More than Enough

We are moving back into our sanctuary for the first time since March. The pandemic forced us to take our worship services online, out to a ball field parking lot, over to our front yard, onto the beach, and even to a graveyard. We are beginning to feel like the early Hebrew nation that followed the pillar of fire and cloud all over the desert, setting up a temporary tabernacle each time they stopped.

Standing in one corner of the chancel area is our Lenten Cross, which is usually up from the beginning of Lent until Easter Sunday. On Easter it is covered with a white scarf and a white dove and then is removed when the service is over. Seeing the Lenten cross still up as we are preparing for this upcoming Sunday is bittersweet. This certainly has been the Lentiest Lent of all Lents….the never-ending Lent, the Lent that won’t relent, the Groundhog Day movie-remake in 3D-Lent Vision. We’ve had more than enough Lent for one year!

Whether you are in the camp of people who feel that we didn’t do enough to flatten the curve when we had the chance, or the camp that thinks it just needs to run its course, COVID-19 has been a daily struggle for individuals and institutions. The national anger that is bubbling just beneath the surface of society is bursting out in riots, property destruction, marches, and an abundance of hate speech. We are left with a feeling of gloom as we try to muddle through it.

Until yesterday.

The hope and promise of a vaccine became part of our conversation yesterday with the announcement of an experimental vaccine that has shown up to 90% efficacy. Over the last several months, real strides have been made in labs, on white boards, in research facilities, and with the brave volunteers who have been participating in early trials. Science is talking back to the virus in a meaningful and hopeful way.

Through all of this, we have always known where to look. We know to look to the one who rules heaven, and fix our eyes there until God has mercy on us.

Psalm 123 (Common English Bible)

I raise my eyes to you—
    you who rule heaven.
Just as the eyes of servants attend to their masters’ hand,
    just as the eyes of a female servant attend to her mistress’ hand—
    that’s how our eyes attend to the Lord our God
    until he has mercy on us.

It will be important to remember to continue to look to the Lord. It will be important to continue to be vigilant in our self-care practices. As a community and as a country, we will need to double down on our hand washing/sanitizer using/mask wearing/social distancing behavior.

Because we’ve had more than enough of this pandemic. We’ve had more than enough of misinformation. We’ve had more than enough death. We’ve had more than enough shame.

Have mercy on us, Lord! Have mercy
    because we’ve had more than enough shame.
We’ve had more than enough mockery from the self-confident,
    more than enough shame from the proud.

So keep looking UP. Don’t look to any one person, group, party, or institution to save us. We’ve been doing that since Lent and it hasn’t worked. It’s time to take the Lent cross DOWN.

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
    from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time on and forevermore
. (Psalm 121 New Revised Standard Version)

Keep Looking Up by Michelle Robertson

How Long?

Do you remember life in the before-time? When you didn’t have to strategically plan an early morning grocery store trip on the day you knew toilet paper had been stocked the night before? When you could run a quick errand without having to stop to grab your mask? When everything was open? When you could choose to watch a movie, eat out at a restaurant, go to a football game, or attend a middle school band concert in the school auditorium on any given weekend?

Yeah, me neither. I react when I am watching television and I see people less than six feet apart until I realize it was filmed before the pandemic started. I think in the beginning of this we all thought that if we sacrificed, stayed at home, minded our p’s and q’s, and hunkered down, we would flatten the curve and everything would quickly go back to the way things were. Now we find ourselves in an extended first wave that is not flattening as we had hoped, and a second wave is becoming more of a reality.

As a nation, along with other nations in the world, we groan with one breath and cry out, “How long?” How long will we have sorrow in our heart every day? How long will this enemy virus have power over us? How long until we completely forget what “normal” looks like?

In Psalm 13, the psalmist beautifully articulates exactly what we are feeling right now. He asks the painful question of how long his torment will last:

Psalm 13 (New King James Version)

How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart daily?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

But his faith steps in and he remembers to whom he is speaking. He asks God to hear him. And we know that whenever we cry out to our Lord, he always inclines his ear.

Consider and hear me, O Lord my God;
Enlighten my eyes,
Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Lest my enemy say,
“I have prevailed against him”;
Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.

So even in the terrible circumstance that brought him to pen these words, he defaults to his trust in God’s mercy. He is able to turn his lament into a rejoicing of heart, anticipating God’s salvation.

But I have trusted in Your mercy;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

Guess what? We are officially one day closer to the end of this thing. So let us prepare for that day by warming up our voices and practicing our harmonies. There will come a day soon when we will sing to the Lord with thanksgiving for his bountiful mercy to us.

I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

God’s Bounty by Kathy Schumacher

The Sure Thing

Stadiums are closed. There will be no Olympics this year. We have learned that there IS crying in baseball…when it disappears. Movies and concerts are cancelled. Bars, clubs, and even Las Vegas are shut down. All of the world’s “sure things” aren’t so sure anymore.

A good friend asked me recently how I come up with things to write about every day. He wondered if I was worried that I would eventually not have anything to say. Does he KNOW me?? I am never at a loss for words! But my confidence is not in my own verbosity. My confidence is in the endless flow of messages that comes from the Word of God. I believe with my whole heart that the Bible has something to say about EVERYTHING.

