Author Archives: sheofferedthemchrist

Speaking Faith

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I may be a Christian, born and baptized into this Family of Faith, but I have a bachelor’s degree in non-Christian Religious Studies. For two years I immersed myself in the theologies, doctrines, and practices of Families of other Faiths. I discovered the strong covenantal identity of Judaism, the faith with an outward and visible practice of Islam, the all encompassing life of Hinduism, and the peaceful, reflective nature of Buddhism. I journeyed into the origins of all these World Religions through the study of Shamanism, ancestor veneration, naturalistic religions, and the pursuit of the deepest possible meaning of human existence. What I found was that we have more in common at our core than we might think, and there is a pervasive beauty that surpasses our differences.

I have come to believe that the God I know, love, and serve is omnilinguistic. God knows and can fluently speak all languages, every human tongue, even those that are nonverbal. Perhaps what is most amazing is that this omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing) God is willing to speak to us as we need to hear. Not only does God translate meanings for our benefit, but God translates God’s self through culture and practice. I know that I am a Christian, and meant to be so. This is the path, the practice, and the liturgical (of or relating to worship) language God speaks to me and that I best understand. God spoke to me as Christ Jesus, and my spirit immediately knew this was my only means of knowing my God. As much as I appreciate and adore other religions, I cannot be anything but Christian. Christ is the unique dialect that I speak, the language I have mastered. That is why I have a masters degree in divinity, a Christian religious degree.

Never having been able to truly learn another language other than English, I have always been so impressed by and admired people who speak multiple languages. Despite all my attempts otherwise, language remains my intellectual Achilles heel. I have had enough collegiate level Spanish courses that I should speak it fluently, but I pretty much can only ask where the bathroom is, order tacos on Tuesdays, and get a beer. This has led me to see other religious practitioners with the same awe and reverence for their mastery of their liturgical language, the faith they speak with their lives. I can admire and appreciate without wavering in my dedication and mastery of my own faith language. Christianity has taught me that it is all right, perhaps even a good and joyful thing, to be happy for another and celebrate with them without compromising my faith. I can earnestly hope my Judaic siblings in faith have a blessed Passover, and that my Muslim siblings in faith have a transformative Ramadan without losing my unparalleled joy for Easter. If anything, I find myself praying that they discover the same love of God in their language and through their faith journey that I have in Christianity. Should they not find that same resonance, then I would joyfully help them learn to speak the language of Christ.

Perhaps the greatest benefit to understanding religion as language is that I can love and appreciate those who have mastered their liturgical language without it impacting my own liturgical mastery. I have often read the sacred texts of other religions and marveled at their yearning for peace and charity, which led me to lift up prayers of gratitude that Christ has taught and required the same from me. I witness the worship of other religions and always feel the impulse to go back to my sacred House of Worship and commune with God in the midst of the Body of Christ. By rejecting the desire to destroy what is not mine or me, and seeking greater understanding of the other, I have discovered a deeper more profound appreciation for what I have. Just maybe the greatest language a human being can speak is the universal love God speaks into every person. The very best religions speak this truth in their liturgical language always and everywhere. I am eternally grateful that Christ speaks this language with clarity beyond anything I have ever encountered in my religious studies, because Christ speaks about love for others woven with the offering of grace to remove all obstacles, i.e. human sin, to receiving and reveling in that love. That is why I am and shall ever be a Christian.

May God speak to you this day in the language you most readily hear and understand, speaking the truth of love and grace into the depths of your being.

Lamentations of Loss

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A lamentation is a passionate expression of sorrow or grief, and today I have a lot of lamentations.

It has been hard to be sequestered in my home, as much as I love and appreciate my house. It has been hard to watch my son stay inside and away from his friends. It has been hard to resist going out to public places and gathering with people. It has been hard to go without in person worship, and there are no words to adequately convey that loss. But all of my troubles seem to pale in comparison right now to that of others.

