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Category Archives: Joy

Practiced in Joy

(a sermon for January 10, 2021, the 1st Sunday after Epiphany, based on Text: Isaiah 60:1-6)

I remember the moment as though it were yesterday.

It was the fall of 1982, I was living in Houlton, up in Aroostook County, Maine and serving as student pastor of the church up there while commuting back and forth to seminary classes in Bangor. I actually hadn’t been in town too long; in fact, I was still in the process of trying to get “settled in” at the church and in the community. And one day, I’d gone to the local drug store to buy something or other, and as I put my items on the counter, the cashier looked at me for a moment and said, “Aren’t you that new minister at the Congregational Church?” Surprised by the question and nervously looking around to make sure she wasn’t talking to somebody else, I stammered back, “Yesss… that’s me… I guess.” 

And immediately, as I was soon to discover was and is a fairly common thing up in “the county,” this woman started talking to me like she’d known me all her life!  She wasn’t a member of my church, she said, but she knew folks who were, and “those ‘congregationals’ are good people… especially dear old Mrs. Smith… she used to be my kindergarten teacher, you know!” And isn’t Houlton a wonderful little town… you’re really going to like it here!  And that’s how the conversation went: we talked back and forth like that for a good ten minutes and finally, as I started to leave, this woman, still smiling from ear to ear, said to me, “Well, it was really nice to meet you; you have a nice day, and God bless you, pastor!

I’d barely made it back out to the street when it hit me like a thunderbolt: she’d called me pastor!  For the very first time in my life, somebody had recognized me as “the minister!”  Even all these years later, friends, I cannot adequately express to you how that felt. Understand, it wasn’t that there was this perfect stranger who had recognized who I was; nor did it have anything to do with being able to puff out my chest and say, “Look at me, everyone, I’m the new minister in town!” Rather, it was the sudden realization that for the better part of a decade (since I’d been 15 years old, in fact!) everything in my life – spiritually, academically, even socially – had been focused on a singular calling, a calling that I sensed to be of God, a calling that I should become a church pastor. And now, here I was, standing on a sidewalk in the middle of downtown Houlton, having been recognized as just that! It’s no exaggeration to say that I was now standing on the threshold of the rest of my life, and the realization of this filled me with an incredible joy unlike anything I’d ever experienced before.

Now, after close to 40 (!) years in my vocation as a church pastor, I can tell you that I’ve felt that same kind of joy on many other occasions, most certainly on the day of my ordination, but also in the midst of other, seemingly random times and circumstances over the years: worship services, weddings, even memorial services; times when it’s been clear that God is present and at work, and I’m suddenly aware that I’m just where I’m supposed to be at that moment. And it’s not necessarily “happiness” I’m talking about here, per se, nor is it some fleeting joy that passes with the moment, but rather a joy that’s pervasive and lasting because it’s been a long time in coming. It’s a joy that’s greatly anticipated because it’s a joy that’s been well-practiced.

But, then, you know what I mean, don’t you?  It’s like when a child is born: it’s not just the joy of the birth you feel – although that’s very real – but it’s also the culmination of nine months of this child’s of growing in the womb; it’s the joyous relief that comes in finally knowing that all is well and the baby is healthy. Same thing applies for those who are seeking to adopt: the joy that’s felt in that moment when everything comes together for a family is a joy that had its birthing, so to speak, long before the birth itself. 

Recent events notwithstanding, much the same can be said about the permutations of an ever-changing world: I’m put in mind, for instance, of a newspaper photo I saw recently, one that dates back to 1994, of Nelson Mandela voting for the very first time in a South African election after years of apartheid rule in that country.  It’s basically your standard-issue news photo; except that in it Mandela has this look on his face of a kid on Christmas morning as he performed the very simple act of placing a voting card through a slot into a wooden box. There was a profound joy in the act of voting, yes, but even more so because this represented the fulfillment of generations’ worth of hope and struggles for freedom. So when the joy finally came to pass, Mandela and so many others in South Africa knew it for what it was; nobody had to tell them what to feel or how to react, for this was a moment they had anticipated for years, even amidst the times and situation when there seemed to be no hope that such a moment would ever come to pass. When the moment finally came to pass, you see, they were well-practiced in their joy!

