Communication, Collaboration, and Encouragement

A devotion by Pastor Wes Poole

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy. Psalm 107 21-22 NRSV

There is a story told about Ivan the Great who ruled Russia as Czar in the 15th century. He was a warrior, a fighter, and a conqueror of kingdoms. The Soviet Union as we knew it a couple of decades back was basically put into place by Ivan the Great.

Ivan was so busy doing battle that some of his comrades became concerned because he hadn’t taken time to get married and have a family. They came to him and said “You’ve got to get married because you’ve got to have an heir to the throne.” But Ivan said “I want to do battle and to conquer more territory, you go find a wife for me.” So they did.

Ivan’s men found a wife for him from the daughter of the king of Greece, a beautiful girl. They said to Ivan, “We found a wife for you, but there’s one problem.” “What’s that?” he asked. “If you’re going to marry her, you have to be Greek Orthodox,” they said. Ivan the Great said, “Well, if you think she’d make a good wife for me, that’s no problem, I could be Greek Orthodox.”

The king of Greece was thrilled with this because it meant that Ivan wasn’t going to invade his territory. So the Greeks sent tutors to Russia to tutor Ivan and 500 of his elite soldiers, everyone a great warrior. The soldiers required tutoring because Ivan said, “If I’m going to be Greek Orthodox, they’re going to be Greek Orthodox.”

They tutored all these men in the Greek Orthodox faith and finally Ivan and the soldiers went down to Greece for the wedding. But before the marriage they had to be baptized into the Greek Orthodox church. It was an incredible sight as thousands of people came to watch Ivan the Great and his 500 soldiers all wade into the water at one time to be baptized by immersion into their new church.

Five hundred soldiers with full armor and five hundred Greek Orthodox priests were standing in the blue water of the Mediterranean Sea for the baptism, when all of a sudden the king of Greece said, “We’ve got a problem.” The problem was that in the Greek Orthodox church you could not be a warrior and a member of the church at the same time.

So they held a hastily-called diplomatic meeting in the water to ask, “How are we going to work this out?” They came up with a simple answer. Just before the priests immersed the soldiers, each man took out his sword, held it high above the water, and allowed the priest to baptize everything but his sword arm. This came to be known as “the unbaptized arm.”

The point of the story?? Well I’m certainly not advocating arranged marriages! I didn’t write the story anyway, but the author was making the point that there are many Christians today who have unbaptized checkbooks. Like the warriors who dedicated everything to God except their sword arm, many of us have dedicated every part of our lives to God except our money. As a wise man once said, “The last thing to be converted is our pocketbook.”

Uh oh…now I’ve gone and done it….I used “the M word”!!!

(Collective groan ensues throughout the congregation!)

Please bear with me on this one! You’ll never hear me berating anyone about money, particularly during a global pandemic with the economy in jeopardy.
My point is that for the church to remain the church, we still must have adequate resources. If it were Stewardship Month, we’d be talking about “time, talents, and treasures”. That’s always relevant, but our situation is different right now. Many are unemployed or underemployed. Personal financial security is not something many of us can claim. So please understand, this is not about guilt…at all! Everyone is doing what they can. God values our efforts, whatever they are. I know I do!

We do have one new resource available though that I’d like to bring to your attention. Thanks to the good work of our church leadership, we now have a link on the church website where you can send in your tithes and offerings electronically. It is safe and secure, and of course…contactless. With many of us not able yet to return to in-person worship, this is an invaluable tool we have to keep our ministry alive and well and ready to roar back when COVID is behind us. May that day come quickly! On a personal note, Christine and I will be using this resource exclusively for our personal giving from now on. Check it out at www.goodshepherdwb.org.

More importantly, I want to encourage anyone who needs pastoral care or services to call on me personally. At this time, home and hospital visits are generally ill advised or not allowed at all. Still, if you need to talk to your pastor, or just have a message for me, please email me at pastorwes@goodshepherdwb.org. I will get back to you ASAP. Of course, you can always call the church and leave a message. That might take a bit longer, but only a little, and I’ll still get back with you as quickly as I can.

