There is a quote attributed to philosopher Soren Keierkegaard that says: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” I think this is a very apt saying in these days. In my pastoral visits and talks with people over the past few days, the conversation has often paused around current events for a time. Top among these events, of course, is the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, and it’s related happenings: – Should school resume? If so, how? In person or online? – When will we all be able to come back to church? As it used to be? – When will this (virus, time of caution, etc.) be over? – What will life (ministry, work) look like post-virus?
Many of these questions are forward looking. But they also carry a yearning for understanding that may only be available in hind sight – that is by looking backward. This makes me ponder the relationship between the choices we make to move forward, and how they will be judged when at last we can look backwards. Do you follow?
As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to cause major disruptions to normal life, I have been thinking about the importance of community. Community and connection are vital aspects to our Christ following faith. I cannot recall how often in my ministry career a person who has missed public worship due to illness or recovery for a few weeks, upon return has said, “I really missed being with the church family” or “my week was just ‘off’ because I wasn’t able to be there on Sunday”.
Well, none of us are able to “be there” on Sunday in the ways we have been used to now. So, how do we stay connected to Christ and to the body of Christ (the church) during this time of social distancing? Here are some thoughts that have come to me:
The month of December has been full in our household this year – full of varied events, concerns, prayers – full of waiting, as is typical of Advent. But the waiting this year has felt more complex and stirred a different response than many an Advent time of preparation. It’s been the waiting of sleepless nights and early mornings and days so full you find yourself living in the moment. It’s been a mixed-bag season of waiting and preparation – of prayers offered and answered. Perhaps it’s best explained through the metaphor of the muddled messages in my December inbox.
December has long seen an increase in the volume of mail one receives in his or her inbox. Whether we are talking about your literal USPS mail box, your email box, or the varied other means by which persons communicate these days (instant messenger, text or other Social Media); inboxes are generally stuffed during December. They contain a myriad of sales advertisements, the usual bills, flyers from local businesses, year end political reports, holiday event notices – and then there are the Christmas greetings. Yes, we still receive a number of cards each December and send several ourselves; even though the trend in Christmas card giving has decreased overall. Picking up the mail on a December afternoon, at the end of the drive way or through one’s email provider, can bring a smile to your face as you read greetings, view pictures and reconnect with friends from miles away to right next door.
If you were to come up with a top ten list of things for which you are grateful, what would be on your list? The Thanksgiving season is a great time to give some thought to this list. But do me a favor. Don’t just write out, or mentally check off, the expected list. Put some thought and creativity into the list. Go beyond the one word or simple phrase list to expound in a few more words what you are thankful for in 2019.
When I was a kid, I remember a couple of family reunions we attended. These were usually held on a hot summer day in our local city park. It was one of the few times each year we came into the town park, and it was one of the few times in my (as then) short lifetime that I met most of these “relatives”.
I remember being rather astounded to discover we were related to so many people, of such variety. At least they seemed varied to me – not at all like my family of origin that was rather polite and reserved in demeanor. Not these relatives, at least the ones that left a memory mark. They were different. Bear in mind these memories come many years removed from who I was then – a child of 7 or 8 years. Still, the fact I remember suggests an impression was made.
How could you not remember, though, the man (somehow related) who hovered over the food tables insisting that you try the dish that his wife made? In his mind it was not optional. Everyone was required to eat a bit of the Mrs.’ dessert or salad, and then make a complimentary remark about it!
Or what about all those elderly relatives who insisted on pinching my cheeks, or commenting on my growth spurt, or saying how much I looked like my Grandpa. I’m sure they meant well, but what little boy of 7 wants to be told he looks like his Grandpa? What are you supposed to do with that?
Then there were Grandpa’s brothers and nephew who were as loud and brash as he was quiet and reserved. I could never quite work out in my mind just how they were possibly related. In fact, I would have bet on adoption had it not been for the fact that they looked so much alike.
Family. “You don’t get to choose your family.” Or do you?
The Apostle Paul uses several family references and terms when writing to the churches of the first century. He calls his fellow Christ followers “brothers and sisters”, talks about our “adoption” into the life of the Spirit, and says that we are “heirs” with Christ. Why so much family verbiage?
The family or “household” unit in first century Greco-Roman society was the primary unit of the society. A household, however, was not limited to one’s immediate relatives, but likely included several others: slaves, servants, hired laborers, clients, business associates, and extended family. It was a relationship of dependence, not mere kinship, that constituted the household. All of the individuals were in some way dependent upon one another in sustaining a day to day way of life.
Might Paul have had this reality in mind as his prototype when he writes to house churches about their family units? Society already provided something of a diverse model in terms of socio-economic status within a household; but under the grace of Jesus, Paul extends this diversity to include: Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female (see Galatians 3:28). The family of God, or household of faith, was to become a place where divisions were broken down and persons of different backgrounds came together in the common identity and mission of Christ. You choose to become part of this family by virtue of your profession of faith, but you still do not choose who your family members are – you simply grow to understand and celebrate their differences within your common household of faith.
The new tag line we have adopted at First Baptist Columbus, complimenting our new logo is “Come join our family of faith.” During the season of Advent I will be preaching a series under the theme “A First Baptist Family Christmas”. This Sunday’s message is titled: What is (God’s) Family?
I hope you can join us for worship (9:30 a.m.) in person or via live stream.