Fierce: adj. robust, intense, strong, powerful, passionate, eager, unbridled
We “get to” talk about and listen to words that will challenge us. In a time when there is so much dissension and discord it seems counter culture to speak of “getting to” talk about and listen to words that will be challenging. There is the temptation these days to just tiptoe around one another. That is trap I find myself falling into at times. This week in prayer and meditation I heard the words of the prophet Jeremiah calling out to me to let go of being more concerned with pleasing people and instead focus on pleasing God. This wasn’t a word to disregard the differences we have or the diversity within our community. It has been a wake up word to trust God deeply. Trusting God will take us to territories unknown, wilderness. God leads people in the wilderness. There is manna in the wilderness. We get to travel together in the wilderness and care deeply for one another.
When we care-and are connected we can draw upon courage to come out from behind our fears to share our truth and listen to the truth of others. In community, we can cultivate the relationships which encourage us to call one another to high standards. In Christian community we get to listen to the word of God in holy scripture and discern how it is speaking to us today. This week as we started Confirmation studies our students were invited to hear how the words in the Bible are living words- infused by the Spirit that are continually made alive for us. There are lots of challenging words in the Bible. I asked each student to hold their bible and take in that it is God we worship and not the Bible. We believe in God. We look to and listen for the revelation of God’s word for us in the Bible. Words that are challenging invite us into fierce (see the definition of fierce above) conversations with God, with ourselves and with one another. For these to be life-giving there needs to be a relationship. This is what the prophet Jeremiah is pleading for with the people Israel to be back in relationship with God. Fierce conversations take place when we are connected. Fierce conversations are with someone with whom we are invested in being in relationship.
Years ago when I worked as part of a leadership team we read together Susan Scott’s book Fierce Conversations. It changed the course of how I approached many of my conversations. Scott invites our awareness of how a conversation has the potential to deepen or destroy our connection and relationship. Her guidelines for a Fierce Conversation are helpful as we talk and listen to words that are challenging.
Master the courage to interrogate reality.
Come out from behind yourself, into the conversation, and make it real.
Be here, prepared to be nowhere else.
Tackle your toughest challenge today.
Obey your instincts.
Take responsibility for your emotional wake.
Let silence do the heavy lifting.
As we listen this weekend to the words of the prophet Jeremiah the fierce conversation is a call away from false idols and toward trust in God. We will also read Hebrews 13 where we hear about continuing to let love be mutual. The fierce conversation takes place in the context of mutual love. The call away from idolatry- placing our trust in anything and anyone other than God is a call to make the main thing the main thing.
The Old Testament prophets are speaking to the community- it is a community call to turn away from placing trust, worshiping, prioritizing anyone, any thing other than God. The call to faithfulness is a call to the community to be redirected. Tyler Mayfield on Working Preacher suggestions these questions for the community to reflect upon in relationship to the scripture reading in Jeremiah 2:
What gets in our way of living into God’s dream for creation?
Where have we as a nation or a church exchanged our Living God for No-God?
Where have we turned our backs on God’s long-standing faithfulness?
Mayfield writes; “These divine accusations are not averred in order to send the people into an emotional land of guilt and shame. Instead, it is meant to change their behavior.The people of God are called to repent and to turn back to The Living God.”
In August our denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), held its triennial Churchwide Assembly. This was an opportunity for many fierce conversations. Here is a summary of what took place. In addition to re-electing Bishop Elizabeth Eaton for another six-year term a memorial was voted upon to declare the ELCA a sanctuary church body. Here is a link to finding out more about the assembly and us as the ELCA.These are some helpful words from Bill Horne, ELCA vice president, when he spoke of unity in Christ as he reflected on this church's connection "as Christians, Lutherans, members of the ELCA and our relationship with our neighbors.” Horne stressed the importance of this theme of oneness as the assembly considered the proposals and recommendations before them.
"I can be of one mind with you and still disagree with you on an issue. When we focus on the word, the meaning of our baptism and the eucharist, our life as Christians and our service to our neighbor, being of one mind helps us to navigate through the rough spots in living with each other," Horne said. "The distinctions that I may make in our relationship and interactions won't ever overshadow the oneness we share in Christ Jesus.”- Bill Horne
Throughout September we will be focusing on “God’s work, our hands”. May you hear this call to trust God and love neighbor. We worship together. Together we get to both listen and speak. We get to engage in fierce conversations. We practice mutual love. We get to study and work alongside one another as we seek to keep the main thing the main thing. Following Jesus calls us out into unfamiliar territory- wilderness living- where repentance, turning away from our fears or desire for control and trusting God is a daily practice. May you hear God's call to us as a community and to you as a beloved child of God as we journey ahead in this unfamiliar territory.