5 You shall then recite as follows before the Lord your God: “My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there; but there he became a great and very populous nation. 6 The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. 7 We cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression.
Jewish Publication Society. (1985). Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Dt 26:5–7). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.
This is part of the Old Testament reading for Thanksgiving is a reminder of who we are and where we come from. This translation calling our father (Abraham) a fugitive Aramean is a slight change from the New Revised Standard Version which translates it rather a "wandering Aramean".
The difference is important though it looks subtle at first glance. Wandering suggests, at least in my mind, a sort of carefree traveling through the world. Fugitive, on the other hand, suggests that our heritage has more of an outlaw characteristic to it.
If we, like Abraham, are fugitive we must not only be fleeing from something but also seeking to find something.
Abraham was a fugitive for the promise of God. Land, descendants and a future that he could not imagine.
We hear that the church is in decline. We hear that the message doesn't strike the chord it once did with folks. The pews are not nearly as full as they used to be, but for those who are fugitives for the freedom of the Gospel and from the tyranny of sin (read here willful separation from God) then the Good news of God in Christ has never been more needed.
One thing the church, at its best, can do better than any other group of folks I know of is form communities of hope, healing and purpose where there was once only a wandering group of hopeless ,helpless and homeless folks.
I for one am glad to be a fugitive for the Gospel
(From September 2009)
Andrew has died. I don't know him, except to say hi, and to ask how he is. I met him most clearly after he was pushed at the shelter a few months ago. He broke his wrist, and had a broken nose, and some internal bleeding that kept him in intensive care for a about a week. Georgeanne pointed him out to me: "that's Andrew" when he arrived at church, and I went over to meet him.
He remembered me, so clearly he had been to church before. He was cheery and friendly; he easily to let the fact that I didn't remember his name slide. An altogether pleasant man; he joked about the wrist, and about the bandage, and expressed how pleased he was to be alive.
This is one of those hard things about getting to know folk at Worcester Fellowship. What we see on Sunday, in the crowd of lunch and worship, and even in bible study; what we meet the first two or three or eight times we talk to someone, is, just like for you and me, a very superficial part of their person. It is a real part of them, for sure, this cheery, confident, hopeful self, but it is not their full story.
And indeed, I know from Georgeanne that Andrew was not fully pleased to be alive, and, while he was rather amazed by the way people had come to take care of him, to check on him, and the many more who asked about him, he didn't really get that this was honest caring. In intensive care, his body was right on that line between life and death. And then he had turned the corner and was back with us, with a cast and bandages and bruises and an outwardly cheery demeanor. He expressed thanks, and did well for a few weeks, but that other part of him, that shadowed, deep, lonely, and fearful part of him quickly took over.
Anyone who met him, on the street, or at lunch, or just hanging out in the park, met the cheery, obviously well-adjusted guy. He shared that he was alcoholic, and that he was depressed, but all in a "don't worry, I'm going to beat this" way.
One of the challenges of our ministry is that the visitors mostly meet the cheery exterior of our parishioners, mostly hear about the successful days sober, and the alleluia about a new apartment, and the thanks for a great relationship. Or maybe that is a strength of our ministry, that visitors see that there is hope, and that they can be part of that hope.
There is hope. Struggling people find pleasure, and calm, and serenity in the fact that they can share their shadow side with us, and still be loved. I don't know if they all believe that God loves them, but many do believe that WE believe that God loves them. And they have a better hour, and sometimes a better day, or a better few days, when they have had the opportunity to be their well-adjusted, cheery selves with someone who cares about them. And they have a better hour, and sometimes a better day, or a better few days, when they have an opportunity to share their at-the-end-of-their-rope part of themselves, and have us sit with that, acknowledge it.
It helps that we believe that what they share is true, that we don't downplay it, or ask that they return to the cheery outward part of themselves. We let the whole person exist, and suggest that the whole person, the up-one and the down-one, too, is loved by God.
Andrew gave up and died about a month later. I didn't know the depth of longing and shadow within Andrew, but Georgeanne did, and I know she sat with him in those down places. I know Worcester Fellowship made a difference in Andrew's life. I know that Georgeanne made a difference by accepting Andrew's down side as a real part of him. I know that I made a difference by accepting his cheery upside as a real part of him.
As is the case with every one of our parishioners that have died, I wish, more than anything, that we could have done more. But I know, too, that we did something, and that doing something, in love, matters.