Letter from the Pastor

Posted on

10/7/2018 [This letter was sent via email to the congregation this morning, and subsequently read aloud at Fellowship of Faith.]

Good Morning, Church!

Although I know that some of you will be attending worship in the next few hours, there are some things to share with everyone on this fall morning in Rochester.

I am really mindful of the various responses that many among us are having to the developments in Washington this week and last. Whether it’s identifying with Christine Blasey Ford, or with Brett Kavanaugh — whether it’s feeling comfort with the decision to elevate him, or dealing with your own triggers around trauma, many of us are feeling a little raw. The weather here bespeaks our recognition that our nation, as a whole, may not be what we have thought it to be for the last several decades. OR, we might be reading this through the eyes of being part of a marginalized community and are finding ourselves perfectly at home with the feelings of being disenfranchised and disconnected.

Either way, let’s be aware that, in reality, it is our perceptions that are changing the most right now. Things change in our country all the time, as we know (look at prohibition that was enacted and then rescinded 13 years later).

The point is this: whatever we are feeling, God understands it and Jesus probably felt something similar.

And … whatever we are feeling, however many different feelings there are that are swirling around among us, we are still a church. We need to be gentle with each other and respectful of our differences.

Reading Jon Meacham’s book, The Soul of America – the Battle for our Better Angels with the Food for Thought group, I am once again made aware of the how history and historical events are seen differently through different lenses. One of my children asked me last night how this could be happening, to which I replied that this very thing – the appointment of a conservative to tip the balance of the Court – has been a goal for some in this country (and, I know, for some of you) for the last 60 years, at least. For those for whom this is true, these are, indeed, times to celebrate a long battle and success of your achievements.

At the same time, those who have been working for the opposite conclusion are feeling defeated and heart-sick.

My sermon today speaks a bit to this on this World Communion / Peacemaking Sunday (https://debfaeswift.wordpress.com/). 

Our job, as Christians, is to stay connected to God, constantly discerning the path we are led on.

As Presbyterians, we believe that God, alone, is Lord of the conscience so it is not up to any of us to try and judge others who are also interpreting God’s voice. But we ARE called to come together with mutual forbearance, support, and prayer for all who feel marginalized,  humiliated, ridiculed, and excluded. THAT is our charge, because that is what Jesus did.

There is little doubt that this is a divisive period in American history, but maybe, it is really just a time that is shining the light on our divisiveness that has existed since the beginning. My guess is that those divisions have always been there because this country was formed not around common heritage or common origin, but on common values. One of those values is respect for difference. Another is on vocal dissent. And a third is on the Rule of Law which seems to have a way of righting itself over time when we stay connected around the first two.

The greatest danger for us, as Americans, is to lose hope and give up fighting for what we believe in. I know that some of you have. If that’s true for you, please know that the rest of us are holding the space for you to feel whatever you are feeling, until such time as you are again filled with Christ’s optimism.  But another danger for us, as Christians, is that we will forget that we are ALL part of the Body of Christ — even those with whom we disagree. The ear needs the foot … the finger nail needs the ankle. We are not all the same … but we are one in Him.

Whether conservative or progressive … white or black … straight or gay … financially comfortable or economically insecure … we must pray for each other, defend the rights of the other to hold values different than our own, be tender with each other, and be Jesus to each other.

The Church of Jesus Christ is bigger than the American government.

God is still in charge.

It is our job to discern how to work for God’s justice and love in the world every single day.

In Christ,

Pastor Deb

Advertisements

State of the Church 2018

Posted on

March 5, 2018

Here’s is the Pastor’s 2018 State of the Church address as found in the 2017 Annual Report.

If you would rather watch the 18 minute video of this address, CLICK HERE.

 

A Look Ahead …

 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:28-31 (NRSV)

The State of the Church

It’s an odd phrase – “State of the Church.”  I can think of several “states” we might be in – a state of confusion – a state of panic – a state of fear.  But I think the state that best describes us as we begin 2018 is …  a State of Grace.

