Growing up Methodist, I used to hear wisecracks about how Catholics never read the Bible and only did what the Pope said. I have news for you – most Methodists I knew never read the Bible either, and most Catholics take what popes say with a grain of salt. I began to read the Bible as a teenager and found it to be informative and inspiring – and imperfect. I immediately saw the beauty of passages like 1st Corinthians 13, and the inconsistencies of conflicting stories like the birth of Jesus. I was told by my more conservative friends that we Mainline Protestants didn’t read the Bible as seriously as they did, and as I got to know more Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, I learned that this wasn’t true either. Many of them read-only what their pastors told them to read, and rarely struggled with the nuances and disconnects that are all through the Scriptures.
For most of my adult life, I have read the Bible and taught it, and I find that this practice had helped me in my daily journey of faith. I do not find every answer to every question – that is impossible, since much of what we deal with now did not exist 2000 plus years ago. I do, however, find eternal answers – we have so much in common with those who came before us, and the writer of Ecclesiastes was correct when he (or she) wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
I recently began rereading Philippians, a fascinating little letter written by the Apostle Paul some time in the middle of the 1st century. It is clear that he had tremendous respect for this small band of followers, and that he loved them and yearned for their company. He wrote that he knew that they “hold him in their hearts” – something that every clergyperson I know longs for in a congregation. As I read the first chapter, I was struck once again by verse 8, and how meaningful and timely it is. “For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.” As we enter our 14th month of being forced apart due to this global pandemic, that verse rings true to me in a deeply emotional way. I think about the daily grind of ministry, and the members and friends at Calvary who have helped me through those days with their generosity of words, prayer, and service, and I think to myself – the Philippians had nothing on the people connected to our work together.
The church at large has come under intense scrutiny over the last 30 years, and rightly so. Too many “Christians” have perverted the message and work of Jesus, and that has caused an incredible amount of damage and heartache. Even so, the church is a place of immense love and grace, if it is done well. We are not the first devoted followers of Jesus to mess up – Paul did plenty of chastising in the 1st century, and so have those who have followed. Paul was most upset, though, when he felt that the people claiming to be loved by Jesus did not show that love in return to others. He didn’t expect perfection – only commitment and good works. To those within and outside of the church, we judge ourselves, and are judged by others, by what we say, but more so by what we do. The heart must guide the hands – the body of Christ must be guided by the head – Jesus.
I will repeat the words of Paul, and hope with all my heart that our target reopening date of June 20th will happen. Regardless, I long for all of you with the compassion of Jesus and of Paul and of every pastor I know. We have hung in there despite being separated. Hang on a little longer. Peace.
Prayer – Being together in Spirit, holy and merciful God, has sustained us for a long time. Be present with us every moment. Amen.
Today’s art is a picture of Calvary’s altar at Easter.