Worthless Things

This is the season of “Back to School.” But in many parts of the country we aren’t back to school in the traditional sense. Parents have had to become homeschool teachers without any semblance of teacher training. Many now have to try to balance their own careers with teaching their kids at home.

This is the season of “Back to Church.” But in many parts of the country we aren’t back to church in the traditional sense. Preachers have had to become televangelists without any semblance of technical training. We have had to try to balance our usual clergy duties with not being able to use our buildings or do in-person visitations.

This is the season of “Fall Bible Study Sign-Ups.” But in many parts of the country we aren’t back to Bible studies in the traditional sense. Teachers are trying to negotiate how to do video-based curriculum on ZOOM, in-person classes in masks, or some hybrid of both.

Nothing is quite seasonal in this “season.” And nothing is normal. How can we learn then?

The psalmist speaks a longing of heart today that truly resonates with the desire we feel to be in God’s word and God’s house, regardless of our current season of trouble.

Psalm 119 (Common English Bible)

33 Lord, teach me what your statutes are about,
    and I will guard every part of them.
34 Help me understand so I can guard your Instruction
    and keep it with all my heart.
35 Lead me on the trail of your commandments
    because that is what I want.
36 Turn my heart to your laws,
    not to greedy gain.

Oh, how we long to return to life in the traditional sense! We long to attend church on Sundays so that we can understand God’s instructions and feel the protection of living inside his will for our lives. We want to walk a trail that God lays out before us that leads directly to him. We need Bible studies, Sunday School classes, small groups, youth group, the chance to do mission work, the joy of fellowship time, the opportunity to eat donuts, to sing in the choir….we need all the ways we typically learn about God. But in this season, living in God’s way will take a lot more effort on our part.

We need to turn our eyes away from looking at worthless things like regret over things not being “normal.”

37 Turn my eyes away from looking at worthless things.
    Make me live by your way.
38 Confirm your promise to your servant—
    the promise that is for all those who honor you.

So what are you looking at? What has captured your attention and diverts you from seeking God? Is your nostalgic longing for the way things used to be preventing you from engaging in the way things are?

We’re tired. We’re frustrated. We want the normal things back. But until that happens, we must find a way in this season to return to God’s word and his presence. God’s rules are good. When we seek after learning he will help us live by his righteousness.

So find that Bible study and sign up! Make a concerted effort to attend worship this Sunday no matter how it is offered. Join a ZOOM small group. This is the season to reconnect regardless of ”how.” This is the season to reconnect even if it won’t be like it used to be. This is the season to just do it.

39 Remove the insults that I dread
    because your rules are good.
40 Look how I desire your precepts!
    Make me live by your righteousness

Sanctuary by Ann Marie Haywood

Post-Pandemic Plans

My husband just made a reservation at a favorite restaurant in Disney World for September. It is a reservation that in normal times is impossible to get, especially for a popular time in the evening, but it’s ours now. The thing I love the most about this is that we are starting to think in concrete terms about life AP….After Pandemic.

It is good to do this. Our patient watching-and-waiting is energized when we allow ourselves to think about life getting back to normal. We may still be staying at home in September, but it sure feels good to look ahead and dream.

This morning’s reading is just like that. Isaiah, the renowned Old Testament prophet, was also in a watching-and-waiting place. It was during the time when Israel was divided into a Northern Kingdom (Israel) and a Southern Kingdom (Judah). Isaiah watched as the Northern Kingdom was overrun by the Assyrians, and the Israelites were captured and taken to places far away. Judah is hanging on for now, and in the midst of this, Isaiah writes this beautiful vision of a post-diaspora celebration where all the people of the world will come to feast in Jerusalem:

Isaiah 25 (The Message)

But here on this mountain, God-of-the-Angel-Armies
    will throw a feast for all the people of the world,
A feast of the finest foods, a feast with vintage wines,
    a feast of seven courses, a feast lavish with gourmet desserts.
And here on this mountain, God will banish
    the pall of doom hanging over all peoples,

The shadow of doom darkening all nations.
    Yes, he’ll banish death forever.
And God will wipe the tears from every face.
    He’ll remove every sign of disgrace
From his people, wherever they are.
    Yes! God says so!

9-10 Also at that time, people will say,
    “Look at what’s happened! This is our God!
We waited for him and he showed up and saved us!
    This God, the one we waited for!
Let’s celebrate, sing the joys of his salvation.
    God’s hand rests on this mountain!”

Oh, how this resonates today! We long for God to come and remove the shadow of doom, the PALL of doom, from our world today. We long to be able to gather together, to lay down our masks and gloves, and to feast on the finest foods and vintage wines.

The time is coming. God will wipe the tears from every face. He will remove every sign of this pandemic from his people, wherever they are. God’s hand rests on his creation, and he will show up and save us, in his time.

What are your post-pandemic dreams? What is the first thing you want to do when the restrictions are lifted and the danger has passed? What do you miss the most? Dream and plan, friends! It is good for your soul.

But for now, we wait.

And as we wait, remember this: we are one day closer to the end of this thing. Thanks be to God.

Watching and Waiting. Photo by Michelle Robertson