I know that we are all feeling exhausted and scared as we continue to navigate through the painful realities of this year in the midst of the surging COVID pandemic, all the economic repercussions that make people’s lives less certain, cries for racial justice in our streets, and a divisive election season that just does not seem to want to end. As we enter the winter months, beleaguered and COVID-fatigued, with the prospect of more “Zoom and Doom,” can we in the midst of all this find something to be thankful for?
One of my favorite hymns for this time a year is by Martin Rinkart: “Now Thank We All Our God.” The power of this song, for me, is the story behind it. Rinkart was an ordained Lutheran minister in the 17th century. At the age of thirty-one he was called to be the pastor in his native town of Eilenberg. He arrived just as the Thirty Years’ War began. As a walled city, Eilenberg became a refuge for political and military fugitives and through the years, waves of pestilence and famine swept through the city. The Rinkart home served as a sanctuary for the afflicted, even though he had difficulty providing food and clothing for his own family. The plague of 1637 was particularly severe. As it surged, Rinkart was the only remaining minister in the city, often conducting as many as forty funeral services a day, including his wife’s. And yet in the middle of all that, he composed one of the most beloved Thanksgiving hymns to date: “Now thank we all our God; with hearts and hands and voices; who wondrous things hath done; in whom this world rejoices. Who from our mother’s arms, has blessed us on our way, with countless gifts of love and still is ours today.”
In this season of Thanksgiving, with all that is happening in our communities and world today, my prayer is that you may find the grace and strength to sing your deepest thanks to God. We do have much to be thankful for as a church as well. This coming year will be our 150th year as a congregation. Our church is planning huge things for 2021: a year where we will “Remember our Past & Reshape our Future.” Perhaps you can take a few moments over this holiday weekend to savor the sacred memories of your past (your faith journey and those who helped form it in you) and let that help you reimagine and reshape your future (your hope in living out God’s desire for you).
Have a Happy, Safe, and Meaningful Thanksgiving,
I preached on Jesus’ parable of the “Talents” this past Sunday (Matthew 25:14-30). This is that famous story where “the Master” leaves town, but before he does, he gives over his “talents” (or large amounts of money) to three of his servants. One gets five talents, another gets two talents and the third gets one talent. After a long time, the master returns and inquiries about his talents that he entrusted to the servants. The first two have doubled their talents while the third servant had dug a hole and buried his talent to keep it safe and returned it back to the master. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Jesus is telling this story during his own high risk venture in the week leading up to his arrest, torture and execution. You see, he is the master of the story and is about to “leave”. He is imparting to his disciples his “talents” of a powerful and radical message of love and compassion, forgiveness and justice. The problem with the third servant’s response is that he didn’t share, invest, or take any risks with the talent he was given. Faith is a risk taking venture. He didn’t do that, he buried it similar to their burial of Jesus on that Friday.
The greatest risk, as it turns out in the parable and in the life of faith, is to not risk anything at all! What if the first two servants had lost their talents? Of course, Jesus doesn’t tell the story this way, but even if it was, I can’t imagine that the master would be angry with them – he might have even applauded their efforts. This parable is not about a prosperity gospel where God blesses people with wealth, but about what Jesus hopes and expects from his followers after he is gone from this world. He doesn’t want us to play it safe. He wants us to get out there and use the gifts we have already been given to invest in the reign of God in our world. Notice, we don’t know how the first two servants doubled their talents, but that is also instructive because there is no one way to participate in the Kingdom of God, but as many ways as there are people. We are freed to use our gifts and collaborate with the master to invest faithfully. Faith is a high risk venture, but incredibly liberating. This parable is inviting us to the high-risk adventure of being a servant of Christ. Let’s invest in God, together!
Jesus brought a revolution in the understanding of God. His life and message made it impossible to overstate the extravagance of God’s compassion and love. You are loved. This God on display in Christ is of a God who loves you no matter what you’ve done, said, or thought in your life. Everything else just falls flat, especially all those idolatrous views of God that see a lurking, menacing “one false move God” ready to pounce on you if you go astray and cast you into hell. Those projections also create a seemingly opposite Santa Claus type god, blessing us with material and spiritual gifts, betraying our idolatry and desires for what the world is selling.
