Are you weary? I wouldn't be surprised if you are. So many hoped that this summer would be the joyful end of a difficult journey, but it seems that it is just another stop on the way. Has God been listening to our laments? What good words can we speak to each other in the midst of this pandemic created exhaustion?
One of my all time favorite books is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. You may have read it or perhaps you saw the film directed by Ava DuVernay. Through the years, L'Engle's writing has impacted my understanding of my self and my God. Meg, the primary character in Wrinkle is a a person I have easily identified with. She struggles with her faults and she doesn't always like herself. She is often a person in need of grace.
At the climax of the story, Meg is battling against IT, an evil that would destroy her beloved brother Charles Wallace. She has been sent by a fantastical trio of guardians who must be numbered among the angels and saints. As Meg struggles to find the chink in IT's armor, the demon speaks through her brother in an attempt to break her. He tells her that the trio of guides is not on her side.
"Mrs Whatsit hates you," Charles Wallace said. And that was where IT made IT's fatal mistake, for as Meg said, automatically, "Mrs Whatsit loves me; that's what she told me, that she loves me," suddenly she knew. She knew! Love. That was what IT did not have. She had Mrs Whatsit's love and her father's, and her mother's, and the real Charles Wallace's love, and the twins', and Aunt Beast's. And she had her love for them.
That gracious love and Meg's ability to speak it to Charles Wallace even at the absolute worst of times, is what makes the difference. It saves the day and after a brief denouement, the story ends. But I imagine that knowing that Mrs Whatsit loved Meg just as she was, faults and all, was a fact that continued to have value in Meg's life, because as she says, it's "quite something to be loved by someone like Mrs Whatsit."
As a Christian I believe that grace- undeserved and unreserved love- is a gift that God bestows on us every day. We don't always recognize it. We don't always appreciate it. But it's present. It moves through our lives like a gentle breeze or the ocean tide.
On Tuesday as I was lamenting about my emotional exhaustion, God's word of grace showed up on my screen. I was looking for an interesting translation of Psalm 46. It's a very familiar psalm but what I found was this:
God is our shelter and our strength.
When troubles seem near, God is nearer, and He’s ready to help.
So why run and hide?
No fear, no pacing, no biting fingernails.
When the earth spins out of control, we are sure and fearless.
When mountains crumble and the waters run wild, we are sure and fearless.
Even in heavy winds and huge waves,
or as mountains shake, we are sure and fearless.
A pure stream flows--never to be cut off--
bringing joy to the city where God makes His home,
the sacred site where the Most High chooses to live.
The True God never sleeps and always resides in the city of joy;
He makes it unstoppable, unshakable.
When it awakes at dawn, the True God has already been at work. [Psalm 46:1-5, The Voice]
Sure and fearless- that's what grace can do for us- make us sure and fearless. And as it does, I hope that the stream of joy surround you. Remember, you are loved by God, just as you are. Even in the midst of lament!
L’Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time. New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1962.
Ecclesia Bible Society, ed. The Voice Bible: Step into the Story of Scripture. Signature Series. Nashville, Tenn: Thomas Nelson Inc, 2012.
This past Sunday and the Sunday before I did not have a preaching assignment. These were my last two Sundays before beginning a new call. My spouse suggested visiting the congregations of two dear friends, Pastor Rachel Manke and Pastor Stina Schaeffer. And so off we went!
The liturgy offered at both congregations was familiar. I have been a pastor for more than 35 years and a worshipper for 60. I know the routine! So it was not a surprise that both pastors began the worship with a Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness. While I will admit to not always giving the liturgy my fullest attention, two weeks ago I found myself listening from a place of intimacy and intention. What happened surprised me. When Rachel spoke the words, through Jesus, ☩ the bread of life, you are shown God’s mercy: you are forgiven and loved into abundant life, I not only heard the words, I felt them.
I have declared this same grace thousands of times. I get how it works. I understand the theology. It's no surprise. There is a formula to the liturgy. Yet there was something special in that moment. Maybe it had something to do with the way I was listening. Maybe it was because the grace was spoken by a beloved friend. Whatever the reason, I really heard God's grace in the words Rachel spoke.
Yesterday we visited Stina's church. Worship was held outside and we were seated in the front row of lawn chairs. As Stina declared the entire forgiveness of all my sins, she didn't make eye contact with me. She wasn't speaking just to me. There were more than fifty people in chairs and several more listening in their cars. But I heard the grace she spoke as if we were sitting on either side of her dining room table- as if we were the only people present. And oh how I have needed to hear that grace!
As a pastor, I speak the words of forgiveness far more often than I hear them. And when I am the worship leader I try very hard to speak those words with conviction and authenticity. My prayer this morning is that others can hear God's grace when I proclaim God's mercy and love. May they truly feel in their hearts the good news that God loves them without measure and their sins- all their sins, have been forgiven.