It all started with a text from my daughter, letting me know that with inter-provincial guidelines against travel, and strong suggestions in both provinces to vacation in your own location, they will not be coming to camp in a provincial park near me.
It wasn’t a surprise. I had been preparing my heart for this news for a while. I know that staying at home is the best thing for them, for me, for all those lives that intersect ours. It may be, in fact, our mission to stay home. (That doesn’t mean that there were no tears shed.)
But in the wakefulness of predawn it led to all sorts of questions.
There are days when it seems like questions are all we have. And answers are in short supply.
What we get these days are a lot of suggestions and information. This is clearly meant to help us to make up our own minds given our own situations. But that leads to more questions. And sometimes the guidelines seem downright oxymoronic. Outside gatherings (safe) limited to 10 people with social distancing. Worship can start again, indoors (not as safe) with less than 50. Which is it? 10? 50?
Then add to the mix the modeling that is coming out about singing in closed spaces, where it seems droplets in breath are dispersed further than 6 feet and maybe up to 16. Does that mean that physical distancing indoors needs to be 16 feet? What building has enough room to make that happen? And then what do you do about heating and cooling systems which blow the air around and increase the flow of droplets from our breath?
But people want (maybe even feel a deep need) to go back to worship. Is it more loving to continue to stay home, or to come back together? Is our mission to our local gathering or to the community in the market place?
And then there are the ironic questions.
Ironically we are reaching a greater number of people through worship now, as the online platforms we use from simple websites to Zoom to Youtube mean that there are more people than ever attending worship. Our website shows about double the amount of attendees than we would have in person. Some come through the congregation’s facebook page, and some from around the world. Is this an indication of our new mission?
Then I ask myself about what that means as we approach Pentecost. Is it the irony of this year that we are being sent indoors by the Spirit in order to go forth into the social media market place? Is tech talk the new tongues that will speak the language of every person?
Then I started pondering the book that I am reading for study leave this week about Paul’s letters and the mission of the church. (Michael J. Gorman, Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation and Mission)
The thesis of this book is that all believers are called to participate in God’s mission, just as Jesus participated in God’s mission. This is heavy hitting in its implications, because God’s Mission was completed when out of an abundance of love for the world, he sent Jesus to die so that all would be saved.
Gorman points out that Paul sets out the practicalities of this Mission, in a 3 fold way.
Faithfulness, Love and Hope.
Gorman was clear this is the order. We participate in God’s Mission in word and in deed–it is not an either or; but a both and mission–by faithfully obeying God to love the world around us with his love and to live in Eschatalogical hope. (a hope that looks to the future, both imminent and eternal)
I know, how can we live what we don’t even really understand?
The questions I asked in the dark of the night revolved around how we live out that mission in word and in deed, with love and a hope that looked to the future in a Covid 19 world?
What does it mean that our mission has become embodied in social media?
When we do go back to our buildings and our holy huddles what happens to the people who have become a part of our worshiping communities online? Is this another both and calling?
How do we live out God’s love in this pandemic age?
Is it more loving to stay home? Is it more loving to go back to the building? How do we express God’s love among ourselves and the world at our fingertips?
One of the deep realizations of this time for me is simply that none of how we respond right now is about us. It is not about what we want. Or what we need. Or our own desires. It is about how we live God’s mission in a new way so that we take care of the world.
How can it be loving to insist on going back to what was, if it puts the elderly, and those with fragile health and subsequently the community at our door at increased risk? And how do we reconcile that with the clear expectation that living out God’s mission involves risk?
What is the difference between foolish risk and the risk of the hostile stare and persecution of the faithful because of the challenging life of sharing God’s love?
And when we think of God’s mission in the terms of the beatitudes how does the way we live right now reflect God’s call to peacemaking and justice? How does the way we live right now speak truth to power and politics (what Paul calls Rome)? How can we reconcile all the needs we see around us from homelessness to increased domestic abuse, from the mental health issues of isolation to the increased use of drugs and alcohol? How can we be God’s mission to the lonely senior when we can’t visit?
How do we find hope that this too shall pass, and we will once again hug our children and grandchildren?
From what I have been reading, that comes from what Gorman calls eschatalogical hope and is born witness through the Spirit who illuminates the history of God.
God has been faithful in the past. Therefore God will be faithful in the future.
What does the future hold? We don’t know but God does. What will the future look like? We don’t know but God does.
That word “but” is something we don’t normally want to hear, because it usually qualifies what we don’t want to hear. None of us, especially the health officers trying to figure this out, knows what the future holds. We have hope that it will result in seeing more than the walls of our own homes in time, but the day and the hour are unknown.
Sound familiar. The day and the hour of the return of Christ is unknown. That means that we are already trained in living with eschatalogical hope. It is a part of the mission of God and we see it best expressed at the Lord’s supper. We don’t know if we will celebrate it again in person or when, but we do know that one day we will all stand around the table as Jesus once again takes up bread and says, this is my body broken for you.
We express that hope every time we hear the words, “for as often as you eat this bread and drink this wine, you do proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again.”
The Lord’s death. The faithfulness of Jesus fulfilling God’s mission and the master story we tell and live. The Lord’s death, the expression of God’s love which is synonymous with his mission. And the hope which is expressed in bread and wine until he comes again to complete God’s mission.
So many questions in the night. So few answers. But always that glimmer of hope, and the whispering of the Holy Spirit who assures us, that God is in this journey with us, to strengthen and to guide and that we have nothing to fear.
Questions God, we have questions. When will you answer?
Until we know, how can we have faith, or hope?
Eternity beckons us forward with you
Spirit stirrings lift our thoughts to you
Tender love stirs our faith
Instructions help us to discern your path
Open our hearts to you in this day and time
Nudging us forth as your people into the marketplace
Sealing your mission in our faithfulness, our love and our hope. Amen