Watch and Hope

Watch and Hope

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 28, 2021

First Sunday of Advent

Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36

 

Although this is the first Sunday of Advent that will lead us to Christmas morning, Christmas trees and decorations have filled the stores for weeks. Christmas carols have been playing since Halloween. And this year there is the added sense of urgency for shoppers since shipping delays are expected because of the pandemic. But if you have come to worship this morning, expecting more of what our culture has to offer, you are in for a surprise. There is no Santa here. Neither Mary, nor Joseph have arrived. There are no shepherds watching, nor angels singing. And if it is the sweet baby Jesus that you are expecting, well, he is nowhere to be found. Instead, the key player today is an adult Jesus, who paints a picture of the entire universe turned upside down.

 

Advent means “coming” or “arrival,” and our Scripture readings offer an opportunity to prepare for two arrivals. First, there is the arrival of God upon the earth in human form—the infant Jesus—whom we await each Christmas. Second, there is the return of Christ in all his glory—his second arrival, his second coming. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus says, “but my words will not pass away.” In this season of peace, Jesus’ words seem anything but peaceful. At first glance, they are troubling, worrisome words. In essence Jesus says, “The end is not yet, but the end, in fact, is coming. There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars—people will be overcome with fear and the heavens will be shaken—then, then the Son of Man will come in a cloud with power and glory.” Jesus commands disciples of every time and place to be on guard, to stay watchful, to be alert.

 

Advent is a season of preparation, a season of watching and waiting, which serves as a reminder of the people of Israel who await the birth of the Messiah. It also reminds us that part of our task, as the church, is still one of waiting and preparing for Christ’s return. These days, for what are you watching and waiting? For many of us the latest crisis—whatever that may be—keeps us riveted to the news. We watch as people lose their homes, their families, their lives. We watch as something as innocent as a Christmas parade turns into a deadly tragedy. We watch as our country grows more divisive by the day. We can’t help but wonder: “Will things get worse before they get better?”  We watch and we worry—because we sense what might be at stake: our future as well as the future of generations to come.

 

No doubt, we are alert. We are keeping watch! But today’s gospel reading calls us to a different kind of watching.  As Christians we are called to watch for signs of hope in the midst of chaos for, even when all evidence is to the contrary, day by day the kingdom of God is breaking in. Consider the destruction of the temple. For the Jewish community, it is the central location for hope. When it is destroyed, there is utter chaos. But for Christians, the temple’s destruction becomes a sign of God’s kingdom breaking in for a new time. We do not find hope in a temple. We do not find hope in a church—or any structure for that matter—no matter how grand! Our hope is in Christ—who will one day return to make all things new. So, we wait. We watch. We hope.

 

Without a doubt, there are those who have given up hope—weary from Christ’s delay—so much history between Jesus and us. But for all the evils history has brought, it has also brought a host of witnesses, an array of meaningful worship, a multitude of wonders of God’s mercy. If history had stopped at the fall of Jerusalem and the temple, then there would have been no St. Augustine, no St. Francis, no Julian of Norwich, no Martin Luther, no John Calvin, no Karl Barth, and no Mother Teresa. Come to think of it there would be no First Presbyterian Church of Valdosta and no us.  Maybe instead of being bothered by the delay of Christ’s return, we should be grateful that God has given the church such a long history—even as we continue to watch and work and wait and hope.

 

But, as the church of Jesus Christ in this day and age, it’s easy to fall asleep at our watching posts.  We can get awfully drowsy as we listen to the ways of the world—as the jingling bells of Christmas draw us into more of a secular celebration—until Christ, the true reason for the season, gets lost in the shuffle. Ah, the world is at play with godly things!

 

Sometimes I fear that we have become like people who have lived by the train tracks so long that we can no longer hear the train. Have we gotten so used to the sounds of the season that it no longer fills us with joy? As children, we could hardly wait for Advent and Christmas, and the God to which they pointed. But now, the hustle and bustle of our lives threatens to deafen us to delight and wonder. We may sleep as the whistling engine rushes by. If we aren’t careful, we may sleep right through the coming of Christ altogether—the same Christ who warned, “Be alert at all times!”