I am so sad for all the children and teenagers who will not get to go back to school, and especially those graduating seniors who have had their senior year experience obliterated. I am sad for the families that will have to unexpectedly navigate the world of homeschooling, distance learning, and constant contact unlike their previous normal daily lives. I am sad for the compounding of stress, strain, and anxiety for families. I mourn the financial impact this closure will have and the trickle effect of the loss of vital childcare school provides for single parents.

I am so sad for teachers, staff, and families of other school programs that will be devastated because of this news. Preschools, before and aftercare programs, and tutoring programs will all be profoundly affected. Some may lose their jobs, contracts, and vital income. Some of these programs may never fully recover, or recover at all. The gifts and services they provide will be missed by the children, teenagers, and families that were blessed by them, and now will go without.

I am so sad for those in the service industry that are now out of work with the suspension of in dining offerings for the foreseeable future. They are suddenly cut off, and might not have access to the same social safety nets other industries have. I mourn for their circumstances, financial difficulties, and the strain this will place on them and their families.

I find myself overwhelmed with sadness this day. The Church is a place where people seek to do the right thing, seek to be a vessel of blessing. We yearn to enact our love in acts of kindness, and our compassion in acts of mercy. Yet today the void seems so huge to fill. Just when I think that I might sink into a pit of despair, lamenting until I exhaust my energy, I remember the words of Christ:

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid (John 14:26-27 NRSV).

While I ache for the gathering of two or more in Jesus’ name to feel his presence in a miraculous way, I am reminded that I have not been left orphaned by the present circumstances or the loss of in person worship. Nor have we been abandoned when we discover new challenges that are being faced right now. We can unite in other ways, some new to the Body of Christ entirely, and some merely assumed to be the way of the world and not the Church. We can focus on prayers and our giving, both of which can be done without contamination to one another and spreading COVID-19. We can support the Church and those that will come in their time of need.

I have been looking for peace, but looking in all the wrong places. I have not found it on the news. I have not found it in social media. I have not found it in my busyness or my isolation. The peace that I need, the peace that brings true rest and rejuvenation to sustain in dark and trying times can only be found in Christ. The truth is that I did not have to find it either. When I remembered Christ’s words, it came flooding back to me. It found me. The peace washed over me, like a river. It cleansed me of my doubt and fear. It rid me of my hopelessness. I still am sad for others. I still lament their pain and suffering. Yet now I can focus on my response and what I have been empowered to do. We have lost so much, and we just may lose a lot more, but we shall not lose hope. For hope is not a thing to be set down and lost, it is our God, who finds us and saves us:

I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see. -Amazing Grace

May grace teach our hearts to fear forgetting our God, our selves, and our means of grace, and our purpose as disciples, and grace our fears relieve all the terror, the anxiety, the stress, and the trials of the days to come. We can do this. We shall do this. Emphasis on the “we,” all of us, together.

A Time to Wait and a Time to Serve

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Scripture:

Now Elijah the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.” The word of the LORD came to him, saying, “Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the LORD; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi. But after a while the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.” As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. For thus says the LORD the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the LORD sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah.

After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill; his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. She then said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” But he said to her, “Give me your son.” He took him from her bosom, carried him up into the upper chamber where he was lodging, and laid him on his own bed. He cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I am staying, by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” The LORD listened to the voice of Elijah; the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah took the child, brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and gave him to his mother; then Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” So the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17:1-24 NRSV).

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I do not usually write devotions based upon such long swathes of text, but many of us appear to have additional time on our hands these days, so I am going a little farther and a little deeper here. In fact, some of us might feel a kinship with Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, being unable to go about our lives as we were used to doing or hope to do now. Perhaps their story can speak to us even more so in this current context of isolation.

