We are currently in the midst of the annual churchwide Season of Peace that began on September 2, 2015 and continues through World Communion Sunday, October 4, 2015. Our denomination puts out a daily reflection for the Season of Peace that you can receive by going to their page at (http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/seasonofpeace/)
I receive the daily email about Peace in my inbox during this time and I find it to be an excellent way to center myself through daily devotions. Earlier this week the following devotion appeared, a reflection on Isaiah 58 written by Rev. Phil Lloyd-Sidle:
“If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” (Isaiah 58)
Reflection: So we close this week with some of Isaiah’s most unforgettable images: our gloom dispelled, our lives as watered gardens, our ruins rebuilt, and our streets restored. Though Isaiah is concerned throughout the book with the faithfulness of Israel, calling for a seamlessness and integration of our faith and our daily lives calling us to fashion our collective lives around a vision for equality, justice and peace, the images and goals of this way of living include everyone. Finally, this vision cannot be just for the house of Israel. Rather, Isaiah’s language must today be swept up in a larger concern and love for all people regardless of nationality, race, gender, orientation, age, or religious belief. Our streets are inhabited by everyone.
Isaiah wishes to stir our hearts and imaginations with the enduring images of peace, for the purpose of engaging us in the practices of peace, individual practices, for sure, but for Isaiah, the litmus test of our faith’s saving power is the community and nation’s faithfulness, which is to say, the community and nation’s commitment to practices of peace, justice, and equality. How might we, in humble and bold ways, be repairers of the breach, repairers of the tragic divisions that so unnecessarily have harmed all of us, divisions that have mocked and blinded us to the deeper, truer, original and eternal blessing all life shares in God?
As I read Phil’s reflection, I realized that it reminded me of the deep and profound spiritual challenge of the season we are in in Albany Presbytery: a time of transitional visioning to come alongside God’s preferred future for our life together. Phil challenges us to meditate on the textual challenges that are before us in Isaiah:
• What are the real “yokes” that are creating our need for change and transition?
• Have we gone as far as we can as people, communities, the Presbytery in offering food to the needy and satisfying the needs of the afflicted?
• Do we see as our central role to come alongside God in the task of restoring the streets of our communities or repairing any breaches that might exist?
• Where does this priority fall in our life together?
These summer months have challenged us on these questions. We see the #BlackLivesMatter movement around the country and in the bounds of our Presbytery and we wonder to ourselves about our role in the ongoing sin of racism that scars the lives of our communities. We see the years-long crisis of war and displacement of people in Syria that seems to have boiled over in recent months and we ask ourselves what we can do. We struggle in so many of our local church communities to be relevant, invitational and to grow in ways that are deep and wide in a part of the country where nearly 50% of the population wants nothing to do with any organized religious practice, let alone Christian, let alone Presbyterian. We feel great challenge. And we feel great anxiety. We feel great stress. And many of us feel great helplessness.
Our transitional work is not just for this time, but for the rest of our lives. The truth is that as faith communities we must always be in transition! Transitions should not scare or frighten us as Presbyterians, for we are called to be “reformed and always reforming” and we are called to follow the Christ who died and was resurrected so that we might have new life and have it in abundance. We were never called to be a faith community that stayed stagnant, but one that was always on the move, always changing, always responding to God’s action in our world. And the deepest calling we share is to respond to the great need and hurt around us, always proclaiming the message of the Christ of Peace. God’s Spirit is transformative and invites us to transformational and transformed living!
Isaiah challenges us to let go of inward focus, the pointing of the finger, the “yoke” we think that is around us and we cannot get beyond and to instead get out onto the streets, into our communities, out into our world and to live into the radical and life-changing call of God.
Deep questions and challenges for this season of our life together. I for one am glad we are not on this journey alone–but have God at our side. Where do you notice God’s accompanying us and challenging us in this time!?