This time of year, we often think about the changes we want to make in our lives. We look around, channeling the clutter-busting guru, Marie Kondo, and ask whether all of our possessions spark enough joy to avoid making it into the Goodwill pile. We need to do that in our church life as well sometimes.
Our Winter 2023 sermon series was developed with this in mind, and it was inspired in part by writer Gil Rendle. The patriarch Jacob died in Egypt, but he knew his people were destined to return to their homeland of Israel. He made them promise that when that day came, they would dig up his bones, carry them out of Egypt, and lay them to rest in the promised land. As we move forward into the future, what are the “bones” we need to take with us?
Gil Rendle asked this question in an essay entitled “Jacob’s Bones.”
When deaths occur and epochs end, we move from what we know into an unknown future. To make this transition we seek to carry with us that which is most needed for the journey. Crossing such boundaries takes us into new places and experiences making us uncomfortable enough to be changed – a necessity if one wishes to survive and thrive in the future. But importantly, futures are not disconnected from the past. We can carry with us the critical gifts from the past, limited in number but well chosen, that will remind us of who we are. What we choose to carry forward will be used to sustain our identity and purpose in the changed conditions that will be faced. So it was that Jacob’s bones went with his people out of Egypt as a marker, a reminder, to Israel about who the people were to be.
From living Patriarch to ancestor, Jacob changed his relationship to the people but was nonetheless seeking a way to still be carried with them as a reminder. But what was the reminder in those bones that Joseph and the people were to carry with them out of Egypt? This is an essential question for the current institutional church in the unwinding of the 21st century that is hurling it toward an unknown future for which the church will need to carry its own markers to remember who and for what it is meant to be. What bones must be carried forward?
I’ve developed a reputation at Bethany as the preacher who always has a prop. When I was preaching weekly, I was not as creative. Now that my turn comes less frequently, well, I have to have a prop, don’t I? For this reason, I feel I should warn you that I’m not planning on bringing a bag of bones up to the altar next time I preach. I will probably be thinking about what I will bring, though. What are the essential elements of our faith? What do we need to guard and fight for? I’m learning the traditions that MUST be kept around here, and those are important, but I care more about preserving the beliefs that go down to our very core – the ones that make us who we are. How will we carry the light of Christ that is in us into the world?
Now that I think about it, my husband is always hunting and butchering deer…I could probably get a bag of bones if I wanted to…