I devoted much of last week to attendance at the annual gathering of the clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas. We spent time in prayer, worship, and discussion, especially regarding the care of God’s creation and racial reconciliation in our parishes and communities. These two items, along with evangelism, are the three priorities of the Episcopal Church nationally.
One of the priests in attendance shared the cartoon below. It made quite an impact on me and many others as he began to name all the anxiety, fear, anger, and sense of dislocation the pandemic has laid upon our backs. Each of us carries past hurts in our heart. When these are coupled with the stress of COVID, we are simply carrying too much to manage and often the slightest trigger can bring us to our knees.
This happened to me recently. I was at a local grocery store and could not locate cumin in the spice aisle. I looked and looked and grew increasingly frustrated. I eventually realized I was overlooking the row of cumin, but not before I was ready to scream in frustration.
I imagine the same is true for you. If we recall passages of scripture from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus takes the “little ones” in his arms and blesses them. He also rebukes anyone, including the disciples for putting stumbling blocks in the way of the children and their engagement with him and their entering the kingdom of God.
As human beings, we are very adept at putting stumbling blocks in front of one another and ourselves. Think about political fighting, racism, environmental degradation, and even how we may treat each other in church. Sometimes the most hurtful words and actions occur in a church building. And religious denominations are not immune from placing stumbling blocks in our paths. Denominations often suffer from a sense of superiority and a tribal mentality, i.e. “you’re not one of us” and “we exist to mediate your relationship with Christ.”
I have been preaching about the little ones and stumbling blocks for the past three weeks at Church of the Covenant. After thinking about this cartoon, I spoke to the congregation Sunday about allowing ourselves to be the “little ones” wrapped in Jesus’ arms and blessed by him. We are exhausted in ways we do not even recognize. We need to give each other, and ourselves, grace.
COVID is an unfair and unpredictable stumbling block. Jesus will keep us from falling when we recognize his loving and grace-filled embrace.