Journey through the wilderness
Over the course of this year my favourite Bible has fallen to pieces. To be fair, the book itself was quite old but it has accompanied me through the last forty years, years which have included leaving the Anglican Church (very painful) and joining the Uniting Church (mostly surprising), through theological studies and formation for ministry, through the rhythms of congregational ministry and into new roles in the Synod. It has also been a faithful companion through family ups and downs as well as the small, personal challenges that have had to be navigated along the way. Of course, I have other bibles but they’re not the same – I like this one.
This year it’s been well used. I expect that holds true for many of us who turn to the Word to make sense of the world. This year has certainly needed a lot of ‘making sense of’ and that necessity doesn’t look like ending any time soon.
I’ve found it helpful to be reminded, in the stories of God’s ways with God’s (frequently wayward) people, of God’s continuing patience with and love for frail, messy, sometimes very ordinary, humans. Over and over again, when the Israelites get lost, or tangled up or stuck, God picks them up, dusts them off and sets them on the Way again. In the journey of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem during which he takes on the system, heals people, includes everyone, speaks up for the voiceless and holds before us the vision of a reconciled humanity, we’re constantly reminded of the lengths to which God has gone and will go to bring this amazing creation project to life in all its fullness. There are very good reasons why those who find themselves in this story (Jews and Christians alike), are called ‘the people of the Book.’
However, it’s not a book that ever lets you off the hook. At every moment, there are invitations and provocations that remind us that this is not just a ‘story’ that we read or hear and then go about our own business. This story makes God’s business our business as well. It invites – actually expects – us to be participants and reminds us that there is stuff for us to do and that the time for doing it is right now.
Obviously the 2020 COVID disruption is nowhere near over yet and it’s increasingly clear that the ramifications will not only be prolonged and challenging for everyone but will likely also mean that the cracks in existing systems will widen and many more people will fall through. It would be very tempting and natural for the church to start hankering after the ‘flesh-pots of Egypt’ (aka ‘return to normal’) but, in fact, we’re going to be navigating this wilderness for some time to come.
I think there are a couple of important questions that we need to ponder:
- how are disciple-forming communities (congregations and faith communities) equipping their members and participants to notice and pay attention to the circumstances and needs of those around them?
- how are those same disciple-forming communities organising themselves to respond to those needs?
- if not, why not?
- if not now, when?
The Rule of Benedict (another favourite text) says that we must ‘obey God with the good gifts which are in us’ – with all the goodness, all the love, talent, wisdom, care and concentration we must pay attention to the voices of those in danger of being left behind on the journey through the COVID wilderness.
The commitment that God made and makes to God’s people is that, if we commit to this journey and stay on the road, we’ll discover God standing ready to sustain and support us along the way and the journey through the wilderness will be a journey into new life, fresh hope and renewed purpose. This is the promise of the Bible (in whatever condition) and the testimony of the church.
Have a blessed and holy Christmas, everyone!
P.S. I’ve had the Bible repaired. All is well.