Saturday night I was suffering; awake from 3:30 – 5:00 am, fretting about Sunday’s sermon, reliving some of the hard pushback from high places I’d encountered this fall, worried about New Hope’s health and finances, wondering (again) if all of this was right, and struggling with whether I had the strength to go on. All I could pray – over and over again – was, “I trust you…”
And then Sunday came.
First thing I did was read these words from my devotional, “I trust in you: do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame.” (Psalm 25:1-2) I was renewed!
When I got to church a woman from the setup team pulled me aside and proudly told me about how her son was the only kid in his Catholic school classroom who knew what baptism was (I baptized this boy 13 years ago, his parents weren’t church goers, but they pledged to become church goers; to me, and to God via their baptismal vows).
Twenty minutes before church began, two seniors walked into the gym; Vera and Ida. “I was here on Christmas Eve last year,” Vera said. And now she’d brought a friend.
Preaching my sermon on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks I felt again, what I so often feel when preaching these kinds of sermons; so right, fully human, a voice for God’s today-spoken truth, lost in the power and beauty and glory of it all. This is what I was made for.
After church I had a long talk with Kim. It was her first time at New Hope. As she spoke about who she was, what she believed, and her disillusionment with church, I kept thinking, “I feel exactly the same way you do… most of us here do.”
A few minutes later I was talking to another New Hope newby. He was in tears at the news that church finances were as strained as they were. “This church saved my life… I’m a better dad and husband than I’ve ever been… We just bought a new house, and we have some money set aside for that… Here we are buying a new house and our church is in trouble. I don’t know how much we can help. but we’ll figure something out.” As he shared his heart, I couldn’t help but recall a bible reading from the previous day’s devotions; “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it… Give careful thought to your ways… “What you brought home I blew away, Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.” (Haggai 1:5-9) As this man stood crying before me, I felt as though his tears were reflective of God’s grieving heart.
They guy’s only been around the church for a year. He didn’t know better than to cry.
As I was talking with another new family, fielding more questions about what this church is all about, the dad mentioned he was an accountant. Referring him to an old sermon on accounting, I remembered an email I’d gotten last summer, from a Seattle Pacific University post-grad professor, asking for permission to use that sermon for a course he was teaching. That was encouraging.
When I finally got home, I read a new email reporting on a healthy offering that morning (we’re not dead yet). Totally exhausted I then spent an hour helping decorate our Christmas tree with my family. My son Edward’s joy was palpable, as was mine.