Let us Seek: Blessed Relationships

For me, today’s readings from the Revised Common Lectionary are falling on blessed ears. In particular, I feel very blessed by one verse in the selections. 1 Peter 3:8 immediately drew my attention when I read through the readings this morning. In the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the verse says “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” The New International Version translates this passage “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” The old school King James Version translates this passage “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:”

While I don’t often read The Message, 1 Peter 3:8-12 is a good read as well:

Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.

Whoever wants to embrace life
and see the day fill up with good,
Here’s what you do:
Say nothing evil or hurtful;
Snub evil and cultivate good;
run after peace for all you’re worth.
God looks on all this with approval,
listening and responding well to what he’s asked;
But he turns his back
on those who do evil things.

I was drawn to this passage today because I was reminded of the value of loving others yesterday. I had a good long conversation with a colleague who has been slowly becoming a friend since the creation of the Upper New York Annual Conference. We talked about the future of the church over a delicious Persian lunch and talked about our own journeys in her church after the meal had ended. Our time was a blessing.

It reminded me of many conversations that I have had with other colleagues and friends over the years. The time together reminded me of late night debates and conversation in the dorms, dining halls, and at BT’s with my friends from Roberts Wesleyan College. The time together reminded me of sitting at study groups at a diner on Route 104 and over the bookstore counter in seminary at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. The conversation reminded me of the relationships I have built at Annual Conferences with my sisters and brothers in the United Methodist Church first in Buffalo as a part of Western New York Annual Conference and then at the OnCenter in Syracuse with the Upper New YOrk Annual Conference. The time in fellowship reminded me of the deep conversations that took place and the relationships we have built at Silver Bay and in Rochester through the Annual Meeting of the UCC which I shared with newfound sisters and brothers over the past few years. I was reminded of all of these blessed ministries through time with a colleague who is becoming a friend.

The next two weeks are going to be very busy for me as a pastor. There are a lot of meetings to attend for both of the denominations that I serve. There are a lot of things that I will need to get done in order to do the very best I can in those situations. While I imagine that the UCC Annual Meeting will not likely be very stressful for me (due to the very congenial and loving nature of the folks that I generally have experienced during those meetings), I know that the UMC Annual Conference will definitely have moments of tension and stress. I am entering a very busy time in my year, but occasions like the one I engaged in yesterday remind me that there are blessings ahead.

The Message tells us to snub evil and cultivate good. How does one cultivate good? You cultivate good in the garden world by taking good care of your soil, maintaining healthy plants, and keeping pests (and pets) away from your plants. In time, plants grow because you care for them. I imagine that the next few weeks will have many opportunities to cultivate relationships. I pray that I take the time to cultivate good in the midst of all of the challenges.

One of our zucchini plants in hand-tilled earth!

The King James Version reminds us to have compassion for one another. In situations of stress and challenge, can be easy to desire victory at any cost. The act of having compassion is an act which can be a blessing in situations that naturally lead to division. The act of receiving compassion is an act which can be a blessing in situations that naturally lead to withdrawal from relationship. King James Version of this verse reminds us to enter into a reciprocal sharing of compassion. Compassion passed around a circle of folks just like we pass around the cup during communion. The body and blood of Christ for everyone around the table–the compassion of sisters and brothers for all in the family.

The New International Version binds together compassion with humility. In this translation we are reminded to go beyond compassion for others. We are invited to enter into humility. We are invited to humility when we live in a world where there are groups calling for win/lose scenarios. Humility in victory might mean not letting it go to your head. Compassion and humility in victory might mean sitting in grief with those who believe different than you. Humility in loss might mean taking the long view of matters instead of taking it as a critique of your position, your belief, or your character. Humility and compassion in loss might remind you to look beyond yourself even as your grieve. Hopefully, humility and compassion might lead us to seek situations where there are no winners or losers. We might be led to places where we are family instead of combatants.

The New Revised Standard Version reminds us to have tender hearts. This challenge might be greater than any other challenge for those of us who have been in the trenches of denominational squabbles for years. I am reminded by my friend and colleague that there is room for tenderness and growth in relationship even when everyone at the table has had challenges in their past. There is still room for love and growth in hearts that often wear suits of armor into challenging meetings. If we can risk being vulnerable, there may be places where even hearts broken with grief and loss can find new life.

I am thankful for this verse today and for all the colleagues and friends who have shared love with me over the years. I am grateful that love still rests at the heart of what it means to be Christian.

Let Us Seek: Tastes good, less malicious!

In considering the Revised Common Lectionary readings for May 2nd, I am immediately drawn to the reading from 1 Peter. Indeed, these verses seem almost magnetic after a long week that has devolved (or evolved) into prayer more times than I can count. Whether it is reading an article on Facebook or having newspaper clippings handed to me out of today’s local paper, I have been regularly driven to a place where I have felt a need to lower my head into my hands and pray. As a result, I find this scripture magnetic. 1 Peter 2:1-3 says: (NRSV)

“Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation–if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

I find these words have a certain magnetism because they are both incriminating and freeing to me. I find them incriminating in the sense that there is a part of me that wants to be angry and malicious. When friends, neighbors, and colleagues are hurting due to the actions of other individuals and special interest groups, I want to make that pain stop, but my professional avenues to address these issues are limited. This situation is extremely frustrating to me and to many others.

In the midst of these frustrating situations, I hear a voice in these scriptures. Is God good? Yes. Have I experienced the goodness of God? Yes. Which do I long for more–the pure, spiritual milk or vengeance? I long for something better than maliciousness. I hear the voice of God calling and the invitation is to both faith and relinquishment. I am called to have faith in the God I know is good and to let go of my desire for vengeance. It is time to let go of anger, hatred, and frustration. I know there is a part of me which feels frustrated and allows that anger to fester into malice, but with God’s help I can move this place from one of incrimination to one with freedom from my own anger.

Let me try and explain it another way. In our church this past Sunday we read the story of Stephen in Acts 6-7. One of the details that has always slipped my attention is the last thing Stephen does before dying. Stephen asks God to forgive the people who have caused his death. Like Jesus, Stephen decides that it is more important to forgive than to have vengeance. The sense of forgiveness that Stephen exudes and that Jesus modeled reminds me of the promise Paul makes about how the protective peace of God (which surpasses all understanding) when we make our requests known to God with joy (Philippians 4:4-7).

Forgiveness, peace, and trust all seem to dwell in a symbiotic relationship in a life of faith. For me this smorgasbord of faith is at the heart of what Peter is referring to in this passage. God is good and forgiveness, peace, trust, and friends all seem to flow from God’s goodness in a very consistent manner. These gifts are freeing and I feel freed when they take the place of anger in my heart and mind.

Does any of this mean I will advocate for righteousness any less? No. I will continue to advocate but I will also remember to do so without malice. I have tasted and seen that God is good. I will serve God with that truth in my mind partially because of the blessing of today’s scripture. I am thankful for the gift of this scripture.