Well, that’s what this morning’s scripture reading is all about: joy well-practiced and joy fulfilled: “Arise, shine;” the prophet Isaiah proclaims, “for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you… Lift up your eyes and look around… then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice.”  I love this passage; everything about it carries an air of proclamation and triumph. And although these words were written many generations before the birth of Christ, it does seem to bring something of a fitting closure to our re-telling of the Christmas story over these past few weeks. Did you notice that there’s even talk of kings “coming into the brightness of… dawn” and of camels – “a multitude of camels,” we’re told – bringing gold and frankincense? Sounds familiar, and one reason that this passage is traditionally read, along with the story of the Magi, on the Day of Epiphany. But even though this passage is full of celebration and triumph, we need to understand that for those for whom these words were originally intended, life was anything but triumphant.

This is another portion of Old Testament scripture that can and should be viewed in a couple of different contexts: historically, it was addressed to Israel in the years just after their exile to Babylon, returning home to Jerusalem only to find that city in ruins and their life as hard, if not even harder, than before. And spiritually, of course, we view it prophetically, anticipating the coming of a Messiah; of light entering into a darkened world in the person of Jesus Christ. It’s the promise that God’s glory will be seen in the midst of his people, that the life of those people will be restored and that they will be honored among all the nations. And so, when the prophet says unto Israel, “Arise, shine, for your light has come,” it’s a promise that is, in fact, “not yet,” but which is so very real, so very close, so immediate to them in that moment that their joy is already full and triumphant in its expression.

And so, when Jerusalem is restored and when the Messiah does come, it will be the fulfillment of something they already know, not unlike how we know before it happens that the sun will rise in the darkness of the eastern sky to bring forth the dawning of a new day.  When God’s presence brings joy and hope into the darkness of their despair, their oppression and grief, they will know that presence for exactly what it is; no one will need to tell them what to do or how to act – they will rejoice! – for they will already be well-practiced in joy!

Actually, you know, it occurs to me as we come to the end of yet another Christmastide, that perhaps this is part of our problem regarding Christmas, and for that matter regarding our faith in these days of confused situations: the fact is, friends, we are not practiced in joy! Oh, we’ve heard the familiar words of Christ’s birth and of light coming into our darkness, but are those words real to us and do they stay close to our hearts? We’ve celebrated the promise of joy to the world, alright, at least as much as time and pandemic would allow us this year (!); but is the truth of it that this joy has gotten put away as quickly and easily as do our decorations come the first of January?  

How does this happen to us, friends?  How does the Advent of God into our world become something we could put in a box and place up into the attic?  Isn’t that word of promise and hope as much for us now as it was for Israel so long ago!?  “Arise, shine!  For your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you!”  Have we forgotten that the glory of the Lord comes to us even now in the birth, the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ? That Christmas is merely an expression of what we know to be true as God’s people 365 days a year and in every year of life now and eternally? And that “peace on earth, goodwill amongst all people,” is more than merely some verse on a greeting card but the very principles by which you and I are called to live and, might I add, to govern ourselves? 

Now, perhaps more than ever before in our history, we need to proclaim that joy is ours in the coming of the Lord and that it is made manifest in the Lord’s love and his sacrifice and his mercy and his goodness and his salvation; but also that it must be practiced in the way that Christ lives within us and among us… in the way that his work is our work… as persons, as a people and most especially as the church.

We know all-too-well that we live in a world severely lacking in hope and woefully unpracticed in joy. And as though we needed another reminder of this, the horrific events at the Capital Building in Washington this past week served to show us, amongst other things, that in such a sinful and divided world as this, peace on earth does not always prevail. Truly, amongst the great ironies (to say nothing of the great sacrileges) of the violence that took place on Wednesday is that it happened on January 6, the Day of Epiphany, our Christian celebration of God’s light being revealed to the world in Jesus Christ. And as sad as it is for me to say, especially as someone who truly loves and believes in this country, it ended up as a stark reminder that our first allegiance and our hope as believers can never be unto the government – no matter who we voted for – or even unto the nation itself, but our allegiance can ever and only be unto God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

That said, however, there is something important for us to remember as the world seems to be spinning out of control; in truth of fact, the same message that we’ve heard again and again in recent weeks: that GOD IS WITH US as we go into the world. To quote Halford Luccock, the great 20th century Methodist commentator, the first words of the Christmas message from the sky were, “Fear Not!” and those still are good words for these days of “jittery,” fearful apprehension. And they are words we need to take to heart right about now.

