Pastoral Reflection for October 6, 2021
I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. ~ Jeremiah 29:11 (MSG)
The shorter and wet days of fall are coming. The change of season reminds us that our lives are constantly adjusting to the changes in the environment in which we live. As Pr. Jade and I were hiking a few days ago, it was clear to us that things would be different from now on. The high levels of humidity in the woods are causing hundreds of mushrooms to pop up almost from nowhere. Then we could see the morning dew. Small drops of water clinging to the tiny leaves of some small plants on the wood’s ground. Those tiny drops of water that appear in the morning and disappear as the sun rises made us think about our lives. Morning dew is like those moments in life when we feel things are well, yet as time goes by they go away and we are left without life and comfort. I was reading an article in which Prof. Pinhas Alpert of Tel Aviv University's Department of Geophysics and Planetary Sciences was trying to determine whether morning dew is a benefit or a detriment for plants. He says that some believe that dew can cause the plant to rot. But he discovered that "In the early morning, dew surrounds the leaves of a plant with moisture, and the plant does not close its stomata. Therefore, it can grow." “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” The prophet Jeremiah reminds the people of Israel about God's blessing at a time of distress, helplessness, and hopelessness. The promise is given to the Jews recently exiled to Babylon. They received a letter from him telling them to settle down there. In the wake of uncertainty and loss, they’re asked to make long-term commitments like marrying, building houses, and planting gardens. Can we even imagine what it meant to build new lives up in exile while every piece in their lives, perhaps, reminded them of what they had to leave behind? Like the morning dew that covers the leaves and disappears by mid-morning, God’s life-giving presence seemed to disappear from our lives.
Today, we are not in exile, but we are in a new environment that has created distress in every single aspect of our lives. For some the impact of the ongoing health and socioeconomic distress has shattered lives, dreams, and hopes. Others have been pushed to look for creative ways to remain standing. And, for most people the collateral damage of the pandemic is like the dew that evaporates, taking away the ability to dream, plan, and hope for the future. However, the question is: has the pandemic really taken life away? The more I think about it, the more I come to believe that maybe pain and fear prevent us from seeing the full picture of what is happening.
Going back to the morning dew. The dew does not just disappear, it fulfills its purpose in the morning, then it goes back to the atmosphere, so that the following morning it will come again to nurture plants so that they grow.
Likewise, God’s blessings do not just come and go for no reason. The prophet reminds us that our Lord says, “I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” The constant dew of God’s blessings on us comes every morning, every day, to remind us that in the midst of distress God’s purpose is to care, nurture, and give us the future that we hope for. But what future did the Israelites hope for? What future do we hope for? Perhaps most of us will think that the future we hope for is pain free, pandemic free, and the safe space that we were used to. However, we may need to understand hope as the means by which we align not simply our plans but also ourselves with God. It is how we move toward the future God is preparing for all people in order to join God’s reign which is here and now. Aligning with the Spirit’s reshaping of the church leads us to new approaches to ancient traditions of the faithful which heal, restore, reorient, and make the church whole. In the Gospel according to Mark, the Lord Jesus constantly offers new approaches to God’s covenant of love with us. He challenges us to see God’s presence as the morning dew that makes us grow into the people and the church that God has planned, assuring us that we are not abandoned because his presence will be with us every morning, every day, and forever. Yes, it is hard to understand and to make sense of life when things are constantly changing and feel different. This weekend we will begin to gather in-person, again. We will explore different approaches to celebrating that weekend gathering of the church. For instance, communion will reflect the nature of receiving and giving the grace that the morning dew reminds us every day. We will receive communion in one kind, that is only bread, as we gradually move into the more familiar way to receive communion in two kinds, bread and wine. We will receive grace in the bread and we will share that grace in the form of bread for others. A reminder that we are called to live with open hands to receive and to give openly knowing that ultimately God’s plans are about life, wholeness, and a new order. As a congregation we will recommit to the ancient tradition of accompanying the grieving and embracing the new reality. Israel's losses were not ignored, instead loss gave them a new perspective of life. Likewise, our losses and the losses of all people are not ignored or forgotten. Instead in the giving and receiving we will be reminded that we are walking toward the future that God has for God’s people.
Let us conclude with this prayer by Fr. Richard Rohr:
Loving God, you fill all things with a fullness and hope that we can never comprehend. Thank you for leading us into a time where more of reality is being unveiled for us all to see. We pray that you will take away our natural temptation for cynicism, denial, fear and despair. Help us have the courage to awaken to greater truth, greater humility, and greater care for one another. May we place our hope in what matters and what lasts, trusting in your eternal presence and love. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our suffering world. Amen.
Pastor Hector Garfias-Toledo