It’s been a difficult week for me personally and for many of the clergy and churches on our district. Several of our clergy and their families face or have recently faced surgery and severe illness. There seems to have been more funerals within our churches recently. Several churches are sincerely questioning their ability to survive the current financial crisis. In the midst of a community filled with needs, struggling churches express doubt in their ability to provide meaningful answers.
Yesterday, I met with a church ready to close their doors. A church who has ministered to the needs of their community for many years finds itself no longer able to make a difference. I found myself nearly in tears as I drove back to the house. “Is this the fate that awaits your precious church, Lord?”
Instinctively, I know better. I know this is a time of testing of strengthening in the midst of strife.
I also know there are opportunities in the midst of failure.
But yesterday, it was hard to look past… the stark reality of painful experience.
Early this morning I read this passage from Isaiah. Isaiah’s writing is filled with prophetic warning but in the midst of the warning, Isaiah also offers a word of hope. This particular passage while accepting the reality of struggle offers a word of hope.
“Soon—and it will not be very long— the forests of Lebanon will become a fertile field, and the fertile field will yield bountiful crops. In that day the deaf will hear words read from a book, and the blind will see through the gloom and darkness.” (Isaiah 29:17-18)
Did you hear it? Soon – there will be a fertile field that will yield bountiful crops. The deaf will hear. The blind will see.
Isaiah’s not finished. Read on…
The humble will be filled with fresh joy from the LORD. The poor will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. (19)
I so much needed to hear this message: The humble will be filled with fresh joy. Those who are struggling with poverty will rejoice. The warnings are still there but if we can hold on, remain faithful. God promises… fresh joy.
How do we know this will happen? It already has, for God is a God of history who reminds us continually of the miracles of the past.
That is why the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, says to the people of Israel, “My people will no longer be ashamed or turn pale with fear. For when they see their many children and all the blessings I have given them, they will recognize the holiness of the Holy One of Israel. They will stand in awe of the God of Jacob.
Then the wayward will gain understanding, and complainers will accept instruction.” (Isaiah 29:22-24)
There is a reminder that God is the one who redeemed Abraham and the same God says: “My people will no longer be ashamed or turn pale with fear.”
“The wayward will gain understanding and complainers will accept instruction.”
Here is a more modern example of God working even in difficult circumstances: Early this morning, I also received an email from one of our newer pastors, Sue Keen, pastor of Cove United Methodist Church. Sue is attending, the course of study at Duke on weekends while also working full time as a manager of Kroger. At times a schedule like this can be overwhelming but sometimes in the midst of everything, God provides another word of hope.
Sue wrote: “Wow, what an incredible weekend at the course of study. My class is, “Our Mission From God: Evangelism.” I will be writing a paper.”
Not many students express excitement about writing a paper but the motive behind her enthusiasm soon became clear. Her paper was to be about constructing a new model for ministry in the midst of the wider community.
Sue wrote: “I thought to myself what am I going to do! But God is already going ahead of me preparing the way!!”
The Post Office is considering closing in the community surrounding her church. They will be meeting at Sue’s church to discuss it.
In the midst of a problem, God has given Sue and the people of Cove United Methodist Church an opportunity. As a church they can open their doors, learn some of the needs of the community and be there to offer prayer, fellowship and a helping hand.
Rather than be fearful of writing a paper or burdened, Sue saw an opportunity.
Sure wrote: “What an opportunity! I can’t wait to see what God will do.”
Maybe that is the lesson of Isaiah in the midst of our struggles. We are to be the church and throw open our doors, learn some of the needs of those around us and be there to offer prayer, fellowship and a helping hand.
As we go to church this morning… here is what I pray.
Many of us are going to church worried, maybe even fearful.
Isaiah promises: “The humble will be filled with fresh joy from the LORD. The poor will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.”
I’m with Sue Keen and say in the midst of community struggles. “We are to be the church and throw open our doors, learn some of the needs of those around us and be there to offer prayer, fellowship and a helping hand.”
I will be praying for each of you this morning. May God offer you ways to be the church in the midst of your community.
“What an opportunity! I can’t wait to see what God will do.”