In both of these idolatrous takes on the Divine, our failings are exposed, not God’s. In the first scenario of a lurking God waiting to pounce, this is more akin to the ancient’s view of a chaotic pantheon of gods, who would strike someone down without cause or reason. The only human response was to keep your head down, do your job, maintain the status quo, and make an annual sacrifice every now and then to appease the gods. Interestingly, the first time the word “sin” is in the bible, it doesn’t appear with Adam and Eve, but in a conversation between God and Cain right before he kills his brother, Abel –“If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7) So, not surprisingly, we get who God is completely backwards! God is holy, not sin, but so many Christians hold onto such a mischaracterization of who God is.
The second view of God as a bestower of blessings or the Prosperity Gospel as a sign of faithfulness is equally off base. Especially when we consider the time when Jesus was tired and hungry in the wilderness and tempted by Satan. The three temptations were to make stones into bread, to cast himself down from the top of the temple and rule the nations of the world as a powerful empire. These temptations, lurking around Jesus were to manipulate his material world, create a spectacular sign that would create instant notoriety, and appeal to the desire for power. Jesus rejects all these temptations because they do not display the nature of God or for God’s creation. Jesus came to destroy those old views of what the gods were or represented.
The first Commandment given to Moses was: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) So the question for us becomes, what are the other gods we put before the God of the Bible in our lives? Do these other gods become our “golden calves” instead of the real thing? Does our pursuit of wealth, the latest gadgets, admiration, being right, being connected to the right people, being entitled to more than others, or holding the right degrees or position, distort our view of God? Perhaps, instead of acknowledging that we are made in the image of God, we are actively making God over into our image? Idolatry is not a new thing, but one of the oldest things. It is a thing we can easily slip into and that’s probably why it is addressed twice in the first two of the Ten Commandments where worship of other gods was forbidden as well as making any images of God.
To pray to any god other than the One who finds sheer delight in reconciliation is an illusion or projection. The life and message of Jesus smashes every idol that we have made for God, for good. God loves you and you can do nothing to make God love you any less. For me, this is true because God’s fullest self-revelation is witnessed in the person of Jesus. So lay down those secret, outdated, menacing/enabling gods without any power or vitality down at the feet of Jesus and see what happens next. I imagine there will be some smashing and hugging!
“… faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.”
This is probably the most famous line written by Paul, found in 1 Corinthians 13:13. It was the source for my sermon on Sunday and has been a source of inspiration for thousands of years. It is probably the most popular scripture read at weddings and although it is not inappropriate to put an emphasis on love at a wedding, Paul is not talking about romantic love. Paul is writing to a church at Corinth that has an “economic problem.” Not only was there discrepancies in the socio-economic status of its fellowship (see the example of the abuses at the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor. 11:17-22, where the rich got drunk and the poor went away hungry), but there was also discrepancies in their perception of their “spiritual-economic status.” You see, some of them were saying that their having the spiritual gifts of tongues, prophetic insights, strong faith, and acts of piety demonstrated their superiority in Christ. Paul will have none of it and says that he can have all these things, but “do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2) or “I gain nothing.” (1Cor. 13:3).
Love is the source because God is love (1 John 4:16 – “So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”) Paul is quick not to dismiss faith and hope, but when compared to love, they pale in comparison because they both simply point to and support the mission and nature of love, God’s self.
Trying to organize my time and priories as a pastor is challenging. Given the ministries and the physical plant of our campus, there is a lot going on in the background that I have to keep an eye on. Faith is like that, in the background of where we are today. It tells the story of where we came from and why God is trustworthy. Faith looks back upon generations of faithful people endeavoring to grow be the salt and light of the world and build upon their faith.
I also need to focus on the foreground of my vocation, the hopes and dreams that I believe God has in store for our congregation and community. I spend a few hours each week, dreaming and re-imaging the possibilities and opportunities that God is setting before us. Hope is also in the foreground of our lives. Hope looks forward to a time of reunion with God. Hope also looks forward to enacting this reality in the here and now as the Kingdom of God on earth, as it is in heaven. Hopeful are the people of faith.
