Even the Fringe – 7-18-24

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s gospel reading is here

We end this action-packed chapter of Mark’s gospel with the camera pulling back to a wide angle; after these very specific stories about Jesus’ ministry, we get an overview: And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. 

All who touched it were healed. All who touched even the fringe of Jesus’ cloak were healed. No wonder some healing ministries mail out pre-blessed “healing” handkerchiefs and bits of cloth to people who’ve sent a donation. And maybe I shouldn’t be snarky – if we encounter God in the form of energy, perhaps that divine power lingers in cloth or the walls of holy places. Or is it rather the faith of the people who believe the cloth will heal them that results in healing? Time and again, Jesus told people, “Your faith has healed you.” Is that a “placebo effect?”

Well, as my friend Peter says, “If we knew how, everybody would be doing it.” We would actively invite God’s healing stream into people. And most Christians do not do that. Why? Perhaps because we have not seen “all healed.” We’ve seen one or two healed, on occasion, and we allow the weight of all those “not healed” to overwhelm us.

I don’t know why so many people in our world get sick and die without any visible healing – but I do know that our prayers need to be part of the equation. God could just go ahead without us, yet the record of scripture and humanity’s history with God suggests that God has chosen to work through us. And if we don’t allow God to work through us… healing often does not occur. On rare occasions, God’s will might be for something other than healing, but over all the reign of God leans toward life and more life.

Jesus said healing is a manifestation of God’s Good News. Why would we leave one of the most central Gospel tools unused? God’s desire for us is not illness or trial, but that we be whole and beloved and available to share God’s love with the world. We can pray anywhere and everywhere, anytime someone tells us they are struggling with infirmity, be it physical, mental or spiritual. We can invite the healing stream of God’s life already in us by virtue of our baptism to be released into every situation.

And we can help people become aware of the obstacles to that healing flow – obstacles like self-loathing, or a conviction that healing is not possible, or a deep-seated resentment, or unhealed trauma. We can help shine the light of the Spirit into those dark corners so our friends become more receptive to the power of God at work in them.

I once heard an interesting definition of faith: “Faith is a spiritual force that becomes a catalyst to activate spiritual laws that have authority over natural laws.” If chapter 6 of Mark’s Gospel teaches anything, it is that Jesus demonstrated amazing authority over natural laws – food, water, diseased cells. As he and others exercised faith, people experienced healing and deliverance.

Jesus still has that authority. He is still coming through the villages, towns and marketplaces – but now through us. Let’s make ourselves available as conduits of that healing stream. We are now the fringe of Jesus’ cloak.

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

Who Needs Shepherds? – 7-17-24

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s gospel reading is here. 

Sheep have a reputation for being a little dim in intellectual capacity. They pretty much have one thing on their minds: grass. Give them good grass and they will eat and eat, not paying much attention to where they’re going, not noticing if they’re straying from the flock or in danger. It’s not such a compliment that Jesus told stories likening people to sheep, or that he says, viewing a crowd looking for him, that they were like sheep without a shepherd: Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ time were supposed to be shepherds. Clearly he did not think they were doing the job, too preoccupied in proving their own righteousness. Perhaps this is why he has compassion on this crowd, allowing them to divert him from his intended retreat with the disciples. He knew that without teaching and guidance and an experience of God’s power right then and there, they would drift, hungry, prey to false teachers and poor nourishment.

In our time, fewer and fewer people seem to seek out spiritual leaders; for many, the “DIY” movement extends to the spiritual life. They may pray, connect with others, find teaching on the internet, often comfortable platitudes, but are indifferent to the accumulated wisdom of religious traditions. Like sheep focused on grazing, they may seek the next feel-good moment, the next affirmation that they really are okay, a good person, and so stray further and further away from the Source of Love and truth. They open themselves to manipulative teachers or a feedback loop in which the truth becomes ever more distorted.