 

The seasons of our life pass so quickly. From out of the holiday festivities, the gospel reminds us to be awake to God. After enduring nearly 2 years of the effects of a global pandemic, we may have lost faith in the world around us. But then, as Christians, that was never where we were supposed to put our faith. As Christians, we hope for a new day and a new way of life. As Christians, we pray for our church, our country, and the world but, ultimately, we put our hope in the One who willingly left the halls of glory to come save us. We put our hope in our God who loved us so much that he left his Son in the hands of mere humans who have a way of making such a mess of things.

 

“Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus says, “but my words will not pass away.” Jesus offers words of hope to those who expect too much, to those who expect too little, and to those who may have forgotten to expect anything at all.

 

Hear now a prayer for Advent:

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, O Promised One

Once again, we come to this time of Advent and await your presence.

Give us patience to seek the meaning of these busy days.

Give us courage to wait in times of pain and trouble.

Give us compassion to wait for one another.

Give us faith to wait for the Messiah when we are threatened by the Herods of this world.

Give us hope to wait for the Savior even when we cannot hear the angels singing.

Give us love that does not wait when it meets Christ in our neighbor.

Amen. [i]

 

Through the light of the first Advent candle, we are drawn into the past as well as the future:  Christ has come, and Christ will come again! As we enter the season of waiting, let us remember God’s gift of salvation through Jesus, his Son. Let us stay open to the nudging of the Spirit for ways to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. Let us keep watch and remain hopeful as we look forward to that day when we shall see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great power and glory! In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

[i] Prayer by Maren Tirabassi

The Best Is Yet to Come

The Best Is Yet to Come

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 14, 2021

25th Sunday after Pentecost

Hebrews 10:11-25; Mark 13:1-8

 

Our reading from the Gospel of Mark is often referred to as the “little apocalypse,” a short version of warnings about the end of the world. Herein, Jesus foretells of dreadful times ahead—times that are just the beginning of the birthpangs to come. Let us begin our exploration by first defining the word “apocalypse.” Merriam-Webster defines it as one of the Jewish and Christian writings marked by symbolic imagery, and the expectation of an imminent cosmic cataclysm in which God destroys the powers of evil and raises the righteous to life in a messianic kingdom. It may also be defined more simply as a prophetic revelation.

 

Most of you know that I began attending church at the age of 12 with my uncle. The church was conservative and fundamentalist. So, it may not surprise you that I heard sermon after sermon on the end times, the mark of the beast, numerology, etc. While I would not say the preachers that filled the pulpit were obsessed with apocalyptic literature, I can say in all honesty that I heard way more sermons on eschatology (the study of end times) than on more important matters like God’s grace. As a result, when the lectionary delivers me a text like this one from Mark, I have a little post-traumatic flashback. I believe in God’s mercy, grace, and goodness, in Christ’s redemptive love, in the Spirit’s power to transform all of life. Furthermore, I believe that people who choose to follow Jesus out of fear are not really following Jesus. They are just trying to avoid calamity. Though I often miss the mark, I prefer to look at life with hope and optimism. If optimism is your cup of tea, you might agree that this is not the text for us. However, if we also believe that all Scripture is useful for teaching, surely there is something for us to learn from Jesus’ words.

 

I am reminded of the story of the pony in the pile. Have you heard it?  Once upon a time there were five-year-old twin boys, one was a pessimist, a gloomy sort of “Eeyore” fellow. The other was an optimist, a bubbly, joyful sort. Wondering how two boys who seemed so alike on the outside could be so different on the inside, their parents took them to a child psychiatrist. The psychiatrist took the pessimist to a room piled high with new toys, expecting the boy to be thrilled, but instead he burst into tears. Puzzled, the psychiatrist asked, “Don’t you want to play with these toys?” “Yes,” the little boy bawled, “but if I did, I’d only break them.” Next the psychiatrist took the optimist to a room piled high with horse manure. The boy squealed with delight, climbed to the top of the pile, and joyfully dug out scoop after scoop, tossing the manure into the air with glee. “What on earth are you doing?” the psychiatrist asked. “Well,” said the boy, beaming, “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”[i] I invite you to join me on a search for “the pony.”

