How do God’s people maintain faith and hope when confronted with divisions in their denominations and in congregations? Well-meaning Christians, purporting to defend the faith and the Giver of faith, draw lines in the sand that make reconciliation difficult or impossible. They support these lines with theology and scripture, with budgets and membership data, and with emotion, fear, and reason. Regardless of the issue, the church can become polarized with each group feeling despair about the future. As most of us have experienced, God’s people can become equally agitated by issues as disparate as the inclusion of all people in the body of Christ or the proposed architecture of a church addition.
Are these not the trials that most confound us? When we read in Psalm 66 of God testing us as silver is tried, is there any struggle more difficult, more capable of driving us from the church we love, than one that pits us against our brothers and sisters in the faith?
Again, the psalmist affirms that God moves among the exiled. Even when we find no apparent way to mend a division or to come to a shared understanding of God’s mission for us, God brings us to a spacious place. God makes a way through the water and brings us safely through fire. God removes the burden and saves us from the net. More importantly, perhaps, God sustains us while we are trapped in division, while we dwell in a land of hurt feelings and dashed hopes and barriers that seem altogether immovable. And God calls us to affirm together through joyful expressions of praise that restoration is happening even though we may not yet see it.
O God, who has kept us among the living, show us signs of your restoring movement through the church, and guide us as we seek to partner with you in your mission of love and justice. Amen.
Through Jeremiah, God sends a message to the people in exile: They are to seek good for the city of Babylon, their new home. God will bless the city and in doing so will bless God’s people. The psalmist encourages the people to praise God with songs recounting past challenges through which God’s powerful deeds have brought them. This can be encouragement for those currently experiencing difficulties. In Second Timothy, Paul encourages his protégé to endure suffering if necessary. In fact, Timothy should expect to experience resistance. Although the apostle is in chains, the word of God is powerful and can never be chained. The story in Luke reminds us of a basic truth: We should remember to show gratitude to God for answered prayers.
Read Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7. When have you experienced physical or metaphorical exile? How has God helped you to thrive in your Babylon?
Read Psalm 66:1-12. Recall a time of division in your family or community of faith. How did God bring you individually and collectively to a spacious place?
Read 2 Timothy 2:8-15. How do you remember Christ in your actions toward others?
Read Luke 17:11-19. What boundaries keep you from full wellness that can be found in Jesus Christ?
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