Journey Through Brokenness – March 27

The Way of Baptism

I fear that many of us have missed the mark. For many … perhaps most … Christians see their baptism only as a cleansing. I’m dirty, so I use baptism to become clean.

For those of us who utilize infant baptism, it is the parents professing their own faith and repenting of their sins and then preemptively coating the infant in that saving grace so the child will have protective grace as he/she grows.

For those of us who utilize adult (believer’s) baptism, it means that those to be baptized come repenting of their sins and are then baptized. Sort of like sanding the wood down and then applying a fresh coat of saving grace to keep the wood safe.

It is about cleansing us and/or keeping us clean.

I am aware that this is a gross generalization, and most clergy would understand some of the deeper nuances of any form of baptism. This is, however, clearly a partial understanding of the baptism used by John the Baptist. Unfortunately, some just stop there.

But here is the problem: Jesus comes to do something new. His baptism becomes something very different. It is less about morality and it is more about connection.

Paul instructs us in Romans 6:3-4: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

It is about connection and belonging. We belong to Christ … we belong to a sacred community. The way of Christian baptism is about way more than morality. When we use it only like a refreshing shower, we miss what Christian baptism is about.

If we read further in Paul’s epistles, it is about assessing the broken places in our lives. For us, it is about assessing our own grief and loss:

  • It is about assessing the massive death toll we have experienced in the year of pandemic with 550,000 people having died from Covid-19.
  • It is about assessing our weaknesses and failings.
  • It is about seeing and grieving the brokenness in our families, in our nation, and in our world.
  • It is about seeing and grieving the racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and others forms of hatred and control that continue to be institutionalized even in fresh legislation coming from our statehouses.

As we journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, it will require that we take only the way of baptism. It is to pick up all these things we have assessed and know to be real in our lives and then wear that brokenness and grief on this journey with Christ.

For you see, Jesus Christ connects with us through our brokenness, and most importantly, it connects us with Jesus. To quote Henri Nouwen, “it is the Christ in me that sees the Christ in you.” The Christ that is in Jesus, who goes to the place of pain, brokenness, and death, is the very same Christ that abides in us. That, friends, is the way of Christian baptism.

I conclude today’s thought with a song by Dave Warne and Zoe Fitch. It is a song that is pretty hard for me (those who know my story will understand why). The same is true for my family.

In this, we gather up our own grief and brokenness and ready ourselves for the journey into a week called Holy. I urge you to use it for a time of quiet meditation. The first verse becomes our prayer:

Hold me under water till I breathe in only you.
Hold me in the broken arms of all that follow you.
Amen.

Journey Through Brokenness – March 26

Speaking by Doing

Jesus spoke about oppression. He talked about the poor … the meek … those who were suffering and grieving and lost in a sea of despair. But more than that, Jesus acted.

That is ultimately what the journey to Jerusalem is all about. It is a journey through brokenness. Jesus doesn’t fly to Jerusalem above the people who are in need of healing. Jesus doesn’t take an interstate behind rolled-up windows that would insulate him from the sounds of suffering. He isn’t glaring at a screen, talking or texting while never looking up to the people who need to hear a word of grace and hope.

Lest you think I am pointing at you, this is an indictment of me. Though it might be an indictment of us.

As Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem, he comes as a living witness. He is teaching, but he is not pontificating. He is healing, but he is not asking for money in return. He is preparing to non-violently speak truth to power while preparing himself to offer only love in return for hatred.

So where is it that we are called to be speaking by doing. As I see Jesus approaching the city, I just might be given a chance to walk with him. As I walk his footsteps, I might just find my own steps … my own witness … my own way of learning to speak truth, healing, hope, and love by DOING truth, healing, hope, and love.

Lord, as you act out life and love among us, may we respond with reverberations of that life and love in order that the world might be transformed. Amen.

Journey Through Brokenness – March 25

Vulnerability

Safety and security is what we long for. We live in a world of power, and we use that power to keep us safe and secure. If you listen to our language, we talk about shoring up our places of vulnerability. Let me be honest. I count on that for my computer software and any business I encounter online (especially when I share financial and personal data with them). We want to shore up against vulnerability in our businesses, in our families, in our military, and in our churches.

We don’t like vulnerability and consider that kind of weakness dangerous.

Yet vulnerability is finally what defines God and the ministry of this Jesus whom we call Christ. There is no way to understand the coming week … Holy Week … without fully understanding the role of vulnerability.

But vulnerability is not the same as weakness.