This has been a long road, and we aren’t at the end of the journey yet. Now more than ever, we must seek to build each other up. The Fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; these are as important as they’ve ever been. Likewise, the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is as timely as always. We are a community of kind and caring people. I know we will continue to meet the challenges ahead. Right now, a lot of days may seem like “Good Fridays”. Never fear though…Sunday’s coming!

Let us pray…
God of Peace, we thank you for bringing us this far along our journey. We know we’re not at its end, as yet, but you are walking this entire road with us. Inspire us to even greater acts of kindness and generosity, for when we see our neighbors in need, we look into the face of Jesus himself. We also lift up for you today our Good Shepherd family. Help us continually to recommit ourselves to the health and well being of our congregation. Keep hope alive in us, for hope in you is never in vain. We ask these things in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe.

Blessings,
Pastor Wes †

A Change Will Do You Good!

A devotion by Pastor Wes Poole

Jeremiah 31:31-34
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. NRSV

We usually read the above passage on Reformation Sunday. The prophet reminds us that our God is never boring or static. He is always doing a new thing; creating something wonderful. In all of the history between God and His people that Scripture recounts for us, God never rests on His laurels. God never settles. God is actively engaged with us; inspiring us to live and engage with one another in the same way. As a church of the Reformation tradition, we subscribe to the doctrine of Sempre Ecclesia Reformanda…the Church, always reforming. We are a community of believers built to thrive on growth and change, for one can’t exist without the other. Right now, there are a lot of changes in the church that we likely didn’t expect or want. Social distancing, online worship, limited in-person worship, new methods of celebrating communion…all of these changes have been forced on us. This has obviously been difficult, yet again, we are a church designed to deal with and even embrace change. Jeremiah was foretelling the new covenant God promised and brought to fruition in Jesus. Yet even then, Jeremiah was reminding his people of the need to trust in God’s creative genius. God promises a new relationship that is deep and eternal. We trust that He will see us through any difficulties and indeed inspire us to even greater acts of goodness in His Kingdom. We’ve heard it said a lot during this COVID crisis that we are the church wherever we may be and in whatever situation we find ourselves. This has never been truer than during these trying times. Will it be difficult? Yes, sometimes, but we face every challenge before us with Our Lord at our side. As a community of faith, we at Good Shepherd are still grappling with how to be the Church in the time of COVID. There are social, theological, doctrinal, practical, and certainly financial challenges ahead. Coming together as a family, social distancing and financial obstacles notwithstanding, God will see us through and we will see each other through everything. We will undoubtedly be changed permanently in some ways…but we will still be the Church and God will still be God. His promises are never in vain and He will continue to create wonder out of even this most trying of times. The Church, Always Reforming. May we continue to trust in God’s creative and redeeming power; showing the world what this new life in Christ looks like. It may not always be easy, but it will never be boring!

Let us pray…
Creator God, we thank you for the wonder of Creation, and for the new life you have extended to all people in Jesus Christ. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, give us a share of your creative genius; for we know that all things are possible in you, and this world will one day call upon you as one people, with your Word in our hearts. We ask these things in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe. I hope to see you soon!

Blessings always,
Pastor Wes †

A Better Way

A devotion by Pastor Wes Poole

Colossians 3:12-17
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. NRSV

The above passage is one that I particularly like to read at weddings. The author of Colossians, who quite likely wasn’t St. Paul himself, but rather a later student or devotee of his work, probably wasn’t thinking about marriage in particular, but his words are a great reminder of the need for the People of God to model kindness and forbearance with each other. Last week, as many of you know now, was a tough one for me. I lost a dear friend and I am still processing that grief. A kind word of concern and caring by someone on Sunday at worship really changed the tone of this entire week for me. You often hear it said that kindness should always be our default setting, if you will, as we never really know what someone else is going through. In the same vein as the mutual bearing of each others’ burdens, which was the theme of last week’s devotion, the Apostle here carries it a bit further with some specific advice. It is so easy for us to let anger or stress or anxiety color our dealings with one another. The Apostle reminds us that Jesus has indeed shown us a better way. “Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience”…that’s good advice for us at any time, in the church or out of it! We will always sin and fall short of the life God means for us, but God is also by our side, and not just in some sort of nebulous, spiritual sense. Perhaps the most powerful and compelling way God comes to us is through each other. Kindness, patience, and forgiveness were the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry and the model for his people everywhere. Again, I thank God and all of you for letting me be a part of such a caring family. Please know that even though we still have to maintain a degree of distance, you are in my prayers every day. Our unity is always rooted in Christ. I look forward to the day we can resume our normal mode of interaction. It will happen eventually. God will provide a way through this. Of that I have no doubt. Meanwhile, the relationships we build with one another are precious. Let’s cherish them and always strive to build each other up.

