We live in the glow of Easter. We live in the hope that as Christ is raised from the dead, so too, will we. However, the shadow of Good Friday also lies across our way. We still live in that Romans 8 world—where the old is passing away and the new being revealed more and more—and Creation is still under the curse. Things don’t work right. God picks up those things and meets us through them, so Jesus’ victory is still the last word. The cross still shapes our journey. There’s a way of understanding how the cross shapes our journeys. Our lives are cruciform—cross-shaped.
We live in a “vertical” axis in our relationship with God. His gifts and service cone to us and our worship and service are offered to Him. We also live on the “horizontal” axis with our neighbors. Jesus describes these axes as He tells the lawyer he has answered well—after he’d summarized the relationship with God as loving God with everything we are and have, he said we love our neighbors as ourselves. How we live in this horizontal axis or plane—how we live as citizens, community members, employees and employers, friends, members of Bethlehem, students and teachers at school (pick your locations and relationships)—is how we love our neighbors as ourselves.
Martin Luther put things this way in 1520 when he wrote a tract titled, “On Christian Liberty.” Luther begins with two seemingly contradictory propositions: a Christian is an utterly free man, lord of all, subject to none; and, a Christian is an utterly dutiful man, servant of all, subject to all. Luther’s approach was somewhat radical. Luther’s paradoxical teaching of Christian freedom, following Christ and St. Paul, joins lord and servant in one person—rather than two, one a servant and the other a lord. By faith alone, God sets a man utterly, completely, free in Christ. He is lord of all, subject to none. Love binds him as an utterly dutiful servant to the neighbor, subject to everyone. The paradox of Christian freedom then plays out in faith and love.
That part of us that has felt “cooped up” and has “cabin fever” wants to just follow that first statement of Luther’s: we want to be FREE! However, the love of Christ directs us to care for and about our neighbors. President Linnemann of our Northwest District echoes this concern as he wrote a recent letter about “preparing for the re-entry process.” I like the second title that he gave his letter: Getting Ready for the Next Normal. I had expected that this letter would address how we re-start worship and get back to doing what we know how to do. However, his focus is on our neighbors.
He first addresses those folks who have begun to worship with us online. He turned—for me—those numbers on YouTube into people with a real need for worship and a relationship with Jesus. Bethlehem members have been joined by possibly more than a hundred extra folks for worship. It would be easy to dismiss them as camp followers or Internet cruisers. President Linnemann encourages us to think of these folks as Jesus does—as folks worth loving and serving. What does this mean as we get back together for worship—I hope—sometime this summer?
I am not certain. Your staff members have already begun discussing this question. We have also been discussing how to welcome you back in church for worship, seeking to balance our eagerness to be back in our church home with our desire to be safe and welcoming. You will hear more about this in future newsletters and emails. As we reconnect with one another physically and continue to live in relationship with one another and with our Lord, we will pray that Christ’s love will lead us.
Joy in the journey,
Pastor Jeff Shearier