That was what made the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, John Lewis and many other leaders in the Civil Rights Movement a true challenge for White Americans who benefited from institutions such as slavery, Jim Crow laws, and even churches that perpetuated white superiority. These were the people who non-violently led marches and sit-ins, and they were considered a greater threat than those who violently acted out.

These were people who spoke the truth. As John Wesley might have said, they spoke the truth in love.

Most importantly, these were people who were willing to be vulnerable.

As I read Jon Meacham’s book on John Lewis titled, His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope, I was inspired by the unrelenting way Lewis and so many others maintained their presence in a place that was anything but hospitable to them. Before marches or sit-ins, they would often gather at churches. They would sing and pray, and then they would recommit themselves to a non-violent demonstration against injustice.

Their way was not the way others understood power. They did not attempt a coup or an outright war, though others, including Malcolm X, were on their way to violence.

The leaders of the non-violent Civil Rights Movement knew something about Jesus that the people in white churches did not understand. Jesus was not the militant messiah people in power desired him to be. Jesus gave us the example of the ages for vulnerable, non-violent resistance.

As we come to this Palm Sunday and the week called Holy Week, the primary theme here is vulnerability. It is not just about our brokenness, but about our willingness to be broken.

When I was doing work for my doctoral degree on brokenness among the clergy, I asked a leader high up in our denomination to talk to me about his experience of brokenness. This leader said, “I don’t know that I have any experience of being broken. You don’t get to where I am by being broken.”

That statement said volumes to me. It said to me that there is no place for vulnerability or brokenness. There is no place to authentically experience suffering. What I experienced in that moment was that this inability to be vulnerable or to experience brokenness (which I’m sure existed, but was quickly brushed away or under the rug) was what was contributing to a growing morale problem among the clergy.

Without vulnerability, there can be no empathy. Without empathy, brokenness will never give way to wholeness. Without wholeness, we will not soon be able to experience a life that Jesus called abundant.

So let’s follow Jesus in the days ahead. Look for his capacity to be vulnerable all the way to the cross. See then how Jesus connects with our vulnerability and our brokenness. Then listen as Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”

God, who is willing to share our vulnerability: Teach us to walk your way, to speak your truth, to give you our brokenness, and to live in your love. Amen.

Journey Through Brokenness – March 24

The Shape of Community

[Two notes to those who follow my blog: First, you may have received an emailed release of today’s blog that had little more than a draft subject line. As you will note, this was a hard one to write, and I had deleted my first edits and thought it was back in “draft mode.” I saw the same thing you did.

Secondly, this is a hard one, friends. I know … I know we want to focus on the good and beautiful, and we so wish, especially in the time of pandemic and societal conflict, that we could just talk about easier things. The problem is that Jesus rarely talked about easy things … especially as he journeyed to the place of brokenness known as the cross. As followers of Jesus, we are called to stand face-to-face with the truth. So I urge you to stay with me.

As Tony Campolo is famously quoted, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”]

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We stand at a unique crossroads in history. During Lent, we have talked about brokenness, and then two more mass killings across our country highlight just how broken we are. I don’t believe this is just a time for “thoughts and prayers.” I believe this is a time to confront the truths about ourselves and commit ourselves to the hard work of reshaping community.

To talk about the shape of community is to uncover and address the hidden demons that shape us without our awareness.

Dr. Robert Patrick is from Georgia, and has served as a United Methodist elder. After earning his PhD in Latin and Classics, he began teaching at the high school level and has held adjunct faculty positions in theology and language pedagogy over the years. Yesterday, Bob wrote the following post that has been shared multiple times in social media. It reads as follows:

___________________________

We so reveal ourselves. So much.

The white 22 year old male drives across counties into Atlanta to various locations to shoot and kill 10 people, 8 of whom are women of Asian background. Besides being white, we were told nothing else immediately about the man except that he said this was not racially motivated and that he was a sex addict. 

“He was having a really bad day.” The police officer said.

The 21 year old male with an Arabic name walked into a grocery store in Boulder, CO and shot and killed 10 people. We were not told immediately anything else about the man except that he had lived “most of his life” in the US. (that’s a dog whistle).

“We will hold the evildoer responsible to the fullest extent of the law for his actions,” said the Gov. of Colorado. 

Young white male killer of 10 people has really bad day.
Young male Arabic-named killer of 10 people is an evildoer. 

See what we do? And we do it without blinking or thinking.

Truth: two mass killings happened within days of each other in our nation. The assailants were two young men whose lives are effectively over. This is domestic terrorism. We don’t know, yet if ever, what infected these two young men with life-twisting ideas and experiences. And just because it can never be said enough: mentally ill people generally do not commit violent crimes like this. 

These are two young men – from among us – [who] have committed acts of horror. They won’t be the last. We have not begun to cure the hatred that runs us.

