Jesus Christ understood what we have come to call family systems theory. He stepped back and viewed things from a broad perspective. He knew problems and solutions begin with the family. He recognized that when the family (and the inability to identify one’s true family) suffers from un-differentiation, relationships begin to crumble. He also taught us that when families fall apart, so do kingdoms.
I think Jesus knew that many—if not most—families of origin would cease to become “families” in the genuine sense … the sense that points to loving and supporting a person for who they have become. Frankly, families are lousy at this. This is particularly true of families that have a member who is “different” or willing to take a stand in favor of his/her own thinking. Think for self, and you are sure to rile some folk.
Jesus looked at the crowds and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” I think he meant to convey the awareness and responsibility that was built into a group that shared a common goal. He was trying to explain that this “new” family supersedes the original when the original fails to differentiate (that is … when they deny responsibility and fail to encourage the best thinking of the other members, opting instead to try to force others to conform to their way of thinking—which is really feeling and not thinking).
When a kingdom is divided against itself, it repeats the pattern of the family: It collapses as the remaining members choke the life from one another.
In 1835, the Cherokee nation experienced the beginning of such a collapse. Principal Chief John Ross and his opponent, “The Ridge,” became so divided over land and principle that the nation suffered unimaginable destruction. Ultimately, the United States government “won” because the kingdom could not remain aligned.
“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” May it be so for all of us.
If we work for peace rooted in justice, we will find ourselves again and again in the places where peace and justice are farthest away – we put ourselves in touch with people and places and causes that remind us over and over that what we long for, and strive toward, is not yet realized.
So how do we sustain ourselves – how do we not lose heart?
I once put this question out to the wonderful people who make up the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America – and here is what I heard back from these faithful doers of the word.
We must, of course, see the world as it is. We must recognize, grieve, and lament the many ways in which the world does not fulfill God’s dream in creation.
And to see the world clearly without losing hope, we must –
One BPFNA (Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America) peacemaker wrote – “I remain convinced the kingdom of God works . . . like mustard seed and leaven – small steps, hidden activities that in a not terribly long . . . time and without sufficient alarm for anyone to have time to stop it, have changed the entire environment.” (Taylor Burton Edwards)
Reinhold Niebuhr wrote – “Nothing worth doing can be accomplished in one lifetime. Therefore, we have need of hope. And nothing that is true or good or beautiful makes complete sense in any immediate context of history. Therefore, we have need for faith. “
One of my favorite BPFNA members, the remarkable Mary Hammond, wrote – “It is hard to be courageous, or different, or deeply thoughtful . . . without other to share the journey with."
“What sustains me, “ wrote another BPFNA member, “is knowing others are working on issues that I do not have time, resources, knowledge or interest to work on. Since I cannot do everything, I appreciate that others are working where I am not. “ (Harold Christensen)
Whatever is forseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.
And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.
When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.
Great work is done while we’re asleep -- So we do not lose heart.
Rev. Dr. Mary Lautensleger
1 Samuel 8:4-20
Hearing the elders of Israel plead for a king reminds me of little children begging for a certain toy because “everybody else has one.” We humans do like to have the same things that others have, don’t we? We wouldn’t want to feel left out or different.
Samuel was a combination prophet, priest, and judge, and had reached retirement age. He was unable to pass the mantle of leadership to any of his sons, since all were all well-known crooks.
The elders persisted in pressuring Samuel for a king, so Sam conferred with God, the one-and-only worthy ruler. God gave the go-ahead, demonstrating God’s openness and willingness to let humanity decide, while asking Sam to explain to the elders all the ins and outs of being subjects of a king.
Sam gathered the elders again to break the good news that they would get their wish, but told them that a king would conscript their sons to fight the king’s battles, and many would die. Other sons would make chariots and weapons. Others, still, would farm the king’s fields, and pick the fruit of his vineyards.
Daughters would be taken to cook, bake, make perfume, baby-sit, and possibly join the harem. They would also spin, weave the sheeps’ wool, and milk the goats.
The king would take ten percent of their flock and ten percent of the crop. He may even take the farm and make the landowner his slave. It was definitely not a pretty picture that Sam painted, but the elders had their hearts set on a king, and nothing else really mattered to them.
God had intended that Israel present a glowing example to the world of what a chosen people looked and acted like. God had counted on The Chosen to demonstrate virtue, faithfulness, justice, and trust in God. They were to set an example for the Gentiles. Oh, well.
Leadership was a constant concern for the people of Israel. Great and powerful leaders had emerged throughout Israel’s earlier history. Their greatness came from a willingness to follow God’s ways instead of their own self-centered impulses.
Sometimes you and I will lead, while at other times we will be led by others. The Church and other institutions expose us to many methods of leadership. God’s leadership is the style I hope that we follow. God’s leadership is a servant leadership, a true attempt to empower others holistically. By modeling this type of leadership for the church and the world, you and I can make a difference.
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Paul has personally known hardship and suffering. He has endured imprisonment, beatings, ostracism, ridicule, and abuse; yet he still does not despair. Instead, he sees his suffering as being joined to the suffering and death of Jesus. Paul’s confidence is grounded in the hope of participating in the resurrection of Jesus. Thecontrast – from death to resurrected life – is of utmost importance, giving meaning, and hope during our earthly suffering.
Both Paul’s faith and our faith, even in the midst of our affliction, becomes our witness. Paul kept his faith, while being “greatly afflicted,” as have many others. Our witness is also to the resurrection, both Christ’s and ours, so that we don’t lose heart.
I grew up hearing and singing African-American spirituals, but as a young person, I never gave much thought to the meaning and source of those poignant words. Our children’s choir, almost entirely African Americans, recently sang “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore,” and a boy asked, “Who is Michael?”
I have sung “Michael” for years, but had never even wondered who he represented. With a little help from Google, I discovered that he is the Archangel Michael, healer and protector from evil. Michael rescues the souls of the faithful from the power of the enemy. The song originated on South Carolina’s islands during Civil War days, when freed slaves needed to return to the mainland.
“So we do not lose heart” has been experienced and lived by the faith community throughout the centuries. The musical genre of the African American spiritual expresses it completely. The spirituals give voice to the harsh realities experienced. The songs were often prayers: “In my troubles, Lord, walk with me. When my life becomes a burden, Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.”
Imagine the afflictions of slavery, but in the midst of inhumane cruelty, they kept the faith. They held fast to God’s promises, especially that of resurrection. When music speaks, we know that all our joys and sorrows are part of something beyond our comprehension, yet so infinitely valuable.
Hymns and spiritual songs bring me great comfort in times of affliction. Through the lyrics of the spirituals, the suffering experienced is joined to the suffering of Jesus: “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows but Jesus.” These words speak of a hope when all seems hopeless, as well as a comfort in times of affliction.
“My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus' blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus' name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.” Although not a spiritual, this hymn text was inspired by I Corinthians 3:11.
Music is the universal language that binds us together with invisible threads.