But the most important thing a pastor does is being on the ground, with their congregation, sharing in their joys and sorrows – that’s love. That’s right now. Love is not some romantic or sentimental notion, but grounded in the caring for the needs (physical and spiritual) of my neighbor. Love is, as they say: a verb. Love is in motion. My goal is not for you to remember my sermons word for word for theological nuance, but where you can leave the service feeling encouraged and inspired to step further into a real and ready relationship with the Creator of all things! Messages offered from these ancient texts should come alive and be relevant, awakening us in the midst of our daily routines, life pressures, and COVID fatigue to new possibilities of God’s dreams for us. When we feel like the Valley of Dry Bones, in Ezekiel 37, God’s creative love and compassion can fill us with a new breath and a new life. That is love. That is God. That is the greatest of all things. So remember:
Faith is our background.
Hope is in our foreground
But Love is being on the ground
Check out the sermon here!
Barbara Cook played the original Marian the Librarian on Broadway in The Music Man. She once said, "Very early in my career I was standing in the wings, waiting to go on and audition, and I was and am a very nervous kind of person. I’m nervous every time I go on. And everybody who sang before me had a better voice, looked prettier, had a better figure. I was always a mess. And for some reason it occurred to me that day that if I could find a way to really learn who I am and put that into my work, then there could be no real competition, because I could only compete with myself, because there’s only one of me."
Cook used to tell her acting students, "It’s hard to believe, whatever you’re doing, that you’re enough. We are all, always enough."
It is hard to believe you are enough in these days of scrambling to make ends meet, balancing your work responsibilities with the kids remote learning, having real concerns over staying healthy - physically, mentally, and spiritually, feeling like it's all too much to handle. And on the days that happen to think you have a handle on things, a comment or a post can break what little confidence you were feeling. As your Pastor, offering worship, pastoral care and programming in ways that both keep you safe and meet your needs in this pandemic is at best challenging. Honestly, it never feels like we can be or do enough.
But you are enough. 1 John 3:1 says, "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" You are enough because you are a beautiful child of God, lavishly loved! Know this truth today deep down in your spirit. It is my hope that out of this insight you can then extend some measure of grace to yourself as well as to others. And then, who you are and what God is asking you to do today can come into clearer focus.
Wow. The news has been intense last week, from the President’s taxes, the crazy presidential debate, to the president’s coronavirus diagnosis, not to mention ongoing protests, Western fires still burning, and Hurricane Delta (we ran out of letters for names of hurricanes this year!) bearing down on the Gulf coast. I’ve been trying to limit myself to five minutes of news per day, and I’ve been more or less sticking to it (OK, honestly, sticking to it less yesterday...)
The intense political season can seem like just ONE MORE THING in a life of endless Zoom meetings, trying to work while also helping to manage children’s or grandchildren’s schooling. Not to mention, caring for and worrying about family elders near and far, and just keeping the house looking in some semblance of order.
What can you do when you feel overwhelmed? Pay attention to today and what you can control. It’s biblical, you know…."So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today." Matthew 6:34 (NRSV)
Here’s what I’ve been working on: I try to pull my busy mind back out of the future or the past into the present (or off the internet) and ask myself, "What do I want today?" It helps.
If you want to try it for yourself, just jot down a quick list to answer that question, "What do I want today?" Then think about a way to get at least one of those things.
Or think what you would say (and maybe have said) to an overwhelmed friend or family member. Remember to be kind to yourself. You and I have never been through anything remotely like this pandemic and we will get through this. Extend yourself some grace. That’s what God does!
I’ve talked with so many of you over these recent months, and I know you are holding up amazingly well. And I also know that you are also under intense stress managing the ongoing responsibilities you have to carry through this time. So, what I want today is for you (and me) to trust that God does not abandon us to struggle in life alone. You are God’s precious creation, one of a kind, extravagantly loved. God will never let you go, as the last words of Matthew’s Gospel remind us – “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Knowing this is enough for today.
That which happens inside a cocoon is miraculous. A caterpillar weaves itself a sleeping bag, but what happens next is nothing like hibernation. The caterpillar liquefies and reconstitutes itself into a new kind of creature. Then it writhes and fights to break free from the cocoon. In doing so, it builds up its strength and is able to fly!
