By Sara Bettinger --
Hello church family!
How are you? We miss seeing you face-to-face. When we finally get to be together again, it will feel like a reunion, with so many things to catch up on. I really hope that you are all well and finding little bits of richness in this unusual season of social distancing.
What do you want us to understand during this time, Lord? How do you want to change us?
I’m sure we are all asking these kinds of questions these days. As I’ve asked God these questions, a number of things have come to mind, but I keep coming back to the story of Moses and the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. Each year that I read that narrative, I am more and more in awe of God’s plan to completely remodel the people of Israel. Their being in Egypt had its own purpose – a big one being their preservation in a time of great famine. But apparently the purpose of Egypt in the life of the people of Israel had run its course for that time. We all know how dramatic the lead up to their leaving was – complete with plagues, disaster, miracles and the Egyptians stocking up the Israelites with riches before they skipped town. They were all set.
They were heading to the Promised Land. There was even a straight-forward route to where they needed to go. But “God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near… But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness.” (Ex. 13:17 & 18). Suspicious. Why not travel the most logical way? In verse 17 it says, “For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’” He knew that fear would get the best of them. That they would return to slavery if they saw a preview of what was to come. Thus began a huge remodeling of the people of God. There was some deep change that needed to happen in them. Their reflexes and understanding about who to worship and how and even their ways of interacting with each other had to be transformed.
Have you ever had a long-standing habit that you had to change? It’s hard, right? I don’t know a single long-time smoker who understood that smoking leads to various yucky diseases who decided then and there to stop and stayed “stopped.” It takes lots of time. Lots of failing. Lots of trying again. And God was transforming not just one habit, but everything about Israel. I was struck recently how God even re-arranged their senses. With all the different sacrifices that the Israelites were learning to make there were sounds and smells associated with them. Different incenses, grains and animals to burn for the different sacrifices and the tinkling of the bells on the priests’ garments, the sound of trumpets at different feasts - God was rearranging what associations would be intrinsic to their life experience. You know how it is when you hear a song or smell a scent that immediately transports you to a certain time and place? I still feel my nurture wiring kick into gear when I smell baby shampoo. God was doing this with the Israelites. Makes me wonder what the smell of Lysol and hand-sanitizer will be associated with for us after this time of slowing down the spread of coronavirus.
So, what is God remodeling in us? We are definitely on an unusual path right now, aren’t we? I’ll leave you with something poignant Henri Nouwen wrote, “To choose joy does not mean to choose happy feelings or an artificial atmosphere of hilarity. But it does mean the determination to let whatever takes place bring us one step closer to the God of life.” For me today, that means joining the worldwide church in offering up little spurts of prayer as different people and groups come to mind. It means taking deep breaths when I feel anxious and saying, “You are with me” as I let my breath out. It means noticing the different birds that I see out my window and reminding myself that not a single one falls from the sky without my Father knowing. It means calling and writing grandparents and friends who are isolated, remembering that we were made for loving community. It means giving what we can to those who need it, trusting that God is our Provider. It means playing games with my kids and reading books, reflecting on the total love and delight my heavenly Father has for me. It means apologizing and receiving grace when I’m crabby and overstimulated from all this “togetherness.” Letting whatever takes place bring us one step closer to the God of life means many things on any given day.
I’m looking forward to hearing what it means to you, precious church family and friends.
Grace to you all!