The Fourth Sunday in Lent

I write this ‘blurb’ having just seen photos of some our grandchildren meeting each other in Australia for the first time. Yes, the English one has just arrived – with her parents 😉 – and will eventually join Charlotte and more family. There’s a particularly lovely photo of two cousins hugging each other – the nearly 4 year old towering over the nearly 2 year old. And my heart melts. I can watch these photos for a long time courtesy of the blessings of our communication technology. Half way round the world, I am not so far away.

Our communication technology meant I could talk with Lutherans in Russia and Lutheran church leaders in Europe this week and hear how things are going in Ukraine – terrible – and in Russia – oppressive. I was not so far away even though many countries separated us. We are all used to news ‘24/7’ and the issue is no longer not knowing about something but verifying the truth and trustworthiness of what we are being told about anywhere in the world.

I don’t second guess the family photos. I respectfully listen to Lutherans in other countries and, yes, the more I know them, the less I feel the need to verify things while still learning lots of things. What undergirds all good and truthful communication is trust – that what we say is true and that we put the best construction on things – which doesn’t mean ignoring sin and evil or glossing over it. I said a long time ago that everyone should tick a box before using any communication device each day to say that they will follow the 8th Commandment. 😉 (Of course, our mouth is a communication device!)

Then there is the saying that ‘action speaks louder than words’. The two cousins hugging each other is a lovely moment. The war in Ukraine is not – in fact it needs words to justify it because bombing hospitals and killing civilians are hardly ‘good’ deeds – and even as ‘collateral damage’ they will need many words. So the communication technology goes into overdrive repeating and reinforcing the message – the narrative – one wants. At home this can be called nagging or intimidating or abusive so that the words create ‘reality’ and a description of actions others would find wrong.

I could see the photos from Australia. I could interact with the Lutherans on screen. We see those around us. Sight definitely helps our communication but it is not essential to it. Trust is the essential component. We will believe messages – letters, emails, cards, and so on – from those we have not seen if we trust the messenger or the medium of delivery. And that becomes very significant with religion because, by definition, deities are usually hidden. Often people seem to have only the religious people who is speaking as the reference point – people see their behaviour, their deeds, their facial expressions – and, as I said, actions can speak louder than words.

In Christianity we have a God who is hidden behind means – words, water, bread and wine – which reveal Jesus (hidden in the weakness of human flesh) who is alive now. Jesus doesn’t wait for us to come to him – he is going out with his grace and mercy to help everyone in their need. Yes, we might think he is absent in Ukraine but he is there and helping each individual face the world we are making. Of course everyone only sees Christians and that can be a mixed picture – depending on the day – but when Christians realise that people are looking at them, they will quickly want to get out of the way and point the world to Jesus. Where will they point? To the cross and then an empty tomb.

And the words shared will paint a picture of God reaching out to each person and hugging them.