I don’t think I’m understating the point that American life has had to adopt a great number of adaptations in the past couple of weeks. A disease as quickly-spreading as COVID-19 has put a halt to many practices and patterns that we often take for granted. While going to see family and friends used to be a harmless and welcome activity, it comes now with an added layer of risk and concern. If you’ve been paying attention to the world from whatever view you have, it’s pretty clear that people are still trying to be relationally present with one another, and sometimes in ways they didn’t used to be.
The truth is that God created us to be relational creatures, to have relationships both with Him and with one another. And while we all have different levels of interest in social interaction, it’s pretty hard to function as a human without other people. We need one another. If that means we have to adapt to survive, not just to provide for our spiritual needs but also our mental, emotional, and spiritual ones, we’ll do what we need to do.
God made us to be adaptable creatures. Scripture has some beautiful examples of this. Consider the children of Israel and their journey from Caanan (while Jacob was still alive) to Egypt to the Exodus to the wilderness wanderings to the Promised Land. This entailed a high level of adaptation to circumstances, and it wasn’t always pleasant. But God was faithful. He sustained and delivered His people.
And how about the Early Church? Gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost, the followers of Jesus exploded in numbers in the wake of the Spirit falling on the disciples. But not too long after, that great gathering of Jesus-followers were persecuted right out of a place of sweetness, family, and connection. God pushed them into new places, and wherever they went (Judea, Samaria, the ends of the Earth - Acts 1:8) the great good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection power went with them. Even the words they used had to adapt to linguistic and cultural barriers, and that work continues even to this day through the work of groups like Lutheran Bible Translators.
Now, we must be careful not to allow ourselves to lose our “saltiness” and “lightness.” Jesus warns us of this in Matthew 5:13-16 in the Sermon on the Mount. If salt has no taste, it has no worth. A light covered by a bowl loses its ability to affect the surrounding space with illumination. So we should not adapt to every whim of culture…far from it! We should stand out in the way that we cling to the timeless truths of God’s Word that cross cultural and geographic boundaries. Sin is sin. We shouldn’t accept every cultural idea that flies in the face of what God says. But at the same time, how we express that truth will communicate to those around us if the love of God is truly a part of who we are. Ask anyone who’s been blinded by a bright bathroom light after just waking up, or a person who’s been served a savory dish that amounts to not much more than a salt lick what they think of light or salt in excess, and I guarantee you’ll get a negative reaction.
Immigrants have to be adaptable. The best definition of an immigrant that I’ve been able to formulate for myself is “a group of people on a journey, looking for a home.” Now, stripping away all of the cultural and legal commentary we have about the nature of immigration in our country, I think this idea has much to tell us about where we’re going as a church. Like the children of Israel in the desert, we’re on a journey. Like the Christian families in Jerusalem who fled the persecution there with the few meager things they could carry in order to find a new life in a place where the Gospel could thrive, we’re in search of a home. And even when we do discover the sweetness of something that looks and feels like our best idea of “home” in this life, it’s still not perfect. It still lacks…something. Even when we tweak our surroundings to within an iota of perfection, it’s never going to be quite right. The fact is, we will never find our true Home until our journey of this life ends with a joyous homecoming into the Household of our Father, the King. Only in His presence will be truly, completely, and finally HOME.
So, the journey continues! We’re not home yet…but our Father has given us a beacon to follow in the imitatable example of His Son, Jesus. His Spirit leads and guides us from the inside, making us long for our final rest in the halls of our Father, and pushing us to keep moving, keep immigrating, keep seeking the Kingdom even now. Will we have to adapt to continue this missional journey? Absolutely! Is God teaching us what it means to be the Church, scattered? I think so, even though we long for the sweetness of being together. Is He training us to be faithful in our Table spaces as much as our Temple spaces, and reminding us that we are temples ourselves of His Spirit? He is! Is this temporary hardship a catalyst for growth in the aftermath? I fully trust God’s plan to use this for His glory and our good, using us to be salt and light in new and unexpected ways.
For now, I pray you are well, that God continues to provide for all of your needs, and that you still have opportunities to love people like Jesus. Even though you’re probably stuck in one spot for the foreseeable future, don’t forget…
Adventure is out there! Pastor Aaron