Likewise, we at First Baptist and Misión Bautista have not been hibernating during these past six months of pandemic and social isolation. This has been a time of thoughtful conversations and meaningful relationship building. We are adapting to the changing world we find around us and providing online services, Zoom Bible studies, continuing to disperse food, and worshiping outside during the summer and now in the sanctuary through socially distanced safety measures.
Just like becoming a new Christian, life doesn't suddenly become easy and carefree once you decide to follow Jesus. This pandemic has affected many of us in different and difficult ways, but even in a pandemic (perhaps I should say "especially in a pandemic") God still calls upon us to grow deeper in our faith and in sharing that love with others. I believe that it is most essential that we hear the desperate cries in the night of this long pandemic where people are facing health scares, social upheaval, economic uncertainty, and deep political divisions. It is in the midst of this crisis that we are called to live out an evidence of faith, hope, and love. I believe in God and I believe that God is making us stronger for this moment and for a future where resilient disciples of Christ are forged.
I officially shared a few weeks ago that we are undergoing a Visioning process with Misión Bautista to "join forces" and become one unified, multicultural church. Pastor Abner and I have been praying and talking about this for a couple of years now and when we started the process of telling the church leadership, the pandemic hit. Yet, this does not deter us in this endeavor because through all these challenges, it is becoming clearer that we need each other now more than ever. We live in one of the most diverse counties in America. Reflecting that diversity is reality of the church that was birthed at Pentecost in Acts 2. The Holy Spirit gave the gathered community the gift of speaking different languages in order to equip them to take the message of Jesus to the world. Different cultures were not something to fear, but to embrace. These earliest Christians broke out of their cocoon on that day and were stronger than ever, equipped to share the Gospel in authentic and relevant ways. It's exciting. It's scary. It's the life of Christ in us, challenging us to become who he had in mind for us to become at the beginning of the age. Join us in the emergence from our cocoon.
Welcome to our first totally digital Tall Spire! In this edition, you will hear about a lot of the things going on here at First Baptist, despite the pandemic. First, we have some big news to share here. We also have an update on our new in-person worship experience here. Our Fall Meeting will be on Sunday, October 25th, so check out the details here. Please take a closer look at the work that our Vice-Chair of the Church Board, Peter Morgan, is doing in Haiti here. Updates on our Beekeeping and Margret’s Garden can be found here and here. The pandemic sadly closed a local company who reached out to us and asked if we wanted any of their supplies; read the story here. Kate Wiswell, our lead singer, has also written an encouraging article. Finally, we were honored to host the Eagle Scout ceremony for a young man with a long connection to our location. Check it out here!
Several weeks ago, we formally announced that we are prayerfully considering joining forces with our sister congregation, Iglesia: Misión Bautista de Westchester. We have been united in mission and location for nearly 40 years and they grew out of a Spanish Bible study started by the First Baptist. Last March, both Pastor Abner and I spoke with our respective Boards and formed a common Vision Team, comprised of three members from each church and the Pastor’s to start looking at a renewed mission/vision, governance, and finances.
Things are going well and we hope to be able to make formal presentations on the details to the congregations by early next year. Please join me in prayer over this important decision. It is a leap of faith and trust in God that both congregations can be a better reflection of our multicultural community and thereby a fuller expression of the body of Christ! Better able to respond with the love of Christ in our community and the world. The question for each generation of the faithful has always been: Will we be a movement into the future or a monument to the past? That question remains open for us as well.
We are planning to have a Fall Meeting on Sunday, October 25th after our worship service. If you cannot attend the service/meeting in person, we will have a Zoom link sent out. At the meeting, we will discuss the preliminary budget for 2021, elect a new Board member and talk in more detail about the possibility of joining forces with Misión Bautista. We hope you can be a part of this important meeting!
Missions to Haiti
Dear Members and Friends of the First Baptist Church of White Plains and Mission Baptista:
This is Peter Morgan, DC writing to you about the amazing mission work that Jesus Christ has put in our hearts. I just returned from my latest mission trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. God truly blessed my 99th mission trip. We went because it was necessary to serve our brothers and sisters who live in the most impoverished area of the western hemisphere. We brought jobs, chiropractors and many donations to the orphanage.
