I don’t know about you, but it has been increasingly difficult to remain positive and hopeful amidst the political chaos that seems to have free reign over the U.S. (and other parts of the world for sure). People come and ask what it means to be Christian in the face of such chaos. The response I have isn’t so much a telling as a leading, and a reminder that we are all one body and in this together. It’s impossible to remain faithful if you think you are on your own. The texts this week give guidance in how we can all remain faithful when the world around us is full of chaos.
Each text in its own way tells us that God is a liberating God. It is not God’s desire for anyone to remain trapped in suffering. Following holy ways means discovering a way to freedom and wholeness. Esther’s story is all about stepping up, doing what is just, and embracing liberation. The segment of the story this week is an affirmation that with God it is possible to turn “sorrow into gladness.” It’s not easy. It might be messy. But if we persist in seeking God’s ways rather than human ways, liberation will be the reward. Gladness will fill our hearts and free our spirits from the burdens of societal hostility.
The Psalmist underscores this message with putting all responsibility for liberation on God. Personally, I struggle with the “God is on our side” kind of thinking. However, if our seeking to serve God by freeing people from oppression results in that freedom, it’s fine and good to give God credit. In today’s political climate, we must be careful how we give God credit – especially when the “victory” is a result of violence and bloodshed.
Numbers provides another take on how God assists us in moving from sorrow to gladness. The Israelites grumble about needing better food because, you know, when they were slaves in Egypt they had all that they needed. This liberation stuff is hard and results in hunger and thirst and a desire for more. Moses, of course, takes this up with God and God responds. The whole business with the prophets is an amusing one, too. People get angry when unexpected folk are prophesying and they complain. Moses is unperturbed and simply says that he wished all God’s people were prophets. The move from sorrow is a rough one and those who lead us to gladness aren’t always as we expect. God has a habit of changing things up to ensure that we are paying attention.
Once again the Psalmist sings a song of beauty and wonder while reminding us that God is sufficient. Holy ways will always lead to liberation. God’s love is enough for everyone. It’s sweet and abundant and satisfies all the hunger and thirst the journey creates. God’s ways are a mystery to the oppressors and salvation to those who suffer. How can the church sing this message with the same sense of awe and amazement as did the early Israelites?
The James passage can be tricky. On the one hand inviting people to pray when they encounter difficulty is not a bad plan. However, taken out of context this passage puts a lot of power in the hands of the believer. The emphasis is meant to be on God and how God’s love can heal and guide us. Yet, too often, it is used to point to a lack of faith or an undesired amount of sin for which one might be unrepentant. James really wanted to call people into an active faith, a serving faith that relied on God’s grace. It is this grace – the love God has for us and the love we have for God – that will lead us to healing. God creates the way from sorrow to gladness.
Jesus underscores this in the Mark text. The way Christ is one of healing and wholeness. It doesn’t matter how it’s done; it only matters that Christians bring healing and wholeness into the world. We don’t need to worry about what others are doing to facilitate creating the Realm of God. If they aren’t against us, they are for us. We need to attend to our own level of saltiness. If we pay too much attention to what others are doing, we’ve lost something vital and, perhaps, gained a millstone. How can we ensure that we are focused on being the salt that is so desperately needed in the midst of so much suffering?
Where is the Spirit guiding you this week? Join in the conversation so that we may support one another in helping our congregations be salt and light in a world so filled with flavorless chaos and despair.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.
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