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.
I HAD no time to hate, because The grave would hinder me, And life was not so ample I Could finish enmity.
Nor had I time to love; but since Some industry must be, The little toil of love, I thought, Was large enough for me.
In her own poetic style, Dickenson warns us about spending our one wild precious life on hate and encourages us to instead give our time and energy toward ‘a little toil of love.’ Christian Spirituality gives us a similar charge: Love, not hate. The author of 1 John puts it like this:
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sisterwhom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. (1 John 4:20-21, NRSV)
We seldom think of love and hate in such stark terms. And yet many of the voices we listen to, exhort us to one or the other, and it is usually not love. Media pundits and personalities prey on fears of people different than us; our inability to hear the other side fuels our cynicism about the state of things in these divided states of America. The voices that call us toward love are drowned out by sensationalism as we hear of yet another act of senseless violence and we each take our sides.
In the wake of Lent and Easter we were reminded of how Jesus came to make visceral what the love of God for each of us looks like. There was enough hate to go around, even back then, but Jesus’ little toil of love was to move toward others with compassion—to suffer alongside those who were suffering—to make space for the ones that no one else had time and energy to deal with and to love them wholeheartedly.
What would it take for us to love like Jesus? Who are the people we find difficult to love? So much of walking the way of Jesus is learning to love others the way that he loved people. Yes, love takes time and who has time for that? Well hate takes time, too, so what do you want to make time for?
In the Northern hemisphere, our Easter coincides with Spring. Grass that laid dormant through winter starts to green. Bare deciduous trees begin to bud and blossom. The crocus and the tulips and the daffodils burst from their hard ground in all their glory and the wildflowers spring to life, painting the landscape brilliant reds and golds, violets and greens. The animals who have slept or hidden away through the winter season, venture forth on the warmer days. Everywhere we look, the world is teeming with life! Is it any wonder that for centuries poets and hymn writers looked this seasonal cycle of death and rebirth and saw it as a metaphor for resurrection?! Consider these lines from Christina Rossetti’s Easter Carol:
Flash forth, thou Sun,
The rain is over and gone, its work is done.
Winter is past,
Sweet Spring is come at last, is come at last.
Or the hymn Now the Green Blade Riseth (hymn #311 in our hymnal), which announces:
Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain,
Love lives again, that with the dead has been
Live is come again like wheat that springeth green.
There is something so evocative about the world bounding back to life that reminds us not only of Christ’s resurrection but also Christ’s promise of new life to us in Him!
This last year has been a hard one for all of us. We have not been able to meet in person as a church much. We have had our lives constricted by masks, social-distancing, and travel restrictions. Some of us have faced economic hardship, personal struggles, the loss of loved ones and friends, anxiety, and depression. It has been a difficult year.
But with the changing of the season—liturgically with Easter and with the coming of Spring—we are invited to look around us for signs of life! What have you seen poking through this cold hard ground? What are you hoping to grow as you begin to tend your garden beds? What are the ways that Christ is calling out of hibernation? What are the things that are bringing you hope right now?
The church has not been dead. The work of the church has never stopped, and we have been fortunate to bless the community with our PALM Dinners, with our food bank, with blankets and masks for Marta’s house (thank you United Methodist Women!) and people in crisis through our discretionary fund. But in this season of Resurrection, may we sense together the life that Christ is calling us to and calling forth in us.
Sunday, September 12, 2021, Worship David D. Glidden was our preacher, Jean Freeman 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.