Self-sufficiency is the enemy of spiritual growth. People cannot thrive spiritually if their only point of reference about spiritual experience is in their own mind, even if they are people of faith and active churchgoers. If we want to grow in faith, we need to walk with others; we need to look out for each other; we need to hold each other accountable. And we need leaders, pastors (the term borrowed from shepherding) who know the landscape and can keep their eye on the big picture while we wander and graze. And the pastors need pastors and community for the same reason.

Have you had periods of “go it alone” spirituality in your life, and periods of communal connection?
How did each way feel to you? Who are the shepherds who have helped guide you to good pasture and clean water? For whom have you served as a shepherd or guide? I highly recommend all Christ-followers be part of some small group fellowship for mutual support and accountability.

Of course, the One Shepherd for all of us is Jesus, our “Shepherd of Souls.” We wander off the precipice when we wander away from him. But to follow him well we seem to need shepherds and other folks. I hope and pray we all have worthy shepherds in our lives, that we see more than the grass around us.

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

Take a Break! – 7-16-24

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s gospel reading is here

It may surprise few who know me to learn that I flunk vacations. I don’t know how to plan them, allow adequate time for them, or completely shut off from work while I’m on them. I could blame this on being single – it’s more work to plan a vacation with people not in your family, and less fun to go alone. But maybe it’s just me.

It may surprise some to learn that Jesus commended time away after a busy period of ministry. (As we’ll see, Jesus also kind of flunks vacation, responding  to the needy crowds seeking to pull him off course…) So when his disciples come back, excited, after their first mission foray, he tells them they’ve earned some quiet time: The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 

Spiritual work depletes our energy. It can give us energy in the short term – I can be really pumped up for a few hours after any kind of Spirit-filled worship or ministry. But then I find I need a nap and to recharge my batteries. And we need more than naps – we need breaks. Prayer breaks and Sabbath days, and retreats, and actual vacations – and sabbaticals and Jubilee years too. Like ground that loses nutrients if it’s over-planted, we need to rest and let our brains go fallow and our creative energies return. If we’re active in any kind of ministry, we need to allow the river of the Spirit to move through and cleanse our channels, remove the debris, reawaken the faith vision to see what is not yet.

Fridays are my day off, and I’m working hard (!) at not working at all, really letting it be a sabbath. Sometimes I feel bored, or feel bad for being so unproductive (my definition of sabbath means no “productive,” “to-do list” activities). Yet when I do unplug from the to-do list, I notice that I’m more resilient, that my natural hopefulness comes back, and I start to feel creative juices flowing again. Not for nothing did God ordain a Sabbath day of unproductivity each week! Why is it so hard to keep that command/invitation? Even machinery needs to rest; why do we think we can keep running?

When did you last take time off – a few minutes, a day, some weeks or longer – and really let your system recharge? What gifts were you aware of in that time? What stands between you and taking more time off?

What if we thought of taking breaks as a spiritual discipline? Sabbath-keeping certainly is, but so is every rest after a time of ministry. I’m going to try something, and I invite you to join me:  The next time I think I can’t take a break because I have to get one more thing done, I’m going to imagine myself in that boat with Jesus and the disciples, heading to a deserted place by themselves. Just imagine the mood – “Yay! We’re going away! And with Jesus! We’ve worked hard, we’ve seen God do amazing things through us, and now we get to rest and recharge a little. Have a retreat. Decompress. Imagine!”

And really, can anything we think we have to do for Jesus be more important than hanging out with Jesus? Isn’t that where the real work happens?

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

Telling Tales – 7-15-24

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s gospel reading is here

Let’s think back to our gospel story two weeks ago: Jesus was sending his disciples out in twos to proclaim the Good News and heal the sick. Now they’re back – and they have a lot to tell him! The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 

When we are active in the life of faith – regular in prayer, our awareness tuned to God experiences – we usually have stories to tell. Since 2020, my Christ Churches offer Night Prayers online at 8 pm Monday through Thursday evenings. What began as a way to stay connected during the Covid lockdown has blossomed into a wonderful, brief prayer service each weekday evening, enfolding people from Canada and Connecticut as well as Southern Maryland. (And you are welcome to join too! Here is the link; passcode is LPWay.) Several nights each week we ask “Where have you sensed God’s presence?” Amazing stories of presence, peace, power, and answered prayer often flow.

