Now that we are officially into the summer season, the outdoors beckon with near perfect conditions these days. Indeed, we often experience our connection with God most profoundly in creation –
With our feet on the earth, breathing the air, hearing the chirping birds and sounds of the forest and feeling the warm sunshine and breeze on our skin. In the peace and surrounded by beauty beyond words, we have a felt sense of God’s presence.
We embrace these moments because we also know this does not last forever.
I offered prayers for the church sitting by the Ottawa River as the season changed to summer. But I have been on those same shores in winter – when the winds howl and freezing temperatures and biting snow burn my skin, chasing me indoors.
The Gospel reading today reminds us that the death Jesus experiences, we too must endure. It doesn’t sound like good news. How can we live our faith, be aware of our life in Christ and follow Jesus according to his will, when we suffer, when we don’t feel well, when the circumstances of our life are far from perfect?
It isn’t easy to confront the truth of what we believe under the surface. It isn’t easy to come to terms with our real motivation for going to church, for associating with others. Is it only when the conditions, the circumstances of our lives are ideal? Is it only when we feel good that we can consider ourselves Christian and meet with others who say they are or aren’t?
In our home, the cleaning normally gets done according to the schedule of house guests. Pre-COVID, we would have friends or family over once every few weeks. And this reality would motivate me to vacuum and wash the floors. We wanted a clean house to entertain our guests.
When no guests at all were coming over the past few months, you can imagine what happened to the condition of our floors. I needed to make a shift within myself to realize that I was no longer going to wash the kitchen floors because we were hosting visitors to our place. But for different, more basic reasons. I needed to find a new motivation, a refreshed understanding from which to do things.
Maybe what some are calling this time of history as “The Great Pause” has given us all a little more time and space to address some deeper motivations around our faith practice. Are we Christian only because we are trying to get ourselves into heaven? Have we strived to impress others in the church, out-do others in our good works, or perform to some high level to prove something?
All of these motivations may have been operating in our subconscious before we had to isolate. Before we had to pause everything. We may not have been aware of our true intentions until now. And, in all honesty, we might be alarmed and ashamed at what we confront within our hearts.
The message of the New Testament is that new life can only sprout from death. The death of old patterns of thinking. The death of underlying beliefs and assumptions which may have been helpful at one point in life but don’t really work now anymore.
Life with God in Christ makes that kind of shift. Life is a great teacher. Old ways will die. Things we have done in the past will never be the same in the future. When we receive and accept this, it is a kind of dying. We have been baptized into the death of Christ. A life in Christ will be a life of dying and rising.
We need to find a new starting point within us. We need to embrace the new life of Christ emerging from within us, just waiting to be born.
A cartoon circulated on social media recently showing several executives of a large corporation huddled around the board room table. Their CEO stands before them giving a rather sobering analysis of recent sales amid the economic slowdown during COVID-19.
He says, “I’m afraid the news isn’t good. Word has it, the consumers are starting to find out what actually matters.”
What actually matters is that God values us beyond measure. We are more valuable to God than the smallest most insignificant things we see and have. Jesus uses the examples of the smallest sparrows and each, individual strand of hair on our heads to make this point.We are infinitely more valuable than anything we can produce, more valuable than anything we may taste, touch, feel, smell, and see in this world. That is what actually matters!
The end result of all that Christ Jesus has done, is so that “we too might walk in newness of life.”Notice, Paul says ‘walk’, not ‘think’ nor ‘believe’. But walk in newness of life. Here we arrive at the crux of it: The necessity of connecting faith with action. They will know we are Christians by our love.
If you feel you are losing your connection to faith these days, maybe God is calling to you examine yourself. Maybe God is calling you to a deeper understanding. Maybe God is calling you to be a blessing for others as you have been blessed in the past by God. Maybe God is calling you to do something.
When we consider ourselves as valuable, beloved creatures of God, when we consider ourselves as people motivated by God’s love for all, when we consider our faults and our dying in light of God’s unconditional loving regard for us, what do we have to lose? But “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.”