___________________________

Let’s name it. The shape of our contemporary community is so often based on fear and hate … even in the church. The Jesus of the gospels, however, is one who calls us to create a community based on this radical love and compassion.

Jesus, who even offered a forgiving word for his executioners, was unwilling to let hate be what defined his death, and he is now challenging us not to let hate be what defines any part of our world. Period.

As we think about community, what would happen if we began to reshape community to reflect the Christ that has been infused into everything. What happens if we begin to speak truth about the shadowed fears in our lives.

Then we reshape our community with love … not just love … courageous love. This is love that speaks truth as Dr. Patrick has done here. This is the love that dares to stand non-violently against violence. This is the love defined by Jesus … Mahatma Gandhi … Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who himself called us to the “beloved community.”

So as we reshape a community based on courageous love, maybe the words of Dr. King ring the truest: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

May this courageous love define the community that you and I create together.

God, infuse us with your courageous love that we might create the beloved community. Amen.

Journey Through Brokenness – March 23

Mindfulness

Our son-in-law, Jeff, was the quintessential Air Force pilot. He taught me that one of the first things a pilot learns is situational awareness, which he simply called SA. I was playing golf with him one day when he saw the group on a parallel fairway just yards from us. I was getting ready to hit my second shot when he called from the cart, “Dad, SA!”

The man on the other fairway had stepped up to address the ball and was taking practice swings. While we were still on our tee box, Jeff had watched him come off their tee box with a pretty terrible slice (meaning the ball arced dramatically down our side of the fairway) into the rough. His next stroke didn’t go far, and this was his third stroke on the ball. He was near the trees, and Jeff realized that a slice could come directly toward the cart.

Knowing what he meant, I looked up and around just in time to see the swing. The other golfer yelled, “Fore!” the very moment the ball soared past us. The ball came directly over where my ball lay and may well have hit me had I not seen what was happening. All because I was reminded to engage SA in that moment.

As Jesus moves toward the cross in Mark’s gospel, he talks about how important situational awareness … necessary watchfulness … mindfulness … is for us.

In Mark 13:32-37, Jesus says,

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

He uses the image of someone going on a journey and putting the servants in charge who then reminds the doorkeeper to stay awake and watch for the unexpected return. We tend to make this passage entirely about the future. It is the eternal reward for the worthy and eternal judgment for the unworthy. But in seeing it only this way, we miss the more immediate meaning.

What if we see Jesus as calling us to practice mindfulness … to watch what happens in every moment of the day … to be prepared to meet Christ in the face of our neighbors. Those neighbors could be people down the street or across town or south of our border. Most often, Jesus tends to tell us to look for his face … the face of Christ … in the poor, the oppressed, the imprisoned, the hungry … those who are marginalized or who experience brokenness in any way.

Yet we tend to be watching the clouds when Christ shows up unexpectedly at another door … often in places or in people who are unseen and unnoticed.

Take a minute to pause and see what is around you today. Take inventory of the people with whom you have crossed or will cross paths today … even if you are separated by car windows or acres of land or even oceans. Where is it that you might see Christ today?

As my son-in-law advised, when we practice SA it might reveal the errant golf ball, but it might also reveal the sudden appearance of the face of Christ.

Stay mindful, friends!

God, keep us mindful for your unexpected appearance in our lives. Amen.

Journey Through Brokenness – March 22

Pilgrimage

The Holy Land. I led a tour there in 1995, and in 2020, I had planned to take another group. That obviously didn’t work out as planned. There will be another one planned at some point in a safer future.

But the question is why we are drawn to the Holy Land in the first place.

People are drawn for various reasons. It could be the ancient history or culture. For most, however, the motivation is religious. That is what pilgrimage is all about. It is a religious journey that is intended to enrich, not just the mind, but the spirit, as well. It certainly was a pilgrimage for me.

It makes sense that Jesus’s disciples would have thought that any journey to Jerusalem from Galilee could have been for spiritual enrichment. Even as they sensed the tension that existed between Jesus and religious leadership, I can’t help but believe that they may have hoped it would not be too dangerous journey.

Then Jesus laid it out for them. He was walking into the darkness … into the place of his own brokenness … to the place of his death. In Matthew 20:17-19, we are told that Jesus and his disciples are on the journey to Jerusalem when he tells his disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”

This doesn’t sound like a pilgrimage for spiritual enrichment. In fact, it sounds suicidal … why would we walk toward our own death.

