In the past weeks we have watched as statues all over our country and world have been torn down by protesters who wanted to make a statement. Many of these statues were of confederate leaders or other public figures seen to represent racism (Christopher Columbus for example has gone from celebrated explorer to hated in my lifetime because of his treatment of the native people he met on his journeys).
I am not going to comment on this issue directly, but do want to talk about the idea of statues in general.
Statues are there to celebrate something or someone and to remind us of what has happened in the past. They are there to help us remember those who came before.
In the Bible we don't see many statues, but we do see lots of altars that served much the same purpose. Some of these were set up to worship false gods, but many were set up (even commanded by God to be set up) to help remember something great that happened or a miracle God did.
My favorite one of these was after the Israelites crossed the Jordan river and crossed into the promised land. After this great miracle, God commanded the people to gather large stones from the bottom of the river (smoothed by the movement of the water over the years to prove where they came from). Then God told them this, "In the future, when your children ask you, 'what do these stones mean?' tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever." (Joshua 4:6-7)
We are supposed to remember to tell the stories of what God has done and we don't need a pile of rocks in order to do it (though they can be helpful reminders). Have you told your children and your grandchildren about what God has done in your life? Have you told the stories of God's goodness and faithfulness? Let us not neglect the call to pass on the miracles of God to others so that they will know.
What is your pile of rocks? Where was God faithful in your life? Can you think back to the places where you saw the hand of God at work? If so, tell the stories and share with others so that they will know and maybe start to seek God as well.
Not so long ago the world was different, more free. I remember in college that my best friend had been studying in Europe for a year and I, along with some of his other friends and girlfriend, missed him a lot. We decided that we would go to the airport to greet him. Back then, before 9/11, you could go right to the gate and be there when your loved one got off the plane (now you have to wait about 12 miles away I think). His flight was delayed several times, but finally he arrived to a group of friends with signs, banners and Mt Dew (apparently not for sale in Latvia and he was pretty much addicted). It was a hero's welcome and made him feel loved immediately.
That's pretty much how I imagined finally coming back to church once this whole COVID thing was done. I had dreams of dancing in the aisles and high fiving all my beloved friends and church family who I had missed...but things don't always turn out how we imagined. Instead of hugs, we will have to social distance. Things will need to change in order to keep us safe and help us feel safe...but at least we will be together again!
Paul loved his churches, but due to his missionary travel and the fact that he was often in jail; he couldn't always be with them in person. He said this to the church he loved in Thessalonica (Thessalonians 2:17) "Brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought)."
While we have been separated in person, we have never been separated in thought. We may be separated by 6 feet, but not in love. We might be separated by a mask, but not in care. Even those who choose to worship at home via online worship are still a part of our fellowship because of our mutual concern and love for each other.
I will be glad to gather back in the building starting on July 5, but we have never really been apart, not in thought anyway. We have kept praying for each other, loving each other, showing care for each other...we have been the church no matter where we may be.
The other day my 4 year old was in the restroom washing his hands, or so I thought. The water was running and he was at the sink, but when I walked by (he almost always leaves the door open) he had the top off of the soap container and was filling it with water. He was actually very proud of this idea, he gladly showed me that he was adding water to the soap because it was almost empty and he thought he would fill it up.
I had to break the bad news to him that instead of fixing the problem, he had actually made it worse. The little bit of soap was now mostly worthless because it was so watered down, it wouldn't really clean our hands anymore and needed to be thrown out.
Truth is a little bit like this. We may have some truth (Jesus loves us or the Bible is good) but if we add to that truth our own ideas or interpretations we potentially lose some of the power of that truth.
We all know that Jesus loves us; but what does that mean? Our culture has taken this true idea and added to it the idea that Jesus is some always happy, smiling caricature. He never gets mad, never judges and is like our best buddy...but this isn't the truth. In the Bible we see Jesus get mad (holy indignation is the proper term), we see him rebuke his disciples and tell them they have little faith, we seem him frustrated and sad and all kinds of emotions besides just happy all the time. It turns out that the love of Jesus is a deeper love, a more complex love that we are led to believe by our watered down truth.
We also are told that the Bible is good, which is true; but we tend to water it down to its simplest version.
Growing up I did learn the stories of Noah or Moses in Sunday School, but I did NOT learn the parts where Noah gets drunk and naked or where Moses killed a man...those parts were conveniently left out. I also learned that the Bible is a simple story of God's love for us; but the truth is far more complex. The Bible is a collection of books, written over thousands of years by many authors (some of whom are unknown to us), in several languages (not English) and requires diligent study to try and understand and interpret. There is nothing simple about it! And while the Bible is good, it is also at times depressing (read the first 11 chapters of Ecclesiastes for example) as well as violent and full of terrible sins (murder, rape, racism and much more). The truth about the Bible has been watered down to the point that when we actually start to read it, we find that we barely recognize it.
In the book of Romans we are told about some who had "exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator" (Romans 1:25). I pray that we do not also fall into this trap and love the watered down version more than the real truth of God, the complex and real truth of God.
Let us not rely on the easy or simple, on clique answers to the hard questions of life; but to rely on the real God who is so much more than these watered down truths.
When I was a child my understanding of prayer was very limited. I was taught a few memorized prayers like the terrifying "now I lay me down to sleep" one that honestly gave me nightmares (telling a kid to think about their death and then expect them to drift off to a peaceful slumber is just odd) as well as, a few others including the Lord's Prayer...but I mostly just prayed for me. I prayed for new toys, a better bike, to do well on my test in math...very self centered. Occasionally I would pray for others if someone was sick or if my mom told me to. I bowed my head, folded my hands and hoped that God would answer my prayer.
Now I pray differently. I rarely pray for myself. I almost always pray for others or the world, often for people I don't even know (world leaders...). One of my most common prayers is for peace. I pray that we could lay down our weapons and live in a world without fear. Is this a crazy prayer? Maybe. Do I think it will happen on this side of heaven...no, not really; but if anyone can bring peace it's gotta be God and so I keep on praying.
In Exodus 2 we read "the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning." The prayers of the people for help reached the Lord and moved Him to action on their behalf (he sent Moses to help deliver them).
While world peace may seem unlikely, I will keep groaning, I will keep praying, I will keep asking the Lord for His help. I will trust that He is good and that He does hear us. I will pray for peace.
Will you join me?