Let us pray…
God of lovingkindness, you sent your Son, Jesus to be our Savior and greatest teacher. Help us to make his example our own and to continue to show the same love and regard for our brothers and sisters everywhere that he showed in his earthly ministry. We are strongest when we live in harmony and community. Inspire us to keep our community healthy, safe, and loving. For we ask these things in Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe!
Blessings always,
Pastor Wes †

CHRIST BEARS OUR BURDENS WITH US

A devotion by Pastor Wes Poole

Matthew 11:28-30
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” NRSV

My heart is heavy this week. A dear friend lost his battle with cancer and passed on Sunday. I just found out last night. Today (Tuesday) would have been his 50th birthday. He was a fine and caring person; a gifted musician and teacher. His loss will be felt for years to come, as he touched many lives in this community. He helped bring art and beauty into a world that always needs those things. As a believer, I know that there is no cause to be concerned for his well being any longer. I will miss my friend terribly, but he is in God’s hands, and there is no better place to be. Right now though, knowledge isn’t enough, and tired clichés or platitudes most certainly aren’t enough. My heart is heavy, and comfort is elusive. The pain of grief really isn’t about the people we lose, but the ones left behind. The burden of grief is truly heavy, as we all know. I am grateful to have a church family who cares for one another, and for this opportunity to share my feelings with you. Sometimes, all we can do is push forward and let God, in His own way and time, allow healing to begin.

So the words of Jesus take on extra meaning for me right now, and I find myself reflecting on the variety of burdens we all carry. They can be collective, like the COVID weight we’re all shouldering, or individual grief, like illness and personal loss. Regardless of the circumstances, we carry pain with us all of the time. Sometimes it looms larger than others, but the human experience is rife with suffering. There is no sense in trying to deny it or pretend it isn’t there. We do however, as modern day followers of Jesus, have one recourse that cannot be denied or overstated. Jesus is with us always…and he understands suffering first hand. He shoulders those burdens with us, and never leaves our side. Here is the really important bit though, even when our faith and devotion might be at a low ebb, Jesus never repays that in kind. His love for us is never transactional. On the contrary, no matter low we may feel, his compassion and care are relentless! That is an astonishingly wonderful truth. We serve a God who has never stopped working on our behalf. St. Paul tells us in the 8th chapter of Romans that there is literally nothing in the vastness of the Universe that can separate us from His love for us in Christ Jesus. The Lord himself spells it out for us pretty clearly in Matthew 11. “Come to me, ALL you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” God does not make empty promises. Pain may always be a factor on this side of the next life, but thanks be to God, hope and comfort are ever present and always available. For now, regardless of my personal headspace or heart space, God’s grace is sufficient.

Let us pray…
God of healing, your love surpasses all earthly grief. We know that there are always many who need to feel the peace that can only come from you. When that peace seems to us to be far away, help us to remember and take to heart that you never are. As you have promised, as you have always done, you walk with us through this life into the next, turning mourning into dancing, and grief to joy. Inspire us to reflect your compassion to our brothers and sisters everywhere; for we ask these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Thanks for “listening”. Again, I appreciate being a part of such a caring family of faith. I covet your prayers for my friend’s family, and for the many, many people grieving his loss. May we always strive to bear each other’s burdens together, and to trust in God’s promise of healing.

Be well, be kind, and be safe!