Elijah is a faithful servant of God, a prophet who speaks the Word of God when he receives it, trying to bring God’s lost people back into the path of righteousness. Our text opens with his prophetic pronouncement to King Ahab that there shall be no rain for the foreseeable future, a span of time that remain undefined. Just as many of us all over the world find ourselves in a nebulousness of when our isolation shall end, Elijah has to live and operate in less than idea circumstances. He does so. First, he lives off the land in the form of food delivered by ravens and water of the wadi as commanded by God. The thing about ravens is that they are unclean birds, eating carrion as well as being birds of prey. A kosher believer would not eat a raven nor take food from it, as it would be unclean from the raven’s touch, so already Elijah is having to make adjustments to his way of life and his expectations for himself during this time of stress.

When the wadi, the source of fresh water, dries up, Elijah then receives new directives: go to a foreign country to live with a widow there. I doubt Elijah is very excited. He’s about to become a stranger in a strange land literally, a country and people not his own. They do not keep his faith, nor the Lord’s commandments, which dictate purity in living and diet. If the ravens made him uncomfortable, then it is about to get worse. The mention of a widow would not have made him feel any better. In his day, widows were living on borrowed time, unless they had an adult son to take them in and provide for them. Otherwise, they became beggars and died. Yet somehow this widow is supposed to not only take him in, but provide for him. Wordlessly, Elijah departs for Zarapheth.

Do you feel for him? Would you want to be in the prophet’s sandals? Perhaps you find yourself feeling more a kin to him than you ever have before, as a stranger in a strange land yourself. No matter how weird or uncomfortable things get, so far Elijah carries onward. He responds to the call with faithfulness, even if he may have reservations, even objections, which he must have kept to himself. Elijah shows us that there is a time to wait and see, to remain faithful even when we feel doubt and are discouraged.

Our intrepid prophet arrives in Zarephath, and meets the widow. Their first interaction conveys the hopelessness that is being felt around their known world. Now out of his native country and into hers, Elijah discovers from the widow’s words that the famine and hardship is here, too. She has so little to eat, that she expects this meal she is preparing for herself and her son to be their last. Elijah responds with a promise that the Lord will sustain them, and that their food will not run out. These might appear to be empty promises from a stranger, but she quickly discovers that the meal and oil miraculously do not run out. Elijah moves into her upper room in her home, and takes up residence with her and her son. They seem to be waiting out the famine together under the watchful eye of God.

Then things get worse for the widow. We have to pause and think, “How can they get any worse?!” The whole world appears to be in a crisis, and death is all around. But now death has come to their house. The widow’s son dies, having been struck sick. This breaks the widow. She lost her husband, making her a widow, kept a strange Israelite in her home, and now her beloved son has died. In her cultural context, she truly has lost everything. Not even her remaining life could bring her hope. She cries out at Elijah from her pain and suffering. The time to serve has come for Elijah. Elijah takes the son, who is revealed to be but a boy, and intercedes on their behalf with God. Three times he lies prostrate over the child, a physical sign of humility and worship, and seemingly transferring his breath of life to the boy. Crying out to God, Elijah asks for the resurrection of the child, and God hears. The child revives, and Elijah restores him to his mother.

Now something incredible happens, and a lot of notable things have happened in the story thus far. Now the widow becomes a believer, a believer in God and in Elijah. She lived through the unending food, but that was just staving off the inevitable: death. Then death came, and somehow this foreign man was able to call out to his foreign God and bring her precious child back to life, and back to her. It is this climatic event that makes her a person of God, too.

For many of us, we find ourselves in a holding pattern, just waiting for our lives to get back to normal, back on track. For some of us, we find that we are called to do things here and now, even if they are vastly different than how we have always done things and the things we have always done. All of us are called to be ready and willing to serve the moment when the call comes. What that waiting looks like will be different for each of us. Some will rest and read. Some will work and produce fruits of their labors. Some will oscillate between the two. No matter what your waiting may look like, are you tending to your readiness to serve? Are you in prayer? Are you continuing to provide your gifts, in whatever form they may take? Are you keeping your heart ready to respond to God’s call?

