Dwelling Worship Series, week 4 — LOVE
November 25, 2018
I write this week’s notes on the heels of a fairly sleepless night. Yesterday, dear friends lost their daughter during childbirth. As I’ve tried to love and support them as a friend who happens to be a pastor (but not their pastor), I have not only struggled with finding the best way to serve as Christ’s presence to them and their other children, but how to deal with attempts to provide answers about why this happened and deep theological questions from friends and acquaintances circulating texts and social media. “Why did God do this?” “God must have needed another angel.” These and similar refrains kept popping up as people shared the news and asked for prayer.
I understand how uncomfortable and difficult it is to find words in tragic situations like this one. We have a need to feel like there is some logical explanation or reason for bad things that happen, because the implications of our life (and death) being out of our control do not fit in with our need for order and can be too much to bear. Yet, these questions and statements are deeply troubling because they make claims about God’s character and nature that are not consistent with who Jesus teaches and demonstrates God to be.
On this final Sunday of the church year, Christ the King Sunday, take the time to remind your congregation of what it means to have a crucified King who isn’t merely seeking allegiance with our lips, but desires a fundamentally different way of us being in relationship with God and with one another. We worship a God who could forgive his executioners and minister to the thief on the cross next to him, while suffering his own unimaginable death on a cross. So the notion that this same God would cause an innocent baby to die and parents to experience the agony of this loss is just plain wrong. Sometimes, terrible things just happen. Yet, Christ our King is right there with us and has committed to be in solidarity with and in our suffering.
Twice in this passage, statements conclude with the pronouncement of, “Amen,” which translated means, “so be it.” So may it be that we live into the freedom that Christ provides us to love and serve our neighbors. So may it be, that despite the current divisions and vitriol that constantly flow through our news and social media feeds, we embody the kingdom values Jesus espoused in Luke 4. So may it be that Jesus Christ is King and Lord of our lives, rather than a political party’s ideals, our career ladder, our children’s achievements, or the pressure to portray ourselves as having everything together.
We have a God and King whose primary characteristic and value is love. We have a King who created humankind in God’s image and called us “very good.” We have a King who knows our pain, walked in our shoes, and showed us how to really love and be part of God’s kingdom, even when it’s really hard and unpopular. We have a King who walks with us now and promised to one day wipe away every tear, make all things new, and restore and redeem all of Creation.
I’ve been appointed beyond the local church for five years now, and being an invested parent in my son’s activities and having far more connections to my community than I ever had time for as a pastor, has opened my eyes to the importance of empowering laity to be partners with God in kingdom work. The laity regularly go to work, sit on the bleachers, attend PTO meetings, work out at the gym, hang out at local establishments, and walk their neighborhoods, constantly building relationships and journeying with people that we would never meet as pastors. Empower your people to be the body of Christ and representatives of God’s love and Kingdom when they receive the text containing tragic news or are dealing with a difficult situation. Help them to be Christ’s presence and to articulate the goodness of God and their own faith stories. As much as we may try as pastors to connect with our neighbors and communities, it is the laity who have been there and will continue to be Christ’s witnesses when we’re gone. So may it be.
Rev. Dr. Heather Heinzman Lear serves as the Director of Evangelism at Discipleship Ministries in Nashville, TN. She regularly works with local congregations, districts, annual conferences, seminaries, and ecumenical bodies to provide training and resources on evangelism and discipleship in the 21st Century. She holds degrees from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Duke Divinity School, and Boston University. Heather is an elder in the North Carolina Annual Conference, and previously pastored three local churches. She is grateful for the support of her husband, and the heart of her 10-year-old son, who constantly reminds her of what the Kingdom of God looks like.