Blessings always,
Pastor Wes †

The Needs of the Many and the One

By Pastor Wes Poole

Philippians 4:19 
And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. NRSV

On any given day, people patronize different markets or businesses to acquire goods or procure services. In a society as wealthy as ours, those goods and services are practically omnipresent. Anything we want is basically available at a moment’s notice. If it’s not available locally, we have but to pick up a smart phone or log onto Amazon and whatever we want will be on our porches in a few days tops. Our Western consumer culture is often demonized as promoting greed and selfishness. To be sure, there are elements in our culture that don’t always play well with the teachings of Jesus, but that’s not the point I want to make today. Coming off of the Independence Day celebration, I actually want to give thanks for the people who keep those goods and services available; who truly make this country great. From doctors to grocery workers to the ones working the phones at the online merchants, these Essential Workers are making it possible for us to care for each other. No doubt, we as a society still need to do a better job making those essentials available to everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion, financial status, or any other of the labels we tend to place on each other. Those conversations are always ongoing. For now, thanks be to God for those who have worked so hard to keep our communities healthy! We love you and are truly grateful for who you are and what you do.

1st Corinthians 12:4-5
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. NRSV

In much the same way, the church can reflect our consumer culture. Again, while this can sometimes be troublesome, that’s not the point I want to make today. Sure, on any given Sunday, we might come to worship for any number of reasons. Some come for fellowship and social interaction, some for teaching, some for sacraments, or some for (hopefully) good preaching. Truth to be told, we probably come for any and all of the above in various combinations, but we come to have our needs met. That’s OK, because we need to be able to take care of ourselves, spiritually and otherwise, so that we can effectively meet the needs of others. The flip side is equally powerful. A diverse community with differing needs also brings a diversity of gifts to the table. Jesus knew this, and it was reflected in the radical inclusivity of his mission. Jesus loved and valued everyone, regardless of any other consideration. In the end, his sacrifice was for all, even those who had been his enemies. What this teaches us in the church is to value each other the way Jesus always has. The astonishing truth at the heart of the Christian message is that this life is not an “us vs. them” proposition. God is the source of all that we have and all that we can do, and continues to love and provide for us all in Jesus Christ. We know now that we are indeed all in this together, as we are always one in Christ. Thanks be to God for the wonderful diversity of His people and this Creation He has called good!

Let us pray…
God of all that we have and all that we can do, we thank for your manifold blessings. We thank you for the freedoms we enjoy and the opportunity to share those blessings with our neighbors. Help us always to see each other through your eyes, that we may keep celebrating our uniqueness and building one another up. For we know that your grace is sufficient, your forgiveness unconditional, and your love inexhaustible. We pray these things in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.
I hope to see you soon, but whether we worship in our church building or in front of screen, we are still the Church, God’s Hands doing His work in this world. Be well, be kind, and be safe!

Blessings Always,
Pastor Wes †

The Foundation of Our Faith

By Pastor Wes Poole

Micah 6:8
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? NRSV

Neil Marten, a member of the British Parliament, was once giving a group of his constituents a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. During the course of the visit, the group happened to meet Lord Hailsham, then lord chancellor, wearing all the regalia of his office. Hailsham recognized Marten among the group and cried, “Neil!” Not daring to question or disobey the “command,” the entire band of visitors promptly fell to their knees!

This past Sunday we were able to offer our first in person worship service since the pandemic lock down began. It was wonderful to see many of you again, especially after barely getting to know most of you! Thanks to skillful leadership here in our commonwealth, and in this congregation, we have progressed to the point where we are now able to have a modicum of normalcy return to our church family. It should go without saying that I am profoundly thankful for such a blessing. Reflecting on this further, I found myself thinking about those who were not able to be there. I felt like it needed to be said, and probably from me, that if you still don’t feel comfortable coming out and interacting even with a socially distanced gathering, that it’s OK. We all have different needs and different issues. If your life’s situation compels you to wait a bit longer before venturing out to worship at Good Shepherd, then not only do I understand, I truly respect your decision to care for yourself and those around you. In other words, returning to in person worship is a blessing to be sure, but it is not a requirement or command. Scripture contains many commands from God and Our Lord Jesus, but risking life and health for Sunday worship is not one of them.

