So where are we now?
We have come, at last, to the end of one of the most bitterly contested national elections this country has ever seen. For many of us, finally naming a winner doesn’t bring the resolution we hoped it would; it feels like we’re all on the losing side in this contest. We are like two battered and weary fighters standing in the middle of the ring, faces bruised and bleeding, bent over with exhaustion, waiting for the referee to raise the arm of one of us. Our country is as divided as ever. Our political leaders are locked in seemingly irresolveable conflict that limits their effectiveness at home and diminishes our influence abroad. We are facing the largest public health crisis the world has ever known, with the numbers of new cases soaring to unprecedented heights in half of our states. We’re tired – of this pandemic, its restrictions, and all the pain and loss it has brought. We’re weary – of this toxic political deadlock, of the vilifying that characterizes election campaigns, of the threat of violence and lawsuits, of the seeming intractability of systemic racism, and of so much more.
What message of hope can the Church possibly offer?
Our answer begins with a reminder of who we are. We are human beings, created in the image of God, knowing ourselves to be loved by God in all our diversity. We are people who belong to God, who have been invited to live in a relationship with love with our Creator, who have been forgiven and redeemed by Christ, and who can reflect God’s glory in the world. The prophet tells us that God has called us by name, and we are precious and honored in God’s sight: every one of us. There is not a single human being that God does not love.
He goes on to say that God has extended to us a promise: “Do not fear,” God says, “for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” God’s promise is that God will never leave or abandon us; that in every trial and difficulty life brings, God will be with us, showing us the way. We are not alone, and we will pass through this dangerous time.
We who have been so remarkably accepted, forgiven, chosen and loved by God are called to extend this same acceptance, forgiveness and love to others, reminding them that they, too, are chosen and precious in God’s sight. We are called to live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” We are challenged to “put away falsehood,” “speaking the truth to our neighbors.” We are cautioned to “not let the sun go down on (our) anger” and to “not make room for the devil.” “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths,” St Paul admonishes us, “but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear… Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,” he urges us, “and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
This may be a great challenge for many of us, particularly now when we are anxious and afraid, and distrustful of one another. A friend emailed me this week to say she is trying to have informative, non-judgmental conversations with her brother, who votes differently from her. It is no small challenge for them to listen – really listen – to one another, and to try to open their minds to hear each other’s values and concerns. She is a model in courage for me for reaching out like this to a brother she clearly loves but with whom she cannot agree. But isn’t this the correct response? Isn’t this the posture we need most right now? How else can we be “imitators of God, beloved children who live in love, as Christ loved us”? How can we not do our best to bring healing and reconciliation to our families, our communities, and our nation?
Every problem, every difficulty in life, every conflict brings with it opportunities to love, to respect, and to encourage one another. Whenever we find ourselves opposed by an ‘enemy,’ we have a chance to carry out Jesus’ command to “love our enemies” and to “do good to those who hate us.” Every difficult situation offers us a window of opportunity to respond in a surprising and loving way. And how we respond matters! Our words and actions will contribute either to reconciliation and peace, or to continued conflict and strife. We need to be reminded again and again that what we choose to think, what we choose to say, and what we choose to do will shape our lives and the lives of others. We have an important role to play in creating our reality.
Do not forget who you are. Do not forget what you have become. Do not forget your calling to be God’s people in the world. Do not forget the impact your thoughts, words and actions will have on shaping our present reality and our future. Our lives are woven together in one giant tapestry, and each of us matters. Choose carefully and live to do good.
Please support the Brothers work.
The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.