by Rev. Angela T. Khabeb
St. Francis of Assisi encourages Jesus followers to “wear this world like a loose garment.” These are wise words to live by, especially given the many challenges of 2020. For over a year we have been bombarded by deep grief, tragic change and violent upheaval. Our church has rightly responded to this crisis by inviting us to embrace the spiritual art of holding loosely. Likewise, we have just experienced the ELCA Youth Ministry Extravaganza, where we have explored some of the multilayered paths of “Holding Loosely.”
As I was preparing for the Extravaganza, I was examining what it means to hold space for grief. Grief is a natural, unavoidable part of the human condition, and we have so much to grieve because of all we’ve lost. That is why it is important that we grant permission to people to feel all “the feels,” even when it is uncomfortable. Then, I began to wonder if participants might become overwhelmed by the thought of letting go after we’ve endured the unprecedented events of 2020 and beyond. Perhaps some people might be experiencing unanticipated anxiety that is inadvertently connected to the concept of holding loosely. As we move forward into a future that is fraught with uncertainty, it might be helpful to remind ourselves of what we can hold onto tightly.
Many of us are familiar with the Sunday school song “Jesus Loves Me.” As children, we may not have understood the importance of our need for God’s everlasting love. Life has taught us otherwise. We now know things can change unexpectedly, rapidly. We are separated from friends and family, whom we used to see with a modicum of regularity. Financial resources that once flowed freely have evaporated. Hidden hatred in our nation is finally too difficult to ignore. We are learning very quickly that as we seek to be faithful followers, we will encounter many unknowns.
Yet, we still have a sure foundation. Funny thing—when we think of a foundation, we visualize something fixed, immovable. However, in a spiritual sense, our sacred foundation is simultaneously solid and dynamic. Our faith is living, and the Spirit blows where she chooses. As we embark upon “ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown,” it is vital to establish the core essence of our faith. Throughout life we are surrounded by uncertainty, skepticism and fear. Doubt and faith are constant companions. Holding loosely requires that we remain centered in our faith.
There is so much we do not know, so much we can’t predict, and yet, there are things we do know for sure. I like to think of that simple children’s song about Jesus’ love and that tiny phrase: “this I know.” Now, certainly these core values will take different shape for different people in different contexts. My “this I know” theological foundation—that is to say, what remains once I’ve peeled back all the layers of life experience, social location and theological training—is that “we serve a God who is intimately and infinitely concerned with each and every one of us.” Regardless what happens around me or within me, I know this for sure.
Siblings in the faith, I offer the following abbreviated list of what we may hold tightly. This I know, we can hold tightly to God, Beloved Community and Hope.
Hold GOD Tightly
One of my guilty pleasures is watching true crime stories. My favorite channel is Investigation Discovery. It may sound strange, but I derive immense satisfaction from knowing that a terrible crime will be solved, all wrapped up complete with a bow, in about an hour. Yet, my heart often breaks a little when I hear a victim’s friend or family member say something to the effect, “This person was my rock. They were my whole world. I don’t know how to live without them.” Loss is inescapable, and there is no way any of us can avoid the pain of losing a loved one. It’s an awful and obligatory part of life on this side of eternity. We can hold tightly the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 18: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold…For who is God except the Lord? And who is a rock besides our God?—the God who girded me with strength, and made my way safe.The Lord lives! Blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation.”
Yes, one day we will be separated from our family in one way or another, and nothing can separate us from God’s love. I’m not sure what’s in store for us tomorrow or next week or next year. But this I know; nothing can separate us from the love of God that is poured out for us Christ Jesus! Nothing—not life or death. Not angels or demons. Not the present or the future. Not height nor depth nor anything in all of creation—nothing! Not betrayal or rejection, not foreclosure, not student loan debt, not suffering or sickness, successes or failures, not COVID-19, not white supremacy, not even a knee on our necks can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Hallelujah!
Hold BELOVED COMMUNITY Tightly
Our nation is fiercely divided. That is why it is imperative that we hold tightly to the unseen, sacred reality of the Beloved Community. The Beloved Community is both gift and challenge. It is already and not yet. Living into the reality of the Beloved Community will be messy, delightful, painful and rewarding. Siblings, having a faith foundation is vital. If we as the Beloved Community do not cling to Christ’s hope for unity as a core conviction, we run the risk of lacking gospel integrity. Please know the Beloved Community need not be a monolith. The Beloved Community is not bound by consensus or absence of conflict but rather the presence of godly respect, and equity for all—especially minoritized people. The Beloved Community calls us to move beyond belief to action. Consequently, everyone is responsible for embracing their role in creating the Beloved Community that Jesus envisioned in his High Priestly Prayer. “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23).
Hold HOPE Tightly
St. Paul reminds us that we have a hope, and this hope does not disappoint (Roman 5:5). This is my constant consolation. I trust this promise because no matter how dire the situation or how dismal the circumstances, God’s mercy does not change. So even when it looks like chaos is spreading and division is growing, we can hold tightly the promise that we have hope, and this hope does not disappoint.
Siblings in Christ, there is no way around it. More troubles are coming, more tragic news is on the way—but the reign of God is near so we have hope, and this hope does not disappoint. It’s not always easy to recognize this hope, especially during times of crisis. Please trust that our hope is present whether we can see it or not. Trust in the promise and look again because every time people with differing opinions venture into difficult conversations in love, the Beloved Community emerges. And we have hope, and this hope does not disappoint. Every time we speak the words of Jesus’ “peace be with you,” every time the body of Christ gathers together to hear the good news, every time we receive the body and blood of our Jesus Christ, the Beloved Community emerges. And we have hope, and this hope does not disappoint. Siblings in Christ, even creation declares it because every time the sun comes up in the morning we know that God’s love never fails and the Beloved Community is emerging. And so we have hope, and this hope does not disappoint!
Listen, I don’t even pretend to have all the answers, and I’m OK with that because this I know—we can hold to GOD tightly because God is our rock, and nothing can separate us from God’s steadfast love. We can hold BELOVED COMMUNITY tightly because this is part of our baptismal calling. We can hold HOPE tightly because, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9a). So, we have hope, and this hope does not disappoint.
As we continue our ministries, we do not walk alone. Here’s a bonus “this I know”: “We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.”
We are free in Christ, and our Christian freedom informs every facet of our lives.
The Rev. Angela T. Khabeb has been a pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis since August 2018. Pastor Angela, a Bridges Scholar, completed seminary at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago where she won the James Kenneth Echols Prize for Excellence in Preaching. Pastor Angela completed her undergrad at Carthage College in Kenosha. She is originally from Omaha, Nebraska but has lived in many other cities, including Chicago, Denver, Kenosha, and Springfield, Missouri. From 2000-2002, Angela was an ELCA missionary in Namibia, Africa where she met and married her husband, Benhi. Benhi and Angela have been married since 2001 and they have three wonderful children Konami, Khenna, and Khonni. In their spare time, this vibrant family enjoys world music, creative writing, leisurely walks, and bike riding. Pastor Angela’s core spiritual belief is quite simple: Jesus is intimately and infinitely concerned with each and every one of us.
Categories: January 2021: "Holding Loosely"