Our God stories get even more intense when we offer ministry in the name and power of Jesus. In Connecticut, I used to go out with parishioners to downtown locations to offer prayer to anyone who wanted it. One time in Stamford we went to the farmer’s market and loitered where people emerged from shopping. We held a sign reading, “Want A Prayer?” and at the bottom, “Prayer Changes Things” We were only out for about an hour but in that time had close to 20 blessed encounters with people, from a young man with whom we prayed on our way to our spot, who then prayed for us; to a vendor at the market who ran over saying, “I want a prayer!;” to a little boy who came running back to us after we’d prayed with him and his mother, with a look of wonder on his face, saying, “That was good!” It seemed like he wanted more. I’ve had similar encounters in La Plata at a street fair – but only once. We need to get out there!

Jesus is not the only one who likes to hear our stories of seeing God at work through our efforts. They also build up the faith of the people around us to be bolder in their prayers and ministries.  And they remind us when we need to remember – for me that can be 30 minutes after the last time I saw God’s power at work. I’m not sure of the neuroscience, but I imagine that a memory that is written down and/ or articulated verbally gets wired into our synapses more sturdily than one we merely note and allow to drift away.

When was the last time you felt God at work through or around you? Have you told someone the story? Start by writing it down so you don’t lose it. Tell God about it. And tell someone else.

If the apostles hadn’t shared their stories with Jesus and each other, they wouldn’t have been told and retold and finally preserved to encourage us. We have God tales to tell – let’s tell them!

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

The Hole-y Bible? – 7-12-24

You can listen to this reflection here.

I accept the Holy Scriptures as having spiritual authority, as God-inspired words set down by holy and faithful men and women, our ancestors in faith. I don’t believe in cherry-picking the texts that “work for us,” or picking and choosing what we find helpful or relevant. If anything, followers of Christ should ask how we might be made more relevant to the scriptures rather than the other way around.

And yet… there are these passages, like this week’s gospel, which may  speak truth about human depravity, but in which I can discern little spiritual benefit. The beheading of John, the rapes of Dinah and Tamar, the conquest of Ai, the endless cosmic battles in Revelation, pretty much the whole bloody book of Judges… what are we to make of these passages in which the human origin or score-settling seems to far outweigh any discernible divine inspiration?

Some people, like Thomas Jefferson, simply cut out the parts of Scripture they don’t agree with; in Jefferson’s case, that meant any reference to the miraculous or supernatural. Others, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, alter passages that don’t match their theology. Others ignore the parts they don’t like, or focus on one part of the Bible to the exclusion of others, which can lead to a dangerous lack of balance in teaching and living. Any of these approaches lead to a hole-y bible rather than Holy Writ.

How can we appreciate the holiness of God’s Word when not every word in it seems holy? I try to remember that someone was inviting the presence of the Holy Spirit to indwell it at every stage of its transmission: as a story passed along orally; when written down (sometimes by multiple sources); when edited and collected and consecrated by communities of faith; when translated; and finally when read by us. We can pray that God reveal to us a nugget of grace in even the worst story. After all, in our lives we encounter many horrible stories in which we seek to discern the redemptive power of God, for that is what we proclaim, a God who has triumphed over sin and death.

I appreciate the challenge of finding good news in any passage of scripture, some connection to God’s plan of salvation. For instance, this week’s gospel passage rounds out the picture we have of John the Baptist, his fierce and fearless dedication to the mission of God. It reminds us that our days in this world are but the blink of an eye in the scope of our eternal life with God.

This story is a part of the Holy Bible, and as such it is also holy, set apart, like the people of God. We can rejoice in the way that John the Baptist was willing to allow himself to be an integral part of that plan, in life and in death. And we can receive it as one of the realities of this world that is passing away, as God works out that plan “to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.”

