For the next 36 days (and for the last four) I am leading my congregation through the American Bible Society’s reading plan, “Engage the Word.” This year’s theme is the Red Thread of Redemption, an obvious rip off of the the video game series, “Red Dead Redemption.” Honestly, I am surprised the American Bible Society keeps up with video game titles so they get props there.
Whereas in “Red Dead Redemption” the good guy brings about redemption by slaughtering as many bad guys as possible, the Biblical story brings about redemption by God working with fallen and flawed humanity to fix that which is broken. Don’t get me wrong, I love slaughtering bad guys, especially if I have the big gun and if it just on a big screen television. However, God’s thread of redemption is probably better.
There are many stories I can and will tell to my congregation during these 40 days but one I don’t seem to have time in sermons and bible studies for involves a young woman I met a little over a year ago.
I was guest preaching at a very tiny church in a mountain town in northeast Oregon. The congregation ran about 20 people on a good Sunday, most of them older and all of them wonderful. While I preached a meager message about true fellowship a tall and skinny woman in her early twenties sat in the back row reading Twilight. In thinking back about my sermon, I am not sure I blame her.
After the service a leader explained to me that she had been a part of the church for awhile now and a part of the community for longer but that she was fairly mentally ill. Although she was in her twenties, she had the maturity of a 12 year old.
You see, when she was 2 and a half years old, her single mom left the apartment one day and did not come back, leaving her and her infant brother to fend for themselves. It was a month or so before somebody discovered them and by a great miracle both were alive. The 2 year old had done everything she knew to keep her and her brother alive. They had eaten every bit of food in the house, including their own feces. They were extremely malnourished and it took months to restore their fragile immune systems to something workable.
The infant son grew up to be incredibly violent and angry. He is now in a mental health home and will live out his life there. The toddler daughter is able to hold a steady job at a local business who is patient with her. She has learned some valuable skills but still struggles to connect with people and always will.
What does redemption possibly look like in this situation? Why do these things happen? Why must they happen?
In “Red Dead Redemption” and the games like it, we would just have to buy a big gun and go find mom and maybe dad and maybe some family members along the way and, of course, a thousand henchmen with smaller guns and worse aim. But in the real world, such justice would not solve anything. It would just orphan many other children and widow many other wives.
In God’s story redemption works a bit differently. It looks like a Son who being in very nature, God and living a genuinely human but perfect life becomes a victim of criminal and societal abuse. His sacrifice creates a community called the “ekklesia” or the “called out ones” whose job it is to embody and inhabit this type of love in the world. All of this means that one day when someone finds a toddler and a baby alone in an apartment, badly malnourished and sitting in their own filth, God can take over and go to work through the church. The community of God, sharing in God’s substance through the communion table becomes the hands and feet of Jesus which welcome the children into its open embrace. We have a God who empowers us with God’s very presence to love the hurt and broken back to eternal life.
And that is a thread I am glad to be a fiber in!