We also bring hope to the children and the workers at the Mission life International village. We call it our village of hope. In our village we have 4 buildings. We have one building which serves as housing for the children. Another building that houses our employees. Our third building is our kitchen building which has a large attached gazebo. We can sit well over 100 people in this gazebo. Our fourth building has just been completed. It's purpose is to serve as a free health and birthing center.
Mission Life International believes no woman or baby should die during childbirth. Haiti has the highest maternal and infant mortality rate in the western hemisphere. Nearly all maternal and infant deaths in Haiti are preventable with access to a skilled birth Attendant.
We want to make childbirth safer in Haiti.
Our mission is to increase access to skilled maternal care followed by skilled chiropractic care. Our programs will be designed to educate and empower women.
We are asking for support and prayers for our non-profit birthing center that will be attached to our non profit Chiropráctic health center. This is located in Northern Haiti 5 minutes from the border of Dajabon, Dominican Republic. We are planning to provide a safe place for Haitian women to receive compassionate and respectful care at the hands of skilled midwives and chiropractors. No one will be turned away. We anticipate that every morning 50 women will start their day waiting to be seen by the midwives. Women will be entering (in labor) to our sanctuary and safety of the MLI-League of Chiropráctic Women birthing center to have their babies.
Our plan is to have a fully operational birthing center in Northern Haiti. We will provide FREE prenatal, postpartum and newborn midwifery care including labs, a nutrition program for severely malnourished pregnant and nursing women. This model has been proven to reduce the maternal and neonatal mortality rates. We will also provide chiropractic care.
Why free? Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. 60% of Haitians live on less than $2.49 a day. Where there is severe poverty such as this, mothers sometimes have chosen between food for their family or having a skilled attendant at their birth. One out 250 women who have a live birth die in childbirth or the immediate postpartum period. One out of 14 Haitian children die before the age of 5. 98% of these deaths are preventable.
We have also met several times with Dr. Manigat, Medical Director of Univers Hospital, Ouanaminthe, Haiti. Dr. Manigat was instrumental in our donation of Dr. Terry Yochum’s X-ray machine to Univers Hospital. One of the few x-ray machines in this part of Haiti. Dr. Manigat also has his own private hospital. We have arranged to refer all complications to Dr. Manigat.
We will teach mothers about prenatal health, nutrition, hygiene, childbirth education, breastfeeding education with the goal of exclusive breastfeeding for a minimum of one year and family planning. We will teach mothers about the benefits of Chiropráctic.
Mission Life International's track record and accomplishments:
During the period of January 2010 to January 2013 our chiropractic orphanage placed over 1,000 Haitian children who became orphaned in the January 2010 earthquake with Haitian families who lost their own children.
Our organization has led 99 mission trips. Mission Life International presently clothes, feeds and houses 29 children in Ouanaminthe, Haiti. Our education arm educated our 29 children at our Mission Life Orphanage and 39 children at Pastor Prospers school. Mission Life International has built wells, installed water filtration systems and built desks and blackboards since the devastating earthquake of 2010. In January 2013, we moved our children into better housing with a security guard and employed a nun to help provide structure in their daily routine and assist in their daily activities. We have finished construction of new housing for our children. We have brought approximately 3,500 Doctors to Haiti since 2002. We have purchased land for Pastor Prosper who was about to lose his church and school. We have built a church and christian school for Pastor Prospers congregation. We have begun the construction of the village of hope. The village will house many children. We have begun the construction of our mission house for housing of all chiromissionaries. We have completed the construction of the health and birthing center. Our outdoor restaurant is almost complete. All our orphaned children will have jobs. Currently our mission employs 20 people from Haiti.
Peter Morgan, DC
The Blessed Bees
2020 was a year of Beekeeping challenges. Our Blue hive struggled and in the Spring was less than thriving, but both hives had bees that made it through the Winter! That alone is a blessing!
Carl and I decided to try something new. We took frames of brood from the better thriving Yellow hive and added them to the Blue hive to see if we could get it up and running. Soon in, we discovered we were missing the Blue hive queen bee so Lucia purchased a new one. The hive did not like her and soon she also disappeared. Lucia then purchased a 2nd queen, this time being told it was a great brood producer, which happened to be true! We were off and running!