At a time such as this, I feel it important to pay close attention to the essentials and fundamentals of our faith. Thus, the Micah quote above, possibly my single favorite passage in the Bible, spoke to me again, as it has so many times in my personal journey of faith. If you think about it, Jesus’ words in Mark 12 and Luke 10, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” is just another way to say “Be kind and just with one another, and love God.” THAT is the core, the very essence of the faith we share. Those are transcendent truths that we can carry with us no matter where we are or what our personal circumstances may be. Our Lord’s call to ministry is meant to be practiced out there in the “real world”. As has been said many times, we are the Church wherever we are. So if I see you some Sunday in the not too distant future, thanks be to God! If I don’t, then thanks be to God for keeping you safe and well!

Let us pray…
God of all healing and wholeness, we thank you for the blessing of being able to gather together, once again, to worship you and praise your Holy Name. We pray that you pour your Holy Spirit upon all the members of your Church, whether gathered together or sheltered at home. Strengthen our resolve to practice the essentials of our faith; that we may always do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with you. We ask these things in the name of Jesus, the Living Christ. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe, my friends. I give thanks for each of you, and the unity we share in Christ, wherever we are!

Blessings always,
Pastor Wes †

The Blessedness of Unity

by Pastor Wes Poole

Psalm 133
A Song of Ascents.
1 How very good and pleasant it is 
when kindred live together in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,    
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,    
running down over the collar of his robes.
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,    
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,   
life forevermore.

Well my friends, the day for which we’ve been waiting so patiently is almost upon us! This coming Sunday, we will gather again at 8:30 and 11AM to worship God and enjoy fellowship with our church family. While it may not look or sound exactly as what we’re used to, it will, as the Psalmist tells us, be good to be together in unity. We are always the Church, regardless of where or how we worship, but there is no denying that the return of some measure of normalcy will be most welcome. On a personal note, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all of you for your patience and support during this time. We’re not out of the woods yet, but thanks to our concerted efforts; complying with the common sense safety measures set by commonwealth officials, we have made progress sufficient to be able to gather again. Let us use this opportunity to renew our commitment to keeping each other safe and helping to meet the needs of our neighbors. There is still a lot of work to be done. Feeding the hungry, taking a stand against racism and discrimination, welcoming the stranger and equipping the faithful for ministry, telling the Story of Jesus and love through deeds and words…these are always on the “to do” list for the Church. Regardless of how we worship, that list will not change. Let us all give thanks to Almighty God for helping us to get to this place. Trusting in God’s never failing presence; we will meet the challenges ahead. We are Our Lord’s hands in this world that needs to hear the Story we have to tell. United together in unity as the Body of Christ, we hear Jesus’ command to care for one another, and will continue to make a positive impact on our community.

Let us pray…
God of all goodness, we give you thanks for keeping us safe during these truly difficult times. We know that everyone has not been as fortunate, and we ask you to make us ever stronger in our commitment to serving our neighbor. Help us to see the face of Jesus in our brothers and sisters everywhere, regardless of race, creed, or anything else that would separate us from you and each other. We know that you love all of your children equally, and would have us do the same. Make us truly instruments of your Peace. We ask these things in the name of Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe. See you soon!
Blessings always,
Pastor Wes Poole†

The Persistence of Faith

By Pastor Wes Poole

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,[a] and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of[b] the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 NRSV

