LIGHT IS POWERFUL.
It guides our paths, brightens our spirits, and causes new life to grow. Hearing Jesus call his followers to “be light” is both humbling and invigorating. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can each bring the light of hope to dark places, nurture creativity in difficult circumstances, and radiate contagious joy.
Bring hope. Nurture creativity. Radiate joy.
We have just traveled through the longest daylight hours in a day in the northern hemisphere; it still seems that our days have lost their illumination through the difficult pandemics of the Corona Virus and Systemic Racism. One is new to us all, thankfully the last worldwide pandemic occurring with the Spanish Flu a hundred years ago. But, the other “pandemic” of institutional racism has been embedded in our society since the first slaves were brought to these shores in 1619.
In the midst of these twin radical reckonings, we have a genuine opportunity for awakening and reconciliation. Our current socially distanced reality has brought into focus for me the need we have for each other, but in this moment, we can be an example of light of being a good neighbor through our care to wear masks and stay physically apart. We grieve this loss. We learn to cherish one another. The heart wrenching video of a police officer killing a black man, George Floyd, has shined a spotlight on the terrible injustices inflicted upon Black lives in America. People of all ages, races, ethnicities, socio-economic background have joined together to protest such systemic and pervasive abuses.
Will everything just go back to normal? I hope not, because normal wasn’t all that good to begin with. Jesus came to this world to vanquish normal. Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God upon the earth! Jesus came and shined a light to all the nations and demonstrated, once and for all, God’s intention for how humans are to live in relationship with God and each other. Salvation means wholeness. Jesus is offering the light of salvation, the light of being made whole. The powerful reality is that we don’t have to wait till we die to experience this wholeness – we are called to live out this wholeness now. That means that we do the hard work now, especially in hard times, to be light.
For me, this means that I am called to be light by:
“You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine!” (Matthew 5:14-16 – The Message)
This week, First Baptist Church of White Plains turns 149 years old. It was a handful of families who started meeting in a home and several months later, on June 16th, 1871 they officially incorporated as a church. Soon thereafter, they rented space from the Reformed Church of White Plains. By 1873, our church bought the building. The church would move two more times (in the early 1900’s and in the 1920’s) until finally buying the land that we currently occupy in 1958. That is a lot of moving around for a church! I recently heard someone say that the church has always had to contend with either being a memorial to the past or a movement into the future. Memorial or Movement: that is the question. We have answered, in our history, as a church unafraid to move.
As we all go through these trying times of the COVID pandemic, the devastating economic impact, and the needed reckoning of the cost of racism upon our nation – our society is on the move and we, as a church, have the responsibility to translate our life of faith in ways that inspire hope and love. We are endeavoring to do this work as a community Centered on Christ, Focused on Community, and Reaching out Globally. This is a common mission statement being drafted by our vision team, in collaboration with our sister church, Iglesia: Mision Bautista Hispana de Westchester. People all around us are starving for something to give their life to, to engage in, to create a better world. We see it in the protests. I’ve heard it said that “Protest is the highest form of patriotism, because it is calling upon our country to live up to its stated ideals.” When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “on earth as it is in heaven” – he was calling upon our every aspect of their lives (spiritual and physical) to protest the world as it was and create a better world, to bring the Kingdom of God upon the earth! We honor God when we endeavor to do the same and make God’s Kingdom known.
As we approach our 150th anniversary year, we are adopting the motto – “Remembering Our Past, Reshaping our Future.” Yes, we want to celebrate the past successes and people who had a hand in that, but know that God is calling us to be transformed in this transformative moment. We embrace the church as a movement, not a memorial. Not seeking to build a church that looks like it did in 1958, when we arrived at that sleepy country corner of North Street and Bryant Avenue! Our community is changing. God is doing a new thing in our midst. Do we have the courage to embrace this moment and the Holy Spirit who is bringing it about? What that will look like … well, I have some ideas, but more on that later. It’s kind of like Jesus’ response to his first disciples, after they were initially intrigued about him and his message, they asked where he was staying – he answered, “Come and see.” (John 1:39). It’s time to come and see what God is doing in our community. 149 years later, it is exciting to see that God is still on the move in our congregation! The remainder of the journey is not clear, but it could be the ride of your life! Won’t you, come and see?