Every year at this time when we are preparing the Annual Report, I am struck by the sheer force and audacity of what it is that God is doing through us. It is almost too much to comprehend sometimes, isn’t it – that a “wee kirk” of 50-or-so members should have nearly twenty ministries that in 2017 alone touched 1,350 different people with more than 10,000 (!) contacts. Think about that. That means that more than 10,000 times last year people “bumped up against Jesus” through US because our Acts of Faith go to where they are and they meet peoples’ needs in their own environment.

It’s exhilarating and exciting. It’s humbling and sobering. It’s Spirit-led and Grace-filled.

The concepts of not being wedded to a specific place, of being willing to try something and let it go if it’s not working, of listening to people about what they need instead of telling them what we think they need – of empowering and training participants to lead themselves … those are all bedrock to the Acts of Faith model. And, lest we forget where that model came from, it’s very much akin to the first century church.

We are Aligning our Circles Together. That’s where the ACTs part of the Acts of Faith name came from – bringing the circles of our lives together because church should be the whole of us – not some partitioned or compartmentalized part that surfaces only on Sunday mornings.

We are all in this together. We all take care of each other. No one person (and no Act of Faith) has to be all things to all people. And everything is an Act of Faith. It is not a “sit-around-and-do-nothing” faith, it’s an Act of Faith.  It’s not just an act that we do because it feels good or it looks good on our resumé. It’s something we do because of our Faith.

However, it’s also clear from this report that we have our work cut out for us in the year ahead as we:

  • Work to become one congregation, incorporating not only our folks transferring their membership from New Life, but every person who is part of every Act of Faith;
  • Continue to develop our structures, policies and procedures to govern and connect our multi-sited ministries that currently take place in eight different locations;
  • Address the financial needs of our AoF’s while developing a plan for sustainability and longevity;
  • Find and develop new ways of training and educating the next generation of leaders for all of our AoF’s.

We are, above all else, a church of Jesus Christ. And we are a missional church without a building.

We might “do church” differently than most, but our Mission / Vision / Calling remains: “to live out the command of Jesus: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in [my] way of life
(Mt. 28:18, The Message).” We embody our commitment to be a missional church through the practice of our Acts of Faith Model of Ministry and fostering grass-roots programs that spread the love of the Risen Christ through worship, education, and the arts. We hold that all believers are the hands and heart, the embrace and healing presence of Christ’s love, acceptance, justice, and joy in the world” (adopted at the 2016 Annual Meeting).

We have been amazingly successful at bringing the love of God to 1,350 different people in 2017.

We seem to know how to do that pretty well. We know how to do start-up and publicity, but our online presence and social media is dreadfully lacking. We know how to end AoF’s well – at least better than the old Presbyterian tradition of “if it’s not working, create a committee or task force to study it for three years in order to figure out why it’s not and then fix it.” If people associated with an AoF (either planners, participants, or observers) no longer have Energy & Excitement, we discontinue it immediately (“drop it like a hot potato,” we say) because the timing, the focus, the location or something else isn’t working, it’s not the right time for it. We will often come back and visit it again another time (witness Dinner & a Movie which had at least two iterations before its current revival).

But now we need to focus on how to coordinate and meet the needs of the AoF’s that are succeeding so that they can continue to do that with energy and excitement.

So, what might this look like in the year ahead?

I suspect that we will continue to develop ministries that are responsive to the needs of people in our community, and that in 2018 we will begin to synthesize some policies and procedures about how we do that. So far, we have been able to feel our way along with each group but now we have been at it long enough that some patterns are beginning to emerge. What are the first things that AoF’s do? What does each one need to have? What are expectations that AoF leaders might have of South Church? These will all become a little clearer, I think, as the AoF Council becomes one of our main mechanisms for conveying information to and from the Session.

