As someone who grew up with lots of internal pain, and lots of tears, I’ve always been fascinated by this concept: put my tears in your bottle: These words are addressed to God by David in Psalm 56:8, written about when the Philistines had seized him in Gath. In addition to finding the concept somewhat gross — tears captured in a container — and weird — what kind of bottle is this? — I nonetheless find it comforting. The notion that God takes note of our tears, especially when they’re frequent and copious, is so different from my experience growing up, when I got the sense that big people just wished I’d stop crying and suck it up. Apparently this isn’t the case with God, and it’s confirmed by the example and teaching of Jesus, the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, Who encourage us to weep with those who weep. So, as you pray today, perhaps with groans and sighs to deep for words in these days of intense pain in our neighborhoods, cities and towns, and country, not to mention the whole world, may you be able to “capture” and value the suffering of others, not trying to minimize or fix them, or even to dry them (that’ll come later, in glory), but just sit with them, even as you have been sat with by Him.
During these specific 10 days between Easter and Pentecost, 2 Millenia + ago, the disciples knew that they were to wait for The Holy Spirit to come, with power. They were told to stay in the city, and not to move on the Great Commission which Jesus gave them to go into all the world. They were largely confined to the Upper Room, socially isolated, in prayer, waiting for Phase 1 of their re-entry into the world in their new ministry …
Sound familiar? We have been confined, waiting for what, we hope, will be some kind of return to normal, Phase 1 of our pandemic-recovery life. We’re all aware, of however, that it will be what many are calling “a new kind of normal”, something smaller or at least different from what we were used to.
Many of us are also waiting for an outpouring of The Holy Spirit, God’s Consolation in the midst of this desolation. Some of us had the sense, Hallie and I for decades, that this revival would be accompanied by some kind of terrible devastation. Now that we know what that devastation might be (and more might be coming still), we’re expecting God to do something amazing, even as we pray it will involve the healing and saving of many, many lives. The question is, will we stay put in Christ, waiting on Him for the sending of His Holy Spirit to heal, deliver, save, and restore? Or will we rush out in our own strength, either to recover our lost lives (and thereby potentially lose them and take others with us), or to try to save this hurting world (and thereby potentially adding to its pain). Or will we wait on The Holy Spirit to come, in small whispers, or in a great rush of wind, and respond accordingly?
To state the ridiculously obvious, this is a very scary season, not only in the U.S., but around the world. Not only are we witnessing the catastrophe of an epidemic of historic proportions, we are seeing the meltdown of the global economy, rescued in the U.S. only by huge borrowing.
In this season of Lent and Holy Week, the Cross of Jesus Christ has something to say to us about these matters. To view a recent message from Fr. Len prepared for the Palm Sunday 2020 online worship gathering of The Journey Community Church in Worcester, Mass., please click here: https://vimeo.com/403943790/351ba6977c
Perhaps the title of this posting got your attention, particularly in these days of the COVID-19 virus. But this message is not what it might seem.
It could be that God is calling us to stay home instead of gathering for public worship or other church gatherings in these days of high stress due to medical and financial threats. As I’ve been thinking and praying about this situation, four things came to mind:
1. Demographically, churches tend to have lots of poor and older people, including people who are dealing with serious chronic medical issues, who are drawn to the fellowship of the faithful because of the truth and mercy they find from Jesus and His Body. But this demographic is precisely the people who are most vulnerable to the virus. And, since our lack of virus testing results in our not knowing who has it, God might be calling us home in order to protect those whom our society might consider “the least of these”, but who are, in fact, Jesus’ brothers and sisters, and ours. Observing proper hygiene can certainly help slow the disease spread, but “social distancing” for a season is clearly most effective at protecting the vulnerable.
2. In South Korea, many are blaming a religious sect for making the spread of the virus worse, since 63% of the virus cases there are related to infected sect members. In The West, as the reputation of the Church has been on the decline due to the work of the enemy, combined with serious sin in our ranks, perhaps a decision to stay home in these days of uncertainty could protect the church from further accusation, and would give the devil no further opportunity to besmirch the Body of Christ by blaming us for spreading the disease. Staying home for the sake of others could put the lie to the enemy’s lies about Jesus and His People.
3. Many in the medical community here are pointing to the possibility that an exponential increase in the number of virus cases could overwhelm our medical system, as has happened in Italy. Avoiding large group church contacts now could help #FlattenTheCurve, the statistical chart visualizing a slower speed of disease transmission so as to not overwhelm the health system up front and deprive others of life-saving medical care. Our depriving ourselves of in-person spiritual support now could protect the lives of many in need later.