In some sense, I think this is the genius of the gospel message. Jesus comes to stand in solidarity with us and to acknowledge that we are all on the road to our own death. When we have lived long enough, we will be faced with our own darkness and brokenness. Jesus, as the central reference point of our faith, gives us the pattern for this journey. It is one that requires honesty and courage. It requires compassion and love. Above all, it requires faith and trust.

The tendency here is to look at this narrative only from the side of brokenness, but we are reminded that the Christian story is told by those who are on this side of resurrection.

The wisdom espoused in the gospels is that Jesus was the one who showed us the pattern for holding both darkness and light … brokenness and wholeness … and death and resurrection in tension with each other (a theme I have shared before in this season).

So ultimately, this is a pilgrimage, but it is not the pilgrimage we have in mind. As we make our way this week to Palm Sunday, may we be reminded that our pilgrimage is the journey through brokenness that leads us ever closer to the heart of God. Hidden in death itself is the gift of life.

To hold onto our life is to acknowledge, with honesty and courage, that we must hold onto our death. To hold onto our death, in this way, is also to hold onto the hope of life that is eternal and abundant.

God, we follow you and trust that you walk with us in our darkness. May we find within that darkness, the light of life. Amen.

Journey Through Brokenness – March 21

Coming to Ourselves

I have always been fascinated with the stories in Luke 15 (sometimes called “Luke’s Lost and Found”). In that one chapter, Jesus tells three stories that are often labeled as: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Prodigal Son (or more accurately, The Prodigal and His Brother).

Each of these three stories tell about something that was lost and how, after searching and waiting, was found and restored to the place of belonging. Along with many, my favorite is the story of the prodigal and his brother found in Luke 15:11-32. It is a story of lostness that perhaps illuminates further our theme of brokenness.

Without retelling or commenting in detail on what led to the separation or even the dilemma between the two brothers after the return, I want to pause and reflect for a moment on the state of lostness and brokenness.

The youngest son, who has left home, has now spent his entire fortune on “resolute living” (I urge you not to over-moralize this because the idea of spending the fortune on prostitutes came from the mind of the older brother and not from the narrator (here, it is Jesus) telling the story).

He now has nothing, and he is forced to eke out a living feeding pigs for one of the local farmers (something a good Jewish person would find more than reprehensible). He is a lost and broken young man.

But Jesus then tells the story in a profound way. In the Greek, we read that “he came to himself” (εαυτον δε ελθων, for my Greek loving friends), which involves an active verb. As I wrote about yesterday about “remembering,” this isn’t a passive activity. While we often would say, “he came to his senses,” Jesus is saying that he moved toward himself … he suddenly saw himself and his situation in a new light.

In that moment, he knew his own desperate brokenness but he also knew the generous, loving heart beating within the breast of his own dad. It was the combination of those two realities that enabled him to move toward himself … to love himself enough to know that he was in a place he did not belong … to love himself enough to see this image of God amidst his own brokenness … to trust himself and his father enough to go home.

And it brought him to the place of humility. While his brother was still living according to a notion of worthiness based on how much he served his father, the young son came home expecting nothing more than the simplest act of grace … being able to live, not as a son, but as a servant in the place he had once called home.

What is confirmed for us is that the parental love demonstrating God’s love is surprisingly larger than we ever thought possible, and the young man’s place in the family is fully restored.

No matter where we are or our state of brokenness or even our sin, God’s love is big enough to make space for us to come to ourselves … to love ourselves … and make our way back home.

Lord, whose love is greater than our imaginations. Give us the courage to see ourselves as we truly are and love ourselves and trust you nonetheless. Amen.

Journey Through Brokenness – March 20

Remembering

One of the great themes of the faith became one of my own mantras over the years. It is a quote that I used every day I would drop my children off for school when they were young … it is what I say every time we celebrate The Baptism of the Lord. Anyone who has heard me preach long enough knows how important a phrase it is to me.

Remember Who You Are!

As my children grew, it was so tempting to go deeper in explaining what it meant, but I decided that such explanation would dilute or limit its meaning. While I have preached about it and have attempted to plumb the depths of its meaning for myself, I keep coming back to new revelations, and I hope that to be the same for my children and all who have heard it said.

Remember Who You Are!

We think of “remembering” as a cognitive act. It is to call something to mind … to reach into the places of memory and bring something to mind or to speech. So often, faith has been the same way. We have narrowed it down to “belief” … itself a cognitive function without anything more than recollection and recitation for many Christians through the millennia.

But what if we use the word “remember” opposite the word “dismember?” It is now more than cognitive function. To dismember is to actively dismantle. It is to weaken and destroy. It is to actively take something … or someone … apart. If we see the word “dismember” as active destruction, might we not see “remember” as active construction or, more precisely, reconstruction?