Perseverance, persistence, conviction, “sticktoitiveness”, the proverbial “stiff upper lip” and Keep Calm and Carry On, as the Brits might say. All of these things have been required of us lately, whether we wanted them or not. At this point, we have spent a full quarter of 2020 locked down and/or quarantined in some way. This has required a great deal of sacrifice and commitment from all of us, not to mention patience! We haven’t been able to gather or worship as we would normally. We’ve had to physically distance ourselves from many of our friends and loved ones. Yet we know that it is what was required of us a community. Regard for neighbor and concern for his or her well being is at the heart of the Christian Vocation. To everyone who has taken this responsibility so seriously and without excessive complaining, (I mean, we’ve probably all complained a little!) let me express my heartfelt thanks and personal admiration. We’re getting through this as a family of faith and I am grateful beyond words that I have been able to be a part of the Good Shepherd community through these trying times. Take heart, our efforts have not been in vain! The numbers are looking somewhat better. As long as we keep the health and safety of our neighbors as a top priority, I am convinced that we will be able to regain some sense of normalcy again. We still have a long road ahead; truly a “race that is set before us”, but trusting in Jesus, we will emerge on the other side as a stronger and even more caring community.
We are in the process of determining when and how we can reopen and worship together. It’s a truly exciting prospect. The new Sunday “normal” may not look or sound exactly like the Sunday services we’re used to, but we are doing everything we can to be able to gather around Word and Table once again. There is more info to come on that, but for now, as the Apostle tells us, we look “to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”. When our resolve, or patience may falter, Our Lord is right there for us; providing the strength, comfort, and inspiration we will need to run this race. God is always with us, and in Him all things are possible!
For now, as I have been saying since all of this began, be well, be kind, and be safe. Times have been tough, and the days long…but we are an Easter People…and Sunday’s coming!

Let us pray…
God of all goodness, we thank you that you never forsake us, and are always there for us when life gets difficult. Help us to keep hanging in there; caring for one another and building each other up. We know that in Jesus Christ, we are the Church, buildings or no. Inspire us always to greater deeds of kindness and generosity. We ask these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Blessings! I look forward to see you all soon!
Pastor Wes †

Tough Words for Troubled Times

By Pastor Wes Poole

For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29 – NRSV

“Racism is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who willfully live to gratify the sinful desires of racism “will not inherit the kingdom of God” because they reveal they might be still enslaved to the present evil age and to its seductive powers (Gal. 5:17, 19–21), instead of being freely enslaved to love by the power of the Spirit as those redeemed by Christ and bound for the promised land of new creation.”
JARVIS J. WILLIAMS AND CURTIS A. WOODS – cHRISTIANITY TODAY

Tough words indeed…and while they’re not my words, they represent my feelings on this matter to a tee. Sadly, racism and the violence such ugliness begets are in the forefront of the news once again; even pushing the COVID crisis to second place for the moment. Why must this be? In the past two weeks, I’ve read voraciously, and followed the news and social media probably more than was strictly healthy. Police brutality and murder, riots and looting, hatred and vile language. Is this really where we are in the United States in 2020? Frankly, it’s exhausting and depressing. My spirit is heavy.

In the Book of Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah writes,
“This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit. My children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed.”
Jeremiah was obviously writing for a different time and for different reasons, but his words kept coming back to me. This is how many of us are feeling right now. The feeling of helplessness that we’ve all been dealing with for the past three months is taking its toll, to destructive effect. Where or from whom can we find comfort and the strength to move forward and beyond all of this?

Last week, our own Pastor Jim Parks shared an incredibly moving meditation entitled “The Peace that Heals Hurts”. In it, he reminded us of a universal truth, spoken by none other than Nelson Mandela. “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

“Love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Of everything I’ve read over the last couple of weeks, those words brought me the most comfort and hope. Hatred is learned, and thus can be unlearned! There is Good News there, my friends. We know a better way! Jesus taught us a better way! Now the question is, what are we, the modern day disciples of Jesus, going to DO to make that Way better known to this world? What are we going to DO to help bring about healing and wholeness and the unity that is supposed to define this country? Now is not the time for just talk. A crisis of humanity and decency requires more than fair words, even if those words are from Scripture. We must, as the People of God, model that better way. Racism, sexism, violence, hatred, Xenophobia in general…these things are not acceptable for the follower of Jesus Christ! There are no exceptions!

One of the other things that has brought me hope and comfort recently is that I realize I’m preaching to the proverbial choir! Even though we’ve had precious little time to get to know one another as pastor and congregation, I’ve seen the spirit of goodness, kindness, and caring that are at the heart of this community of faith. While we’re still struggling with when, if, and how we can open our building again, we must remember that we are still the church, wherever we may be. Even quarantined and socially distanced, we can still show the World the example our Lord left for us. Kindness, charity, generosity; those are some of the ways we can bring some healing to this troubled time. In fact, the leadership of Good Shepherd is preparing right now to formulate a plan of action to bring a modicum of that “peace that heals hurts” back to this community. We have neighbors out there who are hurting, and we can do something about it! What form that takes is yet to be determined, but make no mistake, we are committed to being a church active in this community.