Elijah lives with the widow and her son “for many days” (1 Kings 17:15) before his call to serve came. He didn’t take time to think about it, or get geared up. He immediately responded. All the food and rest were for that moment, and he was ready. May we all take this time, this strange time in strange land, to get and keep ourselves ready. Ready for the next thing, the next service the Lord requires of us. There will be a day coming when we shall emerge from this. Elijah did not stay with the widow in Zarephath forever. He had to come home, back to his home country, and so shall we. Until then, let us stay focused on making the wait count, because service always does.

Prayer:

Here we are, Lord.

From your home, you can see into ours.

You know the struggles we face, and the feelings that flood us.

Incline your ear to hear our prayers, asking for you to protect and sustain us.

During this time, we wait in a myriad of ways.

Let us hear you when you call, teach us to recognize the voice of God.

May we respond with faithfulness and our willingness to serve.

Let Elijah inspire us to bring others, like the widow, into your family of faith.

May this time be fruitful for your will and purpose.

Bring us forth into a new day together and back to you.

There is no life, no purpose apart from you, Almighty God.

For now we wait, wait to serve once more.

Amen.

A Prayer for Uncharted Territory

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Almighty and Everlasting God,

There nothing you have not seen or considered.

All human existence has been witnessed by you,

But today I find myself in a new place in scary times.

I am trying not to fear this uncharted territory.

I wrestle with productivity and still doing all the things I expect myself to do,

Yet I also see the need to rest and recuperate.

Guide me as I navigate this new region of ambiguity.

May your wisdom guide my actions and inspire my choices.

Teach me the ways of Christ, my Lord, who knew when to rest and when to act.

I cannot do anything apart from you,

And I know that I need you in order to become the disciple I desire so deeply to be.

When I feel anxiety rise, let your Spirit fall over me.

Surround me with your comfort, so that I can focus on you and your will.

Help me rest when my mind is overworked and my body is pushed to the limits of stress.

Grant me the peace I need to be healthy and whole.

May my choices align with your will, so that all your people may find healing,

Being safe guarded from this illness that threatens to overwhelm us.

I commend to you all those who are working on the front lines of protection,

Keeping our communities safe with their selfless sacrifice.

Guide and guard them, Lord.

Lead us to a time and place when we can rejoice together again.

For now, all our trust is in you, the Rock upon which we stand.

All honor and glory to you, now and forever.

Amen

It’s Not About Me or You. This Is About Us.

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I am struggling with this concept of “social distancing,” which is really about physical isolation. I am an extreme extrovert, and pretty outgoing, which is generally a good thing when my identity revolves around shepherding God’s people. However, right now my community is working to curb the tide of COVID-19 infection and spread, so we are all trying to do our part to keep from spreading it, even if our normally healthy immune systems would not be devastatingly impacted by it.

Today I showed up at my church to film a truncated version of our worship for digital distribution, and standing in the Chancel of the Sanctuary with four other people in the sacred space that holds well over two hundred on a Sunday was a shock to my system. Even on our worst snow day, I had over seventy-five people. I had not felt the full force of this isolation until it slammed into Sunday morning. I really just miss our people, their faces, their warmth, and their presence. The interactions of Sunday worship are so profoundly meaningful to me that their loss is acutely felt. Yet today I was also keenly aware of something else: this is not about me. Maybe it is not about you either. This attempt to slow and even stop COVID-19 is about us, our church, our Body of Christ, our community made up of people that would not claim us in the same way that we yearn to have them. It is to put our wants and desires, even our immediate needs, to the side and focus on others.

Today was about making the means of grace, the Ministry of the Word, available in the midst of this isolation. It felt honestly weird, because this is different from what I am accustomed to and yearn for each week. Where are all the smiling faces, the words of greeting, the handshakes and embraces? Where are the sounds of children and their awesome questions? Where is the embodiment of community and the intentionality of gathering together in one place in the name of Christ, our Lord? It is still here in a strangely technological way. It did warm my heart to see people check in online, make comments of gratitude and support, and share in the modern digital way of evangelism. It gave me hope that we could still bless from afar.