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

No Promise of Protection – 7-11-24

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s gospel reading is here

Okay, let’s take a look at this gospel passage I’ve been avoiding all week, which tells the story of how and why John the Baptist was beheaded after many years in King Herod’s dungeon. It’s a grim story; there’s nothing obviously redemptive about it. Evil triumphs over good, as it so often seems to do in the world. Maybe that’s why neither Matthew nor Luke include it in their gospels, even as they absorb so much of what is in Mark’s narrative.

Mark strays into the story as he talks about how some thought Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead – and one person who thought that was King Herod. So Mark tells how Herod came to have John beheaded, though, “Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.”

It was Herod’s wife who pressured him into arresting John. She had previously been married to Herod’s brother, and John had not hesitated to inform the Galilean king that this ran counter to the law of Moses. Because he spoke out, “Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him.” She saw her moment when Herod threw himself a birthday party with all the VIPs of Galilee. No doubt the food and wine flowed freely, and there was even entertainment: Herodias’ daughter danced for Herod. Her dance so pleased the drunken despot that he swore to give her whatever she wanted, up to half his kingdom, as Hebrew kings were wont to do (see the book of Esther). The girl asks her mother what to ask for and there it is:  “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 

Herod was “grieved,” we’re told, but his need to save face before his guests trumped his conscience, so the gruesome order was carried out. John’s head was presented on a platter to the girl, who dutifully gave it to her mother. A great prophet of God was dead at the hands of the vengeful and the flirtatious.

So why are people reading this, and on a Sunday in church? (We won’t be at my churches – we’re enjoying a series on Celtic Christianity…) Maybe a better question is: How can we benefit from this story? Can we find any blessing in it? It does remind us  that serving God comes with no guarantee of safety. We pray for protection from bodily harm, and we thank God when we avoid it, but in fact it is not among the promises we receive as followers of the Crucified One. Plenty of Christ followers the world over experience persecution, from economic and social deprivation to mortal danger.

To speak the truth in the face of persecution, to proclaim the Good News that Jesus is Lord, to take his teachings at face value and love your enemy – this is the call of every follower of Christ, always hoping that the worst we will face is rejection or a complacent disinterest. That is the worst most of us will face – so maybe we can be bolder about speaking the truth and proclaiming the Gospel, if only to honor those who paid a much higher price.

The only positive element I find in this story is at the end: When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. This reminds us that John was part of a holy community, with followers willing to stand by him in life, and claim him as their own in death. That community carried on his legacy and his life. May we do as much for the martyrs of our time, in the name of Christ.

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

Lavish Grace – 7-9-24

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s epistle reading is here.

When was the last time something was lavished on you? Luxury? Hospitality? Kindness? Thanks to our Puritan forebears, we may not associate words like “lavished” and “riches” and “pleasure” with our life in God. But Paul lays it on thick when rhapsodizing about God’s generosity toward us in forgiveness and redemption: In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 

How we feel about being forgiven and redeemed is entangled with whether or not we feel we need forgiving and redeeming. Some people feel guilt and shame pretty easily – for them, these are words of life. Others are offended by the notion that we, good creatures made in the image of God, might be characterized as “sinners,” and find the whole notion of repentance oppressive. I’ve been asked why we talk about sin in our worship services, as though the word itself conveys a wrong emphasis. Perhaps we should talk about hurtfulness; most people get that.

St. Paul had no problem talking about guilt and shame – he knew how prideful and arrogant he had been as a follower of the Mosaic law, and how zealously and violently he had persecuted the Christ-followers. He had a visceral gratitude for the forgiveness of his sins and redemption he came to understand as God’s gift through Christ’s redeeming sacrifice. Recognizing how destructive he could be allowed him to understand the true cost and immeasurable value of God’s forgiving grace.

