Reflecting on the Journey
Love is only love when it’s humble.
It sounded so simple, back there, at the beginning. So easy. Shelter in place, for a week or two. Stay at home. We’d flatten the curve and before you knew it, it would be back, in no time at all, to business as usual. Over two hundred thousand deaths later, with no end in sight, I guess it’s wasn’t as simple as we thought. That simple or that easy. It’s been a crazy six months. Strange. Surreal. And it’s been a challenge … trying to figure out how, exactly, to be church. Separated. At a distance. Apart but not apart. All I can say is, “Thank god for technologies like this!” A hundred years ago, during the last pandemic, all we had were newspapers and sermons would be printed weekly as a service to the public. But, like I said, we closed up and we locked down. Two weeks became four. Four became eight. Now, six months have come and gone.
And the thing that’s surprised me most was when the church proclaimed to the world that it was as essential as anyone else! I don’t know if it came from the people in the pews … or from the pastors in the pulpits … Either way, we wanted things to get back to normal. As quickly as possible. And we figured that if Walmart could do it, so could we! We had to be, at least, as essential. First responders. Frontline workers. EMTs. Ambulance drivers. Doctors. Nurses. We knew they were important. We knew what they did meant something. But it went from there. All kinds of people, soon, became heroes. Support staff at hospitals. Supermarket cashiers. Mail carriers. Truck drivers. The people who delivered pizzas. Surely the church must be on the list. Besides, we convinced ourselves, it was our right! As Americans! Christianity is a part of our DNA! It’s in our blood! And we needed to get back to worship … in person … together … ASAP! Stat! For the sake of the country! So, Texas opened the doors and we walked back in. Some of us did, that is. Others waited. Are still waiting. Some flaunting the protocols. Others trying to play by the rules.
But looking back, now, over the past couple of years, not merely over the last twenty-seven weeks … Looking back since we sold the building to Midland Chin Immanuel Church … I’ve noticed something about the church-as-a-whole, here in the good old U.S. of A. I have been stunned by our arrogance. I have been amazed by our conceit. We American Christians really believe that the world can’t live without us! We think that everyone – at least, everyone who’s anyone – hangs onto our every word! What’s good for the church is good for the country!
But that’s not the way it works. That’s not the way god works. That’s not the way the church works. We’re humbler than that. Much more humble. Truth is, we have more in common with shepherds than kings. More in common with stables than palaces. More in common with mangers than thrones. We have more in common with crosses than with crowns. Paul said it best, about a month ago, when we read what he wrote to the church in Rome. “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think ….” “Don’t be so full of yourself,” Paul says! “Get off your high horse!”
God doesn’t change the world from the top down. God doesn’t overcome creation. God doesn’t overpower it. God doesn’t use earthquakes or firestorms or pandemics! God’s quieter, gentler – more subtle – than that. And so are we! Sometimes we show our power, our strength, by doing nothing more than get out of the way! By not making things worse! Sometimes the most sacred things we can do are the most basic, the most down-to-earth. We don’t have to brave the pandemic. We don’t have to stare down the virus. Sometimes, all we need to do is respect – and trust – someone else’s knowledge! Someone else’s god-given vocation! There are times when the holiest things we can do … are wash our hands … and wear our facemasks … and keep our distance … “Don’t to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think,” is Paul’s advice!
There’s something to be said about being humble. Not everyone is a Peter! Or a Paul! Or, even, a Mary! In fact, the overwhelming majority never come close! Most of us will be more like the leper Jesus met along the way … or the woman he talked with at the well … or one of thousands who ate, that day, beside the sea … Nameless. Faceless. People who have made their entrances and their exits. People who, for a moment, played out their parts. They don’t demand to be considered essential. They’re satisfied, simply, with being themselves! Being who they are! Doing what needs done! It’s called humility! Meekness! Modesty! But then, that’s not something in vogue, nowadays. Not fashionable. Not trendy. Today, even in the midst of a pandemic, everything’s superlative! Biggest! Brightest! Best! But that’s not faith. It’s not believing.
Worshiping-in-person is one of the riskiest things we can do. Yet, we think it’s essential? That’s not us. Humility watches out for others. No one before, no one after. None greater, none less. That’s how the creed puts it. And it’s one of the most attractive, one of the most appealing features of the church. And it’s all instilled by grace, by charity, by love! There’s no need for us to toot our own horn! No need for us to pat ourselves on the back! God loves! Because god loves, we love! When we boast, we boast of love! When we brag, we brag of love! Not of our importance! Not of our significance! We’re beggars! That’s what Luther told us! “Love is a sacrament that should be taken kneeling.” That’s what Oscar Wilde said. And it’s all humility!
It’s not an expression of frailty or weakness. It’s not an example of helplessness or inability. It’s what love looks like. Being loved. Loving. When we do it right, we don’t need the spotlight. We don’t need to stand up front, center. Obviously, we don’t need a building. Apparently, we don’t need the crowd. We have love. We have love. The love with which we are loved. The love with which we, in turn, love. So, my friends, that’s the only thing we need. That’s the only thing that’s necessary. The only thing essential. There is Jesus … There is a cross … And there is the love that binds the two together … binds the two together, forever!