Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd May 10, 2020
I Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14
The slender leaves and delicate blue flowers of the scilla gracefully carpet my garden. The trees are budding tiny, folded frills. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers feast on last year’s Mountain Ash berries—sometimes a bit tipsy with well-fermented fruit. Spring is coming into bloom, with its full and vibrant smile. It almost feels normal again.
But is what we were what we want to be? What part of normal do we need to keep and what do we need to leave behind? Brené Brown writes, “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”
These are tough words as we are trying to find our way again. It is easy to write this from a position of privilege. But for those who have lost so much, a return to normal might mean being able to survive again. I do pray, though, that as people find work again and those in the arts can once again find a supportive audience, our priorities might shift a bit, offering pay and benefits that better reflect how essential some workers truly are.
As we try to sort out what is essential in our wider society, we are doing the same with our church. I ask for your prayers of wisdom for our Leadership Team. We are in the process of determining what is essential in our Westworth ministry and must be continued in creative ways while we are still limited in the use of our building. We are trying to find our way in this new reality.
The early Christians were trying to find their way in their own realities. Their way was guided by Jesus’ teachings and his way of living. The first Christians, as described in the book of Acts, called themselves people of the Way before the term “Christian” was used. When Jesus first started his ministry, he pointed to John the Baptist, who was preparing for the way of the Lord. Jesus talked about John as a prophet who came in the way of righteousness. This is what Jesus was referring to when he told his disciples in his farewell speech that he was the way and the truth and the life. Biblical scholar John Pilch translated this phrase as “the authentic vision of existence”. This way of Jesus did not mean intellectual assent to an exclusive belief in Jesus. Rather, it meant following a way of life, a way of peace and justice, a way of love and compassion. This is the way of Jesus. It is only through this way that anyone, of any religion, can find healing and wholeness. It is a narrow way that is demanding but is also inclusive of all who seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. As John says, there are many dwelling places in God’s house.
St. Peter was taking a newcomer group on a tour of heaven. Amongst his group was a Jew, a Muslim, a Christian and a Hindhu. Peter was showing them all of the different places in heaven. As they approached one room, he told them, “Shhh. Don’t say anything until we’re past this room.” They walked past it, puzzled. When they were finally past, one of the group asked why they had to be so quiet, wondering if it they were a deeply meditative group. Peter replied, “They think they’re the only ones here.”
Peter Marty has compared followers of the Way with travellers. The word traveller comes from the same root as the word “travail”. It connects journeying with toiling and labouring. In this sense, a traveller is like a pilgrim who immerses herself within the local way of life, eating whatever is placed before her, open to changes in plans and destinations, eager to learn about a new culture. Marty contrasts this with the tourist. The word “tourist” comes from the Latin “tornus”, which is a tool for making circles. You could say that a tourist is one who goes in circle. The tourist stays within her own cultural bubble, insulated from the noises and smells of the local way of life. Marty then ask if we are church tourists, who show up when there are some good eats and entertainment, or church travellers who are willing to be immersed in a counter-cultural way of life, open to being transformed by Jesus’ way of suffering love.
This is the essence of the Christian faith that guides us as we discern what functions and activities are essential to our mission and vision statements during this strange time of distancing. How can we best love God and our neighbour as ourselves when we can’t come to church and we can’t invite neighbours over? How can we retain social closeness while maintaining physical distance? What is this COVID time teaching us about what is essential to our ministry and what could be let go?
Our children are teaching us. Dianne Sjoberg had a brilliant idea of dropping off sidewalk chalk at the homes of our families and inviting them to draw messages of hope and games of fun on our church steps. You will have seen them during the passing of the peace in this service. They bring a smile to all who pass by and an assurance that we will be ok. I particularly needed that on the morning when I recorded this service. I was worrying about our future and then I saw what the children and their parents had drawn. So thank you—and there is more space for others to still add their drawings.
We can carry into our personal lives these questions about what is essential and how we might creatively continue to walk in a good way. There have been many evenings when I’ve actually been glad just to stay at home. We’re in recovery from the rat race of never-ending activities. What do we really need? I know that a less-packed calendar is one of them for me. More space to reflect and meditate, to attend to family and to go on long walks with friends has become a cherished gift that I don’t want to give up any time too soon.
Today is Mother’s Day, when we also celebrate Christian Family Sunday. It will be the oddest celebration many of us have ever had when families aren’t supposed to get together. But however we creatively celebrate it, this year might make us a little more appreciative of our mothers and our families. My heart breaks when I see families waving at their mothers or fathers through panels of glass. We don’t seem to be taking each other for granted this year. Relationships seem to matter more than ever. Let’s not let this go.
As we ease back into contact with others, what do we want to preserve from our cocoons? What are our non-negotiables that reflect our very essence as followers of the Way? And what are negotiable things that we may not need to keep carrying? We have a few more weeks before things open up a bit more. A few more weeks to ask some serious questions about our world and ourselves. A few more weeks to find our way in this new terrain.
 Peter W. Marty, “Tourist and Traveler” The Christian Century April 20, 2016 https://www.christiancentury.org/article/2016-04/tourist-and-traveler?code=OvbuYm5YCvWAMHtv76v8&utm_campaign=dd07ff16e1-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_09_11_08_32_COPY_08&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Christian+Century+Newsletter&utm_term=0_b00cd618da-dd07ff16e1-86206583