What a gorgeous day today was! Were you able to be outside at all? The leaves are beginning to turn, and it’s already a spectacular show of color. It’s a great time of year to remember to look up and around you as you go about your daily life. So often we get stuck in the world of our daily “schedule” and forget to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation, which lives outside of our clock-structured life.
While you’re out there enjoying the foliage, if anyone has pictures of the beauty they find this fall, please feel free to share! 🙂
Just a couple of things to note for this week:
The Rev. Shaun Whitehead had been scheduled for preach and lead worship this Sunday, but she had an unexpected family need pop up, and she won’t be able to be with us. Because this all happened so last minute, I wasn’t able to find someone to fill in, but we have something else wonderful happening instead! Rev. Laurena Wickham Will and the Ogdensburg Presbyterian Church returned to their sanctuary this last Sunday, and they are streaming their service live from the sanctuary to Facebook. I spoke with Laurena about our need this Sunday, and she has graciously offered to welcome us in for their service. And it will be “easy, peasy, lemon squeezy” for you to attend.
All you need to do is go to our church’s Facebook page and look for the service there like you do every Sunday. Just like ours does, the Ogdensburg service starts at 10am, and Dale Hobson will be hosting a “Watch Party” on our church’s Facebook page of the worship service. This means that for those of you who like to watch at 10am, the service will be there for you, and for those of you who like to watch at a later point, it will still be there to find whenever you’re ready for it.
This will be a chance for you to get an idea of what an in-person service might look like for us when we return to the sanctuary. Laurena said that last week they played pre-recorded music at the beginning of the service, but that was the only music they had. There was also no passing of the peace or offertory. (There were offering plates by the doors, where you could drop your pledge on the way out the door.) And they kept the amount of congregational response in the liturgy to a minimum.
I’m not sure yet how our services will be structured– session and I will need to discuss that when the time is right for us. But it will be good to attune our expectations ahead of time to the fact that an in-person service won’t look like what we’re accustomed to. When we return to the sanctuary, we will be coming home to a “new normal.”
We have come so far on our pandemic journey– adjusting and readjusting our patterns and customs. This will be a change, for sure, and probably also painful in some ways. But even as we hold all of that in one hand, we will hold in the other hand the fact that we’ve gotten good at adapting ourselves to new landscapes. And we know that God will be with us! (Which is the most important part.)
Speaking of adjusting ourselves to new “normals”– the other day I read something on Facebook that I wanted to share with you. I wish I could say that I was paying close enough attention to copy the link, or even remember the name of the doctor to be able to credit her properly, but I wasn’t. So I will simply do my best to present to you the heart of what she shared. (Also, since I don’t remember her name, I will simply call her Dr. Patel.)
Dr. Patel has spent blocks of time over the last few decades working in refugee camps around the world, providing health care to people who live in a constant state of crisis, worry, trauma, and grief. One of the important things she has learned from these experiences is that when she’s living in a place of true groundlessness, somewhere around the 6 month mark, she hits the wall. “It happens every time,” she said, “like clockwork. After the initial shock wears off of being somewhat powerless in the world you find yourself in, you somehow manage to find a rhythm to this new way of being in the world. Even though you might not enjoy this current life you’re living, there’s comfort to be found in having routine– of knowing what to expect. Out of nowhere, however, around the 6-month mark, the wall comes and hits you dead on. In this period of time (which can last for weeks or sometimes even months), you begin to lose hope. You begin to lose focus. A type of apathy sets in that makes it difficult to do anything besides put one foot in front of the other.”
“When this happens,” she said, “don’t expect too much from yourself. It’s enough simply to get through it.”
“Eventually, at some point, the wall will dissipate and you will find that you have the energy and the grace to absorb more than the bare minimum. But until that day comes, give yourself permission to acknowledge that the wall is real, and that it is hard like concrete– unforgiving and nearly impenetrable. While you’re in the middle of it (however hard it is), keep in mind that it is a season. It is not permanent. At some point, it will soften, and you will begin to feel more human again.”
Dear hearts, this year may very well be one of the hardest years we ever experience in our lifetime. The weight of this world feels crushing. But we are not alone in this experience. Throughout the ages, millions of others have traversed waters like these, and always, God has been beside them wading right along. When you find yourself “hitting the wall,” know that you are not alone. When you feel fear and uncertainty for the future, remember that in other places and other times, people all around the globe have lived in groundless before you, and the arch of God’s faithful and abiding love has endured.
The writer of the book of Hebrews helps put all of this into perspective:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible….
By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.”
He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked blessings for the future on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, “bowing in worship over the top of his staff.” By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave instructions about his burial.
By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 11:1-2, 11:17-12:2
Friends, what we face is difficult, indeed. And yet, the great cloud of witnesses shrouds us, even as God leads us. We may be living in an unknown world, but we are not alone. Never have we been, and never will we be– for we belong to the God of the Ages.
Hold firm in our faith as we take on the weeks still before us,