One of the things I’ve noticed as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, is that human beings seem to carry a six or seven month emotional and spiritual reservoir. Most of us can go for quite a while with things being really out of whack, but at some point, all of us will run dry. As a pastor who is connected with many people in all kinds of life situations – single adults, families with young children, empty nesters, widowers, you name it – I’ve watched, with sadness, as folks of all sorts have found their reserves completely run dry.
All of us are tired, and this loooong week certainly didn’t help, but as I prayed through the challenging parable of the bridesmaids, I began to focus my attention on the things we can do to refill our flasks with oil. Staying awake, in the metaphor of our parable, means that we are ready for the long haul – lamps trimmed and lit and with plenty of oil in reserve. In the metaphor of our times, it means keeping our emotional and spiritual reservoirs from drying up, so that we are able to face the long and challenging days that continue to come our way.
So, how do we replenish our oil? How do we keep our lamps lit? How do we keep something in reserve? I think it all boils down to finding a rule of life: establishing patterns that feed us and deepen our relationship with God. Some of you have heard me talk about this before, but I am increasingly aware that without intentional actions to stay in relationship with God and our neighbors, COVID and our divided political climate have the real possibility of sowing estrangement and damaging relationships over the long term. In response to that reality, I’ve been so happy over the past eight weeks, as about a dozen of us have gathered on Zoom to talk through Scott Gunn’s latest book, The Way of Love – A Practical Guide to Following Jesus. This book builds on the Way of Love framework first set forth by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at General Convention in 2015. Rather than another curriculum or program, the Way of Love is an invitation to find a way of living out your faith in Jesus Christ through seven ancient practices of discipleship – Turn, Learn, Worship, Pray, Bless, Go, and Rest. It is by way of some combination of these seven practices that I truly believe each of us can find oil to keep our lamps lit through the dark days of the COVID Winter.
The first practice in the Way of Love is Turn. Turning means to “pause, listen, and choose to follow Jesus,” and it might be the most important thing we can do these days. There have never been more voices clamoring for our attention than there are right now. There have never been more options on how to spend your time than there are right now. It might even be true that there have never been more people or organizations trying to capitalize on your fears than there are right now. To turn away from all of those things and intentionally choose to develop a deeper relationship with God and deeper love of neighbor by treating every person with respect, by smiling at a stranger, even if they can’t see it behind your mask, and to engage in kindness rather than contempt is imperative to refilling your spiritual reserves.
The second practice in the Way of Love is Learn. To learn means to reflect on scripture each day, and to focus especially on the life and teachings of Jesus. This may be the easiest practice to maintain during the pandemic. Here at Christ Church you can learn by joining the Conversations with Scripture class on Zoom or engaging in one of our ongoing racial healing book groups. Daily Meditations can arrive in your inbox from Forward Movement or give us a call and we’ll happily send you a copy of Forward Day by Day. Mother Becca, Deacon Kellie, and I are always eager to offer book suggestions, if you’d like, or, better yet, pull out your Bible, open it up to Matthew’s Gospel, and just start reading. Opportunities to learn are everywhere.
Third is the practice of prayer – intentionally dwelling with God each day. If learning is getting to know more about God, prayer is the practice of getting to know God as a Father or a friend. Again, resources on prayer abound. The nave remains available as a Good Place to Say your Prayers. The Book of Common Prayer has several different formal prayer services you can say in the comfort of your own home. Practices like Centering Prayer help quiet our hearts and minds so that there is space to listen for the still, small voice of God. You don’t have to pray for hours at a time. Start by setting aside 5 minutes, three times a day, then grow it to ten or fifteen. As Mother Becca is wont to say, “prayer is never wasted.”
The fourth practice in the Way of Love is the most difficult these days. Worship, the act of gathering in community weekly to thank, praise, and dwell with God looks very different in 2020. Unlike church closures during the 1918 flu epidemic or the polio outbreaks of the 1940s, we still have the ability to gather, around screens rather than in-person, to offer God thanks and praise. Thanks to the herculean efforts of Linda and Rick Mitchell, the faithful service of Ken and Deb Stein and Brittany Whitlow, and the imaginative faithfulness of Deacon Kellie and Mother Becca, corporate worship remains a possibility, even when gathering as a community isn’t. It certainly isn’t perfect, and we all long for the days when we will be able to come together in these pews once again, but I continue to be encouraged by how many of you are choosing to fill your spiritual wells by worshiping God from home.
The fifth practice is Bless. Blessing is the act of sharing one’s faith and unselfishly giving and serving our neighbors. While the practice of blessing has also been hamstrung by the Coronavirus pandemic, it is by no means impossible. We continue to bless and be blessed by our community by reaching out in loving service through City Shapers, MEALS INC, Churches United in Christ HELP Ministry, a modified Wednesday Community Lunch, and soon our annual Blessing Tree. Christ Church is able to continue to bless the world by sharing the love of God through your financial gifts as well. Without your generous blessing, we wouldn’t be able to provide resources to worship, learn, or bless.
The sixth practice to fill your flask and keep your candle lit is to Go – to cross boundaries, listen deeply, and live like Jesus. Being a follower means you can’t stay where you are. Being a follower of Jesus, means that even in midst of a pandemic and in a deeply divided nation, we are called to take his ministry of healing into the world by being the face of kindness and encouragement. To go in these times might mean to not share yet another article or meme that stokes division, but rather to reach out with a phone call, an email, or even a handwritten note to let someone know you’ve been thinking about them and praying for them. You don’t have to physically go anywhere to reach out with the love of God.
Finally, the seventh practice in the Way of Love is to rest. Resting isn’t just not doing anything, but the intentional way in which we receive the gift of God’s grace, peace, and restoration. Rest is rejuvenating work that allows us to set aside the busyness that so often drains our spiritual reservoirs in order to be refilled by living water that never runs dry. Eight months into this thing, rest may not seem that important, but I suspect most of us haven’t truly rested, even if we haven’t done much of anything. Rest, like the six other practices, requires intention in order to be beneficial.
Seven practices may feel overwhelming. Instead of biting off more than you can chew, pick a couple and try them out for 30 days. As you do so, pay careful attention to your flask of oil. Is it beginning to fill back up? Is your candle burning stronger than it was before? Do you have enough to share with your family and friends? These seven practices will keep you in the Way of Love even as we wait for what feels like forever for the bridegroom to return. Remember, no matter how draining 2020 might be, the Way of Love will sustain you. Love never fails. Love always wins. Amen.
 For more on the Way of Love, check out episcopalchurch.org/way-of-love. Definitions of each practice are from this site.