By Denise Liersch
In the latest edition of the Loddon-Mallee Presbytery newsletter, I read this quote: “The dumbest things I’ve ever purchased was a 2020 planner.”
If we remember back to this time last year, there’s no doubt life this year has turned out to be nothing like we expected.
And here we are, coming closer to the end of a year full of the unexpected, with all the challenges it has brought along the way.
Within a few weeks, we will be celebrating the final Sunday of the Church year, before embarking on a new Church year once again, beginning with the season of Advent and Christmas.
Over this Church year, we’ve been travelling with Matthew’s gospel. We’ve heard Matthew’s themes of the promises of God-with-us, in Jesus, who lifts the burdens of the people, brings God’s mercy and calls us into his life.
Over the past couple of weeks in particular, and continuing over the remaining weeks of our year with Matthew, we hear him speaking to the situation of the original readers of his time who were living through trials and difficulties.
He speaks directly to them, to answer their question: in the trials of our times, how can we live? When life isn’t as we expected, how can we live through all these challenges, with hope, into the future?
In times of COVID restrictions, and all the challenges of isolation, economic downturn, loss of employment and income, challenges to our mental health, rises in family violence and homelessness, these are questions that echo our own.
Of course, we’re not all affected in the same ways, some far more than others. But none of us remain untouched, not least because we are called to live as communities, held together in Christ, caring for each other as one body.
Matthew’s gospel speaks directly to us in our context, with the words and life of Jesus calling to us to hold the course together, living by all he has taught us.
If we are to ask, “what will carry us through these times?” Matthew’s Jesus answers: live by acts of mercy for the least among you, and as you do this, you love the God who loves you. We are reminded of the words of Jesus in the beatitudes: “blessed are the merciful”.
One of the things that helps to find our way through difficult times, is to remember back to times when we’ve done this before.
We remember what helped us find our way before. We draw on what we came to know sustained us or guided us through back then. We dig deep into what we have come to know is the source of our life through our experiences of the past, and learn from the experiences of others who have done the same.
This is one of the reasons we listen to the stories of God’s people in scripture, why we listen to the cries of the prophets and the stories of Jesus – over and over again.
It’s because they reconnect us into the source of our life. They tell us who we are, who God is, and how God-with-us is for us. They tell us of the preciousness of life, especially of the most vulnerable, and of God’s dream of wholeness of life for even the least of us.
As we hear the stories of Matthew’s gospel through this season, and as we ask the questions of what will carry us through these times, we hear Jesus telling us: live in humility, live as a community marked by love for your neighbour, live by acts of mercy for the most vulnerable amongst you, and as you do, “you do it for me”
In challenging times, we can often find ourselves turning inward and closing down, attending to our own needs and those of our closest community.
Jesus encourages us to find our way through difficult times in a different way altogether: by turning our focus outward to others around us, knowing we are part of a much bigger community, turning our hearts and love toward each other.
This is a countercultural way of living: not to seek happiness through attending primarily to our own needs; rather to orient our lives and love toward our neighbour.
Yet it’s interesting that contemporary social researchers are also telling us that happiness seems to be related to giving, sharing and attending to others.
Jesus asks us to turn our hearts toward those God loves, to attune our hearts to the heart of God. In this we find peace and hope in turbulent times.
For centuries, people of faith have remembered the stories of God-withus, and practised the ancient discipline of prayer.
Through setting aside time, and as a way of life, we can tap into the source of our life in Jesus, as we attend to the moments and encounters of each day or week – and notice where we have been blessed, where we have felt joy, and recognise the ache of our hearts for ourselves, for those we love, for those at risk or in pain, and for the wholeness of our wider community.
It is in this that we are shaped and formed by Christ and sustained in the peace and love of God.
It is in this, that we are empowered to live out of that experience as we share our lives with others, with our hearts aligned to the heart of God.
Christ lives in us.
May the Spirit of God turn, hold and move our hearts.
This article originally appeared in the October edition of Crosslight. To read the full magazine, click here.