When I was a psychiatric chaplain one of my favorite groups to lead with patients was on assessing the shape we are in. I would put multiple colors of Model Magic on the table and ask people to choose a color based on their current feelings. Then I would ask them to create a shape that reflected how they were feeling. We would then take turns sharing the shapes and guessing the feelings they indicated. Then I would ask them to think about how they would like to feel and choose a new color and create a new shape. We would again take turns sharing the shapes and guessing the feelings. Then I would ask them what they each needed in order to get from the shape they were currently in to the shape they would like to be in. It was always a good group even when someone would create the shape of a donut because they felt hungry.
As I look at the texts for this week, it occurs to me to ask what shape are you in? I’m guessing most of us are far from the green pastures and still waters of Psalm 23 and the life of abundance of John 10. Many of us are overwhelmed in these strange days. Some are still learning new technology and find themselves in the strange position of teaching the use of said technology to our parishioners. Others are still debating the merits of synchronous vs. asynchronous worship. Some are recording their sermons ahead of time and others are preaching to Zoom groups or a camera for live streaming. Lots of us are tired out from Zoom meetings. How is it with your spirit as you approach these texts of promise and hope?
Admittedly, I plan to focus on Psalm 23 and the Gospel text. The others feel too difficult to manage in the current situation. Acts speaks of the believers being all together and growing in number. I usually love this text for the sense of community it describes. But, for now, it would be hard for people to hear since we cannot be together in person. And the text from 1 Peter could make it sound like the virus was sent by God to test us. I simply don’t have the energy to unravel this unhealthy theology. Our faith may indeed be tested by COVID-19 but God didn’t send it. We may suffer, but God is not the cause of our suffering.
This leaves me with Psalm 23 and the Gospel. I intend to focus on the promise of God’s presence. That even now, in this deep valley of death, God is leading us. We will one day reach those green pastures and still waters. Perhaps we have glimpses of this promise in each day. If we are able to gather for worship in any way, by any means, then our cups are overflowing. While life is not what it was a few months ago and will never return to what it was, God is still leading us, guiding us in goodness and mercy. We are God’s people and God will not leave us alone in the midst of suffering and grief.
Moreover, God wants us to have life and have it abundantly. I find myself wondering what abundant life looks like these days. Some would say it is having safe shelter, enough food, and enough tp. I suspect it is more than that. Perhaps it has more to do with trusting God to guide us through this crisis even as we feel the pangs of the church being remade… Perhaps it is in taking pleasure in the sounds of nature that we have missed in the noisier past… Perhaps it is simply offering gratitude for the breath of life… Where are you finding God’s abundance these days? It is okay to have moments of joy and gratitude in the midst of these days of fear and grief. God never promised that life would be an either/or kind of thing. Faith isn’t living always in just joy and gratitude. Faith is navigating in a both/and world – we are fearful and grateful, anxious and joyful, grieving and hopeful… We wander in unknown territory, groping for something that makes sense and we are led by God’s steadfast love to green pastures and still waters.
How is it with your spirit? What are you being led to preach this week? Join in the conversation so that we may share this journey together.
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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