Redeeming the Season

Uncertain times present an opportunity for “redeeming the season,” says Bishop David Bard. He adds, “Redeeming the season remembers that we are involved in a long work.” …

A favorite Bible study method for me involves comparing various English translations and renditions of a passage of Scripture. Doing so reminds me that the Scriptures we read were not originally written in English, that language is complex and translation a creative activity, and that language is rich with nuance so that exploring various shades of meaning opens these texts to me in wonderfully new ways.

A spiritual discipline I decided to undertake this year was reading through the New Testament. Here is a fun fact. There are 260 chapters in the New Testament, which means reading five chapters a week takes you through the New Testament in exactly 52 weeks. I have been reading the New Revised Standard Version, and here is Ephesians 5:15-16 in that translation: “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”

In this very challenging year, I was particularly intrigued by the phrase “making the most of the time,” so I explored how others had translated or rendered that phrase. Here is a generous sampling: “use the present opportunity to the full” (Revised English); “making the most of every opportunity” (New International Version); “take advantage of every opportunity” (Common English); “make the most of every chance you get” (The Message, which also renders the last part of the passage: “these are desperate times!”). The translation which captured my imagination most was done by David Bentley Hart, an Eastern Orthodox scholar: “redeeming the season.”

 

“What might redeeming the season look like right now? It looks like patience.”

 

You don’t need me to remind you that these are difficult days, perhaps even desperate times. The coronavirus pandemic continues to rage through our nation and world. Postponed meetings in our denomination have left us in a kind of limbo. Polarization plagues our nation. As I write this before election day, I hear the anxiety of many over how that polarization may manifest itself in the days following the election. As a nation, we continue to confront the ways that the kind of thinking which justified slavery and our treatment of the indigenous people in the United States has continued to impact how we think and the policies we have pursued through the years. The polarizing atmosphere in which we live, encouraged by our social media culture where reactivity is more prized than thoughtful responsiveness, makes the conversations about pandemic response and racial reckoning even more difficult. Desperate times.

What might redeeming the season look like right now?

It looks like patience. As I said in my pastoral letter and video about the upcoming election, we need to remember that no matter the outcome of the election, we should expect neither the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God nor the apocalypse. The patience that helps redeem the time is not passivity. Rather it is the willingness to think, ponder, and pray even as we act. It is the commitment to being thoughtfully responsive more than immediately reactive.

Redeeming the season remembers that we are involved in a long work. God’s work of justice, reconciliation, repair, peacemaking, compassion, kindness, welcoming, and love is a long work. Evangelism, sharing the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ, continues not only because there are those who may have never heard about Jesus, but many who have heard have not heard it as genuinely good news.  When Native Americans were forced to attend Christian worship to receive their supplies of food, church attendance was fostered, but could they hear genuine good news?

 

“Redeeming the season recognizes the importance of everyday acts of kindness, compassion, goodness, justice, and love.”

 

Peacemaking is a perennial challenge in a world of nation-states whose interests and alliances shift. We are again discovering the deep, long-term effects of policies predicated on racial separation such as red-lining real estate policies and sundown laws, rooted in the institution of slavery. In her powerful and thought-provoking book Caste, Isabel Wilkerson notes, “It is a measure of how long enslavement lasted in the United States that the year 2022 marks the first year that the United State will have been an independent nation for as long as slavery lasted on its soil” (47). Here’s the math. Slavery began on this soil in 1619 and was officially ended in 1865, 246 years. The United States was born in 1776 and turns 246 in 2022. God’s work is a long work.

Redeeming the season recognizes the importance of everyday acts of kindness, compassion, goodness, justice, and love. Jesus commends those who offer “a cup of water to drink” (Mark 9:41). Yes, God’s work is personal and world-transforming, the new creation, a new heaven, and a new earth. There are moments when great leaps can be taken in the direction of that newer world, yet often the small steps, the quiet acts of kindness matter as much. We redeem the season by asking how we might be a little kinder today, a little more compassionate, a little more loving. We redeem the season by asking what small act will further justice today. The Jewish Talmud offers these wise words: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

Redeeming the season is to combine passion for God’s work in our lives and the world with humility. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are passionate and seek to be courageous. We need to weave that with humility, which I have come to understand as combining deep self-knowledge, knowing one’s strengths, weaknesses, insights, and blind spots, and openness, being open to new learning, new growth. One can always learn more about the wonder and mystery of life and the love and grace of God. We can always see more broadly, feel more deeply, think more imaginatively, and love more profoundly. We can always open our minds, our hearts, our spirits a little wider – to others, to God, and even to ourselves.

 

“Our faith is made real not only in action but also in a quiet assurance that finally, nothing will defeat the love of God.”

 

We redeem the season by creating spaces to rest in God’s grace. We share in God’s work in the world, but the work is not ours alone, and part of that work is to proclaim the wide and wild love of God, which reaches out to all creation and deserves to be reveled in and celebrated. We need spaces just to be, listen to the sound of a small stream or the rustling of leaves, hear music, laugh, enjoy, and dance. Our faith is made real not only in action but also in a quiet assurance that finally, nothing will defeat the love of God.

This is a difficult season, a desperate time. We don’t know what the election and its aftermath will bring. We are unsure of when a vaccine for the coronavirus will help us move past this pandemic. We don’t know what that timeline means for the next General Conference. We do know we have challenging work to do to build God’s Beloved Community. Through it all, God in grace invites us to redeem the season in the midst of it all. It is our common task, our shared journey, and I am delighted to be with you in it.