But the Summer was slipping away and by bee hive standards our bees were not producing as much honey as we had hoped. It is important for the hive to have honey to feed off of during the Winter months.
We decided to hold off this year and only take out one frame to harvest. Carl worked so hard that I gave the 2½ jars it produced to Carl to keep. We did receive Honeycomb from Patricia Adams to sell on Sunday’s and Carl was able to use her honey from her hives to make the Elderberry Syrup.
Let’s pray our bees do well over the Winter and 2021 is a better year for bees and for all humans too!
The Blessed Beekeepers, Carl Hamby and Lucia Gold
Rail Europe Donation
First Baptist Church has recently been blessed with a generous donation from Rail Europe for office supplies. Barbara Murphy, who knew about our church and the schools on our property, called the church to see if we were interested in accepting a donation. Naturally I jumped at the opportunity and said yes, knowing that in these times many are setting up offices at home and the UCP and FSW are teaching virtually and could put all of the items to good use!
It ended up being about a $2000 donation including bulletin boards, white boards and markers, hanging file folders, regular file folders, paper, envelopes, sheet protectors, electric staplers, regular staplers and staples, staple removers, pencil sharpeners, pens, black clips, paperclips, tape dispensers with tape and framed posters that had been on their walls.
Jay and Lucia Gold went to Rail Europe one day and packed up the donations. Ken Shorlidge, Rev Dalton and Jay and Lucia came to load up the items in their cars and we put them in the Sunroom of the Wilson House. Lucia spent a day organizing everything to look like a store so people could shop.
Lucia invited Misión Bautista, UCP and FSW to come and collect anything they needed and we also took items we could use in our office! I wish you could have seen the smiles and disbelief on the faces of the teachers and their assistants as they came to collect the free merchandise. It was heartwarming and rewarding to witness!
A special thank you also goes out to Peter Morgan, Founder and President of Mission Life International, who has offered to take everything that is leftover and will put it in a warehouse where they keep donations for his organization, Mission Life International, in Haiti.
A special thanks to Rail Europe and all of those who assisted in making sure this donation of office supplies went to the people who needed it the most.
Lucia Gold | Office Manager | First Baptist Church of White Plains
Abide with Me
What a time we’ve had. I hardly know where to begin, staring at this blank document.
This year certainly hasn’t delivered the bright hopes of Spring that I was anticipating
in my last article for the Tall Spire.
However, we remain united in faith, hopeful, and vigilant in working towards a
brighter future through the quagmire of difficulties set before us. I know that this
body of believers at First Baptist seeks to support their fellow congregants and the
community at large through the varying degrees of pain and uncertainty that we are
experiencing. Thank you for being lights in the darkness. I urge you to continue
helping each other, as Romans 15:5-6 says, “May the God who gives endurance and
encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus
had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our
Lord Jesus Christ.”
In the spirit of sharing an encouraging word, I’d like to reference a hymn that has
been on my mind a lot lately. We have sung it together in the past, when gathering in
the sanctuary was something we could all take for granted. “Abide with Me” has some
of the most poignant and comforting verses in my hymnbook. I hope that they remind
you how loved and sustained you are in the presence of your Heavenly Father.
For a particularly nice rendition of this hymn, I suggest listening to Sara Groves’ version on Youtube or
wherever you download your music. Or give me a call! I’ll sing it for you :-)
Kate Wiswell, Lead Singer
One of the last large events that our church hosted, before the pandemic shut everything down, was an Eagle Scout Ceremony on March 1st for Henry Valencia. It is the culmination of a great story. Years ago, Henry was a pre-k student at Davidson Hall at Family Services of Westchester’s child care center. He wanted to give back to a place that held such good memories for him, so for his Eagle Scout project, he designed and managed the construction of new sandboxes and other items on their playground. He did an amazing job and it was an honor to host his Eagle Scout ceremony, where both the County Executive, George Latimer, and White Plains Mayor, Tom Roach, were in attendance.