Through a recent visit from staff of the Presbyterian Foundation, the Session is realizing that we have to think of ourselves on two levels at the same time: administering the Acts of Faith locally (that is, being the local church), and, at the same time, sharing what we are doing with the larger (i.e. national) church. We are not just a little, local parish; we are being sought out for our ideas to help other churches across the country. It’s as if we are flying at a 6,500-foot level and a 25,000-foot level at the same time. The skills needed to pilot at 6,500 feet and the emphasis of what we’re doing there are different from the skills needed to pilot at 25,000 feet and the emphasis of what we’re doing there.

We are growing our ministries organically. That means that we allow them to bubble up from among the people. We don’t force some specific structure and programming on folks just because it might be easier for us to manage or because “it’s always been done that way.” We must keep learning and growing in our faith. Part of the challenge to us is that we are building the road as we walk on it. No one else is doing what we are doing on the grand scale that we are doing it. And let us not forget that we aren’t doing the work … God is. Our job is to pay attention and to be where we need to be so that God can work through us.

In order for us to “pay attention,” we have to have a clear channel to God. Each one of us needs to be working on her/his own spiritual life – our individual relationship with God – so that we can trust that we are receiving God’s signals free from interference. 2018 needs to have a focus on our own spiritual disciplines. We succeed when all of us are focused on God and we are able to trust each other’s prayerful discernment.

A year from now, we will all have incorporated a new understanding of who we are. Some of our Acts of Faith will probably have been discontinued, and others will have been added. We will be living into a united identity as South Church. But always in the back of my mind and, I think, the minds of most Session members is: Are we at our limit? How many AoF’s can one “merry little band of believers” support?

There is no set number.

Financially speaking, we have four kinds of AoF’s:

  • Those that generate some income and can use that income to help support other AoF’s,
  • Those that are self-sufficient but may not be able to do much financially to help other AoF’s,
  • Those that cost us money to operate but will never be able to generate much income to support themselves or anyone else, and
  • Those that don’t take in any money, but which don’t cost anything either.

Currently, we have Acts of Faith in each of those categories.

We are a missional church. Ideally, we should be able to focus only on the mission and everything else would be taken care of for us. Historically, other churches, institutions, individuals, and even governments would support mission work around the globe. Many of us grew up welcoming missionaries from Africa or Asia into our services and coffee hours. We would pass the hat, raise money for them and send them on their way.

Now, we are those missionaries who need to go and ask for that kind of support. Hence, the addition of both an Evangelism Coordinator and the Speakers’ Bureau. This must become a coordinated effort in 2018.

Let’s not forget, though, that in terms of “mission giving,” our entire operating budget IS mission giving. Everything we do is mission work. And as the Pastor, I am greatly heartened and gratified when an Act of Faith (i.e. a mission of South Church) engages in its own mission work (like Micah Circle’s visit to Nicaragua to do hands-on work at Christmas, CLASS ACT putting together a bucket of supplies for disaster relief, and Food for Thought not only doing disaster buckets, but making meals for a homeless shelter every quarter).

Isaiah says: I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 43:19 (NRSV)

Every Act of Faith IS a way through the wilderness to those who are part of it.
Every single one IS a river in the desert in our self-centered and frightened culture.

We started on our “new way” in August of 2014 when we sold the church building. At that time, we gave ourselves seven years to “figure things out” and become financially sustainable. February, 2018 is the half-way point of the seven years. This year we need to take the time and honor the things that we have accomplished on this half-journey and look at what we still have left to do. Since 2014, we have:

  • Relocated our offices
  • Prepared to launch the BOPProgram
  • Completed our staff so we now have three full-time people in the “hub” of our operation
  • Received financial support for our Acts of Faith from the Synod, the national 1001 New Worshiping Communities initiative, and the Presbytery
  • Received recognition from the national denominational offices
  • Been the subject of articles in the Presbyterian News Service
  • Presented workshops at a national PC(USA) conference
  • Completed a three-year process of welcoming another church and its five Acts of Faith
  • Presented a day-long training for member churches in our Presbytery
  • Created a new membership model
  • Regularly attended the denominational 1001 NWC Conference
  • Started Visioning and Resource Development Teams to use the skills of community volunteer professionals
  • More than doubled the number of different people whose lives have been touched by our ministries within one year
  • Shared our experiences, processes and insights with folks on the National Revitalization Team of the PC(USA)
  • Welcomed two ministers from the prairie states’ American Baptist Church who wanted to experience the AoF model in person
  • Welcomed Rev. Ray Jones from Louisville for a four-day stay to learn about the AoF model
  • Succeeded in getting 1001 New Worshiping Community status for Fellowship of Faith
  • Begun developing a financial strategy that will move us toward sustainability

and more …

And some of the things we still have to address in the next three-and-a-half years include:

  • Developing a renewable funding stream
  • Creating a stewardship model that is active for twelve months and all AoF’s
  • Welcoming our first church members who do not worship in either of the Sunday morning services
  • Successfully blending the Session and Deacons to reflect a larger base of participants (i.e. to have members of all AoF’s on their Caring Team lists and paving the way for members who worship at a non-Sunday service to eventually serve as Deacons and Elders for all of South Church)
  • Figuring out the best day, time, and place to have congregational meetings
  • Determining who controls the money given to various Acts of Faith (which means delineating the degree of autonomy that each AoF should have). If money is given to one AoF, should / could it ever be used to support the larger South Church of which it is a part?
  • Increasing everyone’s awareness of their place in the larger AoF Community and the connectional system of South Presbyterian Church
  • Continue to minister on the margins
  • Make BOPP self-sustaining
  • Live into our Mission / Vision / Calling with integrity

and more …

We are well on our way, but our work is not done.

If anyone can do it, God can!

The State of our Church? God knows. Thus far, the Energy & Excitement Index remains strong. And so it is that despite our frailties and imperfections, despite our human nature and foibles, despite our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, we dare to pray

Put us where you want us, and show us what to do, God!

And with the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit, we will continue to do just that.

Rejoice in the Lord, and again, I say …
Rejoice!

dfs
01-18-2018

“Happy Lent!” — You’re Kidding, right?

Posted on

March 2, 2018

With all of the national news that is SO upsetting … Parkland, Florida … the Mueller investigation(s) … the Me, Too ! Movement … people in the WH not having security clearances to the documents they’re seeing every DAY … the number of now-convicted FELONS coming from this administration … it might seem naive to some that this year, we are re-framing Lent to mean:

 

 

 

 

It’s HARD.

Negativity is all around us and somehow, we are thought to be Pollyanna-ish or idealistic if we find things worth celebrating.

Are the negative things still there?

Sure.

But if I focus on the positive things, then *I* am changed.

That’s what faith does … it changes us from the inside out.

As I’ve said before: faith is not logical. You will never PROVE the presence of God any more than you can prove the absence of Her/Him. But given the choice of living with or without HOPE … well, then we can exercise our free will.

I think we sometimes forget that Jesus lived in very dark times. We look at his life and his teachings (either through reading Scripture or by watching Hollywood portrayals of it) and it seems all bright and beautiful — well, unless you’re watching Mel Gibson’s depiction and then I have other theological issues with that! — and we forget that:

a) He lived in an occupied country with Roman soldiers who exerted unchecked power to loot, pillage, rape, torture and kill …

b) His people had lived this kind of existence for GENERATIONS!

c) As a non-Roman citizen, he had NO RIGHTS …

d) He ended up being hated and hunted by some of his own corrupt leaders!

e) Unless you were part of the aristocracy or Rome, you were poorer than poor and your entire existence relied on what others allowed you to have — including the rights they allowed you to exercise (or not).

 

Hard, dark times.

 

That’s precisely WHY his message was so important: God sees you. God knows you.  God loves you. Blessed are those who are downtrodden; it won’t be that way forever. The last will be first and the first will be last. And especially: This world is not all that there is!!!

