Going Down to Go Up
When I was 16, I was acquainted with a family in our church, and they were moving. The dad asked me to help with some of the heavy lifting, and I agreed. We got them moved, and one of the last things left on their property was an old junked car that seemed to be without any value.
He offered it to me for having helped him move. At the very moment, I wasn’t sure whether to be insulted or honored, but I talked to my dad, who loved old cars. He told me to take it because of what it was.
It was a 1963 Austin-Healey Sprite.
The body and paint were in terrible condition. The floorboard under the driver’s feet was gone … as in, I could see the pavement below my feet (I still cringe when I think that I actually drove it several blocks to my house with my feet just hanging on the pedals). The ragtop roof was non-existent, but there was still some drive left in it.
What I knew from my dad, however, was that it wasn’t finished being stripped down. We set out to work on it. We took it down to the point that it looked like a chassis and an engine only. We replaced wheels, tires, roof, and upholstery. We had removed the hood, trunk lid, and three quarter panels to repair, sand and get ready to paint. (We did pay the local vocational/ag shop to weld in a new floor and to paint it).
Then we began putting it back together until it was almost like new.
This past year has sometimes felt like that. This is how it has felt to have so much of our lives stripped away from us. It was a year ago that we had our last in-person worship service. We have experienced the death of many of our fellow members. We have witnessed the extreme harm of racism and prejudice both in our nation and across the globe. Then we suffered through the worst winter storm in collective memory.
There are times when I have experienced the hollowness and bareness of it all. But then I think of what God might be doing in this time.
The biblical witness is full of accounts of those who experienced devastation and ruin only to find God using those moments to build something new. Israel had been overrun by the Babylonians. Their temple had been destroyed and many of their people had been taken into exile. The Babylonians became settlers in their land. It appeared that the people known as the Hebrews were forever gone.
But God had a different plan. In Isaiah 43:18-19, we read: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
The Babylonian conquest was brutal and this, in no way, diminishes the harsh realities of what the people of Israel experienced. What we have experienced in the last year is, likewise, not diminished. God reminds us, however, that brokenness and death do not get the last word.
Jesus reminds us that God tends to do things backwards from the way we think. If the last are first and the first are last … if the greatest are the least and the least are the greatest … then going down might just be a great way to go up!
Lord, we trust you to meet us at the place of brokenness and death to show us the way to wholeness and life. Amen.