John Newton, the repentant slave trader who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace, understood what that unmerited redemption was worth once he came to see how lost he was, how depraved in his disregard for the value of other human beings. It took seeing his sinfulness to understand the extent of God’s transforming love – a love that not only restores individuals, but is part of God’s larger plan to restore all of creation to wholeness, “things in heaven and things on earth.”

Can you think of a time when you have received “amazing grace” from a person and/or from God? It can be simultaneously humiliating and exhilarating to be on the receiving end of forgiveness when we’re aware of how hurtful we can be.

And have you been called upon to forgive an extraordinary hurt? How did you come to that forgiveness? Was it connected to grace you’ve received? This is one reason we include confession in our prayers – to remember who we are, and how loved we are because and in spite of who we are.

Our nation saw grace “lavished” when members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, even the families of those massacred there, freely offered forgiveness to the murderer. Many observers took offense at that, feeling that the shooter did not deserve to be forgiven, especially as he seemed unrepentant. To which the Christian says, “Exactly.” Those who offered forgiveness understood that, from the perspective of God’s holiness, none of us deserve it, yet God has lavished grace upon us.

Only as we understand that we need, and have received, that grace for ourselves are we truly able to lavish it on others. As we do that, God’s plan for the cosmos becomes ever more complete.

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

Let’s Focus On Grace 7-8-24

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s epistle reading is here

Murder. Beheadings. Corrupt despots. Politicians partying with underage femmes fatale. We get plenty of this in the news; must we deal with it in the pages of our Holy Scriptures? Well – yes, there’s plenty of all that in the Bible, which, after all, chronicles the movement of God in human life, and often reminds us how desperately humankind needs that gift. One of the least appealing stories of all comes up in this Sunday’s gospel: the story of how King Herod came to have John the Baptist beheaded. We can no doubt learn something from this sordid tale, but I have no wish to spend our week on it.

Happily, Sunday’s readings also include one of my top ten Bible hits – the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. This letter contains some of the most beautiful, lyrical passages in the New Testament; I actually memorized the first three chapters as a Lenten discipline one year. Paul is so effusive in his praise of God and so passionate in his prayer for this community he has heard about. Here’s how it starts:  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

Just pick out the verbs in that paragraph: blessed, chosen, destined, bestowed. In each case, God is the actor and we are the receivers – we are those blessed with every spiritual blessing happening right now in the heavenly places; we are those chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before God in love. That one sentence binds up our deepest past and our farthest future – and it’s all right now, already happening, on earth as it is in heaven.

Paul writes that God destined us for adoption as God’s children through Christ – which is great for us, but also, it appears, somehow adds to the praise of God’s grace freely given us in the Beloved, Christ. Imagine: when we receive God’s grace, it further praises the giver of that very gift. So when we refuse the gift of grace, when we try to make ourselves righteous, when we shun God’s forgiving mercy and insist on punishing ourselves, when we stubbornly cling to our guilt and self-sufficiency and illusions of control… God is less praised. Who’d have thought that not taking an offered gift could have such cosmic effects?

A few weeks ago, I got to spend time with much of my wonderful human family, in which I am birth-daughter, sister, aunt. I have also been adopted into the eternal and worldwide family of God, which has made me daughter, sister, mother to so many beautiful souls, chosen with me before the foundations of the world to be holy and blameless before God in love. What an incomparable gift for me to take in the immeasurable love in which I was made and in which I live, and to pray this prayer for you as well. Thanks be to God!

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

Radical Hospitality – 7-5-24

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s gospel reading is here

Some churches use the term “radical hospitality” to describe their processes for welcoming visitors. In practice, this often means good signage, an alert and well-trained cadre of greeters, easy-to-follow service booklets, and people who are ready to help newcomers navigate the liturgy and escort them personally to coffee hour. On a deeper level, it can mean that a congregation is trained to welcome people who come “as they are,” not to impose its norms upon visitors; to create an atmosphere of warmth and acceptance and openness to the gifts a visitor might bring.