That’s what the KOG (the Kingdom of God for those of us on a first name basis with it … LOL) is all about. It’s all AROUND us. It’s here right NOW. It’s not just something we go to when we die.

Think of it like this:

I’m writing this while I’m sitting in a Starbucks. There’s a couple talking next to me — dating, I think. There are two men to my left talking about business, I think. There’s the sound of the steamer behind the counter and the bells, buzzers, etc. and the constant conversation over headphones for the drive-thru. There’s also Starbucks Radio music going in the background. And then there’s me writing this.

Where do I put my energy?

Every once in a while the daters do or say something that my ear picks up and I smile. A couple of times the two men have intrigued me with something they’re raisin their  voices over in excitement. Sometimes the baristas (including my daughter) will catch my eye and I’ll be taken away from my laptop for a nanosecond.

All these things are going on simultaneously and it’s up to ME to choose where I’m going to focus my attention.

The KOG is around me all the time but it’s up to me to choose to pay attention to it.

And how do I DO that? How do I zero in on it????

Another example.

There are radio and TV waves going through this room right now. They’re everywhere. I’ve read that there are very few “Radio Silent” places in our country anymore. The waves travel until they run out of energy and the resistance (air, solid materials, etc.) is great enough to absorb the remaining energy and they stop moving. The radio/TV waves are constant.

If I had a radio with me … I could HEAR what some of those waves are carrying.

But I don’t, so I’m oblivious to them.

It doesn’t mean they’re not there. It just means that I’m not able to interact with them in a way that has meaning for me. Right?

THAT’s the KOG.

God is all around us all the time. We are NEVER away from Her/Him. But we have to develop the awareness that allows us to interact in a way that has meaning for me.

The good news is that (as we found out at the first Pentecost in Acts 2) God will FIND a way to speak to each of us in a language that we can comprehend. God WANTS to be known by those that God created. Most parents want to be known by their children and have a relationship with them. Same thing — but more.

So if we choose to be open … even if we’re just opening the door a smidge … just a crack … God’s energy will find a way to get through to us. (Think radio/TV waves that never run out of energy and can’t be stopped.)

And once we are open to that … once we have the awareness and the experience of sensing that (either consciously or unconsciously) … then we have experienced the KOG and it changes everything about how we see the world. We are tuning out all of other things that try to interfere with that experience. It’s not that we stop seeing or hearing the distractions … I still hear and see the dating couple and the business guys … but we don’t focus on it anymore. (I’ve been totally unaware of them while I’ve been writing these last paragraphs, for instance.) They recede into the background of my awareness. And that’s like life when we become more aware of the KOG.

I think that people in Biblical times didn’t know how to express this, so they said, “Let those who have eyes see. Let those who have ears, hear.” It’s an awareness thing!

So to bring this back to where I started … Let’s Eliminate Negative Thinking … How do we do that???? Well … we form a habit of intentionally looking for something positive even in the presence of the worst possible situations. (Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning describes this process in his own Auschwitz experience.)

Yes all these terrible things are around us: shootings … investigation(s) … sexual harassment, abuse and violence. Yes, our national security is not what it was. And as people of the Way — as followers of Jesus, we have to remember that we are called to work for justice, equality and expressions of human dignity. As ambassadors of Christ, we are mandated to stand with the marginalized.

But while we’re doing that, we also have to keep our awareness and our focus on the KOG so that we can be fed by the positive energies in that.

What’s positive?

How about the mobilization of people to get involved in their government — grass-roots on both sides of the aisle. How about the empowerment of our youth, the next great generation. How about the rising compassion levels we are experiencing around the world as a result of events here and abroad.

How about the fact that you just took several minutes to read and think about the KOG in your midst???!!!

Those are all things to celebrate. They are the positive things that can help to eliminate negative thinking.

You’re on your way.

Keep it up!

