Siblings in Christ,
These days my prayers often start with the words: “Dear God, this is hard.”
How about you?
Pandemic is truly hard. Worshipping separately. Not having normal funerals and weddings. Worrying about getting ill or about those we love. Losing jobs and income. Not seeing a mom, a grandchild, a close friend. Fear and “not knowing” are so hard.
Watching George Floyd die was terribly hard. Witnessing riots and violence. Understanding how racism works. Reimagining policing. Changing how we think. Hearing Jesus call us to preference the marginalized is hard.
This is hard, my friends. Really hard. For some of us it may be the hardest ongoing work we have ever done. For some of you, it feels far too familiar and exhausting. It’s hard on our brains, our hearts, our spirits and on our relationships.
In Matthew 16, Jesus says: “If you wish to come after me, you must deny your very selves, take up your cross (“the instrument of your own death”) and follow me. If you would save your own life, you will lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake, you will find it. What profit would you show if you gained the whole world but lost yourself? What can you offer in exchange for your very self?”
Jesus invites us to let go of our grip on the world, shoulder our own end, and follow in his footsteps. Footsteps that lead through the margins, dark valleys and places of threat—all the way to the cross. That is what we are called to as disciples of Jesus, as the body of Jesus in the world. Wow. Following Jesus is hard.
Right now, following Jesus looks like sacrificing the familiar and routine for the safety of our neighbors. It looks like following rules about limited gatherings, masks and physical distancing. It looks like changing our way of being in the world for the sake of the world.
Right now, following Jesus looks like educating ourselves about systemic racism. It looks like learning to be an ally and having difficult conversations with friends and family. It looks like changing our way of being in the world for the sake of the world.
Truly, if following Jesus is easy, we probably aren’t doing it right. Nor is following Jesus supposed to be drudgery. Instead, following Jesus is the effort and gift of being reborn again and again. Pressing through daily from shadow to illumination, from self to other, from incompletion to completion. We aren’t expected to get it right all the time, we humans move between sinner and saint, racist and anti-racist, selfish to selfless, also daily. And Jesus—never wanting to leave us behind—waits as we square our shoulders, set the cross and walk once again with him.
The beauty of the daunting work of being born anew in Jesus, is that as we move toward the cross, we are also moving toward restoration, resurrection and reconciliation! We move toward hope!
A wise person once said, “For anything new to be born, something has to die.” A seed, an idea, a way of life, a belief system, a congregation, a relationship. The pandemic is hard. The work of anti-racism is hard. Being a disciple of Jesus is hard. They are hard precisely because each one asks us to let go of what was to make way for what can be!
God goes ahead, Jesus guides, the Spirit empowers as we make our way into a new future where disease and fear no longer rule the day, where all neighborhoods are safe with grocery stores, excellent schools and health care, where all people live in peace with God’s justice as our standard. When equity and full participation are for everyone.
It is not only possible, it is God’s dream. And following Jesus—while not the easy way—is the sure way. It is the way of hope.
I give thanks for you and our sharing in the gospel every day.