“For such a time as this”
These past few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind as I navigated my alumni reunion at Princeton Theological Seminary, a trustee meeting, our presbytery meeting, and a hospitalized dog. It felt a bit like a carousel that would not stop – with emotions ranging from fear of loss to profound inspiration. I am sure you recognize these seasons when the complexities of life are just what they are. This is the frame with which I approached my very first alumni reunion.
I must confess, I am not really sure why I have not attended a previous reunion, but this was my 25th year and I agreed to meet up with several friends. I have also developed a renewed appreciation for the breadth of my theological education and its ongoing importance in shaping who I continue to become. Theology matters! Sitting in Miller Chapel and familiar lecture halls for three days, I listened to and absorbed the sermons and stories of colleagues and friends. I found myself reflecting on the journey of our 25 years of experiences, celebrations, hopes, births, and losses. There is no denying that familiar adage – time does fly. The presentations reminded me of a framing question of Raymond Alf, a now-deceased paleontologist in California, who founded the only fully accredited high school paleontology museum in our nation. With the backdrop of fossils dating hundreds of millions of years, he would challenge his young students with a question he hoped would shape their minds and hearts – “What will you do with your moment in time?”
In what at first glance appeared to be unrelated presentations, I found a common compelling challenge and reminder as speaker after speaker shared what they have chosen to do with their brief moment in time. As I listened to the story of my friend and colleague’s family experience with the atrocities of Japanese Internment, the story of a African American woman’s journey with racism and doubt, the story of a Nuyorican colleague’s journey with the Puerto Rican diaspora, they all claimed the importance of a love and hope that was carried in their spirits – a love and hope embodied at times against circumstances that could have stripped them of Gospel spirit. Through their witness, they all reminded us that the hope of their faith was embodied in the ministries they have been called to lead. They reminded us that profound love has the final word and serves as the ongoing motivation and inspiration. Let me be clear, their messages were not of the “Pollyanna-type” love. It is the “agape love” that is sacrificial and unconditional – emulating the love God demonstrates for us through Jesus. They did not deny the presence of evil, racism, or injustice. They did not deny the pain along their journeys. They did not deny the real and present dangers and challenges in theirs and our lives. And they did not remain passive with what confronted them. On the contrary, they were each advocates in their own way, denouncing the theology of neutrality as a faithful way forward for the church. By their witness, they answered the question again and again – “What will you do with your moment in time?”
And then there was the Rev. Victor Aloyo, Jr., who preached at our presbytery meeting last Tuesday. In many ways his message capped a week of deep personal theological reflection. His central question was simple – “Can there be freedom without love?” His question was so simple that it caused a reverberating silence – “Can there be freedom without love?” The obvious but difficult answer is “no!” To live without love allows for resentment to grow. And when we allow resentment to grow, we look outside ourselves for answers. We blame others; we become discouraged; we rationalize hateful actions. We turn from whom we are called to be. We turn from a love that can shape and inspire us. We compromise our possibility and our ability in Christ to embrace our given moments in time – this gift of life given us by our creator. And this inability or unwillingness to love as we have been loved is the opposite of freedom.
Like the compelling Old Testament story of Esther, I believe we are called for such a time as this – regardless of the complexities and challenges along the road. I believe we are called to bring hope into a broken world. I believe this is our time to strive and work for a world that is not neutral and to courageously speak for and with the Gospel values that shape our witness. I believe we are called to reflect the great and new commandment—to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves. In this we will find freedom and purpose. So may we each love boldly and concretely as we consider the answer to the question, “What will you do with your moment in time?”