Reflections from Sunday, March 26/17
Sunday, March 26, 2017
Mark of Love: Tend: Responding to human need by loving service
Change. Do you ever feel that wherever you look, we are surrounded by change of some kind or another? Experts are beginning to say that future generations will look back at this time in which we currently find ourselves, as being a time of cultural transformation, a tipping over into something new, something that as yet … we cannot quite imagine. Whether in the world of economics, communications, globalization, international, national, or local politics, health care or yes, even faith-based communities, it can feel like the new realities of the world of 2017 press heavily in upon us at every turn.
What is it about change that is so unsettling to us as human beings? I suppose it is not all that difficult to understand. Change asks us to take the familiar, those things that we have invested time and energy in figuring out in our lives, and to lay them aside, to step out into what is unfamiliar, unknown, and ask ourselves to consider doing, being, becoming something different.
To throw a little light on this, I was very pleased in my recent course reading to come across the terms continuous change and discontinuous change. What’s the difference you ask? Well the author I was reading went on to describe continuous change as that kind of change that is predictable, expected, anticipated, and manageable. For example, the kind of change we see in children as they grow. All of a sudden the shoes from three months ago are too small, the skirt too short, the shirt too tight. We knew this was coming and for the most part we know what to do in this instance; we buy more shoes, more skirts, more shirts. We look into our toolkit of possible solutions and there it is-the answer; we know what to do.
Discontinuous change on the other hand, is change that is disruptive, and unanticipated; it creates situations that challenge our assumptions about the world. It slowly dawns upon us that no matter how much work we put in, the real challenges are not being addressed. We are going to need some new skills; and normal, well discontinuous change happens at such a pace that I’m not sure we can even say there actually is a true normal that last for any measurable length of time.
So here we are, with this feeling that we are stuck on this merry-go-round, wooden horses taking us up and down and around and around, all of it making us at the least just a little bit nauseous, and … at the worst confused. In the midst of all of this our first reaction is to try to make it stop, to strive for stability; to look through those tools and systems that have served us so well in the past, hoping that you’ll have a tool that will work all the while suspecting that someone has changed the rules of the game … and we didn’t get the memo. The difficulty lies in the fact that old solutions are no longer having the effect they once did. This time in which we are living is asking us, or perhaps more accurately, demanding from us that we adapt.
Now this might all sound a little discouraging on the surface, but as Christians we look to Scripture and when we do we find that it is full of instances where God draws his people out of their established comfort zone in order for them to rediscover their true purpose, that of being God’s witness in the world. Today’s readings have a lot to say about this and in particular we see in Psalm 23 a shepherd that walks with us right in the midst of all our trials. Yes, there will be some dark valleys; you’ll note that the darkness is not changed, but rather receiving the gift of God’s presence with us changes US. We are offered an outstretched hand from one who will walk with us and give us comfort and courage.
As well, the valley into which we are being led, is a valley of extreme darkness, a place we could imagine as the place of our deepest troubles and fears, the place where we think no one will ever accompany us, yet we are wrong, even in the darkest of places, our Shepherd is there. Even when it is so dark that our eyes can no longer see the Shepherd, there is the rod and the staff guiding and directing us, not away from the darkness, but right through it, with, in the end, the darkness is not able to have any real power over us. This psalm, known so well to us, gives us the impression that this Shepherd has seen it all, and is phased by very little.
Now by the time we get to the final verses of the Psalm, we may hear these verse as a bit, ‘pie-in-the-sky’, ‘Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life …’, we might even say, well they sound very nice, but a bit out of touch with our lived experience. However, it was interesting to discover that the word for ‘follow’ may also be translated as ‘pursue’ and that gives a different twist to this verse to think of God’s goodness and mercy pursuing me all the days of my life. God’s goodness and mercy ‘chases’ us … even if we are running in the other direction … even if we feel the darkness creeping up upon us … even when we sit in between the place of having answers and looking for them. Knowing that God’s presence walks with us through all of this, does not change the circumstances so much as it changes us, and if allowed, it can work in us a transformation like none other, for the darkness around us slowly begins to lose its power. We take our place around the Lord’s table, and yes, there are some enemies, some things that trouble us, but it is at that table that our wounds are anointed and in the midst of the darkness we are restored.
As we think of all of this in light of our third mark of love, Tend, and our commitment to responding to human need by loving service, as those who have been tended by this good shepherd, we respond by tending. We open ourselves to being a part of what God wants to do in the world and like our shepherd being willing to share the hurt, struggles joys and dreams of those around us. We are all on this journey together. This third mark of love, Tend, asks us to get out of our comfort zone and open ourselves to the transforming power of Christ.
So where do we begin with all of this ‘Tending’? We begin with first becoming aware of where God is already at work around us. To begin this process of tending we must first be aware of those around us and of their stories. Jesus was able to see people as they were and to invite them into his presence. Where do you see Christ alive and at work throughout your day? Spend some time this week looking for these ‘sightings’ of God at home, at work at school, in our community. How is Christ present in people’s lives already, and how might we serve in some way?
Imagine what a different world it would be if we could really grasp this idea of tending and serving one another, if we could see and serve as Christ, perhaps even the darkness would not seem quite as darkness.