Some may recall that I have quoted Father Richard Rohr as he talks about the three movements through life: order, disorder, and reorder. It falls in line with academic understandings of construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction, and it likewise reflects the biblical and theological ideas of life, death, and resurrection.

What if we add another way of thinking here? I am proposing that maybe member, dismember, and remember might be appropriate ways of understanding that same flow.

To put this in more spiritual terms, God has “membered” us. The word “member” has to do with belonging. Our bodies are membered together, and all creation is membered together in sacred community.

We belong to God … we belong to ourselves … we belong to one another. At Wellspring, we take pride in an early way of talking about discipleship (thanks to our founding pastor, the Reverend Nancy Woods). The steps are:

  • Belonging
  • Believing
  • Becoming
  • Caring
  • Connecting

Before we articulate our faith … before we become stronger disciples … before we are asked to move into ministries of caring for our world and others … before we even see ourselves as connected … WE BELONG. It is about being “membered.”

Then there is the dismembering. It is the tearing apart at the fabric of a unified and unifying spirit. It is what we do when we become self-centered. It is the destruction of our planet and our environment. It is the destruction of the lives of people … especially people who find themselves already marginalized. It is what happens when we systematically tear families apart, whether they are at our borders, in our inner-cities, in our neighborhoods, or in our own homes.

This is the place of brokenness we are talking about this season. It is about the feeling of “dismemberment.”

Then we are invited to the act of “remembering.” Not just to call forth in our minds, but to actively seek wholeness beyond brokenness … hope beyond despair … light beyond darkness … life beyond death. It is what leaders at Wellspring are working to do for our congregation. It is to put the members back together.

I am convinced that this, my friends, is the call of Christ!

Remember who you are!

God, you are the one who calls us to places of belonging. You walk with us through the places of brokenness. You invite us to remember! Amen.

Journey Through Brokenness – March 19

Signs of Hope

We had talked to the tree specialists in January. We had received their bid, and then as the date of surgery neared, we decided to wait. We would have plenty of time before leaves began to sprout.

The the winter storm unfolded in Texas in ways that we thought unimaginable. Ice built up on roofs, on tree limbs, on cars, and on streets. Snow fell (which looked beautiful), but the mist that fell through the night when we reached 5 degrees created a hard shell on top. Then the power and water. Our family managed to keep the water pipes from freezing, and we got caught up in rolling blackouts (only one being something that may have require a crew to repair).

Others were not so fortunate. They went days without heat or gas. Many lost heat. All of this happening in temperatures that remained just above or below 10 degrees most days.

Then as we began to recover, we got on the list of the tree specialist. Because we had only lost three limbs (no threat to houses or driveways) we ended up on the “yellow” list. Those on the red had to come first.

But our concern was Rosie the Red Bud. I have talked about Rosie before. She and I have maintained a relationship that goes between love and hate that settles usually in tolerance. She stands fifty feet tall now, and the tree guy says she could easily grow another thirty feet.

As much as I hate the more than more than forty pounds of acorns she drops from late August through November, the more than thirty bags of leaves she drops from October through December, and the pollen she manages to use to cover three driveways and the cars in or near those driveways … I hated more the thought that she might damaged.

So many of us lost trees and shrubs. Even some of our Live Oaks in the rest of our yard are struggling still. But Rosie is the prettiest tree in our yard, so we were pretty worried.

The tree people came and did their work. The trimmed out all the deadwood. They raised the canopy. They pronounced Rosie and her friends healthy. But she still looked dead. She had not even put out leaf buds.

Isn’t that the way of living for so many of us? We have been through so much. We feel broken and damaged. Perhaps we have that feeling that we are not worth saving. Suffering … loss … grief … darkness.

The pruning begins. Jesus says that only when the vines that are pruned will they bear fruit. Brokenness is like pruning. It is hard … it means letting go of so many things … it means starting over again. Yet somehow, Jesus keeps saying over and over again that this is where God does the best work. The vine will be healthy and will bear more fruit than we ever thought possible.

Rosie reminded that of us. A little more than a week after the pruning, she had not only sprouted buds, we looked up to see the limbs full of tiny leaves. We can now return to our somewhat strained relationship, but I can say after that, there will be less complaining on my part.

After all, she became the symbol of hope. No matter the darkness or brokenness we have faced, she reminds me it is like a pruning. Fruitfulness follows pruning. Life … true, abundant life … follows dying.

This, friends, is the way of hope.

God, may our brokenness be the pruning that leads to fruitfulness, and may our dying be that which leads to life. Amen.

Journey Through Brokenness – March 18

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.