God’s heart in us

I wonder many times these days how does a post-covid-19 world look like? A post-covid-19 church look like? And are we ready to tackle whatever the new normal looks like?

The honest answer – I don’t know. Does anyone? A church in Toronto has a sign in front of its building, and it now says: “Closed until God knows when.” True – only God knows when.

I’m video-recording this sermon in our home office.[1]And in my background are three doors. Not just one, nor two, but three. If you’ve never been here, you might not know which door you would use to leave, or enter into, the room.

Here’s a silly riddle … often humor is helpful in times of anxiety and fear: So, when is a door not a door? When it is a-jar. !

We may prefer the doors to remain shut always. We may prefer not only not to know what’s on the other side, but also prefer not to go there. We would rather avoid thinking about and avoid going through. We shut the doors of our imagination and willingness to wonder about what’s beyond. We would rather remain in the comfortable memories of the past – instructive and significant though they may be. But if we just stay there, scared of the unknown, uncertain future, we will refuse to take the steps of change forward.

How can we begin even to consider taking that first, tentative step – into the unknown, into a future without the certainties of the past to guide us?

I heard a podcast this week about Frank who lived out of a deep love for his son, Justin.[2]Even though his job was a fulltime professor, Frank made parenting his primary vocation for fifteen years. Frank described it this way: that during that time Justin became a person who had a part of his own, father’s heart. Frank’s heart did not belong completely to Frank alone anymore. 

No matter what happened in their relationship, Frank speculated, if Frank and his son had a falling out and they didn’t speak for twenty years, Justin was in Frank’s heart and Frank was in Justin’s heart. Justin’s joys gave Frank delight. Justin’s pain touched Frank like nothing else could. Literally, his experience was so deeply connected. Even though Justin had an identity apart from his father’s – he was his own person; he was not his father – there was nothing Justin could do that would make Frank not love him. Frank’s heart was completely embracing of him.

This is like the love between God and each of us. Like Frank with Justin, we can first experience a small taste, small glimmer of God’s all-embracing, unconditional, steadfast love in a human relationship – in marriage, in partnership with another, in parenting children, in families, among friends. In some relationship, may we come to know this feeling. And this understanding of God’s love.

Julian of Norwich wrote we are not just made by God we are made of God.[3]It’s like when God makes us, God gives a part of God’s heart into us. And God knows that feeling of no matter where we are or whatever situation we are in, no matter the highs or lows, or whether or not we’ve talked to God in months or years, God is achingly connected to us – deeply, intimately. And would have it no other way.

Rooted in being known, being met, being embraced in that blanket of love – despite and amidst all the suffering we encounter – that’s life.

In the scriptures assigned for Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, there is a positive, affirmative and encouraging word. When Jesus prepares his disciples for when he will leave them, he tells them about the truth of our very existence: That he is in us as we are in him – or, to use Saint Paul’s oft-repeated phrase: “in Christ.”

On the surface, at first glance, it doesn’t look good for the disciples. Jesus is leaving them. When does it ever feel good to leave a friend, say goodbye, lose them or be forevermore separated from them? And then go on living, without them?

But the leave-taking of Jesus means that the power of God’s love and the energy of Jesus’ life-giving presence is now given to them. And to us. The truth is, because of Jesus’ bodily departure or absence, we will convey the power of God like never before witnessed.[4]What we leave behind turns into something wonderful we could never have imagined. Because the Spirit of God flows in and through us all. And we embody, the presence of Christ in whom we “live, move, and have our being”[5]for all time.

The Gospel message, in the light of the Easter promise, is fundamentally empowering to us. We are the bearers of Christ. Whether we see it in this moment or not. Whether we feel it or not. Whether we are able to muster our own meagre resources to realize it or not. 

But we don’t have to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We don’t have to manufacture this love, this reality, on our own. We just need to step into the flow. We just need to embrace what already is! 

Because God comes through the closed doors of our hearts – opens those doors – not to scare us, not to frighten us nor shame us nor guilt us. But simply, wonderfully, to love us.

[1]Visit www.faithottawa.ca, Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 17, 2020

[2]“Conversation with Frank Rogers”, Academy Podcast, May 6, 2020 (an international ministry of The Upper Room).

[3]Cited in Richard Rohr, “Julian of Norwich” in Daily Meditation (www.cac.org, 13 May 2020).

[4]John 14:12

[5]Acts 17:28

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