I am very touched that so many of you have been responding, verbally or in text, to several of these reflections that involve our quirky rescue border collie, Abby. Now it was never my intention that this “blog” end up as some theological version of Marley and Me. Yet it has been eye opening (or is it rather “soul” opening) to realize how much a pet can teach her human.
We humans are, as St. Paul observed, at best slaves to a law that has left us in need of redemption. We are not the creatures that our loving Creator has always intended us to be. We are always the recipients of love, but not always the dispensers of it. We can be self-absorbed, violent, cruel, unkind, dishonest, unfaithful and on and on and on. As Paul realized in his own life, having a “law” (any moral law, especially God’s “law”) to follow doesn’t do me any good. It just puts down in black and white what I’m doing wrong!
This dog loves unconditionally. Of course she is imperfect. I’ve told you that she can be a conniver, glutton and insists, no matter how much training, that she must bark at every man, woman or child who crosses her path. And still, she loves without condition. She forgives my crankiness when on “down” days when you wonder if what you do here in ministry really matters. She shows you affection when on a return trip from mom, mom didn’t know you.
Love is the fulfillment of law. It is “the greatest commandment.” It is THE commandment Jesus gave: Love one another as I have loved you.
I guess these past months, I have often written about our four legged tornado because she loves. And that is something she is teaching me to do.
“We wait in hope…” is an often cited conclusion to Christian prayer as well as a mantra to what is called “Eschatological Theology” which is a very big phrase reminding us that life is but a pilgrimage and we Christians anticipate the Lord’s return in glory to fully establish the Kingdom (reign) of God.
“Hope” is in short supply these days. The economy, presidential politics, inter-religious dialogue, the decline of organized religion of any sort within secular societies, poverty – and the list would continue the length of your arm: where do we live in hope? How do we live in hope? Why live in hope?
Hope must be based in fact, experience and trust if it is not merely a delusion. Take our dog, Abby. She knows that one of her humans is always neat and spotless and the other is me! She “waits in hope” for crumbs from the table to fall in her direction. She bases her hope upon her faith and her willingness to be patient and to expect what she knows is sure to happen.
I learn to “hope” by watching Abby. My faith in us, as a church and as a community, has to be based upon faith in God’s Holy Spirit guiding us and in the Lord’s promise that all history – including our story as a parish, is in God’s hands. I wait in hope because I trust Jesus to ultimately make things right more than I trust human structures or organizations.
Just as food from the table is inevitable (knowing me) so God’s intervention into our space, God’s love empowering God’s community, our growth in times of stress and distress – is certain. We wait in hope, and no one or nothing, as dark as the times may be, will take this away.
As you all may remember, there is that bible story that goes something like this: Humans once all spoke the same language. Then some genius got the brilliant idea, “Hey, let’s make us a tower to touch the heavens.” So God watched these fools in their arrogance and stupidity try to show off “how great we art” … at least God watched up to a point, then gave ‘em what for: causing them all to speak different languages so creatures couldn’t communicate with each other ever again. So they left the tower unfinished as a tribute to the wonderful accomplishments of humankind (NOT) when it chooses to “play God.”
Now the scripture scholars will give all the necessary interpretive tools of linguistic analysis, theology and cultural adaptation. The preachers will highlight the meaning and the message of this haunting story.
The experts will speak better than I. I’m just going to note that twenty centuries ago, at the initial gathering of Jesus’ followers some 50 days after they experienced Him as alive, the Spirit of God exploded upon a ragtag group of 120 (more or less) very unimportant people, blew their lives apart, and the people who heard the first of these new Christian preachers all heard in their ears the same message in the same language no matter who they were or where they came from.
We are of the 21st century; we who claim to be believers of Jesus. The world without God is dark, and there is such pain and hate within. So we, filled with that same Holy Spirit: What do we say to them? What do we do with and for them? Do we speak the one language of love and of Jesus? The world has had millennia of babble! So how’s that been working for us?
A few years ago, I brought a small group of recently confirmed/baptized parishioners (and their families) to St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in NYC in order for them to see just how different an Orthodox Church, its priest and their worship is. Last Sunday evening, May 1 (which happened to be Orthodox Easter), I was saddened to see that a fire had started at St. Sava’s and very rapidly caused immense damage. This group of Serbian Christians now begins a new journey to find a place for worship and community and to try (if possible) to replace/substitute for the many liturgical, historical and cultural items now lost forever.
In the midst of such loss, I remind you all of our Church’s teaching that “Church” is NOT a building. St. John’s or St. Paul’s, and all that is contained within, as precious and historical it may seem, is ultimately the “work of human hands” and a place where we come together. But nothing is permanent and no “thing” is of ultimate value no matter how treasured.
Our being members of this parish is about a commitment to Jesus Christ lived within this community and in this liturgical and historic tradition which is called “Episcopal.” We the baptized are “the church” – not the stone or the wood or the vestments or the clergy or the “feelings” or the sermons or anything so transitory. We are Church when we gather together to pray with and for each other and then “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” What matters is our coming together and then departing from this “stuff” here to live the gospel in the world and be witnesses of our faith in Christ.