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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--Meaning Is Unique To Each One Of Us: a Reflection on Judges 4:1-7, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and Matthew 25:14-30

Humanity is a community of 7.2 billion lives who are interconnected and interdependent. We are all in this together.

Living as an interconnected, interdependent people is of paramount significance. One of my covenant brothers, the Rev. Dr. Steve Hein, with whom I will be retreating by zoom on Thursday along with the other four members of our covenant group, relates the following story:

Steve was on safari in Africa. The guide was very clear on instructions, one in particular. “When I say, stop and don’t move, you must stop and not move.” Towards the end of the safari on the last leg back to the start of the journey, the guide stated, “Stop and don’t move.” Everything in Steve’s mind and heart resisted obedience. He actually thought he knew better and would run for safety. In the bush fifty yards away, to the right of the group, was a bull elephant. Eventually, the elephant scampered off. Steve asked the guide what would have happened if the bull elephant had charged the group. The guide, without missing a beat stated, “I would have run toward the elephant.”

Obedience shapes meaning.

Being obedient to the teachings in God’s Word and remaining faithful to God’s will in the everyday temptations, struggles and opportunities, isn’t easy. Yet, obedience and disobedience shape meaning. Yes, meaning is unique to each one of us, but we are interconnected and interdependent in sharing meaning that God has designed. We participate in God’s mission of bringing about the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

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. Your study of the Bible will illumine your discovery of self in the midst of this dialogue. The public square interactions do consume emotional, intellectual and time resources. But warm relationships care more about the dialogue partner than the issue. The process of self-awareness is integral to your experience of meaning. And your interactions with others shape meaning. In this regard, Brene Brown writes, “We all have gifts and talents. Squandering our gifts brings distress to our lives. Sharing our gifts and talents with the world is the most powerful source of connection with God. Like our gifts and talents, meaning is unique to each one of us.”[1] All people receive something from the Creator to be a foundation for meaning in their lives and must build upon it.

Judges 4:1-7, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and Matthew 25:14-30 speak to oppression, deterioration of one’s relationship to God, divine judgment, human survival and accountability.

Judges 4:1-7 indicates that we face struggles for so long that we come to believe they are foregone conclusions. We often believe our adversaries are invincible. Through it all, however, we need to trust God.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11asserts that our identity in Jesus clothes us with the faith, hope and love of salvation.

Matthew 25:14-30 is a call to be faithful with what we have been given as gifts and talents. We are to build upon those gifts and talents by investing in the kingdom of God coming about on earth as it is in heaven. Our actions have consequences, intended and unintended. The known and unknown outcomes of our actions should not inspire fear but trust in Jesus Christ. We must be vigilant in our awareness that the abundance we have been given must be accountable to kingdom principles of loving others, particularly the least of these. There is no room for “us” and “them.” We are all “us.” We’re in this together. The return of Christ will happen and as believers in Jesus we desire as many people to hear the words, “Well done good and faithful servant.” How we invest our gifts and talents for the common good is paramount to our meaning as individuals and an interconnected, interdependent community.[2]

On this Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, we must acknowledge the relationship between sin and death. Sin is a causal break in what life is meant to be now and eternally. We must also acknowledge the day of judgement is coming. We are to use our gifts, talents and wealth to shape lives, communities and futures. We must reject the narrative of scarcity. The human tendency is to believe there’s not enough for everyone. Vulnerability with God and others, not isolation, is the gospel of Jesus.

The pandemic is not going away anytime soon. In fact, it’s ramping up again around the world and in the United States. Addressing racial equity, gender equality, education, climate change, health care and immigration requires that we avoid petty jealousies or resentments about the gifts and talents we wish to possess or don’t have. We need to live fully, in gratitude and generously, out of the gifts and talents we have received.

Do not fear losing what you have, embodying a theology of scarcity. Fear prevents you from seeing the abundance within yourself, others and all around you. Live boldly and lovingly excited to serve a broken world. The faith, love and hope of your salvation will sustain you in such a time as this. Invest in one another to create individual meaning as well as humanity’s interconnected, interdependent meaning.That’s what being best neighbors is all about.

[1]Brene Brown, The Gifts Of Imperfection (Center City, Minnesota: Hazeldon Publishing, 2010), 112-113. [2]In the four paragraphs of textual analysis above, I have benefited from the thinking of Kenneth N. Ngwa, Wm. Marcus Small, Ruth Faith Santana-Grace, Lee Hull Moses, Laura Mariko Cheifetz and Kate Ott 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), 476-478, 478-480, 484-486, 486-487, 488-490 and 490-492.

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