New Foundations

     Many of us grew up thinking that certain things would always be the same. Summertime baseball, Grandmother’s homemade biscuits, going away to college, attending church every Sunday, and the nightly news brought to you by a serious anchorman in a suit were all things that we thought would last forever.  Pretty much all of that has changed. Baseball lasts until November, biscuits are easier to pick up from a drive-thru, college can be done entirely online, the “news” … well, what serves as “news” today is all over the place. And then there was that terrible thing called a global pandemic shut everything down, including Sunday worship.

     Do you remember how it felt to be away from your sanctuary for months? As a pastor, I felt as though I was in a really bad Twilight Zone episode. Nothing in life or in seminary prepared me for leading a church in a global pandemic. The disruption that shutting down in-person events brought has left many of us with some post-trauma stress. Let’s not even talk about schools being closed for months.

     But then there came that wonderful Sunday when we could regather in our buildings and worship together. What joy filled our hearts, even with masks and social distancing! To be gathered in our familiar church was a tremendous relief and blessing. Some of us wept over the changes, but we were home.

     As we read Ezra today, we can truly relate to the Israelites’ joy and sorrow as they laid the foundation of the new temple. Some had worshipped in the old temple, which was destroyed by the Babylonians many years before. As the rebuilding began in earnest, the older generation wept with the memories of Solomon’s grandiose glory days when an elaborate temple existed. But the new generation, having no burden of memory or expectation, shouted with joy to see the return of a permanent place of worship after such a long absence.

Some looked forward while others looked back.

Ezra 3:8-13 (Common English Bible)

8 In the second month of the second year after their arrival at God’s house in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel, Shealtiel’s son, and Jeshua, Jozadak’s son, and the rest of their kin—the priests and the Levites and all who had come from the captivity to Jerusalem—made a beginning. They appointed Levites 20 years old and above to oversee the work on the Lord’s house. 9 Then Jeshua with his sons and his kin, Kadmiel and his sons, Binnui and his sons, the sons of Judah, along with the sons of Henadad, the Levites, and their sons and kin, collaborated to supervise the workers in God’s house.

10 When the builders laid the foundation of the Lord’s temple, the priests clothed in their vests and carrying their trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, arose to praise the Lord according to the directions of Israel’s King David. 11 They praised and gave thanks to the Lord, singing responsively, “He is good, his graciousness for Israel lasts forever.”

All of the people shouted with praise to the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s house had been laid. 12 But many of the older priests and Levites and heads of families, who had seen the first house, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this house, although many others shouted loudly with joy. 13 No one could distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, because the people rejoiced very loudly. The sound was heard at a great distance.

     We are invited to look forward. In those moments of remembering the good ole days it is good to remember that not everything was so good. Nostalgia can haze our thoughts, but God has promised us a future with hope that is a guarantee of joy that helps us look forward. (see Jeremiah 29:11)

     One thing we learned in the pandemic is that worship cannot be restricted to a building. We worshipped at a baseball field, the beach, the front lawn of the church, and even a graveyard on Easter. Ephesians 2:20 reminds us that we are built on a foundation of the patriarchs with Christ himself as our cornerstone. Our foundation is set and stable.

May we shout for joy!

Looking Ahead by Michelle Robertson

A Future With Hope

April 25, 2019

This morning I am waking up in an off-season beach rental, with a cup of caramel flavored coffee in my hand. The early morning sun is streaming onto my propped up feet and I can see that even with a good rinsing, I still have beach sand and tiny pebbles on my feet. As for my coffee, when it comes to mugs, size matters! I like a big mug. It has to be big enough, but not too big. But I dislike the jumbo ones, because the coffee goes cold too quickly. I am a mug snob.

The sun arose and lit up the room with its wake up call. There is no sleeping in at the beach. Even black out curtains won’t prevent its strong alarm, and so I get up to find a favorite chair by the window to write.

God is working something out in me. My journey through the recent Lenten season, when I woke up every morning to post a Lent devotional on my church’s Face Book page, has left me wanting more. I want the discipline of sitting down to write every morning. I want the first thoughts of the day to be focused on scripture. I want to feel the Holy Spirit moving through words, images, fingertips on keyboard, and gazing out my window and looking at the water’s edge where I live in the Outer Banks in North Carolina.

Today I am literally on the water’s edge. The Atlantic Ocean is right outside my open sliding glass door. My daughter and I have “evacuated” to this beach house to escape the repairs to a broken sewer line that are being done on my home by the sound. I can hear the waves and the calls of the seagulls searching for their morning meal. There has always been something calming and inspirational for me whenever I stand on the beach and gaze out at the infinite edge of the ocean. I take deep breaths of salt air and immediately feel centered. God is so present to me by the sea, and has been ever since I was a little girl growing up on the beaches of New Jersey and Delaware.

Writing the daily Lent Devotionals was purely by accident and not by design. After preaching on Ash Wednesday, my music director paid me a high compliment by suggesting that I post the suggestions I had made in my sermon on the 7 Lenten Disciplines. So the next morning I got up, sat in my chair by the window overlooking the marina that leads out to the Albemarle Sound, and cut and pasted. Lo and behold, people asked for a daily reminder of Lenten practices, and thus a 40 day journey began. I was suddenly on task to write something every morning, and when Easter arrived, I realized that God was calling me to continue this discipline in another format.

And so here we are, at water’s edge, looking for hope. A lifetime of standing at water’s edge has led me to appreciate the moment of leaving everything behind and staring out onto a body of water full of possibility, meaning and purpose. I sorted out my relationships, my frustrations, my failures, and my calling while walking the East Coast beaches. Here is where contentment lies.

“At Water’s Edge” is a place you can come to find the peace you lack, the answers you need, and the comfort of searching the horizon and finding a friend. God meets us here to take our hand and lead us through our day. I hope this blesses you as much as it blesses me.

And while I had no plan that first day of writing to spend the next 40 days producing a daily devotional, it appears that it was God’s plan all along.

Our Old Testament friend Jeremiah stood at the edge of Jerusalem and watched it’s destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. The Israelites had fallen into idol worship and were far away from God. Jeremiah and his people were carried away into exile, leaving the place that they loved. Yet, even then, he wrote these words:

Jeremiah 29:11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

God has a plan for you. Let’s find it together at water’s edge.

Photo credit: Michelle Robertson