… and Happy Lent! … 😀

Pastor Deb

Israel & Palestine

Posted on

March 1, 2018

“Understanding Israel, Understanding Palestine”

Discussion Series

What/When :::

Three evening discussions

> 6:30 – 8pm

>> March 6, 13, and 20

 

Part 1: How are we to understand “Israel” a name that denotes a land, a country, and a people?

Part 2: One land and two peoples: Addressing today’s issues

Part 3: Forming our Christian response: Working together for justice and peace

 

Who :::     Discussion Leader Susan Orr, Stated Clerk and Presbyter for Healthier Congregations, Genesee Valley Presbytery

Where ::: Genesee Valley Presbytery conference room, 1190 Winton Road South, Rochester, NY (park on Brighton High School side)

Open to all churches in Riverside Neighbors.

Please RSVP by March 2nd to John Thomas 442-2035 or johnt21c@gmail.com so we have enough room and handouts.  If you need handicapped access or sign language interpreting, let us know.

 

The Micah Circle is an Act of Faith of South Presbyterian Church
1200 S. Winton Road | Rochester, NY 14618

www.SouthPC.org

Connections

Posted on

February 22, 2018
WEEKDAYS NOON-2:00 P.M. ON WXXI-AM 1370, FM 107.5, AND WRUR-FM 88.5 IN ROCHESTER AND WEOS 89.5 FM IN GENEVA

Evan Dawson talks about what matters to you on Connections, Every weekday from Noon-2 p.m. Be part of the program with questions or comments by phone – 1-844-295-TALK (8255), emailFacebook or Twitter.

USA Today recently reported on the continuing support for President Trump among evangelical Christians. This comes a little more than a year after 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. Many leaders in the Christian conservative community sat that the administration’s list of wins – from judicial and personnel appointments to policy changes to pro-life agenda actions – has been lengthy. That has sparked conversations in the local Christian community, particularly among left-leaning faith-based organizations whose leaders say they are confused about that support.

Our panel discusses what it means to be a modern, American Christian. In studio:

How Soon in Now?

Posted on

While I was away on vacation, Fellowship of Faith was blessed to have young, beginning preachers fill our pulpit. Here is the sermon from August 13, 2017 by recent seminary graduate, Elder Summer Sattora. My thanks for her energy and leadership.

How Soon is Now?

Matthew 14:22-33

Preached at South Presbyterian Church Fellowship of Faith, August 13, 2017

 

I love movies. If you know me, this is not a surprising statement. I often speak in movie quotes or recall scenes from a favorite movie in everyday conversation. In fact, my mom and I are at The Cinema on Goodman and Clinton just about every week. I guess you could say it’s in my blood since my great-uncle once owned that specific movie theatre and my mom worked there back in the day. One thing that movies often do is play with time, specifically the passage of time, and they do this in a variety of ways. The movie may open with a scene and down in the bottom corner will be a date, say 1985. Stuff will happen and after a cut or fade to black, our next scene will display 2017. We’ve traveled 32 years in 32 seconds. Or perhaps we’ll get a grouping of flashback scenes with a voice-over narrative explaining a series of events that happened over say a hundred years, condensed down in to just five minutes for us. Or, a favorite of those who make romantic-comedies, the montage. Cue the scenes of our two romantic leads leading their unfulfilling separate lives until the inevitable meet-cute! A whole adult life shortened into half of a cheesy yet catchy pop song. We have become used to this idea of days, weeks, months, or years passing like, no pun intended, no time at all.

