The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas and established it on the rivers. – Psalm 24:1–2 (NRSV)
It never fails. When Autumn descends upon us, and the smoke clears enough for us to see and to breathe, I am blown away by the beauty that surrounds us in the Basin. The cool crisp air of the morning, with sunlight fingers poking through the trees. The green leaves only just beginning their process of letting go, begin their fade to red, and gold and brilliant orange. I feel the cool Fall breeze against my face and in the distance hear the gentle din of birdsong. Truly, the earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it!
And the fullness of God’s presence is not just in the beauty of nature, but in the people. Most days I’m at the church office, I make it a point to walk to lunch somewhere downtown, taking in the sights and sounds of the city. I stop to listen to musicians, smile at runners who are jogging by, and greet passersby. Sometimes I see faces I recognize from church, and from PALM. I see all kinds of people—the homeless, and the addicts, the shoppers, and the diners and those out running errands, those just hanging out. Sometimes I stop to talk with people. More often I say a silent prayer on their behalf of someone who looks distressed, asking for God’s shalom to reign. The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it; the world, and those who live in it!
As good church people, we are trained to think of our church building as a sacred space. It is here that we gather each Sunday for worship, encased in stained-glass, adorned by banners, and beautiful centerpieces on the altar, our vaulted ceilings drawing our eyes heavenward as we contemplate God’s presence in our lives. And there is something special about our gathering space. I meet God in this place. Just not only in this place.
Our church leadership has been talking these past months about what the church can do in our neighborhoods and out in the community. Part of this is because as the body of Christ, we are meant to be the presence of Christ in and for our world. But also, when we venture out into the world, we discover something else. The Spirit of God is already here—the wind blows where it may—and we meet God in new ways whenever we step outside. The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it; the world, and all who live in it. In what places does God’s presence feel most real to you? Where does God feel distant?
Recently, our small groups had been reading Dottie Escobedo-Frank’s Restart Your Church (Abingdon, 2012). We had two groups that were meeting, a mid-week group which met in the afternoon on days that I had office hours, and an after-church group, which met on Sundays. The mid-week group blazed through the book, but the after-church group couldn’t finish until near the end of August.
One of our thoughts behind the book study was that the pandemic had put worship on hold, so as we were getting back to a sense of normal meant we had to restart our church and it seemed like the right time to think about what sort of church we wanted to come back to. In both small groups we talked about where our church has struggled, the problems we have as a church community, and we dreamt together about what sorts of things we could do and be as a church.
During our final week, I asked what sort of church we wanted to become. We decided as a group that we wanted to be a church that:
· Was making a difference in people’s lives
· That communicated welcome
· That made time for us to share deeply with one another
· That got involved in the wider community of Klamath Falls
These are good goals and ones that I hope we live into, but I didn’t want to leave it in the abstract. So I asked, “What are some actionable steps we can take?”
We talked about the ‘upstairs church’ going downstairs and joining PALM—serving but also getting to know the people whose lives we touch through that ministry. We talked about being the Presence of Christ at community events and discovering where the Spirit of God is already at work in Klamath Falls. We talked about taking conscious steps to be the Church outside of our church walls, discovering what is going on in the community and getting involved in it.
One exciting way that we got to practice this recently was when our church joined in at Klamath Falls’ first Pride Festival on August 21. Our LGBTQIA+ neighbors are used to only hearing words of judgment and condemnation from the Christian church, and we got to be there and share our support and the love and welcome of Christ!
We are on a journey together, and in lots of ways we are just getting (re)started! But I am excited to pastor a church making an impact in our neighborhoods and in our city. I will be intentional about looking for things we can do to make a difference in people’s lives!
We are in the middle of Southern Oregon’s fire season, and with too many hot days and far too little rain it has been a stressful season. With the irrigation waters closed off to our farmers and domestic wells drying up and wildfires raging, we struggle to maintain hope. And beyond the dry and the heat, we struggle with other things. Worries about the Delta variant of the Corona virus (will we see another outbreak? Will it propel us back into lockdown?), and our own personal struggles (finances, health, housing) have us feeling anxious.
Hope is a tricky thing to hold onto. We see all of kinds of reasons not to hope. Maybe some of the things I mentioned above, but maybe something else. Maybe you had hoped for something (e.g., a job, healing, transformation) and as time has worn on you find yourself butting against the same issues, without much change. Maybe we’ve grown cynical, or worse yet, realistic, about our expectations. We grow careful, never daring to hope too much.
The thing about hope is that if everything was the way it should be, we wouldn’t need to hope. We hope because there is enough wrong with the world, that we long for something better, more secure, surer. God’s people have always had a hard time holding on to hope.
The book of Habakkuk describes the suffering of God’s people, and their longing for God’s deliverance. There was a lot wrong in Habakkuk’s day (circa 612 BCE) The Babylonians were becoming a dominant force in the Ancient Near East, visiting Judea with war and hardship. Habakkuk writes:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
Everything in Habakkuk’s world mitigated against him holding out hope. The Babylonians were a militant force threatening Judea, the crops failed, and the livestock ran away or were killed. It would have been easy for Habakkuk to give up, grow cynical and resign himself to the destruction of his people, but he chose instead to trust in the LORD.