Fear not, friends, for God is with us in the uncertainty of life in these times.  Fear not, for whatever struggles come our way as persons, as a people and as a nation in this year to come, we are not alone, but in the presence of a Savior who will carry our burdens on his shoulders. Fear not, for even in those moments when the darkness the world surrounds us, we have been given a light that will burn brightly and can never be overcome.  Fear not, for we will be given the vision and strength not to truly love one another as the Lord has loved us, but also to love those who the world has chosen not to love.

Fear not; in fact, rejoice!  For despite all worldly appearances to the contrary, your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!  Christ is working in us, through us and around us even now; and that is reason enough to be practicing the joy of it in all that we do. Beloved, let us be well-practiced in joy, so that when the Advent of God comes in its fullness we will know it for what it is, and no one will need to tell us what to do or how to act.

We will simply rejoice!

Thanks be to God!

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2021  Rev. Michael W. Lowry. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Christmas, Now More Than Ever: A Soul Magnified and a Spirit Rejoicing

(a sermon for December 13, 2020, the 3rd Sunday of Advent; third in a series, based on Luke 1:39-56)

Every year as we come to this part of the Christmas story, it strikes me that although Mary is almost certainly the most celebrated and venerated woman in all of human history, the truth is that biblically, historically and otherwise, we really don’t know all that much about her.  

To begin with, we know next to nothing of Mary’s genealogy: even though we’re told that Jesus comes from the house and family of King David, it’s Joseph’s family line that’s recorded in Matthew’s gospel, not Mary’s; and in fact, Mary is only mentioned there as the wife of  Joseph and the one of whom Jesus was born,” (Matthew 1:16).  There is a reference in John to Mary having a sister (19:25), and then in our reading today we learn of Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah and the mother of John the Baptist; but that’s about it.  Basically, most of what we know about Mary’s background comes from ancient sources and our understanding of the culture of the time. 

We are pretty sure, for instance, that at the time of Jesus’ birth, Mary was probably no older than fourteen or fifteen years old: no longer a child, but barely a woman and certainly not a woman of any kind of social standing or power.  And we know that she lived in Nazareth, a small and secluded village in southern Galilee of no more than 2,000 people; which made it not only an insignificant town in the eyes of the Roman government, but also a place off the beaten track even from the point of view of the Jews.   Nazareth was just another country town full of people struggling to find some meaning in the midst of it all; and in the midst of it all, Mary was simply another daughter of the town, albeit one engaged to be married to Joseph, a local carpenter. And by the way, at that time, engagement was actually fairly common for a girl Mary’s age; and so, up until this point in her life, Mary’s thoughts would well have been filled with hopes and dreams for her future; she would no doubt have been feeling this intermingling of joy, excitement and fear, all of it in anticipation of what her life was going to be with this man who would soon be her new husband.

But now, of course, everything was different; everything had changed the moment the angel Gabriel had come to Mary with the most incredible announcement: that not only had she found favor with God, but that she – Mary, of all people (!) – would bear in her womb a child, a child conceived of the Holy Spirit, a child who would be no less than the Messiah, the Christ, the son of God, come to establish God’s kingdom on earth.  And though in that singular moment her mind was most certainly racing and her heart reeling at this “annunciation,” Mary had said yes: if this was according to God’s word, she’d said to the angel, then she’d willingly be a handmaiden unto the Lord.