 

When you combine this warping of time we have from movies with our immediate gratification culture we live in, is it any wonder that waiting is not high on our list of favorite things to do? If you don’t know the answer to something, you can get it in as long as it takes you to say “Siri” or “Alexa.” With Amazon Prime we can get items delivered in just two days. Movies and TV shows are available as quick as signing on to Netflix or Hulu, and if it’s Netflix original programming you don’t even have to wait for a new episode every week. You get them all at once! We can preorder books so that they’ll be shipped to us the day they’re released. On many dating sites and apps you can decide within ten seconds whether or not someone is the guy or gal for you based on a picture and a couple sentences. We don’t even like going to a restaurant and having to wait for our food. What do you mean you cook to order? Why can’t I get it as soon as I order it? And etcetera etcetera etcetera. So perhaps when we hear today’s Scripture, we take the word “immediately” at face value. But how immediate was it, especially for Peter?

 

Let’s look again at verses 30 and 31: “But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’” Sure, for Jesus it probably was immediately. But what did it feel like for Peter? How long before he realized he was sinking? Once he realized he was sinking, how long before he started panicking? Once he started panicking, how long before he cried out? And how long did it feel between when he cried out and when he felt Jesus grab him? Did time speed up like in one of our movies? Or did time slow down? Did every second feel like a minute? Did he wonder if Jesus would in fact save him? I think he did. I think that time seemed to slow to a crawl for Peter as he waited to be pulled from the water. I’m sure he couldn’t think beyond one breath to the next as he sunk further and further in to the sea, arms flailing frantically as he tried to keep his head above water.

 

I can relate to Peter in today’s passage, both literally and figuratively. I recently had the, opportunity shall we say, to try white water rafting. Has anyone ever been? (If so) By any chance were you thrown from the boat? I was (thrown from the boat). Twice. Considering my first words to my friend Mike, who coordinated the trip were “Why are you trying to kill me?!” I think you know what my thoughts on the whole event are. Anyway, the second time I was thrown in to the rapids our safety guides threw a rope in to me. Yes, I was wearing a helmet and a vest so perhaps I wasn’t going to drown the way Peter thought he was, but when the water is pushing you forward and the rope you’re trying desperately to hold on to keeps sliding through your hands, time seems to slow down, at least in looking back. You’re trying not to swallow the water that’s slamming in to your face and your entire focus is on the next breath, on hoping that the rope will finally catch so you can be pulled to safety. Now, obviously I am fine. The rope caught, I was pulled to safety, and I got back in the boat and continued down the rest of the river without getting thrown in again. But when I read this passage, that was the picture that first popped in to my head, and I went from usually reading these verses thinking “Poor Peter, you foolish man of little faith” to thinking “Dude, I understand.” You’re trying desperately to have faith in being pulled to safety, but as the immediacy of rescue seems to be getting farther and farther away, so does your faith. You start embracing that doubt that in normal circumstances you can push away rather easily.

 

Why is it that the times we should have the most faith we often have the least? Because that’s the other angle of this story where I relate to Peter. That period of time where time seems to be dragged out can come out of that feeling that our cries for help are not being heard, so we start to lose our faith. We sort of expect that once we cry out “Lord save me” the response will be immediate. Once we pray for help or guidance or clarity or an answer or a sign we say our Amen and then expect the answer to be dropped in to our lap. Come on God, it’s been five minutes. Are you even listening? Now, yes, sometimes immediately really is immediately. We lift something up to God and in a relatively short time we get a response. In fact, it happens so quickly we’ve almost forgotten we asked for it in the first place. We smile and skip along thinking, Boy, God really does answer prayers! Awesome!! Then, there’s those other times. When we ask and ask and ask and we swear all we hear is crickets. We pray and we pray. We’re so busy praying that we can’t hear the answer. Or we hear the answer but it’s not the one we want so we keep praying. Or we’re afraid of what we might hear, so we stop listening. Perhaps Peter was so afraid he wouldn’t be saved that rather than opening his eyes to see Jesus standing before him with his hand outstretched, he had his eyes closed tightly, too busy sinking to see what was in front of him. I can just imagine Jesus standing right in front of a sinking Peter, waving his hand right in front of Peter’s face, kind of like “Hello! I’m right here! Open your eyes.” I can imagine how many times Jesus has done that to each of us.

