In this Easter season, I wonder sometimes why it is that – of all the benefits we’ve received through Jesus – we talk so little about the blessing of becoming part of God’s family. Now, I don’t want to downplay benefits like forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. But I can’t help but wonder: Do people who don’t consider themselves religious really think much in terms of sin and holiness? I’m sure they think about right and wrong, but “sin” seems like an awfully “churchy” kind of word. And, as for eternal life, I once had a friend tell me that the thought of living forever in some “form” that couldn’t be clearly described or defined, just seemed freaky and a little scary!
But I think all of us can relate to the idea of family… even if our primary reference is one of a dysfunctional family. And, when family is dysfunctional, I think somehow, somewhere down deep, we know it isn’t right and we long for a healthier experience of family.
In John’s gospel, right in the introduction, we’re told that, by trusting in Jesus, we become “children of God” (John 1.12). And, on Easter morning, when Jesus talks to Mary in the garden, he tells her to “go to my brothers” [the disciples] to tell them, “I’m ascending [up to heaven] to my Father and your Father…” (John 20.17). Over and over again, scripture reminds us that trusting in Jesus makes us part of God’s family; which means it makes us part of one another.
When I pastored in Gary, I had eye surgery. It turned out to be a way bigger deal than the surgeon told me it would be. For the first week, my eyes were stitched almost all the way shut! My sister in Pennsylvania couldn’t drop everything, drive nine hours, and come take care of me. But, my church family did. They took turns. They’d sit with me when my husband had to go to work. They brought me groceries and cooked for me. They even brought over dog food (for the dogs, not me!). Since I could hardly see, one even read to me from bible commentaries… although I do think she got a kick out of inventing crazy pronunciations of technical bible study terms.
Family – when it’s functional, when it works like it should – are the people who take care of us, help us, and make sacrifices for us. If and when Church is that kind of family, why don’t we talk about it more?
I’m gonna try and talk about it more this Sunday…
Over the last several weeks I’ve been reading a book called “Questions God Asks Us” by Trevor Hudson. (I’ll be leading a small group study on the book during Castleton UMC’s Midweek Connection starting this Wednesday at 6:30.) http://castletonumc.org/midweek-connection/
I love this book because it invites us to consider the bible not so much as an “answer book,” but as questions from God that challenge us to reflect on how we live our lives. One of the questions Hudson focuses on is God’s question to Elijah in 1 Kings, chapter 19.
To make a long story short, Elijah runs off to Mt. Horeb because he’s angry and frustrated and discouraged. He’d just had this “mountaintop ministry experience” and yet when the evil Queen Jezebel sends her posse to track down Elijah, Elijah feels totally alone and totally defeated. And so, as Elijah sits on the mountain depressed and disillusioned, God poses the question, “What are you doing here?” The answer Elijah gives is pretty whiney and pathetic. But, I have to confess, I can relate. It seems like, no matter how many incredible blessings God gives us, we always seem to focus on our failures and disappoints. It’s easy to forget what goes well; but so hard to remember the victories and blessings God gives us.
One of the funniest (OK, at least I think it’s funny) parts of this Elijah story is his dogged certainty that he is all alone. At the end of the story, God reminds Elijah of what he already has been told: there are 7,000 people who share his love for God. It’s pretty hard to consider yourself alone in a company of 7,000! But, we do. We all do from time to time. Convinced that our own shortcomings, frustrations, disappointments, etc. are somehow unique to us… and we want to whine about it.
But if we pay attention… If, in those moments of silence we really listen for the voice of God, we hear and we know that we’re not alone. Others are with us: in our joys and in our sorrows; in our disappointments and in our victories. It’s the reminder God whispers to us… in a still, small voice.
I’m someone who finds transitions difficult. I’ve done a lot of moving in my life. At this point, I don’t even keep count anymore. My dad lived within one hour of his hometown for all but eight of his eighty years of life. That’s hard for me to even fathom.
I suppose as Christians we should expect to be “journey people.” In the Old Testament, God’s first word to Abraham was “Go…” Moses spent 40 years journeying through a wilderness. And Jesus and his disciples were always on the go.
Right now I am in the midst of transitioning from one congregation in Indianapolis to another in Lafayette, Indiana. Part of the challenge of transitions, I think, is to view them as open space within our lives. As we, in a certain sense, hang suspended between one location and the next, what – or more importantly who – fills that open space? I can certainly find something to fill it – anxiety, uncertainty (when will my house sell?), tasks and “to do” lists (how have I acquired so much “stuff” since my last move?). Or, I can reserve that open space for God’s grace. As I prepare to move all that stuff… books, clothes, and furniture, what might God be preparing to do within me? It will be up to me to take the time – to make the time – and notice where God’s Spirit is moving.
In one sense, the journey is just beginning; but, in another sense, it is always ongoing. In all of our lives, regardless of geography, God’s Spirit moves within us and speaks the word: “Go.”