Still, as the days passed and the new reality of her life to come began to settle in for her, Mary surely must have pondered plenty of reasons to be filled with fear at the prospect of this child growing within her.  We don’t need to know the history of those days for us to safely assume that were going to be questions coming from family and friends; that there would certainly be scandalous gossip spread amongst neighbors and townsfolk about “that girl;” and then there was the matter of her fiancée: Mary had no idea at all of how this “holy birth” might affect her relationship with Joseph. Needless to say, this was not how Mary had imagined her life unfolding; this was nothing like how it was supposed to be.  Angels and babies and the Holy Spirit – to say nothing of the favor of God (!) – all of this notwithstanding, it was… a disruption of Mary’s life and living.  Everything was changing forever; and though scripture does not allude to this at all, one has to imagine that down deep in Mary’s heart, there had to be this tiny aching that in a very real way, life had she’d always known it had come to an end.

I suspect that most of us, at one time or another and in one way or another, know something of what it is to have our lives totally and utterly disrupted.  Perhaps it was an unexpected illness or the loss of a loved one; maybe you lost your job and you’re faced with a financial burden that’s untenable; or it could well be like right now when you’re fearful of what might happen with Covid-19 as 2020 becomes 2021 and you’re uncertain as to what to do about… anything at all.  It doesn’t even have to be bad news, per se; it’s simply the experience of having everything you want and need and expect to be normal in your life and living to suddenly be upended for what seems like… forever… and you just don’t know what you’re supposed to do about it.

Actually, it makes a lot of sense to me that soon after Mary had learned the news of her pregnancy, she “set out and went with haste” to the hill country nearby Nazareth, to stay with her cousin Elizabeth, who, at nearly forty years her senior, was herself miraculously expecting her own child. Because when disruption has come and chaos abounds, you’ve got to do something, right; if for no other reason than to sort things out and talk to somebody who might understand.  As Renita Weems has written, “How do you defend a blessing you cannot explain? [and] who would believe her?”  Only, perhaps, one who knew such a blessing in her own life.

And as it turns out, Elizabeth not only knew the blessing of her own impending birth but also that of Mary’s: the joy of this child of God’s coming into the world is so great that even the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice.  “Blessed are you amongst women, and blessed is the child you will bear,” Elizabeth cries out to Mary.  “…and blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”  [NIV]

And as Luke’s gospel tells the story, it’s at that precise moment that everything comes into focus for Mary; for it’s now that she bursts into song, praising God and singing, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”   And with a voice that is borne of an unfettered heart, Mary sings of all the incredible, unthinkable possibilities: that God’s mercy would extend not solely to those in positions of worldly power, as the Romans would them believe, but “to all who fear him from generation to generation;”  that God with mighty strength would bring down the powerful from their thrones, scatter the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; and that with equal strength he would lift up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich and the powerful away empty.

Mary’s song, that which has been known throughout history as the Magnificat, makes it clear: that everything that was ever known to be true about this world and about life as it was ever known was now about to be turned upside down and inside out; and it was all happening by God’s grace and purpose, and all because of this tiny little baby (!)growing in Mary’s womb!  So what might have been seen as a mere disruption was in fact a blessing of divine proportion, the beginning of a new world created and nurtured at the hand of a loving and redeeming God who will do great things according to the promise he made to all of God’s people at the time of Abraham.

And Mary… Mary, of all people… her soul magnified and her spirit rejoicing “in God her Savior,” was now not only assured of the importance of her role in this holy story, but also ready to walk boldly and faithfully into that new world confident in that blessing and the promise that God’s “mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”

And I guess the question for you and me, who are dwelling amidst our own worldly disruptions – especially this Christmas – are we ready to do the same?  As this Advent time of waiting, watching and preparing continues, are we ready to see the ongoing disruptions as part of a perhaps yet-to-be unrevealed blessing that God in Emmanuel is ready to bestow?  Will we be bold enough in our life and living – and faithful in the act – to find the true joy of what even now our Lord is doing in the world and in our lives?

As you’re well aware, over the years my guitar and I have had the great pleasure of leading some Christmas sing-a-longs with a great many groups of little children: not only have there been lots of Sunday School kids to sing with, but I’ve also been lucky enough to volunteer at pre-schools and in elementary school classrooms.  And along the way I’ve made an interesting, if unsurprising, discovery: when you tell these kids to sing loud, especially when it involves Christmas songs like “Rudolph” or “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” by and large they tend to do it! 

