It seems like things just keep looking worse out there. Every day seems to bring new outrage, violence, hatred, confusion, and pain. We are factioning, we moving ever deeper into ‘us versus them’ thinking, and we are exhausted from so much bad news: ugly politics, threats of war, general incivility at every turn. What do we do if we are clergy in the midst of all of this?
We are called to be theological interpreters.
We need to be able to call out and point to God’s abiding presence, God’s call to us, and the truth of God’s love in the midst of today’s cultural stress and confusion. And we need to know that the people in our pews, and in the larger world, are desperate for this. There are a few things to keep in mind:
We can call out sin and evil without taking sides.
We live in an era of hypersensitivity, and it seems like almost anything one group of people says or does is taken as a slight by another. The sense of heightened emotion is so strong that it is frightening. As the bearers of Scripture, sacrament, and tradition, we can offer the calm strength of God’s presence without placing blame on one another.
We can witness to the fact that God’s covenant with us excludes violence, selfishness and greed. And we can help others remember that Jesus asks us to forgive 70 times 7, and to love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us. As clergy we can model and encourage standing against sin and for love, and we can do this while respecting everyone, being especially kind to those with whom we disagree. Even (especially) when they are not kind to us.
We can re-affirm our belief in resurrection.
As Christians, we understand that suffering is part of our story. Even though we have faith, we know we are not exempt from pain sometimes. But we also believe that our suffering will be redeemed. No matter how bad it looks out there right now, the arc of the universe is bent not just towards justice (God’s justice, not ours), it is bent towards the love of God which will not let us be separated from God, even by death. This is always and everywhere Good News.
We can demonstrate respectful, holy conversation.
All conversation is relationship, and all productive conversations have the goal of improving our relationships. Jesus calls us to be neighbors with one another, to be ‘nigh’ or ‘near’, and we can do this by listening without judgment and speaking to issues without condemnation. This is very difficult when we are in conversation with someone who frightens us or who has no intention of communicating peacefully with us. But it is a witness to God’s love and God’s peace to engage it in ourselves.
We can call ourselves and others to confession and reconciliation.
It may seem strange to say that sin and forgiveness is a benefit to Christian faith and practice, but it is! Jesus said, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ to those who asked for healing. And he himself forgave his persecutors on the cross. Our relationship with God - communal and individual - is a constant path of sin (falling away from the love of God), confession (saying clearly how that has happened), forgiveness (receiving the forgiveness of God which is always forthcoming), reconciliation (also receiving/giving forgiveness to others), and redemption (living in the Kingdom of God). This is the pattern of faith, and it can also be the pattern of our lives together. Encouraging others to confess their own sins, and to forgive those who have sinned against us, as well as practicing these things ourselves, can go a long way to improving relationships and witnessing to the Gospel.
Where is God in all of this? God is the same on good days and bad days, in peace and in war, in hardship and in celebration. God is ever-present, and calling us to faith, hope, and love. It is our job as clergy to point the way, share our own faith, and connect the Scripture, tradition, and sacraments of the church with all those who are seeking comfort in them.