Are you tired? I am. The pandemic, the economic fallout, and wider acknowledgement of racial injustice in our nation is enough to exhaust us all. If you are fortunate to be able to work from home, the endless Zoom meetings can be soul crushing as well! The new routines we find ourselves in and the social distancing have taken a toll. The worries about how safe it will be to return our kids to school weighs heavy upon our minds. We are all tired.
That’s how the Israelite people felt when they were in exile in Babylon. They had tried to keep a sense of normalcy that some remembered in Jerusalem. They tried to worship, but it didn’t feel the same without their temple. They tried to read the scriptures and find a word of hope for them in a foreign land. They tried to pray, secretly wondering if God was actually listening. They went through the motions of the Passover feast, afraid that God had given up on them. They were in exile, oppressed. They could not see God at work in their lives, and in the waiting and their despair, they began to get tired.
The prophet Isaiah enters into this malaise with a word of hope as he reminds them: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?” (Isaiah 40:21) God is still here. God has made all things. God has made the covenant people for an inspiring work, still to be revealed! Yes, you are exhausted, but please know that you have access to a strength that is not your own – it is eternal, that is of God and because it sustained the Israelite people over 2,500 years ago, that very same strength can sustain us today. Isaiah reminded them of “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) The hope of this passage for all of us, is that when we follow, wait on, and trust in the Lord, then our strength is more than enough, it is eternal, because it isn’t ours – it’s the Lord’s! It is important to remember though, that this promise of strength is not a promise of results. It does not mean that if we just have enough faith, that God will bring out our desires and dreams. No, it is a promise of strength and endurance in the face of obstacles and struggle. After Isaiah’s prophetic work was done, many in Jerusalem became disillusioned by his words of hope. This was because the new temple that they eventually erected was not as grand as the first one, it’s footprint sitting inside the previous one. Also, later they only experienced a brief historical period of national autonomy through a group of warriors known as the Maccabees (a rebel group who ruled, yet were not the hoped for descendants of David). Disappointment led to a general feeling of being discouraged. That was the reality for the Israelite people when Jesus was born.
Yet, when we see the life of Jesus, we begin to grasp the dawning of Isaiah’s words and the relentless nature of God’s love for us all! We can know this strength too, in our times of trial and difficulty. We too, can mount up with wings like eagles and fly during this time of pandemic, shining the light of Christ into our dark and discouraged world!
Wonder (n): surprise mingled with admiration.
WONDER. When we open our eyes, it’s there. It’s there in the delight of curiosity and learning. Wonder is ever present in the mysteries of revelation, beauty, and creativity. It revels in service, humility and joy. Wonder reveals the possibility of encountering greatness and the sacred. It whispers of eternity. It insists on a love greater than we can imagine and invites us to collaborate in loving God, neighbor, self, and even our enemy. Wonder strengthens faith, reason, justice and ultimately fosters transformation. Wonder tells us that there is more to this universe than just a mindless, loveless physical substance. Wonder tells the story of faith.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”
– Hebrews 11:1-3
Centuries ago, Charles Wesley composed these wonderful lines: “Changes from glory into glory, Till in Heav’n we take our place, Till we cast our crowns before Thee, Lost in wonder, love and praise.”
What a beautiful image of being wrapped in wonder, love, and praise. As we continue our “Road Trips of the Bible” sermon series, my hope is to convey the possibilities of wonder of this unusual metaphor during our strange and difficult times of pandemic. Becoming creatures of this new socially distanced reality is in some ways similar to when Jesus purposefully scattered out his followers. They were sent out on the road for an unexpected journey, traveling alone. In bible times, roads were often not safe places to be. They were desolate, wilderness-like regions where bandits lied in wait for travelers. But remember, a road always has a direction: between our old life and the possibility of a new one.
The more we dive into the sacred text, the more we see how these road trips are taking people into situations of great uncertainty, much like we are experiencing now.
Although their destinations were clear, their immediate futures were not. Yet along the way they encountered something unexpected, something filled with potential, something wonderful: the astounding existence of a living, holy God. What could be more wonderful than that?
Join us as we get (as Willie Nelson famously sings) On the Road Again!
On the road again
Just can’t wait to get on the road again
The life I love is makin’ music with my friends
And I can’t wait to get on the road again.
On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again.
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!)