What’s even more interesting to me, though, is just who amongst these children ends up singing the loudest; and it’s not always the one you’d expect. Sometimes the most outgoing of children will immediately get bashful and “clam up” when it comes to singing aloud; they might have the most beautiful, angelic voices going, but you’d never know it, because for whatever reason, they can’t bring themselves to share it with anyone!  By the same token, however, there’s always a couple of kids who sing with every bit of energy and volume they can muster.  And it doesn’t matter if they’re just a tad off key, nor if their volume has long since moved beyond “singing” and approaching the level of “screaming;” nor is it all that important that they’ve gone a note or two ahead of everybody else in the room!  They’re singing, and the amazing thing about that is, nobody expects it!

Some years ago I was singing at the nursery school at the church I was serving, and there was this little girl who was singing with everything she had; and I noticed that all the while she was singing, her teachers were looking at one another in astonished amazement!  So I asked the teacher about it afterward, and she shared with me that this was the little girl who ordinarilywas painfully shy with all the other children and always extremely quiet! (I guess I fixed that, because trust me, she weren’t quiet no more!  In fact, the teachers had kind of a hard time settling her down!) But how wonderful was that; this little girl was so caught up in the utter joy of singing those great Christmas songs, she’d lost herself in the wonder and found her voice of joy!

Well, this very different Christmas is coming soon, and despite all the disruptions you and I are facing this year, the fact remains that we need it now, more than ever.  And there are many, many songs that we are given to sing as Christmas comes – songs of faith, songs of hope, songs of joy – but the question is, how loudly are you going to sing them?  Are you able to look into – and beyond (!) – all the disruptions of this life that you might discover the blessing and thus find your voice of joy?  There is a wonderful opportunity on this of all years to proclaim the coming of Christmas by singing your own songs of surprising, wonderful joy; this joy that is rooted in the love of Jesus, our Emmanuel; can this be the year when that joy will burst forth defiantly from you in every part of your life?  Perhaps, with your soul magnified and your spirit rejoicing, your very life might sing and dance the song of your Savior God!

I hope and pray that today and in every day that’s coming that yours will be the loudest voice of all, a voice proclaiming with all joy our Lord’s great and redeeming love.

Thanks be to God!  

AMEN and AMEN!

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 

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“God Sightings!”

(a sermon for May 10, 2020, the 5th Sunday of Easter, based on Psalm 139 and John 16:33)

I think you’ll agree with me when I say that there are times and places and situations when it’s very easy to “see” God.

I remember as a youth taking my guitar with me as I hiked up through the woods to a grassy hillside overlooking one of the great panoramic views of northern Maine, and sitting down to sing and to dream and to pray… all the while absolutely certain that God was right there beside me!

I remember holding each of our three children in my arms for the first time and being filled not only with the wonder of such miracle as a new life but with this palpable sense of God’s joy and pleasure in it!

I remember moments such as when Lisa and I were married… when I was ordained to the Christian ministry… countless times of worship when a word or a song or a prayer awakened in me a clear awareness that I was never alone but in the presence of a Spirit that makes everything you do not only worth it, but wonderful… all the random moments of life when all at once you know, as the poet Robert Browning famously wrote, that “God’s in his heaven [and] all’s right with the world!” 

Yes, sometimes it’s easy to “see” God… or at least to know he’s there.

But then, and I think you’ll also agree with me here, that there are other times that you’ve really got to be observant to see God… and sometimes you’ve also got to make an effort to look around!

I’m remembering a day back in seminary when my fellow students and I were all feeling rather stressed because it was toward the end of the semester when exams were looming and papers were due.  That day, at the end of one of our classes our “Hungarian Hebrew” Old Testament professor Dr. Steven Szikszai suddenly raises up his hand to bless us and then, quoting from John’s gospel, says, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (NKJV) Now, I have to confess that at the time, being a very serious and studious seminarian (!), I wondered what that was all about: I mean, all we’re talking about here is surviving to the end of the semester, right, and about getting our work done; we might be feeling burnt out at the moment but it certainly doesn’t rise to the level of tribulation, or the need for any kind of divine intervention!  This is just something I have to get through on my own; no need for the Lord to come and “cheer me” in the midst of it!

