As a pastor, I am generally looking at everyday events through my "scriptural lens," trying to discern if there's a Biblical story or teaching that can either guide me personally, or speak to how God would have Christ's followers act. In essence, it's sermon preparation 24/7. When I'm feeling lost and can't figure out what I should do, I often turn to the story of the Exodus when God, through Moses, led God's people out of Egypt and toward God's good future for them -- albeit the long way home. When I'm caught up in busy-ness, I remind myself of the story of Martha and Mary, and how sitting at Jesus' feet and listening is the better choice, and so I try to cool my type-A impulses. You get the idea.
These past months, with the global pandemic of covid-19 and how it affects people's health, people's ability to earn a living, people's attitudes toward one another, people's ability to spend time with friends and family, and how it affects different socio-economic groups differently; with the upcoming Presidential election and the divisiveness between the two political parties, the ugliness of the rhetoric, and the significant impact that the outcome could have not only within our country but also around the world; with the social unrest around the Black Lives Matter movement, how politicized it has become, and how peaceful protests have turned into opportunities for extremists on either side of the argument to destroy property and discourage positive change... with so much turmoil and anxiety in the world, and specifically in our nation, I feel at a loss to find a single scriptural text or story that will shed light on how to proceed in such a time of darkness.
I was lamenting this with a friend, and he is convinced that we are approaching the end times as he believes the Book of Revelation describes it. He is a good friend, but we are on different ends of the spectrum when it comes to Biblical interpretation; he is a literalist, while I have been taught to look at the context of a teaching within its culture. At the same time, although I don't agree with him that specific numbers or events are pointing to Christ's imminent return, I do agree that we are living in a time of unrest that is reminiscent of the world in which John of Patmos wrote to give hope to the Christian community.
The Book of Revelation was written to a Christian community when that community was being persecuted by the government for their faith. I truly believe that at this point in history the Christian community is divided, not specifically by the government but in too many respects along political lines. Followers of Jesus Christ not only differ in our Biblical interpretations but in how we answer the popular question "What would Jesus do?"
We need hope. We need peace. We need love. Perhaps if we listened a little more, and if we loved a little more, we could address the issues that divide us through peaceful means. Perhaps the texts that I need to concentrate on to ground me here in the fall of 2020 are from John and Paul:
"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." -- John 13:34.
"And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love." -- Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, 13:13;
"All you need is love." -- John Lennon and Paul McCartney
"All we are saying is give peace a chance." -- John Lennon
The Rev. Dr. Leslie Smith Belden is a minister of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), currently serving as the stated clerk of the Presbytery of Arkansas. Contact her at [email protected]