Today’s Midweek Message originally ran in The Eagle’s “Faith” section, January 20, 2024, under the title, “Acts of kindness is the tie that binds society together.”
Not to be isolated in bearing our burdens. Not to be alone in our grief. These are the purest cries from the core of our being; the honest lament of the human condition. Please, don’t leave me alone. I need belonging, especially when life is cruel.
I recently attended a retreat where a seasoned pastor gave a sermon reflecting on heartbreaking moments in his decades of ministry. He recalled a Sunday when he got into the pulpit to preach. A man in the first few rows of pews got up and walked to the narthex at the back of the sanctuary, apparently taking an important call. Still preaching, the pastor watched the man return to his seat hurriedly, grab his spouse, and escort her back to the narthex. Seconds later he heard the woman wailing. An usher appeared from the narthex and waved at the pastor, motioning for him to come quickly. The man and his wife had just learned that their son, a college student, had died in an electrocution accident.
With the sermon paused and the worship service in limbo, the pastor led the parents to the basement to care for them in a more private setting. But as he sat with the shocked couple, they heard the congregation singing an impromptu hymn meant for them: “Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the sharing of a common life is like to that above.” They were not alone in their suffering. Where there was heartbreak, there was also help.
I’m grateful for church community and I love that old hymn. I’m also grateful that the Christian love that hymn sings about is not exclusive to Christians; that the sharing of a common life is not meant for church communities alone, but for the wider community—the whole world that God so loves.
Last week we honored Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. One of my favorite quotes from Dr. King addresses our corporate belonging, how we are made to share one another’s pain and walk with each other in the work of healing. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” he wrote in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Or as “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds” sings it, “We share each other’s woes, each other’s burdens bear.” No one should be left outside the circle of human affection that “is like to that above.” What binds us is the limitless love of God, where grace is foundational and partiality is foreign. The tie is belonging, and belonging is heaven on earth.
Franciscan priest and spiritual writer Richard Rohr puts it like this: “The Reign of God has much more to do with right relationship than with being privately right. It has much more to do with being connected than with being personally correct. Can you feel the difference between the two? The one encourages an impossible notion of individual salvation and creates individualists; the other introduces cosmic salvation and creates humans, citizens, caretakers, neighbors, and saints.” We are not made to steep ourselves in hyper-individualism but to immerse ourselves in collective caretaking.
I see this in our county’s VFW opening its doors as a warming center last weekend to those without shelter from the harsh cold, and to those with homes lacking sufficient heat. I see it in the outpour of volunteers showing hospitable care to everyone at the warming center, and in the countless prayers supporting them in that shared endeavor of making room and seeing to the needs of all. I see it in the Brazos Valley Food Bank and so many mobile food pantries in our community, striving to meet people where they are to assure that each has bread for their body and concern for their well-being. I see it in the Islamic Community of B-CS Mosque offering an open house, inviting people to learn about who they are, and to say to anyone who would come, “We are so glad that you are our neighbor, and that we are yours.”
These are glimpses of the tie that binds; and that sharing of a common life is a glimpse of the very thing so many Christians pray for when we say together, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
It’s a new year. Misinformation and disinformation perpetuate divisions. Bumper sticker expressions of ideological ineptitude push us further from the sharing of a common life where we would care for one another rather than patronize and dismiss each other. And it’s an election year where the things that needlessly divide us will be manipulated to the nth degree. These are all tests of the tie that binds. Are we up for it? If we keep our eyes on a life that is like to that above, as the old hymn sings, surely we will be. My favorite line in that hymn reminds us, “Our fears, our hopes, are aims are one, our comforts and our cares.” At the dawn of 2024, may we keep this in heart and mind, and may it carry us through the next twelve months for all our sakes and to the glory of the One who loves us all beyond measure.