 

One of my fondest memories of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land is visiting the Wailing Wall. It is the only wall remaining from the temple and it is where faithful Jews (and visiting Christians, like our group) still come to pray. Many follow the custom of writing prayers on pieces of paper, praying them at the wall, and then tucking the paper into the crevices between the huge stones. Quite happy to follow the custom, for days I pondered what names and yearnings to write on my little sheet of paper. And I admit, it was a holy moment—leaving my prayers there in that sacred space from which millions of prayers have risen to Yahweh. So, if I was this impressed by the one surviving wall of the temple, no wonder the disciples were impressed.

 

Of course, the temple in question is the second temple. The first, built by Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonians 500 years before Jesus’ time. The second temple was built after the return from exile, and then it was enhanced by King Herod in the decades just before Jesus’ ministry. By all accounts, it was magnificent. The Roman historian Tacitus described the temple complex as a mountain of white marble adorned with gold, a “temple of immense wealth.” Its enormous stones mystified many, and the surrounding complex included sprawling courtyards, colonnaded courts, grand porches and balconies, covered walkways, and monumental stairs. Herod the great builder built it to impress the wealthiest and most powerful rulers of the day, and he succeeded. [ii]

 

From the Lectionary, prior readings from Mark have been set in the temple, too. From inside, Jesus has criticized the way the scribes have exploited the poor and he has noticed the generosity of a widow who put all that she had into the treasury. Now Jesus walks outside with his disciples and one of them points out the architecture. “Look Teacher, what great stones!” They are certainly surprised by his response. “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Later, sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew can’t help but ask Jesus, “When will this be, and what will be the signs?” Jesus tells them many will be led astray…there will be wars and rumors of wars…there will be earthquakes and famines. He warns, “This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.”

 

At first glance, Jesus’ prophetic words, which continue through the end of the chapter, are filled with bad news: not one stone will be left, nation will rise against nation, brother will betray brother, there is danger of being led astray. Fortunately, though, in the pile of bad news there is comfort and good news: Do not be alarmed when you hear of wars, when nations rise against nations, when there are earthquakes and famine. Jesus offers hope amidst the pile of pains, pangs, and persecution. Jesus reminds the disciples that the Holy Spirit with be with them, and he promises salvation to those who endure. Jesus’ message is that his followers need to prepare to participate in his suffering and eventual victory by being witnesses to the truth. His words are meant to give them hope and to encourage them to be steadfast when challenges come.

 

Let’s take a closer look at Jesus’ words, “This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.” The process of birthing a child is not easy—thus the phrase—birth pangs. But somehow the painful details evaporate with one glance at the sweet, wrinkled, newborn. The pain of giving birth is a necessary step toward the greater good of bringing a child into the life of the family. In this world there are wars going on at any given time. Suffering and pain are woven into the fabric of life. As Christians, we know this full well. It is a cross, after all, that marks the center of our tradition. We might be tempted to lose hope if not for the rest of the story. Jesus leaves the realm of glory to enter the world as a helpless baby to be the Great Hope of our past, our present, and our future. In Christ, there is new life. Jesus comes to do what the temple has been unable to do—show us how to live and equip us to do so. Jesus comes to break God out of the box the Jewish people have placed God in.

 

In time, the church is born—a place where all people—Jews and Gentiles—can come to learn, to grow, to be equipped to share their faith, and to care for one another. In the beginning, the walls of the church are fluid—all are welcome—all find a place of love. The church has a united purpose to share the gospel with the world. Because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, God’s love, grace, mercy, and hope—they are ours. A new way of life is ours. In the centuries since the birth of Christ’s church, mistakes have been made, to be sure. Again and again, we have been guilty of trying to put God back into a box of our own making. But God will not be contained. Change continues to be a hallmark of our existence—for the world and the church—but that doesn’t make it easy. Sometimes, it may even feel a little like giving birth. But if we are open to the movement of the Spirit, God’s purpose may be fulfilled in us and through us.

