When I wake up, I instinctively start thinking about how much I am looking forward to that first cup of coffee. We use a French press as one of the ways we enjoy our coffee. You pour coarse grounds in, then hot water, stir the grounds, let it sit for about 5 minutes, then press the filter down so the grounds are held near the bottom of the container while you pour the coffee.
It’s very tasty until you start hitting the bottom of the cup. I haven’t quite figured out yet how to maximize our filter’s potential. There’s always just a little sediment that makes its way into every cup, so those final sips are a tad stronger than the initial ones for me. By the final cup, there’s a layer of grounds which were fine enough to get through the mesh strainer. They’re finely ground, so it’s not like drinking dirt, but it is an extra bitterness and, with enough build-up, less enjoyable. And just when I think I’ve really got it right this time, I end up faced with the reality that the filter still let a little bit through, despite my best efforts.
It brings me to wonder about this time as COVID-19 has changed our world. In a way, it’s as if a giant filter has swept our way of living. Certainly, we have been affected, potentially for the rest of our lives, by the onset of COVID-19. Just as coffee grounds can never go back to being dry, or the water in a French press can never go back to being just water, so we too are forever altered. Around the country here in the United States, there is a deep wrestling with how to cope with medical, economic, and social life changes. This leads me to wonder at this point: what has filtered through? What has filtered out?
When I think of a filter in the story of Jesus, I think of Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and the Goats. In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells of how when the Son of Humanity comes again, he will sit on his throne and separate out the sheep from the goats. The criteria for this filtering process is whether or not those being filtered gave food, drink, visitation, clothing, time, etc. to those in need. It is a tough text to work with. On the one hand, it shows a God who profoundly cares about how the vulnerable are treated. It shows a God who cares about our ethical choices and how nothing will really escape God’s view. On the other hand, it shows a God who is willing to send those who didn’t make “the cut” to an eternal punishment. It makes one wonder if we can earn our way through good deeds.
What perhaps continues the comfort and the challenge of this passage is that neither group knows whether they are in their respective groups nor why they are so until the Son of Humanity tells them directly. The challenge being we aren’t in a position to control whether we are in or out. The comfort being, strangely enough, we aren’t in a position to control whether we are in or out.
As Lutheran Christians, we acknowledge strongly that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). This means that even of our sense of control is flawed. We can do our best to “filter our sin away,” but some sediment will still get through. COVID-19, as a product of our imperfect world, cannot filter out everything either. Only God can filter perfectly and justly. And God promises to do so in a way that the vulnerable are looked after, those who have needs are met, and where surprise will surround us.
What seems to have filtered out in the past month for you? What seems to have remained? Where has surprise met you?