Monthly faith reflections from Pastor Clark.
“To put up with or endure” is the first definition of abide In English. And are these days not a test of endurance?
I am often:
I am often also:
It takes discipline to receive both, to deny neither, to not react compulsively, to respond wholeheartedly, and to trust. This is the test of endurance: not to survive or merely “put up with” but to do in this difficult season what Jesus did and taught.
Run the race and never give up
“Abide in me as I abide in you” includes Hebrews 12, 1st Corinthians 9, and 2nd Timothy 4. (Go read them.)
“…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…”
“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.”
“I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable…”
Not all of us can or do run. Not many of us call ourselves runners. But use your hearts and hear the call.
I raced in the Quad Cities Triathlon twice. While I was in training, experienced triathletes gave me this advice.
“You can train before you race, or you can train while you’re racing.”
“Train in all weather because you’ll race in all weather.”
Our race is not for toilet paper or to avoid COVID or even to live long lives. Our race is to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The “weather” is bad and all of us are training while racing (i.e., we weren’t prepared for this), but Christ calls all the same, “Abide in me as I abide in you.”
More to the race: from me to We
I receive this pandemic as a judgment against us. Not in the way Christians so often do, scapegoating the few and exalting themselves while turning God into a torturer or mass-murderer.
God did not send the virus to punish anyone. Instead, we are the punishing ones, through our generations-long, bipartisan lack of care for our sisters and brothers. Which is really our insistence that caring should only be done in private, not on the public, collective level. The latter is where we decide who works in meat-packing plants and who can work from home; who has preexisting conditions that put them at higher risk and who has the time, money, and access to good food and medical care to be healthy; who succeeds in school and who goes to prison, whether healthcare workers have the supplies they need and whether we have enough tests and who gets loans and relief money, etc.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” was Cain’s dismissive question for God. “And the Lord said to Cain, ‘What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!’”
To abide in Christ in these days of testing includes accepting humbly that we are part of the whole which has failed so many. And we are part of the possibility of a new way to be a nation together, creating infrastructures of love for the lost and least, the stranger and the poor, the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow.
the Race after the race
The church I long for struggles “to provoke one other”—and the world—"to love and good deeds,” including in public. Isn’t it love when schools continue to provide meals to kids that need them, even when school is cancelled? So much more love is possible.
Hope in Action’s work for a permanent bathroom in Clinton Park is valuable in itself and is training for even greater work in this direction. This is also true for this congregation’s long tradition of feeding ministries.
When we’re done running this race—enduring isolation, disease, and death—there is another race ahead (which is the same race) to be transformed and to be transformers in love. This is our gift and calling as resurrection people. Christ abiding in us and us abiding in Christ means we’re never alone in that work of love, on the smallest and the largest scales.
Thanks be to God.
Pastor Clark Olson-Smith
Abide. It’s the Gospel of John’s definition of Jesus and this Gospel’s definition of us. The abiding is mutual. Disciples abide too.
John says Jesus’ first disciples started following in this way: When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you abiding?" He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was abiding, and they abided with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon (John 1:38-39, stay and remain replaced with abide).
A row of small houseplants abide on a windowsill. Amos is most proud of the one in the yellow pot. When its plant died, Amos buried an acorn there. Now there’s a baby oak tree in the dining room, and it’s plain to see: it grows toward the sun.
Do houseplants have more sense than I do? Sometimes I think so. And other times, I’m surprised to discover I’ve grown right where Jesus is.
Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you,” and in the same breath, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
At the end of March, April, St. Paul’s Director of Music, told me about the ups and very real downs of those social isolation days. Then she said, “And it’s been a real reset, a time to reevaluate and reorient.”
The next day, St. Paul person, Kami, posted a similar sentiment on the church Facebook page. She’s hearing “a call just to retreat and listen to your heart and what it really needs” and get back to “what really matters.”
“I am the true vine,” Jesus said, as if to wake us up to all the pretenders and to draw us closer. For our own sake and for the sake of the pandemic-wracked world.
God said to Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1st Kings 19)
In silence, there is a voice.
Waiting for me in silence were (and are) some of my life’s most profound questions and truths. And even though it can terrify me, I also hunger for silence. Being in control is a poor substitute for being loved. Avoiding silence only means that need for love controls me. Even when silence provokes, confuses, or feels painful, God is present. Becoming present to God’s presence in silence wakes me up to God’s presence in all other times and places—including the “storm,” “earthquake,” and “fire.”
Being still does not come naturally to me. I built myself around this lie: What I accomplish makes me worthy. Looking successful makes me loveable. But there is no way to win at being still. Being still is not a marketable skill. It’s not even an item on my to-do list: I get no endorphin burst from checking it off! It is therefore terrifying, because being still takes me to the fear at my very core: Will I be loved and accepted for who I am, apart from my successes and achievements?
And it does more. It takes me through that fear to the healing truth that’s deeper than the lie. My truest self is belonging-in-itself. My life is hidden with God in Christ: it always has been and always will be. Practicing being still, I’m becoming more free to be, without justification. This frees to help us succeed together, instead of pursuing success all by myself.
“Jesus loves me” cannot be understood by running the numbers or by vigorous debate. Jesus’ love cannot be approached objectively, only subjectively. This love has been placed within you and only there, within you, can it be discovered as the One Saving Reality.
What if Psalm 46 is God whispering to you, “Be still and know I love you”?
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