But of course, all these years later I’ve come to realize that Dr. Szikszai had the right idea and that I – in my limited world view and burgeoning faith – had actually succumbed to the false notion that God is too big, too mighty, too… eternal… for my small stresses and little problems!  And friends, that’s completely wrong! I’ve discovered that mistake – what I sometimes refer to as “bad theology” – time and time again in my life:  in moments of grief and profound sadness; times when I’ve felt totally inadequate to whatever task or responsibility that’s before me; situations going on with the people I know and love that I’d love to be able to fix but can’t; problems in life and in the world that are completely out of my control; times like, well, right now with this ongoing pandemic.  For our God is big and mighty and eternal, but God is also as close to us as our very breathing, and cares about what might seem to us, at least, to be the smallest of concerns but which is, in fact, of utmost importance to God; and we know this is true because God came to us in person of Jesus Christ who has, as we confess in faith, “has shared our common lot,” and knows how we live, how we feel and what we suffer.  As the psalmist sang forth in our text for today, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.”   

What that means for the living of these days, friends, is whether this time of pandemic has touched our lives in ways that we fear our ourselves for those we love or if right now we’re simply trying to figure out how to do another week of staying safe (and sane!) at home, the good news is that the God who has overcome the world in Jesus Christ is with us, right here and right now, bringing us his cheer in the midst of our strange and uncertain days.  Even today, friends, it is possible to “see” God… but as I said before, we have to be observant to discern, as it were, some “God Sightings” in our midst.

And that, I’m pleased to report, is what you all have been doing!

A few weeks ago I asked if you would send to me some of your “God Sightings” in the midst of the days of quarantine; and your response, the stories that you’ve shared, were not only inspired but inspiring!

For instance, from Joyce: “Today I was out in my front yard filling the bird feeders.  A little girl I didn’t know stopped her bike to walk up my driveway.  She handed me an envelope and said, “this is your happy mail!”  Off she went to each neighbor’s mailbox to deliver Happy Mail.  Even before I opened it I was happy!  What a special delivery from a special girl.  These are difficult times we are living in, however, it is creating special moments like this!  For that I am grateful!!!”

And from Julie: “Dave and I have visited with Baby Tony and his parents several times now, through the glass door! A little odd but, necessary in these times! What a funny and happy lil guy! He laughs and snorts and just loves putting his hands up to ours on the door! He recognized us and our voices and smiles. (We do FaceTime visits with Aaron and Tony too!) As we were driving away we felt so happy to have had the opportunity to visit, even without hugs! We will have to work on blowing kisses!”  

Finding safe and creative ways to be with family definitely inspires a God Sighting:  from Gail, “This past Sunday, we unexpectedly went to see and surprise our son Carl and grandkids… Nicole, our daughter in law was in on it!! It was the best day ever … and I’m sure God approved!”

From Joyce again, who tells of visiting with her children at the appropriate social distance, and how one daughter came “to cut her Dad’s unruly hair” because “the barbershop is not an option right now.” She wrote about what a “sweet, caring moment it was.  Reminiscent of the biblical washing of feet.  A moment that ONLY occurred due to a Pandemic.”

It’s a time for trying new things… and for returning to old ones:  as Lisa writes, “One of my biggest blessings through all of this is that have more time to minister with my husband.  We used to be able to do so much together but getting older and hold down a full-time job has kept me from doing what I so enjoy… being a partner and working alongside Rev. Lowry in ministry.  Sundays and Wednesdays have become my happiest days now that I can help through the tough days of Covid-19.”  (And, trust me here, friends… I’m the one who’s blessed!)

And Susan wrote of her “adventures in babysitting:” over the past few weeks:

“I have been babysitting Aly, a seven year old, since the closing of schools due to the coronavirus; her parents are essential employees.  One sunny afternoon while walking, Aly was skipping along the sidewalk and singing away.  All of a sudden she stopped, looked back at me and said “Susan my heart is so full of joy today.”  She then turned back and began skipping and singing again.   One afternoon while outside, Aly picked up a lightning bug.  She ran to me, with her hands cupped and said “Now don’t be afraid” as she opened up her hands for me to inspect the insect.  “Lightning bugs are special too.”  Then she lifted her hands up and let it fly away.  