 

In the trying times in which we live, it’s easy to focus on the negative, especially when news strikes of more death, destruction, and devastation. Presbyterian pastor and scholar, Rodger Nishioka offers a remedy. Instead of focusing on signs of the times, we can focus on:

 

…[T]he one who is to come—the one who enables us to look up after devastation and claim the certainty of blessing. Things may seem to have fallen apart. It may appear that anarchy has been loosed on the world. Nevertheless, the center will hold and—much to our amazement—we will discover that we have much faithful work to do.[iii]

 

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] http://www.wilsongrowthpartners.com/finding-the-pony-in-the-pile/

[ii] Robert A Bryant, Feasting on the Word.

[iii] Rodger Y. Nishioka, Feasting on the Word.

*Cover photo by Sarah Elizabeth Ray, used by permission

For All the Saints

For All the Saints

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 7, 2021

All Saints’ Day Worship Service

Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

 

In a blogpost, pastor and professor David Lose wrote about how strange certain children’s songs and prayers are—to our modern way of thinking.[i] For example: “Rock a bye baby on the treetop. When the wind blows the cradle will rock. When the storm rages, the cradle will fall. And down will come baby, cradle and all.” Thinking back, I can’t believe I sang that song to my children. And what about the familiar prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” What! We have taught our children a prayer that mentions dying in their sleep. Well, that’s comforting.

A modern rendition of the prayer has been altered: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Guide me safely through this night, and wake me with the morning light.” Well, that does seem a bit more reassuring, doesn’t it? But, on the other hand, is there something deeper going on? Was the change made to protect children or to protect adults? To what degree does the change simply reflect our changing times? Lose notes that while we seem to have an insatiable appetite for graphic images of violence and death when it comes to TV, the news, movies, and video games—as a society we appear to be in a state of denial regarding the everyday common variety of death which will, ultimately, touch us all. I mean—none of us gets out of this alive, right?

The refusal to accept death is all around us. Hospital personnel speak of patients expiring rather than dying. Generals in the armed forces don’t record how many of their solders are killed—they note the number of casualties. In some churches, more contemporary marriage services do not have couples pledge “until death do us part,” but rather something a bit softer, after all, it is a wedding. Yet, here we are, gathered to celebrate All Saints’ Day. It seems an odd affair not at all in keeping with our culture’s insistence that just the right diet or the right pill or the right surgery—will keep us young forever! But on All Saints’ Day, the church has the opportunity to be counter cultural.

Today we recognize the reality of our mortality, and we celebrate those who have died in the faith—not those who have expired. And notice the color of the paraments. They are white—the color of Easter and celebration. Why? Because today we don’t just acknowledge death, we put it in its proper context. For we worship the One who has power over death, the One who raises Lazarus from death, the One who’s own death and resurrection bears witness to the trustworthiness of the promise that one day God will bring an end to death, cause mourning and suffering to cease, and wipe every tear from our eyes.

In March of this year, English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran lost a mentor and father-figure. While Sheeran was quarantined in Australia for two weeks, awaiting the funeral, he wrote a song entitled, “Visiting Hours.” (Hopefully, you have had a chance to watch the music video that was posted on our Facebook page and sent to you via email.) I invite you to listen to the lyrics:

I wish that Heaven had visiting hours
So I could just show up and bring the news
That she’s gettin’ older and I wish that you’d met her
The things that she’ll learn from me
I got them all from you

Can I just stay a while and we’ll put all the world to rights?
The little ones will grow, and I’ll still drink your favorite wine
And soon they’re goin’ to close, but I’ll see you another day
So much has changed since you’ve been away

I wish that Heaven had visiting hours
So I could just swing by and ask your advice
What would you do in my situation?
I haven’t a clue how I’d even raise them
What would you do?
‘Cause you always do what’s right

Can we just talk a while until my worries disappear?
I’d tell you that I’m scared of turning out a failure
You’d say, “Remember that the answer’s in the love that we create”
So much has changed since you’ve been away

 

I wish that Heaven had visiting hours
And I would ask them if I could take you home
But I know what they’d say, that it’s for the best
So I will live life the way you taught me
And make it on my own

I will close the door, but I will open up my heart
And everyone I love will know exactly who you are
‘Cause this is not goodbye, it is just ’til we meet again
So much has changed since you’ve been away

Sheeran’s song, written during a time of deep sorrow, tenderly demonstrates how losing someone we love rips our hearts asunder. Grief is hard. Where can we turn? As Christians, our faith story reminds us that the darkness of death is to be experienced through the light of Easter morning. Christ’s resurrection gives us courage—not to deny death—but to defy its ability to distort our lives. The Risen Christ has promised that death does not have the last word. Recall the words of the Apostle Paul, “Do you not know that all those who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the power of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 5:3-4).