That is a sure thing.

So imagine my delight when the scriptures assigned for this week included Psalm 40. I know for certain that the psalmist did NOT write this during a pandemic. But look at how applicable this is for where we are today:

Psalm 40: 5-10 (The Message)

Blessed are you who give yourselves over to God,
    turn your backs on the world’s “sure thing,”
    ignore what the world worships;

Indeed, everything we worshipped two months ago is gone for now. So in this time, we have an opportunity to discover God-wonders.

The world’s a huge stockpile
    of God-wonders and God-thoughts.
Nothing and no one
    comes close to you!

We can’t even attend church. Any attempt to “be religious” or “act pious” is out the window. Put away your Sunday hats, ladies. The expression of our faith can only come through our actions, words, and deeds.

Doing something for you, bringing something to you—
    that’s not what you’re after.
Being religious, acting pious—
    that’s not what you’re asking for.
You’ve opened my ears
    so I can listen.

Our notions of everyday life have been altered, and we have been forced to adapt. Kids don’t go to school anymore. Parents don’t go to work outside the home for now. But God still invites us to come to his party and allow his Word to enter into our lives and become part of who we are.

7-8 So I answered, “I’m coming.
    I read in your letter what you wrote about me,
And I’m coming to the party
    you’re throwing for me.”
That’s when God’s Word entered my life,
    became part of my very being.

Pandemics are a time to relearn that God is the only sure thing we have. And when we relearn that, we have to go and tell it.

9-10 I’ve preached you to the whole congregation,
    I’ve kept back nothing, God—you know that.
I didn’t keep the news of your ways
    a secret, didn’t keep it to myself.

So here are your marching orders: tell it all. Tell people about how dependable God is. Don’t hold back! Share his love and truth.

I told it all, how dependable you are, how thorough.
    I didn’t hold back pieces of love and truth
For myself alone. I told it all,
    let the congregation know the whole story.

And let us remind one another that WE ARE ONE DAY CLOSER TO THE END OF THIS THING. And that’s a sure thing. Thanks be to God.

Sure Thing Sunrise by Michelle Robertson

Call to Worship

It’s worse in the morning.

Before you’re fully awake, before the first cup of coffee has had a chance to take root in your soul and your system, before the cobwebs fall from your brain, the worst moment of the day is when you wake up but you aren’t quite fully awake. Because some how overnight, you forgot. You forgot that something very bad happened. Then as waking-awareness comes, you suddenly remember.

This was my painful reality when my father and mother died. This was how I woke up every morning when my kids left for college. This happened to me every day when my daughter had just been diagnosed with cancer. If you have experienced loss of any kind, you know what I am talking about.

It goes like this: You wake up in your normal fog and immediately your brain goes through its usual check-list: I need coffee…what day is it…must get coffee…what do I have to do today…where is the coffee…is it really time to get up already…why am I not drinking coffee…can I hit the snooze button for another 10 minutes…then BAM. Oh, yes. I remember now. The Pandemic.

The scale and scope of this thing are still building toward some unknown peak. The economic trickle-down will be devastating.

Here on the Outer Banks we are spinning with angst. Will we have visitors this season? What if they bring the virus with them? Will we lose our foreign students who come every spring and fill important jobs that help our economy survive? Will our tiny little hospital be able to handle what’s about to happen?

Churches are closed. Financially, we will never recover. If we have just one snow day a year, we don’t make our budget for that year. This…well, this is something else entirely. What will we do?

ENOUGH. We can only take so much of this endless speculation and worry. It is grinding us down, and the truth is, we can’t control what comes next. So why let it control us?

Psalm 95 (New King James Version)

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.

For the Lord is the great God,
And the great King above all gods.
In His hand are the deep places of the earth;
The heights of the hills are His also.
The sea is His, for He made it;
And His hands formed the dry land.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For He is our God,
And we are the people of His pasture,
And the sheep of His hand.

Whenever the people of God have struggled, they have always known the remedy…to sing. Sing of God’s greatness, sing of his provision, sing choruses that remind us that he holds the deep places of the earth and the heights of the hills are in his hand. Just sing!

When we enter into worship, our minds are focused on God. Maybe this can be a time of perpetual worship, and that may be the one thing that gets us through it. On a normal day, our minds would be focused on getting tasks done, going to work, figuring out the kid’s schedules, making dinner, and getting the laundry and shopping done. Much of that is altered now. God is not.

The unchangeable nature of God is where we need to focus right now. Worship has to become a daily (hourly) thing, rather than once a week on Sunday. We can’t control our circumstances, but we can control our reactions and responses. When we worship, we hasten the joy. Now is the time to worship.

So when you wake up tomorrow and remember, do this. Sing in your mind. Enter into a moment of thanksgiving that WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS. Consider the ways that God is the King of all creation. Give praise to the Rock of our salvation. Bow down your fears and kneel before our Maker. REMEMBER WHO GOD IS. And pray through your tears.

Then get up, and realize that you are now one day closer to the end of this. Thanks be to God.

This reminder was brought to you by the Dunwoody Police, Dunwoody, Georgia..