What matters right now?
I have a slip of paper on the frame around my laptop screen, with those words on it. Now and then I notice it. It’s almost always a useful question. A question that invites me to pause, and re-assess.
What matters right now?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples have a clear idea that what matters is the journey they’re on. This is not just any old walk across the countryside. Jesus is leaving Jericho ON HIS WAY TO JERUSALEM. The Triumphal Entry – the event we remember and re-enact on Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week and Jesus’ path to the cross – is the very next thing that happens.
I don’t know exactly what the disciples think is about to happen. They definitely don’t anticipate what Jesus anticipates: his arrest, trial, and execution. They might be banking on some combination of a people’s revolution and an angelic army that will kick out the Roman occupying forces and install Jesus as a new divine King on the throne of David. So they are champing at the bit! Things are about to get exciting! Tell that beggar to shut up and not bother the Master! We’re on our way!
But then they are interrupted. Because Bartimaeus won’t shut up. And the interruption becomes the story. The thing that matters.
I don’t know whether Jesus stops because he finally hears Bartimaeus – or because he consults his own inner slip of paper that asks, “What matters right now?” Regardless: Jesus stands still. He calls Bartimaeus to him. And Bartimaeus is healed.
Healed, and changed. Mark says that he follows Jesus on the way, meaning both that he joined the crowd headed for Jerusalem – AND that he became a disciple, part of the movement. Which is probably why we know his name.
The journey continues; but for a few transformative moments, the interruption became the story. There was a pause. There was listening. There was noticing of needs, previously ignored. There was a fresh assessment of what matters.
We have lived this, haven’t we, dear ones? Our Great Interruption is almost too familiar to talk about. Covid forced us to pause…. and in the pause, we listened. We noticed needs we had ignored – in our own lives and in the larger systems that surround us. The differing impacts of the pandemic laid bare the starkness of economic inequality in our country. Locked down in our homes with few distractions, many of us saw more clearly than we had before the naked violence against people of color that our country tolerates. Likewise, we’ve watched the terrifying impact of increasingly chaotic and extreme weather systems worldwide. Global climate change no longer seems like tomorrow’s problem.
And now, as we slowly emerge, I’m hearing from a lot of people that they’re pretty ambivalent about “getting back to normal.” The pause – the Great Interruption – gave us time to notice that lots of thing about Beforetimes Normal were not that great. Collectively, we’d like our “new Normal” to be better, kinder, more just, more inclusive, more mindful of our fragility and our interdependence. Individually, we’d like our “new Normals” to make more room for what matters.
Where does church fit into all that?
Why does church matter, right now?
One answer, of course, is that church matters because we gather to worship the Creator and Source, the Word and Friend, the Breath of Life and Advocate. There’s something precious and necessary about choosing, together, to present ourselves to the Love that formed the universe. Not everyone finds that they need a community in order to regularly turn their hearts towards God. But many of us find that it helps. A lot.
Another answer is that churches can be a way to organize people’s efforts and resources to do good in the world. We do that some, here – and we do it reasonably well, though I suspect we have the capacity for more.
But church doesn’t only matter for what we can do out there. Church matters for what we do HERE. Within, and among.
A couple of weeks ago, Sharad Yadav, the pastor of a church in Portland, wrote up a list of reasons to commit to a church. I think he was probably inspired by the same question I’ve just asked – what’s the value of church, in this time of the Great Interruption, the Great Reassessment?
Yadav says that church, at its best, can help us stay focused on what matters. He writes: To join a church is to live in rebellion against the … forces which are brainwashing you into making your consumer desire the center of the world.
[To join] a church is to organize your life around a time to confess your limitations, culpability and imperfections – together with other people.
Joining a church is a way of maintaining healthy skepticism about human knowledge and capacities in the language of divine mystery.
So: Stepping out of our cultural currents, repenting and making amends, reminding ourselves of our place in the universe – these are important practices for keeping our minds and hearts clear and oriented.
Church, at its best, can help us know our own worth – and our capacity to share. Yadav writes, To join a church is to cultivate an environment …where your life is not measured according to any other purpose or goal than to discover and enjoy your own humanity.
And: To join a church is to cultivate an imagination for how your unique talents and creative potential can be offered on purpose for love instead of money.
And church, at its best, can help us develop and practice our better-tomorrow skills. It can be a space where we explore, together, how to live more fully into our hopes and intentions. Yadav writes, Joining a church organizes your financial priorities around supporting an inclusive community for vulnerable people . . . that you actually have to live with.
Joining a church is a life lesson in how to deal with [jerks] without retaliating, dehumanizing or running away…
And… Joining a church is a way of practicing – among a small group of people over a significant period of time – what you’d like the world to be like.
What would you like the world to be like? How could we practice that together, here?
I was talking with a young person of this parish recently who said he’d love to see St Dunstan’s lean into becoming our own squirrelly little mutual aid network. Mutual aid is a model in which people cooperate and share resources for the good of everyone in the community.
The first step, of course, is to break down the foolish illusion that everybody here is FINE, economically, emotionally, employment-wise, and so on. Lots of us have needs – and the assumption that we’re all middle-class, healthy, happy, and totally have our stuff together, only makes it harder to name our struggles and and extend care for one another. I see opportunities on a weekly basis – whether it’s connecting the newly-bereaved with those already walking that road; or passing on hand-me-downs; or sharing skills like canning or knitting; or connecting the bored with the lonely, or the curious with the knowledgeable; or loaning out a specialized tool; or accompanying someone to their first AA meeting.
One of my favorite pandemic phenomena here at St. Dunstan’s was the spontaneous emergence of the puzzle box. There’s a plastic tub outside the church’s front door where you can borrow a puzzle, or leave one for others to borrow. If you’re local and like puzzles, check it out! I had nothing to do with it, and I think it’s great.
What if we did more of that… bit by bit? With stuff? With skills? With our time? With our hearts?
What if we really had each other’s backs, in substantive ways – and not just long-established members and “church friends” and people who come every week, but anyone who thinks of St. Dunstan’s as their church home – and anyone who shows up looking for meaningful community?
Because a lot of people are looking for meaningful community. For people who will learn their name, and ask how they are, and mean it.
Church matters because it’s made of people, and people matter.
Church matters because we try to see each other with God’s eyes and love each other with God’s love, here, and sometimes we succeed.
Church matters because we’re all seeking and struggling and wondering, and it’s less lonely when we share it. And because our seeking and wondering are deepened by one anothers’ experiences and perspectives.
In this season when the interruption has become the story – in this season of fresh assessments of what matters right now – I am so deeply grateful for all the people who believe that St. Dunstan’s matters, and who support this church with their time and talent, resources and prayers, energy and skill.
And I am so deeply hopeful about all the people for whom St. Dunstan’s will matter – in a whole range of ways – in the days and months and years ahead, as we continue to seek to use whatever God places in our hands to add to the world’s measure of hope, wholeness, and delight.
List of reasons to join a church posted on Facebook by Sharad Yadav, October 7, 2021.