Hopefully, we have all been blessed by spiritual guides who, while they still walked the earth, showed us how to walk in newness of life. Who comes to mind for you—and why? Who has touched your life, encouraged you, given you strength—and how? (Time to share for those in person and online…)

Followers of Jesus have been promised a share in his resurrection. So, while we mourn the death of our loved ones, we also celebrate their victory, for they now rest from their labors and live with Christ in glory. Also, we give thanks that through Christ, our life is sanctified. We, too, are made holy and given a purpose. For you see, saints are not only those people in the Bible or Church history who did great things. Nor are saints only those who died for their faith or who had extraordinary courage. Rather, saints are also—and especially—those who have been baptized into Christ—and set apart for the Lord’s purpose.

In Holy Baptism, each of us is consecrated, named, called, and commissioned to be God’s co-workers in the world. Therefore, our lives have meaning—all of our lives—and all of the roles we may play in them—parent, spouse, child, citizen, employer, employee, co-worker, volunteer, friend, neighbor, student, teacher, mentor… In endless ways, we are set apart by our Creator to love God, to love ourselves, and to love our neighbors. And if we die before we wake, we know our souls the Lord will take. Amen.

 

[i]http://www.davidlose.net/2015/10/all-saints-sunday-b-look-twice/

*Cover Art by Ira Thomas via Catholic World Art, used by permission

The Next Chapter

The Next Chapter

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; October 31, 2021

23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 119:1-8; Mark 12:28-34

 

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. These are words to live by—as individuals and as a church. But let’s be honest, the commandment is not easy. It never has been.

At the time of the Reformation, the church was failing miserably. Instead of being guided by love, the church was guided by a thirst for power and money. When Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517, it marked the beginning of a protest that would lead to the Reformation and to the protesters being known as Protestants. Good things came from the Reformation. Corruption of leaders in the church was exposed, Scripture gained authority, grace was elevated as a critical doctrine of the church, the Bible became accessible, and literacy spread. Yes, good things grew out of the Reformation—including the Presbyterian Church.

I want to take a few moments to allow those gathered here and those joining us virtually to share something that you appreciate about our denomination. (Time to share.)

Kinney’s grandfather and uncle were Presbyterian ministers, and one of the happiest days of his mother’s life was the day I was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament. Since Kinney has such deep roots in the Presbyterian Church, I asked him what he learned about the denomination growing up. He said one of the things that he appreciated was how the church is governed by elected elders (session) so that everyone has a voice. Interestingly, Kinney grew up with women ministers so he was surprised to learn in his teens that other churches refused to allow women any leadership roles. Another thing that meant a lot to him and his family was the value placed on education for ministers. And finally, he learned to appreciate how open the denomination is to learning from other denominations or even other faith traditions, when it comes to the things of loving God and loving neighbor.

Because of Kinney’s rich Presbyterian heritage when we were married that is the place we landed. But after three years, I was no closer to knowing what it meant to be a Presbyterian. It was as if everyone in the little church already knew the ins and outs of their tradition, and they failed to see the importance of handing down their faith story to newcomers. It was only in seminary, decades later, that I came home to the place I had always belonged. It all started in a doctrine class that introduced me to a book of creeds which led me to the Presbyterian Creeds and Confessions. And here is what spoke to me—the contents, of course—but also the number of footnotes found at the back of the book supporting those creeds and confessions—footnotes that were made up of verse after verse after verse of Scripture. I was in awe of the saints who were trying to work out their beliefs and supporting those beliefs with the word of God—to the very best of their ability.