For now, in the sage words of John Wesley, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Friends, that is the Christian vocation. Pray for those who hate, that they might unlearn such things, and model Our Lord Jesus Christ in all that we say and do. The path ahead may not be an easy one, but Jesus walks with us. Keep hope alive…goodness will eventually prevail!

Let us pray…
We are grieving, Dear Lord, for the ills of our community. Yet we know that we are your hands; working your will in this world. Pour out your Holy Spirit for us in full measure. Inspire us to greater deeds of kindness and generosity, and help us to rid your Creation of the ugliness of racism and violence. We know these things are possible because all things are possible in you. We pray this in the name and for the sake of Jesus, the Living Christ. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe. I hope to see you all very soon.

Your Partner in Christ,
Pastor Wes Poole †

The Peace That Heals Hurts

The following meditation was written and edited by Jim Parks, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Shickshinny, PA and a member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Wilkes-Barre, PA. Jim is the Financial Secretary of Good Shepherd and also serves on the Executive Committee. The original is being presented at First Church in lieu of not having worship services on June 7, 2020 due to Covid-19.

“The Peace that Heals Hurts”

The Readings: (The New Revised Standard Version)

Genesis 1:27a, 31-—“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them…God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

2 Corinthians 13:11-13—“Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Matthew 28:16-20—“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The Meditation: (Inspired by the multi-cultural band students, Tucker High School, Tucker, Georgia and my 2020 graduate Grandson, Eli Winterscheidt, THS baritone horn player.)

Nelson Mandela once wrote the following words: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

And the poet Warsan Shire wrote in her poem,  “what they did yesterday afternoon,”  that pain is everywhere. She wrote:

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?
it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

I wonder what their words bring to your mind today. What hurts your heart today? What are the tender spots of your life? What’s festering deep inside that you don’t want anyone to see? Where do you see another hurting? Can you hold his or her gaze, or do you look away because you just don’t want to see? In what ways have you and I added to the pain of another? 

The TV pictures and commentary over the past several days breaks my heart. I see fear. I see death. I see protests. I see anger. I see violence. I see prejudice and racism. I see arrogance. I see privilege. I see unemployment. I see poverty and economic hardship. Those are the open hurts of our country and we’re hemorrhaging. We’re bleeding out and some can’t breathe.

America appears to be in a hard place these days, and I feel we have been for quite a while. Over the last few months of the coronavirus, many have said that we’re all in this together. Yes, but we’re not all together in this. We are not “all together in one place” today or this past week or so. Our country is divided, fragmented, and hurting. And so is my heart. Maybe yours is too.

It’s not easy to talk about our hurts; whether it’s our individual hurts or our national hurts, whether it’s the hurts we’ve received or the ones we’ve inflicted. To talk about our hurts requires us to look at what we’ve done and left undone. It means we each have to look within ourselves. It means taking responsibility for our lives. It means valuing the life and hurts of another as much as our own.

We might need to confess and we might need to forgive. We might need to reach out to another and we might need to open ourselves to another’s reaching toward us. We might need to offer the ointment of healing to another and we might need to receive another’s ointment for our healing.

We know all that in our heads and it makes sense. But most of the time we don’t want to face or deal with our hurts. It’s too painful. It’s a vulnerable and risky place to be. And maybe we all feel like that too. More often than not, we just want to deny that we hurt. We want to ignore or forget our hurts, relegate them to the past. We want to cover up and hide our hurts so another person can’t see them. Sometimes we make judgments about and blame others. Other times we want to use our hurts, revel in them, and play the victim so we can get some attention or sympathy. And maybe worst of all is when we use them as a justification for hurting someone else. 

