“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” ― Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams
“Now to [the one] who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25, NRSV).
As our journey through the General Epistles in Dispatches to God’s Household comes to an end, I can’t help but contemplate other types of endings. That’s why I’m drawn to the ending of Jude’s letter. It contains a benediction (which, in Latin, means “good word”), that, even today, sends believers forth into the world with confidence before God through Jesus Christ. Two thousand years from now, I imagine, these words of blessing will still stand, yet they will not “stand still.” They will continue to stir, compel, commission, and console God’s children.
To conjure the notion of these words, or of all these letters, or of the Bible as a whole remaining millennia beyond us is a rather odd enterprise. So much within the world (or, at the very least, in the United States) is disposable; designed for “planned obsolescence.” If you are reading this post on an iPad that you purchased or received in 2010 (a “first-generation” iPad), your device is already outdated and under-powered. As a matter of fact, it may render websites so slowly that you’ve been tempted to give up on using it for anything other than an expensive paperweight. Even if you find that it still meets your needs, the pressure to upgrade to the newest model may be too tempting to resist. After all, who wants to be left behind on the banks of the rushing river of technological (read: cultural) progress? Every morning, through fancy machines with hard-to-pronounce names, we brew individual cups of coffee in tiny containers that filter frothy beverages instantaneously, only to dispose of the remaining single-purpose plastic brewing cups without regard for the wastefulness of the exercise. Our culture disposes of people pretty quickly as well as “stuff.” Quick: name the Season Two winner of American Idol. Do you recall the name of the man from Harlem who rescued an endangered man from the New York Subway rails six years ago? Does your congregation continue to pray for Élian Gonzales? (Who’s THAT, you ask? Exactly). Ours is a culture of extravagant consumption and quick disposal—of objects, of information and, sadly, of all creatures, including people. Given our propensity to dredge everything through this cycle, what is it about these words that lend themselves to overcoming our short attention spans?
The vulnerability of humankind in the vast measures of time and space is, ultimately, the constant condition that has made, makes, and will continue to make this benediction relevant to our experience of God. There is deep longing expressed here: from the one “who is able to keep [us] from falling” we yearn for protection from the dangers of living, that we might survive and find our footing on steady ground; that we might “stand without blemish” in the presence of glory, we pray that we find favor in the midst of the source of our existence: to be safe, to be “good.” The quest to satisfy these essential longings leads to our rejoicing when our deepest needs are met. More than anything else, Jude’s benediction, and the Epistles as a whole, reflect humankind’s deep longings which lead us to seek be-longing. We are bound together as family through our vulnerability before God and one another; we are made strong when, through our weakness, we seek connection and are bound together by love. Remember (re-member: “to put back together”): “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts our fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because [God] first loved us…the commandment we have from [God] is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4:18-19, 21). We are a human family in our vulnerability. We are members of God’s household through our embodiment of God’s love. Through Jesus Christ, we hold our birthright. Thanks be to God!