Ephesians 3:16-19; 4:14-16
1 John 3:11, 16-18
We must no longer be children, the writer tells the Christians in ancient Ephesus, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind—or, if you will, continuing with the metaphor from our opening meditation—tossed to and fro and knocked down by every wave.
But here, in Western Mass., and now, in the train wreck of a year that is 2020, how can we not be tossed to and fro and blown about and knocked down—at least on the inside?
Take, for example, what has been happening recently with families in the Amherst public schools:
A couple weeks ago the younger kids (and their heroic parents) were all set to go to school in-person. And then, less than 24 hours before they would have marched their little feet into their elementary schools and sat down in their little desks, everything changed. Rising numbers of local Covid cases triggered the agreement for when to change course. And just like that, lives were turned upside-down. Again. Suddenly a friend of a friend of mine was frantically trying to hire someone to monitor the remote learning of her two young children so that she could do her own work.
To and fro.
Take, for example, the daily headlines, the barrage of tweets from the president’s phone, the news and opinion and emails that chart the non-stop assaults on our democracy as if they’re nothing more than marks on a baseball scorecard.
First, the president says there will be no consideration of a pandemic relief package until after the election. Then, he says he wants the biggest package ever. Meantime, millions of Americans who are out of work, out of food, and out of rent money, ride a roller coaster of despair and hope and fear.
To and fro, to and fro we go.
Take, for example, the wild swing of our own feelings in any given week or day or hour. One minute the fall colors have us falling on our knees in praise and delight; the next we’re stewing in the juices of our own rage over the latest police killing of an unarmed black man. One minute we’re filled with energy and hope as we write postcards to encourage voters in a swing state; the next we’re doomscrolling news about right-wing militias, kidnapping plots, and civil war plans. One minute we’re overflowing with love and joy for our family of choice; the next thing we know, the angry rants of a couple of Supreme Court justices have us feeling that our rights are as fragile as a house of cards.
To and fro, to and fro we go.
It is an exhausting business.
So, how do we navigate the storms of life while also staying engaged in the struggles for justice, compassion, and equality? How can we resist the temptation to protect ourselves from the evils and injustices of the world by hardening our hearts and hiding behind cynicism? How can we raise open-hearted children in a world that is so scary? How do we stay centered when the world around us is shifting by the minute?
These are not simple questions that can be answered in a three-sermon series or a weekend retreat. This is not the focus of a one-semester class or a four-year degree. The challenge is not so much how to make it from now until the election and whatever happens after that, or how to ride out some other life crisis.
Rather, this is the work of a lifetime.
In virtually every religion and spiritual practice, this centering is at the heart of the spiritual journey. Blessed are the faithful who have traditions and rituals to ground them in God’s goodness and to orient their lives in relation to the Holy One.
After thousands of years, faithful Jews still begin their day with the recitation of the Shema, which begins, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Blessed be the name of his glorious kingdom forever and ever. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
Devout Muslims turn toward Mecca and pray five times a day. Buddhist life is grounded in the practice of meditation.
For Jesus of Nazareth, a faithful Jew, the greatest spiritual practice of all is love. Love is the path to new life, and love is the way toward a new world, the realm of God on earth.
Time and again Jesus and his disciples made clear that Christian love is not so much a feeling as action for the well-being of others, an orientation and intention rooted in the extravagant love of God, modeled after the revolutionary love of Christ, and made possible not by our will or effort but by the transforming power of the Spirit.
This is my prayer for you, says the writer of Ephesians: That you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. The writer goes on to say that, having rooted ourselves in Christ’s love, we should also grow up into the loving ways of Christ: That we ourselves and our church community are knitted together in love. That our purpose as individuals and as the community of Christ is to grow in love.
What trips us up is the discovery, as in a marriage or other long-term relationships, that this business of loving is not nearly as easy or enjoyable as we thought. That loving involves putting another’s needs first, that love sometimes means giving away what our fears tell us to hold tight to, that being knitted together in love means seeing the Christ in that behavior or that person who annoys us to no end, that loving involves opening our hearts to a broken world, that love requires praying for and showing kindness to people we disagree with and really don’t like very much.
Sikh writer and activist Valarie Kaur speaks of three kinds and actions of love: loving others by seeing all people as our kin; loving our opponents or enemies by understanding their perspective, seeing their fears, and tending to their wounds; and loving ourselves by breathing through life’s hard times and pushing out new life.
On this most fundamental and ultimate spiritual journey, in this great school of life and love, I am just entering kindergarten. I still have so very much to learn, so very much about myself that needs to be healed and transformed. Every day I need to be reminded to root and ground myself in the healing power, unimaginable love, and mysterious, all-encompassing presence of God.
What a gift it is to know that God’s tender mercies are new every morning. That every day is a new opportunity to begin again. That, by grace and with intention, I can grow in love.
When we are tossed to and fro by everything from the never-ending needs of our children to the ever-changing limits of life in a pandemic, from our own unstable emotions to the non-stop negativity of the news, what a gift it is to be rooted and grounded.
So let us be rooted and grounded in power. Let us be rooted and grounded in the unfathomable love of Christ. Let us be rooted and grounded in all the vastness and closeness of God.
And finally, beloveds, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is anything worth of praise, let us think about these things.