What We Need Most

The Fourteenth reflection in a series, “Hope to See Us Through,” by the Rev. Terry Elsberry.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’”

—Jeremiah 29:11

 

I

I was still a little boy when two things happened quite close together that showed me there’s something special about our being Christians.

One was an old movie—Quo Vadis. Based on a popular novel of the time, it was one of those religious epics popular in the Fifties and early Sixties. Action, adventure, love interest—all built around a religious theme.

One of the things that intrigued me most about Quo Vadis, set in Rome when the early Christians were being persecuted by Nero, was this.

When a Christian met someone on the street and they weren’t sure whether the other was a Christian or not, they would make the sign of a fish in the sand with their toe. If the other person didn’t do likewise, they finished the talk and went on their way. If, however, the other person made the same sign, they knew they were safe. This person was a brother or sister in the Lord. They would be safe with this person, not under threat of being turned in to the authorities because of their suspect faith in Jesus.

That struck me as a little kid. Those early Christians really needed each other. It was them alone, a relatively small group risking their lives spreading the Gospel into the very depths of a Pagan and all too often to them deadly society. These were a special group, called by God to spread His story when it might cost them their lives.

Yet they did it. And some did lose their lives. But they kept on. Against incredible odds, they persisted. They looked to God, they looked to their fellow believers, for support and strength to carry on. They got from Him and from the bonds of love that bound them to each other the power to persist. That’s why we have the church today, because of the incredible devotion and heroic bravery of these spiritual ancestors of ours.

How could they do it? How could they put themselves at such risk, even give their lives, to sharing the Good News? Because they had the Lord and they had each other.

They took literally God’s word that in Him they were one. One body. Adopted by God as brothers and sisters into the Body of Christ.

All they had was God and each other. It was enough. Two thousand years later, here we are. The church lives!

You and I, as Christians, are meant by God to have a special connectedness, a special relationship—through Him—with other Christians.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING WE HAVE ARE RELATIONSHIPS. OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND OUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH EACH OTHER.

It’s true more than ever in times like the ones we’re living through now.

Many of us have been finding how important family and friends really are these days when many of us have been living cut off lives. But it’s not just our connections with our loved ones that matter. These are times that call us to lift our sights, expand our vision to a broader range of acceptance.

Kerry Korigan recently wrote about “The profound impact of our shared humanity.” May we see it, appreciate it, live into it more not less. Which among other things means accepting and respecting our differences as human beings.

The current issue of Men’s Health Magazine features interviews with pandemic health care workers at New York Presbyterian hospital.

Critical-care paramedic Joseph Galizia when asked lessons he’s learning from his work during the pandemic, said: “I really hope that people have a much bigger understanding of how we’re all connected—at a smaller level, like neighbors in a community, and also on a global.”

That’s what the Lord had in mind when He created the church: a community of believers living in a fellowship of love and mutual respect.

Similarly, from Cara Agerstrand, M. D., “I hope the message the world takes away from this and that our country takes away is that we are all connected in a way that cannot be denied. And while in medicine we always look out for that one patient in front of us, as a society we have to look out for each other.”

In our baptisms we become members of God’s family. The literal meaning of the word church is “called out company.” Called out of what? Called out of the world—out of a worldly view—and into a community of Christians called by the Lord to adopt His, not the world’s understanding of what matters.

II

I said two things about the real meaning of the church had a profound impact on me all those years ago.

Shortly after seeing the Quo Vadis my parents took me into the Big People’s Church for the first time. I suffered my way through the boredom made durable by the catchy drawings my Dad did for me in a little notebook.

But at the very end of the service, even after the final blessing had been pronounced and we’d sung the closing hymn (with my getting a better view lifted up to stand on the pew between my parents) something happened I’ve never forgotten.

Everyone joined hands and began to sing together a chorus. I know the words, because I grew up hearing it for the rest of our boyhood. It goes like this:

“God be with you ‘till we meet again. By His counsels guide, uphold you
With his sheep securely fold you, God be with you till we meet again
Till we meet, till we meet, God be with you till we meet again
Till we meet, till we meet, till we meet at Jesus’ feet
Till we meet, till we meet, God be with you till we meet again.”

What struck me that long ago day, though young and unschooled, was the fervor with which everyone in that packed church grabbed each others hands, right across the aisle, and how loudly they sang. Something told me, tiny mite that I was, that these people really did care about each other. To see even broad-shouldered, sunburned farmers grabbing each other’s huge, work-roughened hands in an expression of Christian brotherly love made an impression on me I’ll never forget.

It wasn’t the words they sang that day. It was the power of their connection. These men and women would be there for each other. No matter what happened. In good times and bad. And so they were.

AND SO MUST YOU AND I BE THERE FOR EACH OTHER AS MEMBERS OF THIS HOLY FAMILY THE CHURCH. IT’S GOD’S PLAN FOR US. IT WILL HELP SEE US THROUGH—TOGETHER.