A Note From Pastor Laura
“Why can’t I catch a break?” “Why does life allow me to take one step forward and then push me two steps back?” “Why do bad things happen to good people?” “Why do bad things happen at all?” "Does God really give a crap - about me? Does anyone care about me?" These are honest, heart-felt questions – ones, that as I pastor, I hear often. Ones that I heard repeated on a regular basis in 2020. And if truth be told, questions and statements, I’ve voiced myself on occasion, over the course of my life.
Scripture tells us that there will be “seasons” when things begin to go wrong. Then, soon it seems that anything that could go wrong - does go wrong. The death of loved ones, divorce, job loss, financial insecurity, accidents, poor health, national crisis, war – there are any number of events that can discourage and paralyze us. People get pulled down into a dark pit, and when you’re in there you can't see beyond yourself and beyond the pit. Psychology calls it depression and it is a fact that some events, as we just mentioned, can trigger natural and "normal depression." My physician recently told me that the pandemic and recent events in our nation, like the violence and rioting that took place this summer or the insurrection at the Capitol Building, have caused some people to have what is called “reactive depression,” “secondary trauma,” and have even retriggered symptoms for those who’ve suffered with PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Whatever you call it, whenever it may come, and however it may be brought on, this experience of "bottoming out" is common.
When circumstances seem to conspire against us, we naturally turn to God or some fundamental source of reality. We want to know why all this has happened to us. We want to know if there is anything or anyone beyond this mess on whom we can rely. Like Job from scripture -you remember Job – Job who was supposed to be the most righteous and faithful man of his time. Job who lost his home and financial security due to catastrophic events beyond his control. Job, a father who lost all his children died in a horrific accident, Job – whose wife, naturally angry and bereft, turned on him. Job, whose friends tried to blame him for all that had befallen him. Job, who himself, was struck with a painful, festering skin disease. Like Job – who found himself sitting on a dung heap – we too pick at our wounds as we sit on life’s literal pile of crap that’s been dealt to us and shake our fists at heaven! Can you relate? Have you been there? I have…
It is in times such as these that questions bubble up out of our souls: "Does God really care? Does God care – about me? Does anyone care about me?" These are NOT questions, that only non-Christians ask; they are questions almost every disciple of Jesus Christ asks at some time or another.
The Christian faith claims to be a resource in such times as these. We believe that scripture - that the gospel - provides a refuge in times of trouble and a way out of despair and darkness. I have a friend who once described our Christian faith as a ladder which is dropped down into the pit with us and provides us a way out when everything else has failed.
In today’s Old Testament reading, words of hope are proclaimed to a tired, worn-out, dispirited community of God’s people – captives in Babylon. Living under the hand of an enemy, all around them - they witness signs of the power and might of their oppressors and, by association, their oppressors’ gods. Powerless and so far from home, the captives began to doubt the strength and the faithfulness of their own God – our God.
The prophet at that time, Isaiah, said that God’s people were like grasshoppers. The word grasshopper, not to be confused with locusts, is used 14 times in the Bible and 7 of those are used to describe human beings – and in none of those is ‘grasshopper” meant as flattery. It is used to describe people as near-sighted, all-consuming, self-destructive, and unwise.
Like grasshoppers God’s people became focused on what was right in front of them…on that Babylonian dung heap – in the depths of that despairing pit – they lost sight of their long history with God and forgot just how faithful God had been to them in the past. In that dark season of their lives, they could only see the pain and suffering in front of them – their own woundedness and frailty and they forgot how God had blessed their ancestors before them in their time of despair – how God had blessed Abraham and Sarah with a child long after that seemed even remotely possible. They’d lost sight of the blessing of manna from heaven when God’s people were desperate for physical and spiritual nourishment. In their current state of distress, God’s people had no hind-sight – they’d forgotten how God had delivered them from slavery and led a faithful remnant into the Promised Land.
In the big picture, in the larger scheme of life, theirs was in fact a God of power and strength, but also a God of tenderness and mercy. Theirs and ours is the God who created the world and who loved it so much that God would die and be resurrected to save it. Theirs and ours is a God who isn’t done yet, but who is constantly re-creating and reshaping the possibilities for hope and redemption for an individual’s and a communities’ future; for all of creation.
I’d imagine that these promises must have sounded naïve and maybe even unsympathetic and uncaring to the captives, even as today we can’t help but despair of ever restoring our planet to health, our nation to order and civility, or the world to peace.
Rev. Carol Reynolds in a discussion on this passage said something like, “As we listen to political rhetoric and watch wealthy corporations manipulate our political processes to their advantage, it’s hard not to lose hope for the future or become at least a little jaded.” Reynolds then went on to say and I quote: “But then we’d be forgetting the redemptive events that are woven throughout human history, even relatively recent human history: Forgetting the underground railway and the abolition of slavery. Forgetting the people who risked their lives to shelter Jewish children and families in Nazi Europe. Forgetting the end of apartheid in South Africa. Forgetting the election of an African-American president” and now the first woman as vice-president? I’d add, we’d be forgetting the eradication of smallpox with the creation of a vaccine and let’s not forget the many medical advances that have happened in the treatment of cancer, HIV, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
All things that at one time did not seem even remotely possible. Part of the problem today may be that we have overdeveloped the grasshopper side of our natures, seeing only—or mostly--our immediate situations and expecting quick resolutions to our issues.