Something else that made me fall in love with the Presbyterian Church was the Book of Order. Trust me, there’s some really good stuff in here but what I value the most is the Directory for Worship. In this section of the book, you will find things like: Christian worship gives all glory and honor, praise and thanksgiving to the holy, triune God. God acts with grace; we respond with gratitude. God claims us as beloved children; we proclaim God’s saving love—this rhythm of divine action and human response—found throughout Scripture, human history, and everyday events—shapes all of Christian faith, life, and worship.

By this time in my own faith journey, I had heard the Presbyterians referred to as the frozen chosen. But through the denomination’s Book of Order, I saw that was far from the truth for there is built in the very landscape of Presbyterian worship, open space for the Spirit to move and speak and prompt. Based on the movement of the Spirit and the gifts of the people, in Presbyterian churches near and far, fixed forms of worship are welcome, but so are spontaneous approaches. Prayer is understood to be the heart of worship—a gift from God, offered through Jesus, and empowered by the Spirit. Prayer may be spoken, silent, sung, or enacted in physical ways. Participation in worship (regardless of age, race, or gender) may involve a range of actions: kneeling, bowing, standing, lifting hands, dancing, drumming, clapping, embracing, joining hands, anointing, and laying on of hands. Indeed, every action in worship is to glorify God and contribute to the good of the people. Doesn’t sound like the frozen chosen to me. Rather, it sounds like a model for growing into the kind of people God wants us to be.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Over 500 hundred years after the Reformation, the church is alive but how closely are we following Jesus’ mandate?  There is no doubt, the church, no matter the denomination, hardly looks like it did—even 50 years ago. But is that a bad thing?  Scholars have long believed that a massive cultural shift happens in the church about every 500 years which is why many refer to the time in which we now live as the “New Reformation.” Whether we like it or not, the church is changing. But facing the changes does not mean caving into fear. Instead, it may mean accepting an invitation to look around us with curiosity and wonder—and to listen for our assignment in God’s next chapter for the church.

First Presbyterian Church of Valdosta has a beautiful history. Organized in 1864, the cornerstone to this sanctuary was placed in 1907. In 1958, the Fellowship Hall was erected with the Centennial Building constructed in 1964. Our church has started 3 congregations in the area—West End Presbyterian Church, Twin Lakes Presbyterian Church, and Trinity Presbyterian Church. We have a long history of supporting foreign missions as well as other missions like Thornwell Home for Children and Presbyterian Homes of Georgia. Additionally, the Break Bread Together Program has served the community for over 4 decades. What wonderful opportunities God has given us and those who have gone before us.

Undeniably, our story is rich and inspiring, but, by the grace of God, our story is not over—unless we decide to rest on our laurels and go down in history as the church that “used to” be one of the large downtown churches, as the church that “used to” step out on faith to plant new churches and start new ministries. Words like “used to” are words that do not serve us well. But other words—creativity and celebration, gratitude and generosity, experiment and explore—these words invite us to be open to the prompting of the Spirit. Such words have compelled us to start the First Friday Contemplative Service, to start a multi-generational Sunday school class that allows us to pool our resources and learn together no matter our age, to try various spiritual practices and retreats and on a variety of platforms, to offer virtual opportunities like Bible studies, the Book Club, and occasional committee meetings through Zoom, to host something as radical as Pub Theology to engage with each other, yes, but also to engage people in our community who may never darken the door of a church.

Whenever we courageously try something new, there are no guarantees. Some things succeed. Others fail. But how will we know if we do not give it our all. Regardless, we press on. As a church, we press on because being faithful is our goal, growing into the likeness of Christ is our goal, following the way of the Spirit is our goal—so yes, we press on to share God’s love whenever and however we can.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we want to remain a relevant voice for this community, there is work for us all to do and it will take all of us to do it. Reformation Sunday is a good day to celebrate and to reflect. But it is also a good day to pause and ponder the commandment nearest and dearest to the heart of Jesus: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. How are we doing? And how might we do better?

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

*Cover Art “St. Giles Cathedral” in Edinburgh, Scotland by Jonathan Wheeler