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God's Story, Your Story and Our Story Through the Eyes of the Gospel Writers:

Warm Relationships and Their Significance for Being Best Neighbors In The Public Square--Feel, Think, Dream And Question: a Reflection on Amos 5:18-24 and Matthew 25:1-13

Craig Brian Larson relates the following account of being prepared and ready for a Tsunami:

The Morgan sea gypsies are a small tribe of 181 fishermen who spend much of the year on their boats fishing in the Andaman Sea from India to Indonesia and back to Thailand. In December, though, they live in shelters on the beaches of Thailand. In December 2004, in the hours before the killer Tsunami crashed ashore, the Morgan sea gypsies were living on those beaches. They were in harm’s way and would have likely all perished—had they not listened to their elders. For generations, the elders of the tribe had passed along one piece of wisdom. The tribe’s 65-year-old village chief Sarmao Kathalay says, “The elders told us that if the water recedes fast it will reappear in the same quantity in which it disappeared.” And that is exactly what happened. The sea drained quickly from the beach, leaving stranded fish flopping on the shore. How easy it would have been for those who live off of the sea to run down where the water had been minutes ago and fill every basket available with fish. Some people did just that in other areas of South Thailand. Not the Morgan sea gypsies. When the water receded from the beach, the tribal chief ordered every one of the 181 tribal members to run to a temple in the mountains of South Surin Island. When the waters crashed ashore, the 181 sea gypsies were safe on high ground.[1]

Being prepared and ready for how to behave in a Tsunami is important. Being prepared and ready, as followers of Jesus, for the tsunamis of life is important.

The public square dialogue surrounding racial equity, gender equality, education, climate change, health care and immigration requires an ability to listen well and engage with empathy. We need to ask good questions. In a complicated and anxious world, being a non-anxious presence is so important. We need more time to do less and be less. Warm relationships care more about the dialogue partner than the issues. Feeling, thinking and dreaming about how to heal relationships is always important but no more important than now. In this regard, Brene Brown writes,

When we first start cultivating calm and stillness in our lives, it can be difficult, especially when we realize how stress and anxiety define so much of our daily lives. But as our practices become stronger, anxiety loses its hold and we gain clarity about what we’re doing, where we’re going, and what holds true meaning for us.[2]

Being prepared, ready and committed to heal relationships necessitates an ongoing ability to create calmness and stillness. Then, we become that non-anxious presence.

The words of Amos 5:18-24 and Matthew 25:1-13 were meant for the immediate hearers in the 7th Century BCE and the 1st Century CE, subsequent centuries, today and centuries to come. The life and worship of the people of God extends well beyond the worship service into the fabric of everyday life. It is in the everyday movements of life that the mission of God is lived and experienced. And we are to be prepared for the return of Jesus Christ to gather the church and consummate the new heaven and new earth. As one biblical scholar notes, “What gets in the way of our relationship with God, with the church, and with each other? We probably have more than one [thing] to distract us at any given time.”[3]Loving God and loving others requires navigating the distractions.

Amos 5:18-24 reminds us that being unfaithful and betraying commitments to God happens. Through the ups and downs of such a journey, however, is how we learn, grow and transform into people reflecting the image of God.

Matthew 25:1-13 reminds us to prepare vigilantly for the return of Jesus Christ, because the Lord will “come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). We are to be like the bride awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom to join together for the common purpose of being a couple and unique individuals making a difference for good. This eschatological hope of Jesus’ return should guide us to serve others for their sake, so they too will be ready to meet the bridegroom Jesus when he claims his bride, the Church. We are to be prepared, just like the bridesmaids, to accompany the groom to the wedding. Most pointedly, we are to live our lives in such a way that we point others to Jesus.[4]

On this Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, feel, think, and question reality and feel, think and dream about God’s mission of redemption and healing. We must reject the narratives of scarcity and fear. They force us to retrench, look inward and become isolationist. The human tendency to believe there’s not enough for everyone (scarcity) and the equally powerful tendency to make decisions motivated by fear do not bring healing to people. Thus, as Christians, we must assist others to feel, think and dream about the abundance and unconditional love of God.

The pandemic is not going away anytime soon. Addressing racial equity, gender equality, education, climate change, health care and immigration will require our political leaders, Democrats and Republicans, to work together for the common good of all people. Fellow followers of Jesus, let’s feel, think and dream with God and connect with one another to work toward and hope for a fully invested, loving community who serve and worship and love together. Healing will begin. That’s what being best neighbors is all about.

[1]This illustration was found on Submitted by Craig Brian Larson, Arlington Heights, Illinois:“How ‘Sea Gypsies’ Survived the Tsunami,” as reported by the Associated Press, December 2004. [2]Brene Brown, The Gifts Of Imperfection (Center City, Minnesota: Hazeldon Publishing, 2010), 109. [3]Elizabeth Felicetti in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby and Carolyn J. Sharp, editors, Connections, Year A, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 463. [4]In the three paragraphs of textual analysis above, I have benefited from the thinking of William Yoo, Elizabeth Felicetti, Sammy G. Alfaro and Aimee Moiso in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery, Cynthia L. Rigby and Carolyn J. Sharp, editors, Connections, Year A, Volume 3 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 458-461, 461-463, 471- 473 and 473-474.

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