Blessing to you on this 2nd Sunday of Christmas! We finally get our white Christmas even if it arrived on the 8th day of Christmas! And Blessings to you on this new year as well. May 2022 be a year where you grow in faith and love for the Lord.
With that hope in mind, I found myself thinking about the “One word” that would accompany me in 2022. I am not sure if you received or read the email I sent on NYEs but I included the exercise to consider ONE WORD that would guide you this year. It’s a spiritual practice I first heard of from the author Margaret Fienberg who considers “One word that I can study. One word that will perk my ears every time it appears. One word that can be used to know the depths of God’s heart. One word that will lead me closer to Christ.”
She shared that Previous years’ words for her included—listen, wonder, joy, and love and that each word had drawn her deeper into Scripture, closer to others, and helped her grow in her faith. I have chosen compassion twice and last year my word was Camino (journey) but going into this new year I decided mine would be love. Fierce Love actually.
Since the beginning of Advent, LOVE has been coming up everywhere for me. And not some type of sentimental love but Fierce love, love in action, inclusive love, agape love. So this is the word the Holy Spirit lifted up for me and I look forward to focusing on LOVE as God leads me to a deeper and more meaningful engagement with Godself and all others.
But as I was thinking about MYSELF and MY WORD over New Years, I found that I kept thinking of those in the Louisville and Superior communities devastated by the Marshall fire, especially those who lost their homes or businesses, and I wondered what they would choose. What would their word be? Sorrow for how can they not be overcome with sorrow as their homes went up in flames? Or maybe Accompaniment? Meaning they understand that despite everything they’ve lost, they are not alone but are accompanied by God and other people… Or maybe gratitude that they didn’t lose their lives and that so many people are stepping up to help amidst this tragedy?
Unity, trust, restoration, rebuilding, patience were other words on Margaret’s worksheet that I wondered if they would be chosen by some of those who are dealing with this latest tragedy…. I also found myself wondering what word YOU have or might choose for 2022. What is the one word that will lead you closer to Christ in 2022?
When preparing for todays worship service, I read the assigned passages and words kept jumping out at me! Like Blessing! Our Colossians passage at the start of this New Year begins with a blessing—“Blessed be God.” This is a great place to begin our New Year, with an appropriate focus of giving thanks to God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
But that focus shifts to us pretty quickly: Blessed be God who has blessed us in Christ, chosen us in Christ, destined us; but as I continued to read, I found that I kept coming back to the word chosen-- it really stood out for me. Maybe because the Christmas eve and last Sundays texts also had passages that dealt with the idea of being chosen.
On Christmas Eve, the angels sang Peace on earth among those God favors. Then last week’s Colossians text began “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” So Paul’s words from Ephesians “just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” jumped out…. Chosen.
We are chosen. You are chosen. I am chosen. But lest we think this is some exclusive club we’re in, let us remember that God has chosen each and every one of us. Beloved by God, All creation AND all humans are chosen.
But what does it mean to be chosen? Being chosen doesn’t get one a pass in life—you won’t be spared heartache, illness, or hardship just because you’re chosen. Think of all those who have lost everything in the Marshall Fire! And what about all the losses and repercussions of Covid-19? Or losses due to accidents, other illnesses or broken relationships? God has chosen us and yet…
It does means that we are forgiven and redeemed, marked and sealed, receiving of Grace and knowledge of God’s will. Did you catch that last part? Paul claims that God has made his will known to us! And His will is “to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” That’s pretty straightforward. God plans on gathering all things into Godself, into love. And we are invited to participate with God in God’s will!
We are chosen and are drawn forward to God’s vision of Love! But lets be honest, many who ARE CHOSEN, don’t feel chosen by the church, the people of God, the community of faithful who are the physical presence of God in this realm, and consequently they don’t feel chosen by God!
So I found myself ruminating about the word chosen…. what does it mean?
Well let me share a story- not mine but that of Reverend Jacqui Lewis who as a high school freshman was at camp in Michigan. One night the kids were all given time to just relax and be. She and her friend Lisa found themselves around the campfire where the older kids were drinking and smoking marijuana. It wasn’t their scene so they left and went back to their cabin, feeling proud of themselves and assuming they’d get praised for being back at their cabin before the curfew etc.
“Where are the other girls?” Lisa’s mother who was the grumpy counselor asked. Much to their surprise, they got chewed out because they left them behind. It was first and foremost their job to make sure everyone got back safely, not to be on time or good first! The theological truth from that story is that our job is to leave no one behind!
The problem, Jacqui suggests is that often people of faith think their job is to figure out who to lead out and who to leave. But It’s not about NOT being in the company of those ‘bad people’ because you might get in trouble or wanting to leave them behind and get back and obey the rules—in one sense it’s understandable but the grumpy counselor pointed out that that is NOT the whole story! Yes, there probably are times to leave a party but this counselors’ reminder to Rev Jacqui was that no one is to be left behind. Why? Because “just as he chose us in Christ” he chose all people. And we are all destined for adoption because God’s plan is that all things will be gathered up in him! In love.
Theologian Kathryn Tanner says the big question isn’t whether we believe in God, its HOW DO WE DO GOD? HOW DO WE EMBODY GOD? We literally are to look at every human being and all of creation and say, they/it are chosen and will be gathered up by God! And then go about gathering them up in the here and now too! Sound easy? It’s not.
Love gets harder as our faith grows because it extends to strangers, outsiders, outcasts and enemies…. But Life/LOVE is about expanding THE circle because all are chosen! Love is fierce and asks something significant from us! It’s demanding and not necessarily easy. Rev. Jacqui suggests some concrete actions in doing the work of not leaving anyone behind, of being inclusive of ALL. She says: imagine your circle getting wider…. Imagine the people you don’t know, don’t consider part of your tribe. Pick up a new magazine, newspaper or book or watch a different news outlet see if understanding other stories (not ones that are easy for you) makes “them” feel more like kin instead of enemy.
One of the actions I do is to look into the eyes of everyone and say to myself “child of God, child of God, child of God” and that helps me to name them as chosen but then what? Am I like the adolescent Jacqui? Am I leaving some behind at the “campfire of life” because I’m uncomfortable or don’t want to be associated with certain behaviors or I’m simply short of time?
Things for me to ponder and I hope for you to ponder as well! As we begin 2022, let us absolutely Bless the Lord while asking the question How do we do God? Choose a word to accompany you on your journey of faith, being chosen, forgiven, adopted, and loved! Because the Word became flesh and lived among us, the light is here, the darkness did not overcome it. Jane Goodall said “if you think the age of reason was good, wait for the age of Love!”
We don’t have to wait! It’s here so let us Love like God looking at every single human, and all creation and acknowledging that they have been created and chosen by the same God who created me and you and is drawing them to Godself, and then let’s do the work of leaving no one behind. Amen? Amen!