We Cannot Be Unchanged
This past week we have witnessed occasions of intense and raw emotion as we watched our leaders, our fellow citizens, and the global community respond to the disturbing events from the week before, as momentum has steadily grown to denounce systemic injustice and racism against people of color; as more words were spoken to aggravate, to extend comfort, to ridicule and alienate, to strengthen and encourage; as the silent and mostly indifferent majority has been rudely awakened and forced to pick a side; as those who claim the Gospel confronted and dismissed the inconsistency of their ways; as we sat distraught and helpless in the safety of our darkness and the company of our nagging and troubling questions. How do we share our deepest pain and grief with those we know and love? Is human decency so elusive a concept that otherwise loving people are unable to respond with compassion toward their sisters and brothers who cry out in anguish? The question does presuppose these are loving people and that they do acknowledge those who cry out in anguish to be their sisters and brothers. We know our very way of life, our Christian faith, our democracy, our humanity are very much at stake. But the movements of the human heart are not always so easily understood. Why do some people want to harm their neighbor? Why do some people sow division and mistrust? Why do some people claim to love God but have no problem ignoring Jesus’ commandment to love their neighbor and still sleep untroubled at night? Why do some people elected to public office treat those they are meant to govern with outright contempt? Why do some Americans despise their fellow Americans for asking a share in the very freedoms they enjoy? The human heart is an impenetrable mystery that remains ever distant, ominous, and shrouded in darkness.
But mystery is very much part of our lives. Though there is a great deal we will never understand about ourselves and the world we live in, yet we are drawn to know and love God who is completely beyond us, who is unapproachable incomprehensible mystery. I like to think it is because God created us in his own image and likeness. So we are drawn to know him more intimately whose image and likeness we bear. And God has chosen to make himself known to us in various ways through the ages, in his awesome created universe, in the inspired writings of patriarchs and prophets, and in the very person of his own Beloved Son Jesus Christ. God desires that we come to know him in some limited way, because we can only love that which we have come to know.
God is One, sacred scripture tells us; and God is three distinct Persons in one. God is love; and God is abundant and immeasurable compassion, grace, and peace. It is much easier to embrace mystery when mystery demands nothing from us, when all we need to do is sit still, allow the moment to pass in the knowledge we can return to our comfortable life once that guy up front stops talking, and we can go back to worrying about what’s for lunch, and what’s next on the Netflix queue, and when the next Amazon delivery arrives. But God invites us to encounter him in mystery so that we may be transformed. By then, understanding mystery will no longer be our top concern.
In the passage from Exodus, Israel was encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai awaiting the return of Moses who had gone to speak with God. The people had only known God as the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And having witnessed their deliverance from slavery and oppression in Egypt through God’s mighty and powerful deeds, they had reason to fear him greatly. But surprisingly, God regarded Israel with great mercy and compassion. Despite their insignificance and their many faults, God still chose them to be his very own. And Moses did not hesitate to call God to come along in their company. “This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins; and receive us as your own.”
The God of Israel still walks alongside his people, no matter how stiff-necked and wicked we are. But walking alongside us, God also invites us to become more like himself by turning from our evil ways and treating our neighbor with greater mercy and compassion. It is a simple consequence of human friendship that we cannot remain unchanged by those we come to know and love, that we eventually open ourselves to love what our friends love, to value what our friends value, to become more like our friends in some ways, and for them to become more like us in other ways.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul calls the community of believers to be toward one another as God is toward them. “Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” It is a simple formula. God is loving toward us, compassionate and kind. How can we beg for his mercy but withhold mercy from our neighbor? How can we call on him to assist us in our need but be deaf to the needs of our sisters and brothers? How can we claim an inheritance of justice and life everlasting yet fail to fight for justice and the basic rights of our fellow men and women in this passing age?
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” The Holy Spirit affirms God’s ultimate plan for us his children, that when our journey in this life is done, we might come to live with him in peace forever. But how will we know peace in God’s eternal kingdom if we have not known it in this present age? And how can we presume to deserve God’s reward of everlasting peace if we fail to contribute to achieving even an imperfect peace right here where we now find ourselves?
God is One, sacred scripture tells us; and Jesus revealed to us that God is three distinct Persons in one. Scripture tells us God is love; and by his example and teaching Jesus proclaimed that God is abundant and immeasurable compassion, grace, and peace. Now there is much about God we will never be able to explain or understand. But this we know, that God is merciful and gracious, that God desires our salvation, so he sent his only Son to us, and that God calls us to become more like himself.
The events of recent days unfolding across the country and around the world challenge us to decide whether or not our knowledge of God and all that our baptism implies will have an effect on how we live what we believe and how we treat our neighbor. There may be much about God that we will never know or understand. But what we do know and understand should make a significant difference. We cannot remain unchanged or we might as well be people who know and understand nothing of God. God draws us to himself so that we might be more like him. Are we close? Are we even trying?
Rolo B Castillo © 2020
 Exodus 34: 9
 2 Corinthians 13: 11
 John 3: 17