The wooded area behind my driveway is home to wildlife, mainly chipmunks, squirrels and birds.  Each morning breakfast is served consisting of sunflower seeds and peanuts.  Aly carefully scatters the goodies around wanting all to enjoy in the feast.  As she giggles in delight she replies “I hope they don’t tell all their cousins because if everyone comes to eat we won’t have enough food.”  

I am grateful for the gift of seeing life through the eyes of a child.  Aly reminds me daily that the simplest pleasures in life are worth noticing and celebrating.  Praise God for the little ones amongst our midst.”

And you know, the thing about this time is that for so many of us, these moments of joy and laughter are mingled with sadness over having to be in isolation, about missing family members and friends, about not being able to be together at church, and especially our concern for the people we love around Covid-19.  We’ve heard from some of you how worried you are about the spouses, and sons and daughters and grandchildren who have to be out there working, or who are at risk for catching this virus because of other health concerns… for some of you, friends, it’s very hard to see where God is in the midst of all this.

But even those moments – especially in those moments – God is there.  For instance, Ann tells us about receiving some home cooked meals from a friend and fellow church member – the lasagna was particularly good she said (!) – and how much that meant to her because she doesn’t have family around and things can get rather lonely.  And Reba writes us that even though, like for so many of us, she feels like she’s swimming in worry, the things that make her happy in the midst of these worries are “her daffodils and tulips [that] came up and opened along her walkway,” and how a quick call from a friend brightens the day.  And Deb, who’s actually been allowed to visit with her husband Bob (who’s suffering with Alzheimer’s Disease), writes that he “was having some really alert moments on Monday and was actually out of bed! I was sitting right across from him just chatting as always when he opened his eyes, wide! Those beautiful blue eyes. He smiled a sweet “old Bob” smile and said “Deborah!!”  That’s going to stay with me for a looong time!”

Friends, all through these past couple of months, we’ve been hearing about “not so random acts of kindness:” encouraging letters and cards to folks who are “home alone” and may or may not be connected to the internet; “goodie bags” of treats and inspiration delivered “incognito” to neighbors and friends (and, I might add, their pets) all throughout town;  there’s even been an “egg fairy” bringing fresh eggs to the parsonage! 

These are the things that bring us joy, certainly, but these are things that bring us hope as well:  as Joyce wrote us, “Earlier this week I went out to our composter along the woods in the backyard.  I had vegetable peelings and 2 very sad and slimy cucumbers to deposit.  As I was throwing them into the composter something bright and yellow caught my eye.  There on the ground in harsh soil, poking up through dead leaves was a mini daffodil plant!!!!  A gift to me last year that I had carelessly tossed out after it bloomed.  What a little survivor!!!  So I found a pot, spade and potting soil to enjoy this gift again!  I had to think it was a sign and reminder that even through dark times we can survive and thrive again!!  It made me smile and filled me with hope!”

And then, as conclusive proof that God’s at work, here’s what Carol Ann wrote us: “Here’s something that will work:  Two FREE prescriptions GOD gave to mankind to keep males+females well:  Laughter AND Tears! They help both the sick get well and keeps the well well, all the while spreading the Love of The Creator to all Creation!”

“Believe it or not,” she goes on, “trees thrive on what we breath out as we laugh out loud! So… take in a deep breath and double over with a big belly laugh!  Then, let it all out! You’ll make every GOD-made tree happy and well, just like you!”

That pretty much says it all, beloved:  God is here… right here, right now, right in the midst of the 2020 Global Pandemic, right here among us as God’s own people, right here as East Congregational United Church of Christ… bringing us in this season of anxiety and fear HIS hope, and strength, all peace in believing, and… his cheer.  And what better blessing can we have: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ our Risen Lord and Savior.

Amen and AMEN!

© 2020  Rev. Michael W. Lowry.  All Rights Reserved.

 

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