In recent months I’ve had the occasion to interact with persons in our health care system—from the persons who greet me when I check in for an appointment to the those who care for me in the hospital and examination rooms. I’ve been struck numerous times with this thought: “This terrible pandemic has actually made these persons better people!” They interact with me in caring, committed, professional, and reassuring ways that communicate to me that they are there to address my health concerns.
Now these people are as vulnerable to being exhausted, burned out, and unappreciated as anyone providing health care and others providing “front-line” help in this time. Yet they keep showing up and doing what they’re doing to the best of their abilities, and in the process, become even more caring, serving, gracious persons. And I imagine this is happening to the great majority of persons who continue to serve in helping work today.
I share this experience as I invite you to join me in discerning God’s word for us today in the lessons of the Daily Lectionary for this day (Epiphany 4 Friday – page 1122 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship). The lessons are these: Psalm 15; Deuteronomy 24:17-25:4; and 1 Timothy 5:17-24. I also read the gospel for this coming Sunday, Epiphany 4: Luke 4:21-30.
I urge you to take time to read at least one of these Bible readings…more if you have time. I see a thread that winds its way through all of them that expresses what I would recognize as an Epiphany theme: God’s ways of love and graciousness come through us living our daily lives despite all our human sins, foibles, and shortcomings. What this looks like in daily living for most of us, whether we are people of faith or not, is a life worth living in which we give each other respect, courtesy, and do our best to help each other when it requested or accepted by others.
I have no idea whether the end of this pandemic is around the corner in a few months or whether we will have to live this way for many more months or even years. What I can say with more confidence today after reading these Bible readings and seeing the thread that wind through them is that God is providing a way for us to experience grace and goodness right in the midst of all of this. It is not far away from us. It is right there in front of us in our family, friends, neighbors, and strangers who really do want to care for us and help us. (As I was preparing this a week early, we had a snowstorm and a couple of inches of snow fell. Before I could get out to shovel, our neighbors came by and took care of it for us!)
In the gospel for this coming Sunday, I like the way it ends. Jesus’ hometown friends and neighbors were so upset with him, they were ready to kill him (yes, this happens in real life today too). Jesus had a choice—pick a fight, defend himself, or… just walk away and go on with life, and keep doing the more important work of the living and teaching he had to do.
This is the way I see Eugene Peterson’s translation of Psalm 15 in The Message. With God’s help, live life the way God intends it for your neighbors and you to live it. Don’t be distracted—or when you are, with God’s help and forgiveness, get back on track as soon as possible. Here’s Peterson’s rendering of Psalm 15:
“God, who gets invited to dinner at your place?
How do we get on your guest list?
Walk straight, act right, tell the truth.
Don’t hurt your friend, don’t blame your neighbor; despise the despicable.
Keep your word even when it costs you, make an honest living, never take a bribe.
You’ll never get blacklisted if you live like this.”
Remember this: you can do this…I can do this…we all can—because that’s the way God who created us and is guiding our lives intends us to live. We show up every day and give it our best. Yes, we fail at some things some days, but we ask forgiveness and return to them the next. Our hope is this: we are becoming better people because we have a God who always believes in us and works in us to help us become better people who show each other the best of our God-given kindness.
We live in hopeful days…many days are like that…and God is there to give us this life and help us keep on living it…even through the toughest of times!
God, who reveals yourself to us in everyday people like ourselves, help us to remain hopeful in this time. May we show up to the daily tasks of living in ways that include helping and caring for each other. Forgive us for the times we fail, often miserably, to be the persons you created us to be. Open us every day to the opportunities to become better people. Amen