Our nation, and perhaps others in the world, watch and wait today for the verdict coming out of Minneapolis. It is a heavy day. Trials and verdicts are our meager means of order and justice. They serve us well and they serve us imperfectly, but they are the best we have established so far to help us as a nation. The hope is that over time and history our practice of justice, law and order is likely to improve as long as we keep learning and working on it. I pray that will never end for our nation. I am grateful to live in a country where a democracy and order for justice is in place. It is far from perfect; it is, however, what we created and in many places of the world, this does not exist.
On these days, however, – when it feels like the whole nation is holding tension – every part of me turns to prayer. Words fail me, though this morning I am writing. Something in me requires me to write today. My spirit hears a voice above the news and tension. It is, by my discernment, the voice of God. I believe healthy discernment comes in the community of believers, so I say that with the caveat that I can only share what I see; my sight and hearing is always incomplete. As I came to my Scripture reading today, I let it roll over my mind and help instruct me. The reading is from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica:
And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil. – I Thessalonians 5:14-22
Give thanks in all circumstances? Even the circumstances we face today? A trial that has the whole nation holding their breath? A pandemic that has changed so much of our ordinary lives and continues to edge us out of our comfort zones and into territory we’ve never before traveled? Grief that runs through communities and families while new life is begging to be acknowledged and allowed to flourish? Give thanks for those circumstances?
The message is actually not about circumstances. It is a message about how our lives are ordered and grounded in a way that Christ leads us to show up in all circumstances. With joy, with prayer and with gratitude.
Our joy does not come from circumstances. It comes, rather, from the experience of love we share with Christ and one another. That joy cannot be removed from our spirits. It is the presence of love and communion with the God who made us all the time, no matter what is going on in our circumstances. That supernatural joy is especially helpful when it is embodied by the people around us. But even in the absence of those people, the Lord is faithful to be present. There is a verse in one of Paul’s letters that expresses this so beautifully:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – (Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. He was talking about persecution the Christians were facing at the time. Romans 8:38-39)
Prayer that taps into the power of our Creator to intervene, to shine light, to bring forth wisdom that we do not have – and to bring it into all circumstances, is a way to navigate these tensions and ask for help. We need God’s help in these situations. We have not done well left on our own. And yet, we see hope and something new rising out of the chaos. Humility helps us ask for divine help.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. – (Jesus’ words to his disciples as recorded in the Gospel of John 15:5-8)
We have gratitude for the unending mercy and steadfast love of our Creator that redeems these impossible situations with justice in ways that may use a court of law but are never limited to a court of law. Remember that Christ was condemned to die by crucifixion and he was raised from death! We bring gratitude for the way Jesus met the Centurion of the Roman army and the leper who had been isolated from all relationships. Gratitude for a God that reaches out for the hand of every human being and says, “here, let me pull you out of this pit; there is another way”.
I’ve been pulled out of that pit many times. Including the pit of my own mindset and the pit of my own choices. I’ve watched families rescued from their sinking into that pit of destruction. I’ve witnessed organizations and communities restored by the power of God’s grace and mercy embodied in the people. We worship a God that brings justice; a God that redeems; a God that restores life and peace. Trusting in God’s presence brings gratitude for the kingdom of God that IS being fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven. The Lord has made that clear; our part is following where God leads us into that unfolding and unveiling.
Be courageous. Be humble. Be disturbed and be at attention. The way we respond in all circumstances is a reflection of Christ’s presence in our lives. Remember who and whose you are today. In all things, honor God; there is no better way to walk through these days. If we claim to be children of God, we don’t get a pass for acting without grounding and thought today. This is how the Scripture says it; may God indeed intervene for us all.
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. – Thessalonians 5:23-24
God of heaven, come quickly to help us. You are the God of all people. You know our circumstances far better than we do. You know what it feels like to be condemned and what it feels like to offer forgiveness. You know the power of calming the waves in the ocean and the humility of loving enemies. You set the captives free, including all of us when we are captive to sin and destruction. We struggle when our understanding of justice is different than yours. We struggle when our perspective of mercy is discounted, dismissed or ignored. We depend on earthly bound entities to redeem our world, but we know …we know … you are the only one who can redeem us and bring the fullness of justice and mercy into our lives and our nation. We acknowledge you and our own limited capacities. You invite us to call upon you in our time of need; you promise to be with us. So we come and ask. You made us, Lord, you know what is in us. Please help us today and in the days to come. Help us to respond in all circumstances with ways that reflect you and lead us to new life. We come with joy, prayer and gratitude for your presence among us. We need you and we trust you completely. Come quickly, Lord, to help us. Amen.