This message was delivered through online worship on March 22, 2020.
Today’s message is going to seem a bit self-focused, but I want to share with you what is happening in my life because I have a feeling a lot of it may be happening in yours as well. A big part of me is struggling right now. I catch myself feeling like God decided to do Lent in 3D this year. Fires, floods, tornadoes, a plague, all designed to drive us to our knees crying for His forgiveness, crying out that we repent.
And then I shake it off and remember what I’ve been trying to teach you … that to repent means to turn around. And when I remember that, I start to see God’s hand, not in bringing these horrific things upon us, but in how He is bringing us through them, how He is using them to cause us to do what repentance is really about … to turn us around. To pull us out of our comfort zones, out of the safe havens of our sanctuaries
It’s the work God is doing right now … this very moment as I record this video … that leads me to Psalm 23. The Lord is my shepherd … my guide, my protector, the watchman while I sleep … I shall not want.
God is providing … is meeting the “want” in me, in us, in the world … in the most amazing ways right now! I am watching people who make their livings off selling their talents go out of the way to provide those talents FOR FREE to anyone, to everyone! Artists like Yo Yo-Ma posting daily recordings of himself playing the cello just so people will pause and remember that there is beauty in the world. Museums and Zoos and Art Galleries that are closed to the public by mandates setting up virtual tours … FOR FREE … so that people stuck at home can do more than sit and glare out a window or at a TV or, worse, each other.
Students from some of the world’s most prestigious colleges and universities are providing free tutoring to K-12 students online. Teachers and school administrators have worked together to move from traditional education to virtual education in a matter of days so that our children and grandchildren don’t suffer a loss of time and if we think about it, a much-needed routine in their young lives.
Industries that use the same sanitation and protection supplies as healthcare workers and that have been forced to close by mandates DONATING those supplies that are critically needed to the nearest hospitals and clinics.
Celebrities and others even right here in Holston Conference taking time to record themselves reading children’s stories to share … again … FOR FREE … with families who suddenly find themselves stuck at home together.
School staff making and delivering meals to those kids that may not have gotten any meal but that school lunch and snack pack even though almost every school in this nation is closed down.
Love and concern and compassion and prayers going up throughout the world for people we don’t know in countries we’ve never been to and have often believed were our enemies. Scientists and manufacturers and distribution centers working together to find a cure, a vaccine, fulfill the needs of all people everywhere.
The Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.
I have been exceedingly weepy these last few weeks, but not out of fear. When I’ve teared up, it’s been because I’ve witnessed a kindness or a bit on the news or I’ve read a message or heard a song that reminds me how good and kind and generous humanity can be in spite of all that’s happening. God is constantly and consistently restoring my soul. To God be all glory!
He is leading me … and us … on the right paths. Our focus is shifting, turning around, changing direction. We are beginning to look seriously on what really matters, what is most important, not just for ourselves but for others … for our neighbors, for the least among us.
And even though I get that we are all in a valley of the shadow of death, I’m truly not afraid. That’s been the oddest part of all this. Nothing about this pandemic has frightened me. I don’t mean in a callous, flippant, defy all the recommendations fearlessness. That attitude isn’t really fearlessness. It’s ignorance and it’s tempting God. I mean that, from the beginning of this whole global crisis, I have simply trusted God would and does have control. I’ve just given it to Him and trusted that he would lead me and mine and that includes all of you listening to, reading, or watching through this.
I’ve found comfort in His words like Psalm 23 but even more so in His Word (capital W) … in Christ.
Stanley Hauerwas wrote, “Jesus tells us that He is our brood hen. That He has gathered us under his wings. To be so gathered does not mean that we will be free from dangers. We live in a dangerous world. But we can trust God to keep His promises. That God has kept His promises makes it possible for us, His people, to face down the fears that would make us less than we have been made in Christ. So, do not be afraid. We have been made citizens of heaven. Trust the God of Abram who may ask us to go to distant places, protected only by God’s promise. The name of that promise is Jesus, whose love transforms our fears to hope and emboldens us to trust the will of His father.”
I don’t think I’ve ever felt Christ’s presence more strongly. I feel him present in myself and in so many others.
It’s like Natalie Grant’s song says … In Christ alone my hope is found. He is my light, my strength, my song. This Cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm. What heights of love, what depths of peace when fears are stilled, when strivings cease? My Comforter, my All in All, here in the love of Christ I stand.
I am standing firmly on that cornerstone right now, on that promise that we do not have to fear because He has overcome the world and that He is always with us, forever and a day.
And, for once in my life, I understand what “peace that passes understanding” really means because I am truly at peace … whatever comes … whatever we have yet to face … I know that we are not alone in this. I know that God is present, that the Spirit is working and moving mightily within us and around us and for us, and that Christ is truly our all in all. And my most sincere prayer and hope is that you have or will find this same peace.
This is what faith is, folks. Trusting implicitly that God’s got this, that Christ is present with us. And it is our faith that will set us free from this and bring us peace.
In closing, I want to share a prayer with you written by a young woman named Cameron Bellm. Let’s pray.
May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips remember those that have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country, let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors. Amen.
Scripture Reading: Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.