When we can no longer count on normal: a sermon to myself, and maybe you too…

It’s a tough time to be reading Revelation, but here I am–at the last book in my two-year-journey through my journaling Bible–in December of 2020. These are some of the darkest days people here in ‘the new world’ have experienced in decades…Europeans were much more affected by World War II than we were, for it was fought in their own front and back yards. Our cities were not bombed or blitzed or darkened by black-outs; surely they must have thought the end of the world was imminent.

Not being brave enough to read Revelation without a commentary at hand (I’m using an older Layman’s Bible Commentary written by Julian Love) I underlined these words: (and shortened them here for clarity)

“Oftentimes when it looks as though God’s judgments must surely be spent…there is a prolonged period [that] seems to be unchanged awaiting some final decision. And in that waiting there is opportunity to look around and gain fresh understanding of what has been going on and especially what redeeming factors God has introduced, which men in their hurried and often frantic way of life, have not observed.”

As I’m writing these words two days before Christmas, the day is lightening. The hill and trees are as black shadows against a pale pink and ivory horizon. It is a subtle sun-rising that befits these days, yet still, it is a reminder of the light that always comes after darkness: morning after night; spring after winter; the cycles of life, ordained by God.

This pandemic time is already being called the great pause–an interlude–in which, if humans were so inclined, we would/could/should “look around and gain fresh understanding.” Indeed, what  redeeming factors has God introduced that in our frantic way of life we have not observed?

There are many obvious answers–physical, emotional, and spiritual–so I think we can be ‘wholistic’ when considering this question.

We all long for the return of normal; it seems everything in our lives has been either put on hold or turned upside down. But what if God is upending our normal for His own purposes? Our frenetic pace has been forcibly slowed. If your normal was go everywhere and do everything, you have been obliged to reconsider. Many rage against this, call it the taking away of freedom, and disregard the new restrictions (at a risk to society). God does not need to rain judgment on us; we bring it on ourselves through our own foolishness, selfishness, and pride.

No matter if one is averse to change or if one embraces it, no one likes to have change forced upon them. (We do like the illusion of our control, don’t we?) Our emotions spiral out of whack when it happens, as do the above triage of sins–selfishness, foolishness, and pride.

Consider that our spiritual lives are being upended too. It is as if God Himself is saying,

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that my Son is born.

You have not listened to my still small voice,

so hear now the thunder and the storm.

We miss it now at peril to our lives and our souls…

I was going to end this sermon there for dramatic purposes, but I couldn’t.  Because there is always light after dark.

The darkness is given to us so that we understand light. Fear, grief, illness and death, instability–all things of the dark that have been so prevalent this year–are appointed to us so that when joy arrives, when our blessings are counted, when our hope wins, it can all be more glorious.  This year I wrote on Christmas cards a verse from the Gospel of John: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. — John 1:5, and this next one is like it:John 1:9

Jesus’ name is Emmanuel, God With Us. In the dark, as well as in the light. In this darkest of years, in this darkest of months, in these darkest of days, let’s not forget that He experienced the greatest darkness of all. So that we would not have to live in the darkness forever. So that we can have that great hope of joy even when the darkness threatens to overwhelm us.

So I ask us all to consider what it is that God is showing us through this time that we have not observed. It will be something different for us all, I think. But let’s not waste this time, and then automatically go back to normalcy when we can. This is a wake-up for the world, isn’t it?

A radical change is being called for; what will that look like for you?

 

All We Need Is Love…

All of March, all of April, all of May so far, posts have been swirling around in my head and then rejected. Too serious, too stupid, too sad, too banal, too ubiquitous, too churchy, too inappropriate, too depressing, too inconsequential… So instead I wrote an inconsequential post on baking dessert, and an inconsequential post on our bathroom remodel. (I confess that the beautiful new bathroom isn’t inconsequential to me!)

I kept thinking of the Lennon-McCartney line, Nothing you can say that’s not been said… but it turns out that isn’t the right lyric. It is close to a line from “All You Need Is Love” and that’s the lyric we all need to hear right now. “All you need is love, love. Love is all you need…” So have a listen to the song, while you’re reading my words that have all been said before.

This stuff we’re going through is scary. We’ve probably all read enough dystopian novels that start simply enough with oh, say, all the grass dying from a disease (No Blade of Grass, by John Christopher) or  women no longer being able to give birth so humanity is dying out (The Children of Men by P. D. James) or climate change causing  social structures to break down (The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler) or a viral pandemic that starts in one small area and spreads worldwide (Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel; The Stand by Stephen King; )… It’s easy to look at what’s happening now and say, What if… Okay, yes. Too depressing.

I myself have been having trouble reading, concentrating. The librarian! So if dystopian novels are too depressing,  I told myself, read something light. So I chose 14 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith, but all that did was remind me of the ten days in Scotland that is not happening. Non-fiction, I brainstormed, and soon after I was reminded that The Art of Eating by MFK Fisher was on my life to-read-list, but it had always been pushed to the bottom because I didn’t think I had time. Duh! There are no events on my calendar, and I’ve got time. I’m reading it now on my kindle and thoroughly enjoying it.

Since we’re on the topic of song lyrics, how about John Prine’s song, Spanish Pipedream: Blow up your TV, throw away your paper, move to the country, build you a home. Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches, try to find Jesus, on your own…)

Garden for Joy

Plant a little garden: We’ve already covered that in this post, but just in case you didn’t read it, go out and plant something. On your patio. In your back yard. In your front yard. Grow cosmos. Or lantana. Grow yellow tomatoes. Or seven different varieties of basil. Grow a lemon tree…

Turn off the Television: I admit to wanting to blow mine up.  24-7 broadcasting of Covid-19 statistics and scares is not good for anyone’s mental health…Neither is 24-7 broadcasting on the current president’s stupidity. Sorry. I just had to throw that in there because that has me as depressed as the virus statistics. So turn off the news, turn off the president, turn off the divisiveness. Play games, go for a walk, make homemade ice cream, order pizza delivery for a friend.

Try to find Jesus: Now is the time. Do you need hope? Do you need comfort? Do you need the ability to get rid of the belief that you are in control? Take comfort in what Jesus told his disciples: So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring fears of its own… There are you-tube church services abounding right now, and you don’t have to actually walk into a church. I remember how daunting that was when I was finally ready to take that step. It took me a month to get up the courage.

Pray: “Prayer and meditation are highly effective in lowering our reactivity to traumatic and negative events,” says Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a marriage, family and addictions therapist. “They are powerful because they focus our thoughts on something outside ourselves.

Giving comfort to someone else brings comfort to you: Find something to do for someone who is worse off than you. Donate your time. Donate your talent. Donate your money. We were going to donate our stimulus check, but we haven’t received it yet. That’s okay; it’s giving us plenty of time to decide how to donate it…

So yes, all of this advice is everywhere. And frankly, I’m tired of those sappy commercials of “We’re all in this together”. I appreciate the sentiment; it is true. And I’d rather see one of those commercials than the tv news of protesters dressed in camo carrying guns. I admit to being a child of the sixties: I want to walk up and put daisies in their gun barrels.

I took this picture today when I was outside decorating my house for spring. These ajuga and lilies of the valley are growing together and cooperating beautifully in the same space. Even though they are different colors; even though they are different species. When will humans learn from them? In truth, some of the most beautiful landscapes are those with incredible variety. With all that is going on the world, we are being called to rise above the division, the noise, the ugliness and reach out in love to someone who might be different from us.

Take one step forward today. Be kind and love on someone. Be kind to yourself. Pray. Be grateful for what you do have. Love isn’t love till you give it away