Among the emails waiting for me when I returned from vacation was a special letter from Bishop Devadhar, sent to the people of the New England Conference this past Monday. Off cycle from his typical monthly missives, the letter made clear that recent events in Haiti and Afghanistan are weighing heavily upon him, and how could they not? As people who follow the one who heralded good news for the poor, release of captives, and liberty for the oppressed, we rightfully grieve when suffering and fear gain the upper hand, and we shudder to think of the lives lost or forever altered by these events.
Last week’s note from the UCC Conference minister, Lynn Bujnak, centered on the climate crisis, including the irreparable damage already done. While acknowledging that COVID and the ongoing quest for racial justice might feel like enough for many faithful Christ followers, she reminded about the pressing need to tend to environmental stewardship as much and as soon as possible.
To state the obvious, these and many other challenges are not going away anytime soon. We are already weary in our grief, and yet the journey ahead seems so long. Attempts to find the silver lining, or to overcome and move on, feel misplaced amidst the scale of what we’re facing. So how do we find the strength and the courage to engage the pain of our broken world without falling into despair?
When Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…for my yoke is easy and my burden light,” he was surely not implying that a life following him would be free from suffering. He suffered; his disciples suffered; his family and friends grieved greatly at his loss.
And yet the way Jesus went at the world—with care and compassion for ones who suffered most, with an awareness of political and religious realities that nevertheless did not hem in his ministry, and with deep and prayerful connection to his Source—this allowed him to find a degree of freedom that no one could take away, but that he was able to freely give. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” he says. By the grace of God, we are not beyond the ability to be taught to walk in the way of Jesus.
This Sunday, we will celebrate the sacrament of baptism for one of the littlest among us. It will likely be endearing and sweet as we welcome a new member into God’s very large family. But baptism is no small thing. The vows that parents, sponsors, and our whole congregation will take on Sam’s behalf point to this commitment to walk in the way of Jesus: facing the pain when it comes, rejecting evil when it shows up on our doorstep, reaching out for help when we need it, and proclaiming the freedom we have found when the world seems to be falling apart. At baptism, we are both trusting that God will give us all that we need (grace), and acknowledging that we have a role to play in God’s story. If ever we needed that reminder, surely it is now.
Many thanks to Robin Simard and others who led worship in my absence last week. I look forward to reconnecting with you this Sunday as we share in this special and empowering celebration.
(Scripture references from Matthew 11)