[Spoiler Alert]: Habakkuk didn’t get everything he hoped for. The Babylonian Empire would grow into a larger threat, destroy the Temple and Jerusalem, carrying its inhabitants into exile. But the God who Habakkuk hoped in, would not abandon the children of Israel in their exile but would bring them back home again.
Similarly, I don’t know how each of our stories will enfold. Fire, droughts, pandemics, and political turmoil happen, and we may be in for a hard road ahead. But I do know this, despite what happens, God will not abandon us. Despite war, famine, drought, destruction, difficult diagnoses, grief, despair, God loves each of us; each of us are held within the Triune God’s loving care.
What are the things that give you hope? How do you hold out hope for God’s deliverance amidst the struggles and uncertainty of this life?
At annual conference this year, they posted my picture and announced my appointment for the next year. Our conference was online, and I didn’t see myself in the list. They posted the appointments around the dinner hour, and I had broken away from being online to make dinner and sit down with my family for a moment. Jean texted to say, “nice picture.” And my friend Leroy also texted me, to congratulate me. I have known Leroy for about 17 years. When I was still in my twenties, my wife and I did a year-long-urban mission where I lived in intentional Christian community in an at-risk Atlanta neighborhood, worked a volunteer job, attended a local church in the neighborhood, and got intentional about loving that community. Leroy was our program director in Atlanta and became something of a mentor. I was not connected to the Methodist world then. Neither was Leroy.
But all these years later, I have begun my second year as your pastor, and Leroy has been serving our denomination for the past several years. He is the director of Innovation and Disruption for our conference and has worked alongside new congregations, coaching church planters, and helping our conference dream new Kingdom possibilities in their community. Additionally, Leroy and his wife Donna, have been actively raising up leaders of color both in our denomination and beyond.
So, when Leroy texted me, I texted back and said “we can use some innovation and disruption down here.” I got a text back, “Invite me this summer and I will make a weekend of it.” We did some back and forth around preaching dates before settling on July 18th, as a weekend that worked for him. As luck would have it, this is the week that we are scheduled for church at Wiard Park. “Great, I will talk about community engagement,” Leroy texted me back. This is something that Leroy is uniquely gifted and qualified to speak about.
I was excited about Worship in the Park anyway. Food, fellowship, and fresh air are always a good combination. But as we have been dreaming together, with our Restart book discussion, what sort of church we want to be and what kind of mission we want to live into, Leroy’s coming makes this a great opportunity. Plus, that man can preach! This is not a service you will want to miss, and it is a service you will want to invite people to! You will not want to miss it!
June marks my twelve months, that I have served as your pastor. I started worshipping alongside you the first Sunday in July, and it has been quite a year! When I began my tenure, the worship committee and I were in discussion as to when and how we could gather for in-person worship. We had guidelines and restrictions in place as to how we gather and what we could do. We also wanted to make sure we cared for one another well. It was still months before we gathered-in-person as a church (October!) but with our infection rates in the basin, it was still a while before we could be together for regular worship. Pentecost Sunday was the first Sunday that we could sing again! And so, while we have journeyed together for a year, in many ways, with our return to weekly gathering, feels like we are just getting started!
It has been a difficult year for many of us. The Pandemic upended our routines and isolated us from one another. Still our online worship has provided a way for us to connect with people who had already been unable to be with us in person (because of health or distance from our community). We were not together but we were together in the experience of the pandemic. The gift of COVID-19 was that it gave us empathy for everyone who felt excluded, and we sought to navigate how to do church, we became a more inclusive community!
We find ourselves now at the threshold of post-pandemic-life with the promise of a return to normal. The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, “There is nothing new under the sun”
(Ecclesiastes 1:9), and while that is true, the cessation of worship this past year has made us feel like “Everything old is new again!” We have had to readjust ourselves to Sunday, and in some cases transform how we have done things as we navigate our current reality. But how good it is to be together again!
This past year, we have been blest as church to be served by the gift of a few of our members. We have heard the preaching gifts of Jean Freeman and David Glidden. We have heard the music of Pat Harris, Carolyn Lewert-Hagan, Charles Charles, Deanne Inman and more! We have been served by the camera work and editing skill of Fred Freeman. But now that the whole church is gathered, I am excited to see and hear again the gifts of the whole church, just as I was excited on Pentecost to hear the voices of all who were gathered as we sang. Not just a few of us, but all of us, as we strive to be the church for one another!
In the coming year, may we sense the gift of one another’s presence each time we gather. And may we care for one another as we transition back to togetherness.
Jean Somerville Freeman was our preacher; Bea Naylor read the scripture lesson.
Click on the video thumbnail above to watch. To go to full screen, click on the square in the lower right corner of the video. Previous worship services are available on our YouTube channel (click on the link below) and on our Online Worship Services page.