 

Why is it that we become too impatient when “immediately” is in God’s time and not ours? Why aren’t we willing to wait, to draw on our faith to get us through? What is it about waiting that freaks us out? What are we so afraid of? Waiting for an answer should be a time to enjoy being in God’s time, but rather than allowing ourselves to be pulled towards God, we try to pull God toward us. We try to make God work within our parameters when God just wants us to sit with God, to be still in God’s presence. It’s not that God doesn’t want to answer us or chooses not to answer us, but that God is trying to have a conversation with us in that perceived silence. When you think about it that way, why wouldn’t we want to stop and enjoy the time of waiting? It’s so easy for us to see waiting as an inconvenience. We have other stuff to do, after all. People to see. Plans to make. Lives to live. We can’t do all of that if we are busy waiting.

 

One of the hardest things to do is pray and feel the Spirit saying “Wait.” I imagine the conversation going something like this:

Okay, God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit what do you say?

Wait.

What do you mean, wait?

Wait. Be patient.

Okay, but seriously, everyone is asking me what I’m going to do here and I don’t know what to tell them.

Wait for now.

But can’t now be, well, now?

Now will come.

But when?

Soon.

How soon is soon? I can’t keep going on like this.

Wait.

Sound familiar? Theologian Howard Thurman wrote the following in the book The Inward Journey:

“’To him that waits, all things reveal themselves, provided that he has the courage not to deny in the darkness what he has seen in the light.’

“Waiting is a window opening on many landscapes. For some, waiting means the cessation of all activity when energy is gone and exhaustion is all that the heart can manage. It is the long slow panting of the spirit. There is no will to will- ‘spent’ is the word. There is no hope, not hopelessness- there is no sense of anticipation or even awareness of a loss of hope. Perhaps even the memory of function itself has faded. There is now and before- there is no after.

“For some, waiting is a time of intense preparation for the next leg of the journey. Here at last comes a moment when forces can be realigned and a new attack on an old problem can be set in order. Or it may be a time of reassessment of all plans and of checking past failures against present insight. It may be the moment of the long look ahead when the landscape stretches far in many directions and the chance to select one’s way among many choices cannot be denied.

For some, waiting is a sense of disaster of the soul. It is what Francis Thompson suggests in the line: ‘Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke!’ The last hiding place has been abandoned because even the idea of escape is without meaning. Here is no fear, no panic, only the sheer excruciation of utter disaster. It is a kind of emotional blackout in the final moment before the crash- it is the passage through the Zone of Treacherous Quiet.

“For many, waiting is something more than all of this. It is the experience of recovering balance when catapulted from one’s place. It is the quiet forming of a pattern of recollection in which there is called into focus the fragmentary values from myriad encounters of many kinds in a lifetime of living. It is to watch a gathering darkness until all light is swallowed up completely without the power to interfere or bring a halt. Then to continue one’s journey in the darkness with one’s footsteps guided by the illumination of remembered radiance is to know courage of a peculiar kind-the courage to demand that light continue to be light even in the surrounding darkness. To walk in the light while darkness invades, envelops, and surrounds is to wait on the Lord. This is to know the renewal of strength. This is to walk and faint not.”[1]

 

So waiting can be a good thing. God’s now does not have to be our now. It shouldn’t be our now. Rather than waiting to be pulled from the water to have our little faith become big faith, we should go in to the water with big faith in the first place. Jesus is right there in front of us, reaching out a hand, even when we don’t see it, even when it feels like it can’t possibly be there. How soon is now? As soon as it needs to be.

 

AMEN.

[1] Thurman, Howard. The Inward Journey. New York: Harper & Row, 1961. Pp. 81-82.

Ten Words or Less

Posted on Updated on

Okay, friends …

Last week we talked about what was “Above All” for each one of us in our faith.

NOW the challenge is to say in 10 Words or Less what you think is the most important thing about what we believe at South and what we stand for.

Ready?

Let’s get the conversation going!