Context Matters

Context Matters

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Rev. Nina Barlow Schmid is the senior pastor at First Congregational Church South Windsor, CT.


Scripture:  Job 7:11-12 (NRSV)

‘Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
   I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;
   I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
Am I the Sea, or the Dragon,
   that you set a guard over me?
When I say, “My bed will comfort me,
   my couch will ease my complaint”,
then you scare me with dreams
   and terrify me with visions,
so that I would choose strangling
   and death rather than this body.
I loathe my life; I would not live for ever.
   Let me alone, for my days are a breath.
What are human beings, that you make so much of them,
   that you set your mind on them,
visit them every morning,
   test them every moment?
Will you not look away from me for a while,
   let me alone until I swallow my spittle?
If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity?
   Why have you made me your target?
   Why have I become a burden to you?
Why do you not pardon my transgression
   and take away my iniquity?
For now I shall lie in the earth;
   you will seek me, but I shall not be.’

Psalm 8 (NRSV)

To the leader: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.
O Lord, our Sovereign,
   how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.
   Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
   to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
   the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
   mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
   and crowned them with glory and honour.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
   you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
   and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
   whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign,
   how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Reflection: Context Matters

Rev. Nina Barlow Schmid

 “Context! Context! Context!” Recognizing and remembering this truth – that context matters – was hammered into our heads as students at Eden Theological Seminary. It has never failed me. It has often been the clarifying tool that cuts through and emerges as the ‘inclusio’ of layered discernment; the beginning and end point embracing meaning-making, whether pastoral, scriptural, political or otherwise: praying with a parishioner, writing a sermon, or struggling to grasp someone’s stance on an issue.

‘Context matters,’ may seem like a foregone conclusion; an obvious idea, too elementary to be mentioned…of course, it matters! Why would anyone think otherwise? However, in these days of global pandemic, I find it ever more crucial that ‘context’ be at the crux of my grasp – our grasp – of ministry in these times, which requires an ever-evolving comprehension of others’ contexts.

Humanity has been reminded of its global connections by the advent of COVID-19, yet everyone’s contexts are extraordinarily dissimilar. I don’t know about you, but I find it is good to be mindful that my own context – my experience – my congregation’s experience - is radically different from everyone else’s! But, it is all too easy to get lost in the ‘bubble’ of our own perceptions as they relate to our immediate contexts, when others have radically differing contexts across this country and around the world.

Remembering that ‘context matters’ could be compared to carrying the multi-faceted ‘pocket-tool of ministry.’ Loaded with gadgets: toothpick, nail clipper, scissors, blades, ballpoint pen, digital watch, key ring, fish scaler, pliers (let us not forget corkscrew and bottle opener!) and on and on it goes.
 
It helps to have a super-tool of listening for context when hearing humankind’s expressions of relationship with God, which can range from evocative depths of despair at the perceived lack of God’s presence, to dizzying heights of praise in honor of God’s creational magnificence and every possible state in between. We attempt to understand, doubt, chastise, question, fear, gratefully praise, rage at, argue with, joyfully lift up, share grief with, and sit in silence with our God, to name just a few ways.

These means of expressing emotions and opinions from individual, contrasting contexts, vie for attention, for understanding, for remedy, for relief – to be heard. It is vital that we continually remind each other that the circumstances immediately before us – up close and personal – whether dire or business almost-as-usual, are not the contexts of everyone else. Reduced to insidious suffering or raised to new heights of gratitude, we fashion our responses to God from our contexts.

Job 7 and Psalm 8 each offer a perfect example of radically different contexts influencing the writer’s concept of God. These individuals emote powerfully, generating a similar question, born of vastly differing circumstances. Whenever I read Psalm 8, I am called to read Job 7. It’s all about context!
    
In Job 7, the once “upright,” now long-suffering Job, “loathes” his life, having lost health, family and possessions, and is persecuted by his well-meaning friends. He demands a response from God. Job maintains he has done nothing wrong to deserve such a fate.

On the other hand, Psalm 8 reflects Genesis’ creation story in the psalmist’s passionate and poetic acknowledgment of God’s glory and the majesty of all creation – including their wonderment at God’s placement of humans “a little lower than God” in the midst of all that majesty. The same question is asked by the psalmist, but articulated from a totally different context of gratitude and wonder in Verse 4: “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”

The psalmist and Job, from their individual contexts, demonstrate the ever-present yearning for relationship with God and all its incomprehensibility. The polarities between Job’s and the psalmist’s experiences underscore the need for creating common ground through the understanding of highly dissimilar contexts at all times. This is especially urgent during this onslaught of COVID-19, the recovery and aftermath. We are all struggling to find new footing.

Let us use our super-tool of listening and discerning for context in that struggle, be it Joban despair or the psalmist’s soaring gratitude, that will lead us to the common good; provide us with a way – The Way – of understanding, love, compassion, and healing. Remember, context matters!

PRAYER

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Help us to remember, that across your realm, all are struggling in their many different contexts, some more than others. Whether we are in despair or soaring to the heights of gratitude, and all places in between, find us O, Watcher of Humanity; Help us to new heights of understanding. Remind us that the earth is yours, and all that is in it; that it is time to find your common ground under all of our feet. Amen.

New Prayer Requests:

We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at paged@sneucc.org.

Prayers of Intercession:

  • For those grieving for the more than 100,000 victims of the Covid-19 disease
  • For those peaceful protestors who encounter violent reactions to their message
  • For the family and friends of those killed this week during protests and marches
  • For the family and friends of Rev. Mr. Robert A. Richardson, retired UCC Pastor from Massachusetts. Rev. Richardson died on May 28th.
  • For the family and friends of  Rev. Carroll Edwin Kann, former Conference Minister of the Historic CT Conference. Rev. Kann died on May 26.

Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:

  • For the freedom to gather and protest injustices in our society
  • For those journalists who seek to share truth rather then sensationalism

Please Pray for the Following SNEUCC Churches:

Trinitarian Congregational Church, Northfield, MA
Rockdale Congregational Church UCC, Northbridge, MA
Trinity Church Northborough, Northborough, MA
Edwards Church of Northampton, Northampton, MA
First Churches of Northampton, Northampton, MA
North Stonington Congregational Church, North Stonington, CT
Union Congregational Church, UCC, North Reading, MA
North Haven Congregational Church, North Haven, CT
North Falmouth Congregational Church, North Falmouth, MA
Smith Mills Christian Congregational Church, UCC, North Dartmouth, MA
North Branford Congregational Church, UCC, North Branford, CT
First Congregational Church, North Attleboro, MA

This Week in History:

June 3-4, 1989  (31 years ago) Chinese government authorizes military to reclaim Tiananmen Square where protesters urging democratic reforms were in their 7th week of demonstrations. Soldiers and tanks rolled into the square with orders to retake the area and streets of Beijing. Hundreds were killed and thousands arrested, causing responses internationally, including sanctions from the U.S..

“Study the past if you would define the future.”
Confucius

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Nina Barlow Schmid

Rev. Nina Barlow Schmid​ is the Designated Pastor for First Congregational Church of South Windsor.

June 01, 2020
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