This is the kind of hospitality which Jesus’ disciples were to seek out as they went out in twos on their first mission without Jesus: He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.”
Since he’d already told them not to take any money or extra clothing, it was clear they wouldn’t be bearing hostess gifts. They would be bringing the power to heal, authority over evil spirits, and the Good News of release and wholeness to be found in Jesus Christ. If they found people willing to take them in and care for them under those conditions, they were to remain there, not moving from house to house looking for the best breakfast. The point was to leave their time and energy free for preaching and healing.

And if they couldn’t find that kind of hospitality, or the people in a given town didn’t want to hear their message? Then they should keep moving, and find somewhere more fruitful:  “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”

This might sound harsh to us, but Jesus wasn’t sending his disciples on a Grand Tour. He was sending them to proclaim the Good News and to exert authority over evil. To do that they would  have to become what a New Yorker writer humorously described herself to be: “fiercely dependent” – and discerning about where to spend their energy.

Hospitality that is truly radical allows a wonderful exchange between visitor and host. It does not treat a visitor as a guest, but welcomes her as family the very first time she comes. It does not put all the focus on what we can offer, setting up an “us and them,” or subtly seek to exert power through generosity. We should seek a mutual sharing of gifts when we bring dinner to the homeless shelter as much as when someone joins us for worship, allowing them to help serve, not only to be served.

Truly radical hospitality recognizes that each person may well be an apostle of Jesus Christ, with gifts and a message for us. I wonder how many more church visitors might come a second time if, instead of asking, “What can we do for you?” we asked, “What are the gifts you bring? We welcome them as we welcome you.”

Sometimes radical hospitality is what we’re called to find, and sometimes it’s what we’re called to offer. Both ways, we are called to give and to receive, all at the same time. And in that giving and receiving, community is formed.

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

Independence Day – 7-4-24

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s gospel reading is here

Today Americans celebrate our independence as a nation, two years shy of our 250th birthday. Our union is having growing pains. The dream of America and the reality of America can seem as divergent as the viewpoints of its citizens.

Yet we celebrate. We celebrate the courage of those who fought to liberate themselves from the oppression of a colonial power, even as those same people continued to oppress and even colonize others.

We celebrate the dream of democracy, even as the strength of that democracy is being tested in ways not seen since the Civil War.

We celebrate the impulse toward diversity and inclusion that represents the best of America, even as we reckon with the evils of racism woven into our very foundations as a nation – there would have been no federation of states had not the northern states agreed to abandon efforts to abolish slavery.

We celebrate the generosity that led America to open its doors to immigrants and make sacrifices for the liberty of other nations, even as we struggle with a resurgence of virulent nationalism, some labeled as “Christian,” though I doubt Christ would recognize its rhetoric as having anything to do with his teachings or life.

There is undeniably a role for Christianity in our country: it is one of humility and transformation, not might and oppression. We are to be missionaries coming in love, not thugs preaching division and sedition. Ours is to be an apostolic movement, following the example of the apostles. And what did they do in their first missionary foray? So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. 

There are many who need to repent of self-absorption and disdain for those with whom they disagree. There are many afflicted with forces we might consider demonic – rage, violence, degradation, prejudice, depression, addiction. People need to be set free, and that includes a spiritual dimension that Christ-followers are equipped to offer. And there are many who are sick, in body, mind and spirit. If all the Church did in the next ten years was focus on healing, we would make a tremendous impact. Jesus did in only three.

Do you feel equipped to be an apostle of Christ in your surroundings? “Apostolic” just means doing whatever Jesus’ apostles did. And they did this: proclaimed God’s reign, invited people to open themselves to God’s love (repentance), and demonstrated that love through curing the sick and casting out evil wherever they encountered it. They did this not on their own, but by God’s power working through them as Jesus gave them authority. That’s all.

We too have been given this gift of Spirit and this authority over evil. All we really need is the power of the Holy Spirit alive and working through us, and the courage to let her flow. That is an Independence Day God will delight in.

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.