The past three months living in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for us all, to say the least. Can you believe it’s been three whole months??? Anyway, I came across this linked article that I wanted to share with you: “Quarantine has changed us — and it’s not all bad.” In our rush to get back to “normal” – let’s pause and take a moment to reflect on how we’ve been changed and what we want to keep about this new daily normal after quarantine. The author (Sigal Samuel) points to eight changes that her readers made and wish to continue after the time of quarantine ends. All eight of these changes resonated with me.
I would like you to read the article and see if any of you could add anything to this list for yourself? I would like to highlight couple that have been especially meaningful reminders to me to create a new normal for my life. First, being forced to slow down has been humbling, yet good. Being a Pastor can be stressful as many different people place different demands upon me and the church. Laying that down and trusting God in the midst of a pandemic has been restorative as I have been reminded, yet again, that God is with us / with me. It’s not all on our/my shoulders. Letting the pressure to “have it all together” in the midst of something none of us have ever gone through was a real relief that I came to understand early on in this time through listening to God in my prayer time.
Along with this point, I would like to add in that have been very dedicated in exercise during this time. Since my time is used differently, I find that running and other forms of exercise are no longer just good ideas or aspirational, but critical for me everyday. It clears my mind and I feel more energized and in the moment for the rest of the day. Yes, I don’t always feel like exercising, but I have made it a habit and without it, I don’t feel like myself. Just like you are told on an airplane, in the event of an emergency, to fix our own oxygen mask before helping others around us. I feel that if I am to be an effective pastor, I must first take care of myself. How can I be of help to others if I am not taking care of myself and practicing what I preach? So slowing down and exercising up are normal that I desire to continue.
I hope this article sparks your thinking and encourages a lasting resolution to create a new normal in your life. But as the article closes, it is okay if you don’t. Sometimes just surviving difficult times is everything! We scan get through this because God is our Everything!
On Pentecost, last Sunday, I talked about two models of ministry: Push and Pull. Congregations have been working steadily at the Pull model for most of its existence. This model is similar to the Field of Dreams – “Build it and they will come” idea. In the distant past, the Catholic Church was the sole arbiter of salvation, so if you wanted to get into heaven, you had better find yourself in church. Now, the notion is to create programs and experiences to attract people and draw them to your church. The pastor sits in their office and works on the sermon and meets with those who come to them. The Pull model of ministry of church has dominated every aspect of what it has meant to be church.
But there is another way and we see it on full display at Pentecost: the Push model. The Push model of ministry is going out. In the midst of this COVID-19 Pandemic, we are getting a needed refresher in this model of ministry. As you recall, the Holy Spirit came upon the gathered followers of Jesus, who could all fit inside a room, and then swept over them, bringing what appeared to be tongues of fire upon each of them. This “breath” of God (for the Greek word for Spirit means breath) empowers them to utter new speech, equipping the faithful with new languages to carry the message of God’s love and deeds into all the corners of the world. God pushes the church outside and into the world around them.
When I was a hospice chaplain, this Pull model of ministry was my model of as well. I went to where the patients and their families were. Whether it was in their homes, a nursing home, a caretaker's home, where the patient was, I went and cared for them on their terms and on their turf. I was embedded with them. There was no reciprocal notion that they had to come to me or my office, or my church. My total care and concern was for them.
Friends, the time of the Pull model of ministry is done.
No longer will the unaffiliated with Christianity assume that the followers of Jesus (that’s us) have something of value, or that we have something worth getting involved in. They aren’t even sure we care about them or have their best interest at heart! What a shame that is. But what an opportunity we are being shown in the midst of this pandemic – that the church really wasn’t all about the buildings. It’s about the relationships.
That is what Pentecost reminds us of as well: we are called to be a people who push out across cultures, differences, discomfort in order to learn about the needs of those around us and then do something about it. We can all see the pain of Black America with the horrendous video of the arrest and killing of George Floyd at the hands of police. His words of “I can’t breathe” etched on our souls. If the church is to be trusted and seen as a breath of fresh air instead of an agent of affixation, we must, must, must adopt the Push model of ministry. It is my fervent prayer that we each individually and as a church take these lessons from Pandemic and Pentecost and go out and listen first and also share in the life giving breath of God with all who long to breathe.
I'm a follower of Christ, husband, father, friend, pastor, story teller, asker of questions, inspired by biblical narratives, social justice advocate, sports enthusiast, drinker of over priced coffee and general seeker of God's redemptive possibilities. Yeah, that about covers it. (If you discover something else, let me know!)