In today’s gospel reading (Matthew 8-35 -10 8-23) Jesus sends his disciples out into the world. It is a scary place where Jesus’ message that the kingdom of heaven has come near will be opposed. This reading occurs in our calendar at a time in the UK there is a significant easing of the lockdown restrictions with shops allowed to open and churches preparing to open their doors to private prayer from Monday. There is a lot of fear as we move from ‘stay indoors; save lives’ to ‘stay alert.’
As I’ve reflected on this long and uncomfortable reading it has struck me that this reading reminds us that the Christian life is not easy. Jesus message of what the kingdom of heaven looks like in the command to love your neighbour as yourself is a hard one. It is easier to criticize, hate or just ignore those who don’t look like us, or were raised in the same culture, or speak another language. We have seen a lot of that in the news and on social media this week. Loving ourselves and loving our neighbour is hard.
Loving ourselves sounds easy but who are we really? It is a hard journey to find out who we really are and not who we pretend to be. That journey can be painful as we unearth those parts of ourselves we would much rather hide.
To love our neighbour we have to also have to spend time with that person and listen to their lives and their worries. Not our worries but theirs. This means coming out of a place where we are comfortable and moving into a place of vulnerability and uncertainty that is never easy.
In Jesus’ pep talk to his disciples he is really clear that sometimes the world outside our safe places is hard ‘see I am sending you out into the midst of wolves.’ There is a realism here. Jesus’ message of love and care will be opposed. But there is wisdom ‘be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’ So educate yourself, be strategic, engage your brain but be kind and look for the best in people.
So how do those of us who are not shielding get back into the world outside our front doors? It isn’t going to be easy but we can make a difference if we keep Jesus at the centre.
Every year there are preachers out there who discover that circle dance is one of the metaphors for the Trinity. It makes a change from steam/water/ice or the Shamrock but most of the people who bring circle dance into their sermons have no idea what they are talking about. It isn’t that their theology is dodgy but they won’t have danced. I know this as I’m a circle dance teacher and sometime choreographer and I know how few people have actually experienced this form of dance.
Trinity Sunday is a challenge as we struggle to make sense of something about the divine nature of God as three persons – father, son and holy spirit. Not separate individuals and not three aspects of the same person.
The circle with its sense of never ending, the movement of the dance and the way that different people in the dance contribute to the whole is a tiny insight into the Trinity. Yet anyone who has danced this form of dance which comes from the community dances of Europe will know that circle dance is a better metaphor for that central tenant of Christianity which is ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ In a week where there have been protests around the world at the treatment of humanity with darker skin than those in the ruling elite these words of Jesus need to be heard clearer than ever.
When you dance this form of dance you hold someone’s hand. You have to listen to the music and the rhythm and try to remember the steps. You also have to listen to your neighbour and adapt your dancing to them. If you neighbour is taller than you both of you will have to find a step length that works for both of you. If your neighbour has a stiff shoulder you can’t be as exuberant in your arm gestures. In the dance there are individuals but they can only dance together if they are aware of the other and make adjustments.
Who is our neighbour? If we are white what can we learn from those people of colour who are our neighbours? How and what do we need to change so that we can answer the question posed by the prophet Micah And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
So if you haven’t seen what it looks like this is circle dance danced by ordinary people getting some of the steps wrong but working together to create something beautiful. It’s a pilgrim’s dance.
May we dance for justice, may we listen to our neighbours and may we discover the divine in what we do with others.