wrong turn, and had to laugh as I realized that some industrious critter had dug a tunnel right through the pattern, and it looked every bit like the actual pathway! Maybe sometimes God just messes with us to mess with us! I think Jesus was sitting over on the terrace, chuckling with the chipmunk as I laughed at their clever joke.
When I get the pathway lined with stones, it will be harder for them to pull that stunt again! Then, who knows what they’ll cook up! It’s a delight to connect in this way. If you haven’t tried it before, there’s a larger one next to the Methodist Church and the Senior Center in Anacortes, always available to you. Or give me a holler and come over to see what you experience in your own walking meditation.
Jesus said to his friends, “I will not leave you orphaned, but I will send another Advocate to be with you…”
Around our nation families are making arrangements for the care of their children should the parents suddenly be taken away. Moms and dads are talking to their children to comfort them in this time of fear. “Don’t worry, little ones. Even if I go away suddenly, I’ve made arrangements for you. We’ve got legal papers drawn up, and our attorney will be there for you. She’s only a phone call away. She’ll be your advocate and comforter. We’ve given her instructions to share with you if we’re unable to do so. She’ll stand with you and speak on your behalf, and she’ll also help you to express yourself if you’re in trouble or danger. Don’t forget that you’ve got aunts and uncles, church grammas and grampas who will help you as you grow up. They know us really well, and you can trust them to guide you well. Even if we aren’t here to give you the hugs that you need, their arms will convey our love. We will not leave you orphanos. You are never alone. We love you more than life itself, and we carry you always in our hearts. And you know our love for you. Even if we seem far away, we are always in your heart, too.“
You may or may not be in imminent danger of being arrested, deported, incapacitated, or dying. But anyone who goes away from their loved ones for even a short period of time knows that it’s at those times when we share our most important values with those we love. We always want our loved ones to be aware of our love for them.
Jesus is no different. He shared as much as he could with his dear ones, and promised to send the Holy Spirit (Paraclete/Advocate/Comforter/Counselor) to us in his absence. This past Sunday we celebrated the pouring out of that Spirit upon “all flesh”. The Feast of Pentecost is marked as the birthday of the Church, when Jesus’ promise was fulfilled and continues to be fulfilled daily. When we feel abandoned, lonely, fearful, cut off or separated, even orphaned, this simple act of gathering together and sharing our stories of faith is a powerful witness to the way that Christ is present in our midst and in all the world as the Spirit of Love.
We are called to be the tangible presence of the Holy One, to be the aunts and uncles, the advocates and comforters, the teachers and counselors for those who yearn for connection and community. YOU are the Body of Christ, co-Creators and stewards of creation, conveying warmth, light and power in the fire of the Spirit.
Veni Sancte Spiritus. Come, Holy Spirit.
I took the photo behind the page title this evening as the light of January 2, 2017, faded into the past. Of course, it always looks better in person, and it was a moment of blessing for me.
I need those.
I need the reminder that beauty, peace, humility, and love are stronger than ugliness, strife, arrogance, and hatred. Their power is deeper, stronger, and will outlast the winter of the mere moment.
Days are now growning longer, and I'm grateful. We still have our Christmas tree up, and its lights cheer the nighttime. This year we put it up earlier than usual, and it will be up for a few more days of Christmas, before the light of Epiphany takes its place. This tree has been a comfort while I've healed up following the surgery December 6th to replace two discs in my neck. We'd gotten the lights on it and had time to tie pretty red gingham and calico bows on its branches before the surgery, and while I'd intended to finish the decorating process when I felt better, somehow simplicity seemed....right. We never got our stockings hung, it doesn't matter this year. I needed the reminder to let go of outsized expectations and allow the simplicity itself to be a blessing.
I still don't have my energy back in its entirety, but that's okay, too. This afternoon I spent an hour stretched out on the couch, reading by the fireplace, with Bailey curled up quietly on top of my fee, keeping them warm. Dave had the day off, so he had the loveseat and a book, too. Companionable silence surrounded us, blessing "the space between us."
As you begin 2017, I would share with you a poem of blessing from the Irish poet and teacher, John O'Donohue.
A Blessing for the New Year (Beannacht) by John O’Donohue
"On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
The gray window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colors,
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the curragh of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life."
(from To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue ©2008, Doubleday)
Blessings to you, your loved ones, and your homes.