As a priest, one of the great joys and daunting responsibilities of my ministry is to be with people in times of crisis. I visit people worn by medical issues or isolated because of their age. I spend time among those who are struggling with addictions or mental illness or other chronic illness. With the church’s discretionary fund, I am regularly called to be with people in financial crisis often brought on by other, sometimes tragic, issues in their lives. And I am with people when they are near death and with families after someone they love has died.
At those times of crisis, people often experience great clarity of vision. They see their lives and human life with new eyes. Priorities change, things once valued no longer seem important and things too often ignored are now the main concern. Sometimes, of course, given a crisis, we ignore it. Often my job at a deathbed is to say what no one wants to hear: you are dying. Faced with addiction, someone has to say: you are power- less before the alcohol or the pills; you need help. Struggling with age, someone must hold up the mirror and say: you can’t do that anymore, you need to move to a care facility, you need a will and final directives. In all these cases, I get to bring not only the hard truths, but also the love of God, the care of God’s people, and my own love, too. And, of course, prayer with God.
Nowadays, the crisis is pandemic. It is everywhere and everyone. Our regular ways of busy-ness have been sidelined. Our comfortable habits have been disrupted. And there are new priorities. We are seeing our daily lives with different eyes. Some of us want to pretend it’s not so. Some of us want to be in control of things we cannot control. The struggle for all of us is real and hard. And all of us are called to be priests for one another.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
It is our calling as people of God to speak the truth in these dark days in order to bring the marvelous light of the Gospel to others and to the world. There are people struggling in this crisis. Truly, to some degree every one of us is struggling in this crisis. And we, as God’s people, are called to be present in ministry (maybe six feet away, with a mask, by phone, or virtually!). We are called to speak the words that must be heard. Sometimes they are hard words that no one wants to hear. Sometimes they are words of love and care and support. Often, perhaps, they are both.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:14-15)
What do Christian people do when faced with a crisis? They depend on God, pull together, speak the truth ... and they love in harmony. And they look for reasons to
One of the things that happens to families in the crisis of grief is that they either pull together in support of one another or they begin to break apart, bicker over inheritance, or even avoid one another as a way of avoiding the pain. In this crisis of pandemic, I have seen each of these tactics among us as the people of God who are Kingston. Here at Kingston, we are blessed with a vestry leadership that has pulled together in God’s love to work together in harmony in amazing ways! In the world, and sadly especially in our beloved country, I see so many people “choosing sides and bickering over inheritance.” As people of God, our task is to bring the love of God that unites us in truth and harmony. Harmony does not mean we all sing the same note (believe or vote the same way). As a matter of fact, you can’t sing in unison and have harmony. Harmony requires different notes side by side. And perhaps love does also. We do not love one another because we think exactly the same way. We love each other not in spite of our differences, but in many ways because of them.
We will continue to live in this pandemic crisis for some time to come. We are adding to that an election cycle that appears to be pulling us apart as Americans. It could pull us apart as Christians, and perhaps even as members of the Body of Christ at Kingston. May we always remember the big things – that God is so much bigger than this election, that we are called to love our enemies, that it is our unity as people created in the image of God that is far more primary than which box we check on election day.
Jesus Christ has called together people of all nations and ages and backgrounds into one Kingdom to sing together a harmony that is God’s. We are a part of that miracle sound. Sing in your own voice. And listen, always listen, for God’s voice. Sing for love of God and neighbor. And together, because of our differences, we will find the way from darkness to light, through cross and crisis to new birth.
The Very Rev. Gary Barker