And we have become so steeped in our secular culture that we come to believe the corporate and political giants just might be more powerful than our one true God. That we’ve been largely left to our own devices to fix these earthly messes, and, frankly, we’re tired and discouraged. We may bring some of that fatigue here with us to church.
Well, the prophet Isaiah has a word of hope for us today, and that is this: …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.
Those who wait for the Lord…
We’re not very good at waiting these days, are we? We live in a world where everything is “instantaneous.” To communicate we have smartphones, email, zoom, and all sorts of social media apps like Facebook, Instagram and snapchat. With modern technology, we watch the news “live” – as its happening. Even food prep and meal service is “almost” instantaneous with grocery pick up, fast food drive-thru, curb side pick-up and in our homes with microwaves, insta-pots and air fryers.
But that’s not generally how God works. And this instantaneous culture doesn’t necessarily create the kind of space where we can best experience God’s presence, God’s promises, or God’s guidance.
Be still and know that I am God, Psalm 46 tells us.
Slow down, be still, wait, and then you will know that I am God.
Be still and know that – I – am God.
I am God.
No one else. Not even you.
Be still and know that – I am God.
Only then will we mount up with wings like eagles and, in our soaring, catch glimpses of the bigger picture—past, present, and future. Only then when we mount up with wings like eagles – will we feel the rush of the wind that is the very breath – the Spirit of God - propelling us forward with divine purpose and possibility…
The Annual Meeting, to be held on February 14th (Valentine's Day) is a time for us to look back over the previous year - and reflect upon the goals we had set for ourselves and how we did on meeting them. It is normally a time of celebration for what has been and what it is, and a time for looking ahead with hope for what will be.
I invite you to hold onto the images of both the grasshopper and the eagle, for I believe we need both. As you look back over the past year – where did you see a grasshopper vision at work and where did you see eagle eyes at work? Where were we detail focused and where did we gaze beyond the immediate situation and embrace imagination and creativity?
I’m excited to hear your thoughts, because from my perspective – 2020 while painfully traumatic on many levels, (and I use that word – traumatic – very intentionally) it was also in many ways for ‘the church” - a year of being called into a state of stillness and a lot of waiting – a time perhaps - for us to catch our breath in ministry.
Even so, my assessment is that as God’s people - “we soared!” I believe like eagles, as a community we glided together above the chaos and confusion of our time, even as we navigated with detail precision through the “thick of things” – through the heart of the pandemic, and the heat of national and political strife – all of that – in addition to navigating our own personal challenges.
We soared, finding meaningful and imaginative ways to still gather while keeping everyone safe. We continued to do outreach and found unique ways to fellowship and do Bible Study.
I believe we learned that it is OK for us to be still – to slow down occasionally - and to wait for God’s direction, instead of just barreling ahead with our own agendas.
We learned to trust that God will provide. God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and I hope – we can say - thanks be to God for that!
I hope we learned that God is God. We have a part in fulfilling God’s purposes, for sure. But in the end, God is God and God is ultimately in control – as God was in the past with our ancestors, so is God in control now and will be in the future.
Every Wednesday, our Minister or Director of Music, Dr. Troy Winemiller, offers a marvelous half hour of Christian music education – he has taught us about the history of hymns and songs – both sacred and secular. He’s reminded us again about the various church seasons and how the music supports the stories of our faith, which underlie each of those seasons. Troy even shares little known facts about the composers and songwriters of some of our most beloved hymns and the origin or impetus behind the writing of those hymns.
If you have never or do not regularly attend these marvelous weekly presentations on our Facebook page, I would encourage you to do so – I promise – you will NOT be disappointed. On Wednesday, February 3rd, Troy shared some marvelous insights about Isaac Watts, the author of “O God, our Help in Ages Past.”
On Sunday, February 7th, we ended our online service by singing the first verse of that hymn - reminding ourselves that in the same way that God was faithful in the past, so is God our help in the present and will also be in the future.
God’s beloved grasshoppers, whom God desires to mount on eagles wings, while I may not know the details of all your lives; I may not know exactly what is happening within the walls of your mind and chambers of your heart – my guess is that at some level - you are tired; worn down and on occasion have even wondered yourself, “Does God care?” “Where IS God in the midst of all this?”
There is Good News. I hope you will read again and commit to your heart, these words as recorded in Isaiah, chapter 40:
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 God gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youth grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not faint.
My you believe those words to be true as you wait upon the Lord. As you wait for life to return to some semblance of normally – or not. No matter, may you find hope and strength in believing in the depths of your soul that God is steadfast and faithful. You are not alone. You shall rise and soar on wings like an eagle. God bless you.