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  • Writer's pictureRev. Joel L. Tolbert

Scripture Comes Alive

On Saturday morning, I had the honor of leading a conversation with the Interracial Men’s Group, a combination of the men from Faith Life Church (downtown Chestertown on Calvert and Lynchburg) and our own Monday Night Men’s Fellowship group. We have now worshipped and fellowshipped with one another for over a year. We’ve shared this small group since August.

We reflected on Galatians 2. In the scripture, Paul is calling out Peter publicly for sometimes sharing fellowship with non-Jews (Gentiles), then withdrawing from Gentiles when other Jews come around. Paul reminds Peter, the Galatians, and all of us, in Christ there is no longer Jew or Gentile. We are not judged by our former customs and traditions, nor are we to use our preferred customs and traditions to include ourselves or exclude others. We are one in Christ, and we are to live in ways that show the world we are one and are becoming one.

The scripture came alive for me as I watched black and white men share breakfast, study, and prayer together, while so much of the world is still segregated at mealtimes, in friendships, and even in our worship and religious communities.

On Sunday night, I had the privilege of cooking pancakes with and for the youth of the church and their families. We ate together, then Rev. Caitlan led the youth and adult volunteers into the sanctuary for worship and discussion. We sang and prayed, then talked about the epidemic of gun violence in America.

The youth described how schools coach them to respond if an active shooter were discovered on campus. The youth shared what they’ve been told, and how that message has evolved over the last decade. They shared what they felt was good advice. They also shared what they thought was silly or unrealistic (Walk quietly, head down, do not speak when evacuating? Yeah, right.) The youth also shared the way it makes them feel to hear about school shootings and to prepare for them.

We reflected on Luke 22, where Jesus retreats with his disciples. Jesus senses the danger and violence that may be coming his way if he continues his non-violent resistance. The disciples are also getting anxious. So, Jesus coaches them on what to do, stay awake and pray, think about any way to follow God, AND avoid the highly-probable violence. Jesus pulls away from them himself to pray, begging for the courage to stay on the path, praying the violence may not happen, and committing himself to continue loving, serving, healing, and teaching no matter what may happen to him.

The scripture came alive for me and I sensed the reasonable fears in our youth and their commitment to protecting themselves and one another, their family, and friends in the school. Like Jesus, they are scared something violent could happen. Like Jesus, they know they are not alone, and they are making plans to escape the violence if possible, and stop the violence if need be, without the threat or fear of violence stopping them from living good lives.

On Tuesday morning, I gathered with our monthly Heron Point study group (4th Tuesdays, 11:00 am, in the Activities Room near the Fitness Center). We are studying “Celebrating Sabbath,” and this month, our topic was Sabbath hospitality. The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenia… philo meaning brotherly/sisterly love, and xenia meaning stranger, other, outsider, alien. The opposite of hospitality would therefore be xenophobia, fear, and exclusion of the other.

We studied both versions of the Sabbath commandments, the Exodus 20 version right at the start of the wilderness, and the Deuteronomy 5 version right at the end of the wilderness. Both versions instruct us to honor the Sabbath ourselves and to make room for animals, children, and servants also to rest. Sabbath is not reserved for citizens or special people but is a gift to the whole community. The “resident alien” is to be shown the same Sabbath hospitality that we might expect to receive ourselves. We discussed how those with money or privilege sometimes expect low-income workers to be at our service, even on the Sabbath.

The scripture came alive for me as I showed them a female Rabbi beginning the Sabbath with a traditional Hebrew blessing. She begins with an offering to the stranger, or the needy. She lights two candles, one for the Exodus command and the other to honor the Deuteronomy command to honor Sabbath. She covers her eyes and sings a prayer. She lifts and blesses a cup of grape juice or wine. She lifts and blesses a loaf of bread. I had brought two candles, and we lit them. I had brought a cup and some juice, so we poured it. I had brought a Challah loaf, so we blessed and broke it. I tore pieces from the loaf and gave them to them, and they touched the bread to the juice in the cup and we shared a meal. As everyone left, I made the sign of the cross on their foreheads, and blessed them to “remember who and whose you are.”

This Lent, open some scripture, hopefully with someone or a group. Then like the disciples, stay awake. Keep looking. Scripture is coming alive around us all the time.

Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours,

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

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