Did you know it’s almost the end of the year? I’m not trying to freak you out, but we only have two weeks left.
Some of you look confused and are wondering if I’ve forgotten about that whole month of December.
I’m not talking about the normal calendar year. I’m talking about the liturgical year...the year in the life of the church. The season of Advent begins the new year in the world of liturgy, a fancy word for our structure of worship. This year, that begins the first Sunday in December. So, we only have two Sundays left in our church year.
It’s fitting, really, seeing as how today after church is our Annual Meeting - a time to review this past year and look forward to 2019. It’s what we do at the end of a year: review what we’ve done and set goals for the next year.
And this cycle of seasons brought to my mind the question of how we reflect on our seasons of faith - not only in this past year, though, maybe these last 12 months have been particularly impactful to you spiritually - but in our lifetime.
How do we take note of the ways that our faith morphs as we mature?
How do we continue to add life experiences and revelations to our spirituality...and honor all the complexities within it? I’m sure you believed something 20 years ago that you don’t believe now, or (for those young whipper snappers out there) you will believe something in 20 years that you don’t believe now.
These questions are actually inspired by y’all. I’ve had so many conversations with many of you about your faith morphing. This church and myself count it an honor that many of you are here because you feel safe asking those questions within these walls. If we can’t ask those important questions that arise out of our doubts and curiosities, then we remain stagnant and don’t grow.
I applaud those of you who find the courage, fighting back fears, to say out loud those things stirring in your mind. You have joys and disappointments and shattered understandings and….yet, you’re still with the church. You’re here. You’re seeking. It’s great.
So, as we reflect back...whether at the end of a year or a season...How do we honor all the complexities?
Take, for instance, today’s Scripture….
For the author, it is a reflection back on how their faith was practiced, with sacrifices; yet, that is not what is needed now - no more does a priest offer the same sacrifices day after day. The complexities of past religious obligations and present spiritual beliefs is reflected upon.
This reflection and dissection of faith was meant to instill confidence and encouragement for one another in the faith community.
Susan Eastman, professor at Duke Divinity, writes that the Greek root of this word “confidence” hints at courage that would evoke looking someone in the eye. For this community, that is huge because looking someone in the eye was an action that belonged to the free members of society, not the oppressed or enslaved.
Taking this into account, the Hebrews verses help us to reflect on “the barriers of guilt and shame that often divide communities” and the fear that sometimes stands in our way of witnessing to the “transforming power” of the love of God. (Eastman)
How often have you let fear keep you from reflecting on the past or asking important questions? Maybe because you didn’t know “the answer” you kept quiet? Maybe because you had been told “this is just how it is - believe it?”
Eastman goes on to point out that “Such boldness and confidence is grounded in what Christ has done...and what Christ will do, establishing justice on the earth.”
You see, when we reflect on our spiritual journeys and the work of God around us (even when we have lots of questions and doubts) and all the complexities of life, hopefully, we can be more confident going forward….holding on to the foundation of what we know.
Many recent podcasters and authors refer to this process as a “deconstruction of faith”....taking apart doctrines and ideals taught to us, deciding our own belief on those topics, and then “reconstructing” our faith, without fear and with confidence, building it upon what we have learned and experienced.
In another past ancient time, nearly 20 years ago, I graduated from college. Bangs and all.
In the pictures are my family members and a quick look would tell you that it is a good and happy occasion.
Digging deeper, reflecting more, and recognizing the complexities, you’ll see I don’t have one of me, my mom, and my dad together. Since this was an ancient time, these pictures were taken on film and when I had them printed, I guess I didn’t keep the ones with all of us in it.
Graduation was on a Saturday and that Monday when I arrived home, my mom greeted me at the door to say that she had moved out and my parents were separating. It was a total shock.
So, no, when I had the film developed later that summer, I didn’t want to see my parents and me together in one picture because it felt fake to me.
After many years, good therapy, and much reflection, I can look at the pictures of graduation and appreciate the complexities in it. I’m thankful I had two parents who supported me in college; I appreciate that they wanted me to make my post-college decisions apart from what was happening at home; and I wish things had turned out differently.
It’s all a part of this historical event. It doesn’t keep me from celebrating it (going to Homecomings, for instance), but I do look at it differently.
There is this “picture”...a drawing actually. (Thanksgiving depiction)
A quick look would tell you that it is a good and happy occasion.
Digging deeper, reflecting more, and recognizing the complexities, you’ll know that the story isn’t so simple as “people from different lands shared a meal together.”
You’ll know that this depiction comes with many complexities...that Europeans killed Native Americans and pushed them off of the land they cared for and lived on for generations and that many Europeans died at the hands of Native Americans or from new illnesses.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Thanksgiving is modeled after a 1621 meal between Pilgrims settled at Plymouth and the local Wampanoag tribe. A treaty between the two groups of people existed from that date until the 1670s when King Philips War began and many lost their lives. Thanksgiving as a holiday, though, was established over the course of the 19th & 20th centuries, becoming a time “to symbolize intercultural peace, America’s opportunity for newcomers, and the sanctity of home and family.” (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Thanksgiving-Day)
After much reflection, hopefully, we can look at the depiction of Thanksgiving, knowing its vast history, and appreciate the complexities in it. Thankful that we do live in a country where we have many freedoms; thankful that this season is a time to gather with families, eat yummy food, and make turkeys from hand outlines; and also acknowledging that it represents a time when humans did not treat each other well (to put it nicely).
It’s all a part of this historical event. It doesn’t keep us from celebrating it, but we may look at it differently.
Friends, today and this upcoming week beg for reflection. Today is a day we reflect on the life of the church, give thanks for the ministry of the past year, learn from lessons taught and experienced, and use that wisdom to move forward into 2019.
This week is a week in our society when we are encouraged to reflect back on what we are thankful for, learn from family lessons and experiences, and use that wisdom to move forward.
Life. History. Church. Our Faith. These things need reflection so that we honor all the complexities, ask all the questions, and continue to grow with confidence, remembering the love for all of humankind that Jesus taught us.
Scripture: Hebrews 10:11-25