As Christians, but even more so, as disciples, we are learning to be selfless and follow the example of Christ, the one for whom we are named. In the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus says that he has come not for the healthy, but the sick (Matthew 9:12, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31). He is pointing out that the sick in our midst need to be our priority, because they are certainly God’s. Christian tradition has often taken this as metaphor: Christ came for the spiritually sick, those sick with sin. But what if now these words and prophetic utterances are just as true about those who are physically sick? Jesus literally healed the sick in his earthly ministry, too: “When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick” (Matthew 14:14). I believe that in our current context we are being called to a new form of discipleship, one that gives up some of its liberty to grant healing and life to those who are sick and vulnerable to sickness. It is not easy or without great sacrifice, but it is worth it. To save even one, would be to fulfill the parable of the Good Shepherd:

What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost (Matthew 18:12-14).

To not lose even one, would be a triumph, and should be our goal. Jesus never said, “Well, some are going to sin anyway, so oh well.” Jesus continually preached, taught, and went out into the world to show love, compassion, and grace. He never stopped even from the cross, when he prayed for intercession for those that crucified him: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Our model is Jesus Christ himself. Our duty on this path of discipleship is to be willing to be selfless in the face of unparalleled selfishness in the culture. While others hoard, we shall share. While some openly revel in the aspect of gathering in spite of consequences, we shall endure isolation with patience. While we are criticized for our decisions to suspend worship and cancel gatherings, we shall look to God to uphold us and lead us forward into a bright and beautiful future of health and reunion. None of the freedom, the autonomy, and the joy of the moment is worth the loss of a being of sacred worth, a beloved child of God, and a member of the Kingdom to Come. Not one.

So for now, we reframe our current situation, and make our decisions from a place of selflessness. Instead of saying, this hurts me, or this makes me feel bad, we should try asking how can I help someone else? How can my decision to limit my movement and my liberty allow someone else to live and experience more of life on this gift we call Earth? Jesus never took the selfish route. Even when he was exhausted and need time to refresh, he responded with radical compassion:

On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. He took them with him and withdrew privately to a city called Bethsaida. When the crowds found out about it, they followed him; and he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured (Luke 9:10-11).

May it still be so, that Christ will heal those who need to be cured. Only this time, it will be because we make room for them through our willingness to step back and out of the way, making space for healing.

A Prayer for the Annual Gathering of United Methodists of Virginia

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Blessed be the name of the Lord!

For thousands gather this day to glorify you in worship, examine ourselves and our ministry in your name, order the life of the Church, experience the miraculous blessing of fellowship in the Body of Christ, and discern your will for us for the coming year.

May all this and more be done, in accordance with your will, and always through your ways.

Fill us with hope, equip us with your divine wisdom, and lead us into the paths of righteousness with hope and humility.

Teach us to sing with new passion the songs of our faith.  Teach us to see you in others, especially those with whom we do not agree.  Teach us to be slow to speak, yet quick to listen.  Most of all, help us discover the self-control to be slow to anger (James 1:19).

We cry out to you from our brokenness as individual disciples marred by our sinful inclinations, and as a community of faith which has committed its own sins by commission and omission.  Yet through it all your grace abounds.

You love us when others would not, even ourselves.  You lead us when we are stiff-necked and reckless about the power and authority we wield in the name of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.  You forgive us when we are unwilling to forgive each other.  You never forsake us, but continually draw us closer to yourself.

Forgive us once more, that we may reveal your Gospel of grace in all that we are.  Enable us to forgive others, one another.

Today may we remember with great thanksgiving that long before we were ever the people called Methodists, we were your people.  Yet now, as the people called Methodists, let us share our gifts, our theology, our prayers, and our hope with all the world, continuing the life-saving ministry of Christ himself.

Open us once more to your Holy Spirit, so we may hear you before ourselves.  Rekindle our connection and our passion for unity.  Help us in our frailty to cling to you before anyone or anything else.  May your will be done, and nothing less.

