I don’t like wasting gasoline, but today is precisely the day that would tempt me to drive a long while to clear my thoughts. As it is, I suppose I will have to do my best by writing down some of them. As the concerns of my day dovetailed with the concerns of today’s sermon, I thought I would address both of them at the same time as they relate to the same set of issues. The sermon today, which was a festival video simulcast from Panama City Beach, straddled a difficult line between fear and love. On the one hand, the world is a dangerous place, and we have to be wise and circumspect about keeping ourselves out of harm’s way. Enough harm comes to us unbidden without our looking for trouble. That said, our spiritual fate depends in large part on our outgoing love and concern for the poor and vulnerable and outsiders, areas I feel particularly strongly about. How to be careful and also loving, knowing that showing love and outgoing concern to others brings us the risk of being hurt and that being too careful can make us unable to open our hearts enough to love others.
There are other tensions besides this one alone. There is no doubt that Christianity is a relational religion. Our relationship with God our Father, with our elder brother Jesus Christ, with the Church, and with other brethren is of the utmost importance to believers in our spiritual lives. Yet Christianity is also a faith of the intellect. It is based on specific historical claims (namely about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) and has always involved vexing boundary concerns with Judaism as well as Hellenistic thought. And yet it is all too easy to pit the head and the heart against each other, to either focus only on our relationship needs (and we all have them, no matter how frustrated we are about them) and to neglect serious questions of intellectual rigor, or alternatively to have a faith that is cerebral and orderly but lacks any kind of genuine relationship with God or other people. Neither of these are helpful, but as in so much else finding balance is a difficult trick.
And it is balance that we must seek in life. To some extent, we seek this balance internally. We may never be strong at everything, but if we have any glaring weaknesses in life, we can be sure that these weaknesses will be tested and improved over and over and over again. This may not always be to our pleasure, but hopefully it serves to our benefit by refining our character and making it stronger. We also seek balance as a whole, through having people blessed with different talents and abilities whose strengths can serve the entire congregation, or even the entire body of Christ. At the same time, all of us have needs that need to be met, and it is the responsibility of the church to help ensure that the full capabilities are being met and that no group of the congregation is deprived of its legitimate interests and anything important to its well-being. It is far too easy for congregations as well as individuals to be unbalanced, and that creates a lot of unnecessary tension and stress within both people and the institutions that they are a part of.
In the end, it is not answers that we seek, but relationships. Driving around alone in the rain may help us to figure out our own thoughts, but without a relationship with someone, whether a friendship or (if someone is fortunate) otherwise, there will not be the communication that it takes to understand what is really going on with someone. Sometimes you just have to go on and live your life and behave the best way possible, knowing that no amount of thinking or reading will be able to convey exactly what someone thinks or feels. Sometimes you have to know that you want happiness for yourself and for others, and that it is impossible to do anything that can help bring that about, except to be as honest and as kind as possible, and to let God work out whatever He has in mind. And God only knows what that is, sometimes.