I am currently reading a book by Gil Rendle called Quietly Courageous which is making an impression on my thinking as we go through this anxious time. He speaks of the wilderness time that Jesus goes through to determine what God is calling him to be and to do. When Jesus returns from the wilderness, he proceeds, not like John the Baptist, not like Judas Maccabees, not like other Messiah figures of Israel’s history, but quietly developing disciples and communities that are built on loving relationships.
Jesus’ core message was that God loved them, God forgives them, God accepts them, even in the midst of their infirmities. Jesus showed this by loving, forgiving, healing and accepting—especially the ones that other communities found unacceptable. The communities that were established on the concept that “Doing unto others as you would have them do to you,” is significantly different than the popular concept of “Do what you want as long as you don’t stop others from doing the same.”
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching about how this “Godly Community” will act toward one another:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
He also told them a parable:
Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.
(Luke 6: 32—36, 39—40)
How can we be “Quietly Courageous” as we seek to live in community during this time? Might I suggest one small way… can we begin calling it “Physical Separation” instead of “Social Separation?” We are created to be social. We just have to find new ways to continue loving, giving, healing, forgiving as we do our best to remain physically separated for the needed time.
Jesus’ teachings were meant for his time and his community, but we can learn and benefit from his words of wisdom—especially during this coronavirus lock down. The season of Lent was created from the examples in Jewish history when the people found themselves in the wilderness. The wilderness is a place where we may not go voluntarily. And when we find ourselves there, we do not know how long it will last or in what ways we will be changed because of it. While in the wilderness, two questions are needed answering: 1) How will we now be with God? 2) How will we now be with one another?
The first example was Noah and the story of the flood. When nature forces us from our homes and communities, God will be with us as we rebuild. The covenant God makes with us is realized.
The second was the Exodus, and the responses are found in the Ten Commandments and in the organization of the 12 tribes.
The third was the Babylonian conquest, destruction of the Temple, and exile of the community. The responses are found in the Levitical Code, the rebuilding of the temple, and synagogue communities which held the people together in remote areas.
In the New Testament, the fourth example is Jesus’ wilderness experience. And the community’s response to Jesus was to form communities we have called the church, which opened the message of Jesus and God’s grace to those outside of Judaism. A very courageous endeavor indeed!
Maybe this pandemic is our generation’s “wilderness” and we are asked to answer the questions: How will we now be with God? How will we now be with one another?
Maybe this is our time to be quietly courageous.
I end with a prayer from William Sloane Coffin of Riverside Church, which was written during the sixties when our country was torn. It was introduced to me by one of my pastoral mentors and I believe it is needed today:
O God, whose mercy is ever faithful and ever sure, who is our refuge and our strength in time of trouble, visit us we plead, for we are a people in trouble.
We need a hope that is made wise by experience and is undaunted by disappointment.
We need an openness about the future that shows us new ways to look at new things, but does not unnerve us.
As a people, we need to remember that our influence is greatest when our power seemed to be weak.
Most of all, we need to turn to you, O God, and our crucified Lord, for only his humility and his strength can heal and free us.
O God, be our sole strength in this time of trouble.
In the midst of anxiety, grant us the grace to count our blessings: especially health, food, sleep, one another, a spring that is bursting out all over,
a nation which despite all, has so much to offer so many.
Help us, O God, to see our failures as lessons to learn and to grow, our losses of finances as a way to find renewable resources,
our mental anguish as a sign to stop and observe Sabbath rest, and our close encounter with death as a means to appreciate and celebrate life.
Send us forth into a new week with a curious mind, and a free and joyful spirit looking for all the ways the Holy Spirit is showing your glory among us. Amen.
-The Rev. Barry Foster is pastor of Unity Moravian Church, Lewisville, NC.