This is your day, and what a blessing, a gift it is!  Thanks be to you, Mighty and Merciful God!

Amen.

 

Hope in the Midst of Hopelessness

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In just another day and a half, the Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church will convene.  I find myself here in our temporary Mecca of Roanoke, having made my annual pilgrimage a couple days early, for the task of assisting with worship preparation and set up.  This year, I am part of the Worship Planning Team, and worship is one of my passions both as clergy and disciple.  Worship will be vital to Virginia Methodism as clergy and laity alike gather for the business of the Church.  Worship is where God reigns, and there we experience the Ministry of the Word.  At its best, it is without prejudice or politics.  It forces us to set aside our will, and open ourselves to God’s.  As I help prepare and consecrate the make shift chancel and set the altar, I am praying that God’s will be done, and not ours.

I have been praying that prayer for a long time.  I was praying it up to and in the midst of Called General Conference in February.  I left St. Louis with sorrow and tremendous hurt, both of which made for an unholy union, and gave birth to hopelessness.  Many on all sides of the issue of human sexuality and inclusion felt that same hopelessness.  I have watched as it has expressed itself in a myriad of means.  From declarations to protests to acts of defiance, hopelessness casts a heavy shadow on the vibrancy of the Virginia Annual Conference.  Thank God that Christ’s light can permeate even the darkest of shadows (2 Corinthians 4:6).

So where do we find hope in the midst of hopelessness?  As some have declared that the United Methodist Church is dead, I have watched entire households join the local church I serve.  As some have railed at the decision of Called General Conference, I have watched non-heterosexuals refuse to leave our denomination, and instead, recommit to continue the dialogue, the journey, and the holy quest for full inclusion.   I have been given the opportunity to witness the Holy Spirit continue to speak and move in our midst, and that always brings me hope.  Can that happen here at Annual Conference?  That depends entirely on us.

Just as John Wesley asserted that we can sin away our baptism, we can close ourselves off from the Holy Spirit.  We can refuse to hear and be moved, but I have more faith in my fellow Methodists from the beloved Commonwealth of Virginia.  I choose to believe that we are a people ever faithful and desirous of God’s Word for us.  I choose to open myself to what God has to reveal to us next.  I come here with great conviction, born of my own divine encounter and post-Called General Conference vision.  Yet I know that nothing is ever finished until God declares it so.  Thus far that consists solely of the salvation of the cross (John 19:30).  So if we open ourselves up to what God has for us next, then Methodists on all sides of the issue can experience new direction and even new hope.  As the Psalm cries out: “But I will hope continually, and will praise you yet more and more” (71:14).  Hope and praise, specifically in worship, are intimately tied together.  When we declare God’s mighty acts of salvation in Jesus Christ and give thanks for our blessings, then hope begins to feel tangible.

So if you, like so many, feel like there is no hope, then I urge you with all that I am to turn to praise.  Gratitude for what we have, no matter how small and insignificant it feels, is a gateway to hope.  Hopelessness is incompatible with gratitude.  Hopelessness cannot stand before hearts that rejoice in our Lord and Savior.  Hopelessness will always fall before the Body of Christ that refuses to be silenced in praise in the midst of struggle, division, and disagreement.  Hope will rise out of the void, because that is the miracle God promises: “Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope” (Psalm 119:116).  So we worship and we hope.

Over the next few days, Virginia United Methodists will worship and work.  I, like thousands of others, will be here working, worshiping, and witnessing.  If you are not here in person, you can be in Spirit.  May our prayers and hopes rise to the highest heavens, and petition God to reveal what we have not yet seen: a bright and beautiful future for a denomination that freely gives the world a theology of unparalleled grace.  I do not know what that may look like, but I know that God can do what we cannot.  This evening, I wait with bated breath to discover what God will do next, and I pray that I am faithful enough to follow the Spirit’s lead.