Saturday, July 29, 2017

Unity and Protection

Today's reflection on the Daily Texts:

You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure. - Psalm 39:5 (NIV)

"I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one." - John 17:15

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 89:38-45; Isaiah 54,55; Colossians 1:28-2:10

Today was one of those days that had me up early and going quickly. I didn't get time (or didn't make time) to read the scriptures for the day until this afternoon. In the morning, I attended one of the "Cross-Cultural Conversations" this synod offers, for people of different backgrounds to gather, share our stories and experiences, study the Bible, and pray together. Progress toward overcoming racism is one (not the only) goal of the gatherings. Today, John 17:10-15 was the text we studied. This is all part of the long prayer Jesus offers on the night of his betrayal and arrest, where unity is one of his key themes, and protection another. In verse 11, he prays to the Father, "protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one."

In the context of coming together from different places and directions, with the aim of "being one," we wrestled with the question: why does Jesus need to pray for our "protection?" There were a lot of thoughtful responses. We talked about the "bubbles" we learn to place around ourselves, the "comfort zones" where we define who is "like us" and who is not, who we will instinctively trust, and who is "different" and "other" and suspicious. We talked about the need to "look in the mirror" and see ourselves as honestly and clearly as possible; to try to see ourselves also as God sees us, created in God's image and being transformed by the Holy Spirit toward the perfect image of Christ; and to know that we, and all the other people we encounter, are "works in progress," requiring humility and faith. The evil one would divide and separate us and pit us against one another. But when God protects (literally, keeps or guards) us, we know we are all gathered together into the arms of the same God.

After a section noting the faithlessness and brokenness of God's people, today's Isaiah 55 section focuses on grace:
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.
And the Colossians 1 section calls all readers to remember that it is in God's mystery, in Christ, that we find all good things, not in any human "spirit."

Racial categories, and all kinds of other human divisions and distinctions, slice and dice our unity into constrictive little zones that shrink our view of the world and diminish our understanding of others and ourselves. A lot of energy is pumped into maintaining these "bubbles" - even more in recent months. It can be tiring and frustrating to live within these, and to fight to overcome them. It helps to know that the protection, the keeping, the guarding, the strength and provision we need, comes as a free gift of grace from God.

God, thank you for watching out for us, for actively providing for us and working against all those worldly forces that would divide and conquer us. Give us instead the unity that Jesus prayed for. Help us to see you at work in ourselves and in others, that we might be a part of your healing and life and peace in this world.

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