God Is Doing A New Thing
"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? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." -Isaiah 43:18-19
The attached image is a compilation of some recent Mpls StarTribune newspaper headlines. They are not good. They are big, bold reminders that we shouldn't let our guard down yet in regard to COVID-19. And yet, for many, they have. While for many others (including myself) it's tempting to do so. I see no need to continue sharing numbers of positive cases, hospitalizations, ICU beds (lack thereof), etc. These alarming numbers are difficult to escape if one watches or reads the daily news. Our state is currently one where such numbers are real, and not good.
What I do want to continue sharing, however, is the need for all of us to continue to be flexible, forgiving, and understanding in how we live our lives in the midst of this ongoing pandemic. Specifically, how we worship and be a community of faith at St. Paul Lutheran.
In addition to the recent StarTribune headlines depicted in that image, there was another big, bold headline in last Sunday's edition. It read:
COVID-19 has changed the way we worship, faith leaders say
Faith leaders say they won't go back to the way things were before COVID
Here is a link to that article. I encourage you to read it. It is a reminder to us all of how difficult it is to be a community of faith, as we have known and remember, pre-COVID. As much as we long for "the way things used to be" we still are inundated with such alarming headlines that continue to demand us to be church differently. As flexible and understanding as our community of faith has been, we are not all on the same page.
Last Sunday, for example, we communed for the first time in a year and a half with open, pre-filled communion cups of wine and juice, while being handed (with gloves) a wafer. One worshipper expressed their deep, emotional relief and joy to me for finally receiving Holy Communion in such a "normal" way again. Another worshipper at that same service refrained from partaking in the Sacrament altogether, indicating to me after worship, that it was felt unsafe to do so.
Such varied responses to our COVID Safe policies/practices/procedures are not uncommon. So it is important to reiterate that our COVID Response Team remains committed and faithful to our community of faith (as a whole) and to their responsibility for keeping us all as safe as possible while helping us live into who God is calling and creating us to be. I continue to be grateful for them. I remind you, too, that who we are now and who we are continuing to become, is good, and that God is indeed, doing a new thing in our midst. Thank you for embracing this new thing with me.
See you in Church! (and bring a friend!)
Dear Members and Friends of St. Paul Lutheran Church,
My wife, Carrie, and I volunteer twice a week in an online writing class that teaches English as a second language through the International Institute of Minnesota in St. Paul. The students are currently practicing writing "For and Against" essays. This has been interesting as they first have to choose a topic and then create an outline presenting three reasons why people are for it and three reasons why others might be against it. As you might imagine, there is no shortage of topics (many controversial) for them to choose from. It has made for some interesting conversation as the students have strong opinions on both sides - for and/or against.
I was reminded as I write about this, of an illustration I've used in sermons before. A conversation between a father and son, Joe and Murray. Both of them grew up Jewish, but now the son, Murray, is a Christian. This strained his relationship with his father for many years. So when Joe was dying and his son, Murray, had come home to visit, they shared a touching bedside conversation about faith.
Joe: You know Murray, sometimes I lie in bed at night and wonder, "What if you're right?"
Murray: And dad, sometimes I lie in bed at night and wonder, "What if I'm wrong?"
You and I both find ourselves at odds with our own close family members, friends, co-workers, and even church friends. Like those ESL students have recently learned, we too have been reminded everyday that there is no shortage of contentious subjects that we find ourselves having strong opinions either for or against. This contentiousness has fractured many of our relationships. I am disappointed how (among many things) the pandemic and our varying responses to it, and how our political leanings or affiliations have gotten in the way of valued and dear relationships. It doesn't need to be this way.
I continue to encourage you - at home, at work, at school - to let love win, rule, and dictate your actions in your life. We can rise above the contentiousness and love one another as the greatest commandment calls us to do. We can "come to each other's defense, speak well of one another, and interpret everything one another does in the best possible light" as Martin Luther calls us to do in his interpretation of the eighth commandment. We can arrive at a place of grace like Joe and Murray eventually did. We can follow the apostle Paul's advice in his letter to the Romans, "As much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."
To live in this way - in all aspects of our life - will bring about the peace and healing that we all long for. And that is something I think we are all strongly for. Am I right?
See you in Church! (and bring a friend!)
Pastor Dale Stiles
A Weekly Check-In