4. The church in its first three centuries grew exponentially (like an out-of-control virus!) primarily because of the truthfulness and mercy of its members living amongst of many non-believers. As Christians got thrown out of the Holy Land, and were exiled to the far-flung corners of the Roman Empire, living in tenements literally in the midst of many others, their loving way of life drew many to Jesus. In The West, many of us live as if we don’t even have neighbors, either across the hall, next door, or across the field. Perhaps God is calling us home in these days, and particularly on weekends, shutting down entertainment venues, including the “spiritual” ones — so that we can get off the bench and get into the action of reaching out in mercy to our anxious neighbors all around us. We can offer God’s mercy in our concern and care and, when possible, our witness to truth, both from the CDC, and from the Scriptures pointing to Jesus Christ.\
Jesus indicated that there is one great commandment, in two parts: love God with all you have, and love neighbor with all you are in Him. In these days as we face decisions on how to do both well, may we look to Him for opportunities to do both simultaneously, such as in a decision to say “yes” to His call to come home.
The first followers of Jesus were often called “Followers of the Way”, or more simply, “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9.23; 24:14,22; 22:4). This was the title adopted by believers in Jesus to describe themselves, and may have referred to those who followed the One who described Himself as “The Way” (John 14:6). But the term also described a particular manner of life which followers of Jesus Christ came to adopt, setting them apart both from the particular Jewish manner of life from which they had emerged, and from the pluralistic Greco-Roman “Gentile” ways of life in which they were immersed. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) we see Him articulating for disciples the beginning of this “Way” of life, distinct from the rabbinic Judaism of His Day. Throughout the rest of His earthly ministry, we see Him demonstrating His Way of Life to the disciples. Following His death and resurrection the Holy Spirit shaped this Way of Life in the rapidly growing community of those who were being saved, as described in Acts 2:37-3:1. In the practical teachings of New Testament Letters we see this Way further refined. We also note that disciples of Jesus followed the command of the Old Covenant to raise their children in the faith through the home, fulfilling Peter’s statement that “the promise (of salvation in Christ by the gift of the Holy Spirit) is for you, (and) for your children. Parents, and particularly fathers, are urged to “bring up [their] children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”, implying that practical disciplines of faith precede and accompany dogmatic instruction in the faith.
In the post-biblical period, documents such as “The Didache” (“The Teaching” of the Apostles) begin their description of life in Christ with “Two Ways: The Way of Life and the Way of Death”, and then clarify in great detail what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Followers of Jesus seemed to understand their life in Christ as being not only what they believed, but how they lived. This common core of faith in action was passed on to children, first in the family, and then in the various settings of the early church.
With the conversion of the Emperor Constantine and the resultant enculturation of Christianity into “the ways” of the Roman Empire, terms associated with “The Way” soon fell into disuse. The “catechumenate”, the rigorous instruction of would-be disciples and their children out of the home and life, atrophied and disappeared, as did the commitment to a Way of Life in Christ distinct from Greco-Roman culture. With the accession of pagan temples by the Christian state, houses of worship became the center of the Christian life, replacing the family as the locus for raising up the baptized in the Way of Jesus. In subsequent church history, communities that sought to live more clearly in and for Christ, resisting the sub-Christian pressures of their culture, would separate from the church and craft a Rule or Way for their life together. This was true of the desert fathers and mothers of the 3rd and 4th centuries, as well as the Benedictine, Franciscan, and Ignatian communities of their day. However, most of these were communities of adults, having little to do with the raising of children in Christ. With a few notable exceptions, there seemed to be few descriptions of local communities raising children in the Way of Jesus, seen in both faith content and faith lifestyle. It seemed as if such Ways of Life were relegated to “the religious”, or, more recently, to Christian micro-communities in cities with a particular call to serve the poor. It seems as if the local church has an unclear vision of what it actually means to live the life of Christ daily, and further confusion about how to raise children in Christ.
Hallie and I believe we have been led by God to put together an online conversation discussing ways to raise faithful followers of Christ, children to adult, using to the “trellis” of Way of Life pursued at the Abbey of the Way in Worcester, Mass. We will focus on twelve values in this Way, with some practices which may be useful for value development that is appropriate for one of four stages of faith: experiential, ranging from birth to approximate age 10; affiliative, ranging from approximate age 10 through age 16; questioning, ranging from approximate 16 through young adulthood; and owned, developing, as in the previous three, under the timing of the Holy Spirit. As with any Rule of Life that is of any help in Christian development, it is only a structure that can give shape and room for growth in one’s soul, growth that is only made possible by God. May He bless our efforts, and those of children, parents, and other adults who seek to grow in the Way of Jesus. Participants in the conversation will react to what is posted, both from the Cowans, and from participants in this closed-group discussion.