Dwelling in the Word, Dwelling in the World

Beloved St. John’s community,

As the wheel of the year turns from summer to fall, we are used to a certain rhythm: school starts up for families with children & youth; the adult forum and choirs begin again at church; we would traditionally go back to the 8, 9 and 11am services; and the whole world comes back from the cabin and gets busy. But this year, once again, everything is different. We ache to connect. We fear the pandemic or are sick of being afraid of the pandemic. The election is going to happen come what may, and that is not a source of calm or peace for anyone no matter where you are on the political spectrum.

And yet, we are here now. You are reading this email from wherever you are, because in some way you are connected to the St. John’s community. What shall be our lifeline this fall? What shall our connection with God and each other look like as the sumac begins to turn and the buildings are still quiet or strange with masks and endless temperature-taking and hand sanitizer and not touching each other and remaining six feet apart?

This fall’s theme—our lifeline—will be Dwelling in the Word, Dwelling in the World. What does that mean?

Some of you are familiar with a practice that we at St John’s have used at nearly every meeting for a long time. The practice goes by different names — Gospel Based Discipleship, or Dwelling in the Word — but essentially it’s the practice of immersing ourselves imaginatively in scripture, not as scholars, but as poets, mystics, activists and ordinary people seeking nourishment from God. When everything has changed, there is a constant for us as followers of Jesus’ Way of Love, the same constant Jesus himself used as he traveled, essentially homeless, from place to place. It’s the fact that we are in a continuing story; the Great Story of God’s liberating, healing love for all people as described in Scripture. The latest chapter is one that is being written as we speak; we are living it. We have one foot in the kingdom of God, a kingdom in which the last shall be first; evil and lying and violence do not have the last word; and hope exists in the person of Jesus, whom death could not defeat. So this fall, even as we are prevented from returning to our beloved building, we nevertheless have another dwelling—the living dwelling of God’s story.

And yet, we also dwell in the world. We may have the Bible in one hand, but we surely have the newspaper in the other. We can’t retreat. Much is happening in the world around us that is genuinely alarming. We have no guarantees about anything—the pandemic, the election, the continued oppression of BIPOC and of the earth all continue. So we have to be honest about this. We have one foot in the kingdom of God, and the other stands squarely in this world as it is.

The beauty of this stance is that we can find the world in the stories of Scripture, and we can also find God’s Spirit at work in the world. It may be that even though we would never choose this pandemic, that we can make use of it to innovate as the church needs to innovate in order to be a healing and liberating and loving presence for transformation and hope in this world. We will be discovering how to do this as we consciously remember our stance—that no matter what we read in the paper, it is not the only reality. There is a deeper reality at play, and it is the endlessly generative love of God, that is meant to propel us into action.

There are two initial ways we will be living into Dwelling in the Word, Dwelling in the World this fall. Others will follow. But for now, you are invited to participate in the following ways:

First, beginning on September 1, we are launching 100 Days of Prayer. Each day, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, I am asking you and all members of St. John’s to set aside time to pray deeply for this country, for Minnesota, for the earth. If you wish, you can subscribe to a daily email on this theme that will have a short scripture and 1-2 sentences for reflection. Consciously listen to God’s Spirit; offer your concerns and worries to God. Let’s pray for reform of the Minneapolis Police Department. Let’s pray for the earth and for us to take action to flatten the curve on climate change. Let’s pray for those who see things differently. Let’s pray for our country as it prepares to elect our next President. Let’s pray for the St. John’s community.  We will not only pray—action is needed also. But without prayer, we slide into the temptation to believe that everything is up to us; that God is just a metaphor for our own best efforts; and it’s easy to forget to listen deeply to what God’s Spirit is inviting us to do. Instead, let’s offer our intentions and will to God, so that we can make room for God to maneuver in this world through us. Let’s pray for God’s Spirit to work transformation, healing and forgiveness in us, so that we can become the change we want to see in the world.

Second, I am inviting every St. John’s member to participate in communal discernment about what God’s Spirit is calling St. John’s to do next with regard to dismantling racism.  A small team has been instrumental leading the six-week Dismantling Racism series this summer, and we have been consulting with Pastor Paul Slack from Liberty Community Church in North Minneapolis. We have come up with some provisional themes based on our communal discussions and your responses to the Dismantling Racism survey. We’d like to share them with St. John’s members to get your feedback and listen to what is stirring in your hearts. There will be two opportunities to do this:  on Tuesday, Sept 8 from 7:00-8:30pm and Saturday, Sept. 12 from 11:00am – 12:30pm. Please save these dates.

More information about these options will follow. In the meantime, please let this theme echo in your awareness. Each time you feel stuck by what is happening in the world, remember you are also “dwelling in the Word” – part of God’s ongoing story to make everything new, to liberate and heal the world. What story from scripture might provide you hope, nourishment and connection with God, in a way that changes how you think and act?

Faithfully,
Lisa