Mat-Su PLUME* Outreach: notes from the field
The Psalmist proclaims, “The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.”
There is a word in the Hebrew language that describes the love with which God embraces the world. The word is hessed. It is translated as “steadfast love,” “faithful love,” “compassion,” “mercy,” or even as the “love that never quits” (The Message). I’ve not seen its equivalent in English. Our word love tends toward a more erotic notion of exchange: there is something that I get back in return for my affection. On the other hand, hessed is the divine embrace upon our lives that endures all the bumps and the betrayals of our relationship with God. It is a love that endures everything for the sake of the salvation, or extreme benefit, of the beloved. It suggests God’s promise to lead us into the ultimate triumph and reign of the kingdom of heaven on earth and whatever is beyond.
I am filled with awe at what I witnessed the other night. My family attended the fund raising event for Becky Nichols, a local radio personality and a member of the Christ First United Methodist choir. Walking through the doors of the WASI Senior Center in support of Becky were the churched and unchurched. And for three hours we all bumped up against this thing called hessed. A love that never lets us go. A love that compels us toward the benefit of the neighbor. Here the neighbor was a woman in need of an opportunity, of hope for tomorrow. The bottom line was that she was someone whose life was closing in upon her due to mounting medical bills, a rare debilitating disease, and a constant struggle for each breath. She was someone who, with no future in sight and no clear path forward, was given both. It was the broader community extending beyond her intimate church family that rallied to help a beloved sister in need. But behind it all, I saw hessed, the steadfast love of the Lord, present in this act of communal care.
Hessed instructs me in the work of launching missional communities in the Mat-Su. It tells me not to give up. That God is calling us into a future that we cannot even imagine, but one we hope will come. All that is required of us is an awareness that God is a way maker. And so, because I believe in God’s hessed, I will continue to pray for the rapid growing population of the Knik Arm and for God to stir the hearts of people in that area who desire to establish small communities dedicated to living faithfully within their neighborhoods. And I will pray for other contexts of human life in the Mat-Su, especially those places where there is a lack of Christian witness to the Gospel of Grace.
Because of God’s hessed, I believe that our PLUME dream called the Bonhoeffer Initiative will become a reality. And one day, God willing, we will have this center for missional engagement from which our laity will be inspired and equipped to create innovative ministries among all of God’s children in the Mat-Su: the economically deprived, the homeless, the prisoners and their families, those addicted to meth and heroin, and among our cherished elders in their struggle for a place within the community.
In future articles, I hope to share good news of those who are responding to this call, moving the church deeply into the places where people struggle with isolation, loss of community, and material fixations.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!
*PLUME is an acronym for the four participating denominations in Alaska that make up this ministry (Presbyterian USA, ELCA Lutheran, United Methodist, Episcopal).