Let's Not Fall Backwards

This morning's devotion comes again from Bishop Sally Dyck, resident Bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference. Here's a message she offered on June 1, 2020. As it says in Jude 24-25:

"To the one who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you blameless and rejoicing before (God’s) glorious presence, to the only God our savior, through Jesus our Lord, belong glory, majesty, power and authority before all time, now and forever. Amen."

Jude was thought to be the brother of Jesus. He wrote to Jewish Christians living in the Gentile world. That means it was unfamiliar, uncharted territory for Jude and for those early Christians. Jude wanted people to stay in close relationship with God and each other in love, sticking to Christian teaching when there was so much fake-religion out there!

Most of the book is pretty harsh, but the most beautiful part is this benediction at the end (Jude 24-25). As one prone to falling at times, usually when running, I like the image that God will keep me from falling. I’ve broken bones, scraped everything from my shoulder to my knees, elbows, hands, chin; a lot of road rash. It’s no fun to stumble and fall. It’s jarring and can knock the wind out of you.

So coming across this benediction again recently, I thought about God keeping us from falling. As far as I know, Jude’s not the patron saint of runners per se, promising that we’ll never fall, but metaphorically reminding us that God keeps us from spiritually falling.

God is able to keep us from falling backward. Falling backward isn’t usually a problem when running because when running one usually stumbles and falls forward. Falling backward comes when our feet go out from under us (like on ice) and you can get a concussion (or worse) or land on your tailbone. That hurts!

How does God keep us from falling backward? By calling us forward and resisting going back to what has been familiar or “normal.” Too many people want to rush out and go back to church, back to restaurants, back to walking down the street without a mask, back to the way we were, and did things before COVID-19. We all want those things but returning to those things too early will cause our feet to go out from under us. Suffering, pain, and even death can occur.

We are in Phase 3 under the "Restore Illinois" plan. Clergy and laity need to be on the same page as we enter into Phase 3 and what it allows and does not allow in terms of returning to our buildings and/or people gathering together. The safest option is still remote services, per the governor’s guidance. But it allows for drive-in worship, carefully observing social distancing and not leaving the car or being too close to another car. We’re still at less than 10 people and anything outdoors is preferable. And no singing! Please consult the Phase 3 portion of the ReTurn Guidelines for other best practices as determined by the Governor’s Restore Illinois and CDC recommendations.

Clergy: stick to the guidelines to ensure safety and health for your people and for you yourselves.

Laity: do not resist the consistent guidelines from the state and the church that are to be kept for the good of all. Make a plan and communicate it to everyone! God, keep us from falling backwards!

God is also able to keep us from falling down. Have you ever lost your balance? Turning too quickly, losing your footing, or even a little headedness or vertigo? Down we go!

As we shelter-in-place and have restrictions on our comings and goings, we’ve been knocked down emotionally by our fear, physically by the virus itself, socially by our isolation and loneliness, economically by plummeting employment, and the list goes on. God will keep us from falling down by helping us be spiritually resilient. As it says in 2 Corinthians 4:7-9:

"We have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out."

While resilience means we bounce back, when I have a bad fall running I never just jump back up or let someone pull me up. I lay there for a few minutes, assessing bodily pain, get my breath back, and then slowly return to my feet. That’s resilience, too. Part of resilience is when COVID-19 knocks the wind out of us, we must take a little time to attend to our bodies, minds, spirits and relationships in order to get back up. We may be knocked down but we’re not knocked out!

And finally, God is able to keep us from falling apart. This may now be one of the greatest challenges. Fear causes us to be suspicious of others, angry, more judgmental than usual, on edge; in other words, none of our best Christian behaviors! That was Jude’s concern, too:

These are faultfinding grumblers, living according to their own desires. They speak arrogant words and they show partiality to people when they want a favor in return…These people create divisions. Since they don’t have the Spirit…

(verses 16, 19)

Recently the governor of North Dakota (R), Doug Burgum, emotionally begged his people not to let mask-wearing create divisions. He said:

"I would really love to see in North Dakota that we could just skip this thing that other parts of the nation are going through, where they're creating a divide -- either it's ideological or political or something -- around mask versus no mask…

This is a, I would say, senseless dividing line…try to dial up your empathy and your understanding."

God is able to keep us from falling apart when we “keep each other in the love of God” (Jude 21). It’s a challenge to love our neighbor on a good day! Loving our neighbor right now means to wear a mask in public, not opening our churches and services prematurely, resisting the further politicization of the virus, and knowing that we are stronger together than apart!

~ Bishop Sally Dyck

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