But God doesn’t do any of those things. Instead, he said that we are all created in his image. And Paul didn’t do any of these things. Instead, he said “Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” And Jesus didn’t do any of those things. Instead, in our reading last week, he showed up behind the locked doors, stood among the disciples in the midst of their fear, and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he showed them his hands and his side. He showed them his hurts and then he said again, “Peace be with you.” And in this week’s reading, Jesus instructed his disciples to “Go therefore, and make disciples of ALL nations…”

Jesus’ hurts sit in the middle of the peace he offers. Peace bookends both sides of his hurts. And what if that’s true for us? What if we all live with a hurtful peace? What if the only real peace we can offer comes out of the hurts we’ve suffered?

“Peace be with you,” Jesus said. What does that mean when you’re afraid and you’ve locked the doors of your house, your heart, your life? What does that mean when you’ve locked out another because of their race, their nationality, their economic status, their age, their sexual orientation, their religion, or just their name? What does that mean?

“Peace be with you,” Jesus said. What does that mean as we continue reopening the country and economy in the midst of COVID-19? What does that mean for the friends and family of the more than 100,000 people who have died from COVID-19? What does that peace mean when we continue to draw lines between those who wear masks and those who don’t, between politicians and scientists, between those who are able to stay home and those who have to get out and work? What does that mean?

“Peace be with you,” Jesus said. What does that mean for George Floyd and his family and friends? What does mean in light of America’s racism? What does that mean for the cities that are burning and the businesses that have been looted? What does that mean for those who protest silently and peacefully and those whose message advocates violence? What does that mean for those law enforcement officers who took a knee in support of the protestors and those who shot rubber bullets and tear-gas into a peaceful crowd? What does that mean?

“Peace be with you,” Jesus said. What does that mean for you and me today? What is this peace Jesus offers? What does it look like, feel like? What does it mean?

I don’t have a lot of answers to the questions I’ve asked. Each one of us must figure out how to be peace in his or her community, county, country, and world. I can’t tell you how to do that but I can tell you this. The peace Jesus offers doesn’t mean serenity or lack of conflict. And it doesn’t mean that we necessarily get our way. And I think it’s more than a truce, an agreement to disagree, or the resignation to go along in order to get along. 

The peace Jesus offers changes hearts. It sends people downtown and into the community. It heals lives and let’s all people breathe. The peace Jesus offers will be found next to our hurts. It’s a peace that heals hurts. 

“Peace be with you,” Jesus said. What will you do today with your peace that heals hurts? To whom will you offer it? And how will you let it make a difference in your community, in your school, in your job, in your church and in the life of another? What will your peace that heals hurts mean? Amen.

The Prayer: (Based on “Worship Resources for Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015 of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.”)

Gracious God, we thank you for the human family filled with all the peoples of the earth. We are thankful that you have created such an amazing and wonderful diversity of people and cultures. We pray that you will enrich our lives with ever-widening circles of fellowship, so that we may discover your presence in those who differ from us. Deliver us from the bondage of racism that denies the humanity of some people, and deprives all people of the blessings of the diversity you have created; deliver us from assumptions that we make without thinking, and presumptions that we take without asking. Bless and strengthen each effort we make as individuals when we seek to understand ourselves and others as well as the ways we benefit from personal privilege and power, so that we may be allies who challenge bias and prejudice within ourselves and others. Bless and strengthen each effort we make to change the systems and structures of our schools and educational institutions; our politics and civic policies; and our economic institutions’ methods and models; so that the roots of racism may be recognized and purged from among us. O God of unconditional love, look with compassion on our nation. Break down the walls that separate us from one another. Cast out the spirit of violence that afflicts so many. Cleanse us of malicious ideas and ideologies. Unite us in bonds of love like unto your own. And through all our struggle for justice, work within us to accomplish your purpose and establish your kingdom vision. O Lord, open our hearts to respect and uplift the dignity of every person. Open our eyes to see the injustices within church and society. Open our ears to listen and learn from the experiences of people of color. Open our mouths to speak out against prejudice and injustice. We commit ourselves to work for justice and peace, and to pursue a deeper relationship to you, Lord, so that we truly may be the body of Christ on earth, your church for the sake of the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.