A Holy Alchemy (Congregational Letter)

Dear Friends,

         It’s that time during spring when days can’t make up their minds. Will the temperatures confine us beneath the insulation of heavy coats, or release us into the freedom of thin cotton tees? Will the rains fall as if from buckets or thimbles? Will trees and flowers enliven the air with their fragrant gifts, or will they persecute us with clouds of eye-watering, nose-running, sneeze-inducing spores? Will tender breezes make the dogwood and cherry blossoms sway like couples dancing the last slow dance of the evening? Or will high winds stampede in from the west, toppling shallow-rooted trees, ripping siding off of houses, and howling with all the fury of an adolescent tantrum? Each day asks just a little something different from us. We have to be ready to ponder, adjust, respond.

         As we continue our stay-at-home protocols, some of us may be feeling like debris caught in an eddy during dry times on the Nolichucky River—deadwood stuck in a lifeless, brown-foamed swirl. But these spring days are no less vibrant than any other. Our pondering, adjustments, and responses still ask us to pay attention to the changes around us, to watch the skies, to celebrate singing birds and flowering plants, to keep antihistamines on hand, to be ready to batten down lawn chairs and wind chimes, and to give thanks for the rains, the fertility of warm earth, and the approach of summer’s growth and autumn’s harvest. All of that continues with or without the coronavirus.

         While I understand the urge to connect faith to being delivered from, or even protected from the proverbial “storms of life,” I also understand that people of mature faith move beyond those expectations. In last Sunday’s sermon I spoke of faith as the “great Nonetheless.” Faith empowers us not to deny the trials and challenges of human existence. Faith empowers us to enter suffering, ours and that of others, trusting that, come what may, God is in the midst of it. God does not cause human suffering; through the power of Resurrection, God redeems it by creating purpose in and through it, Nonetheless.

        Faith gave the psalmist the wherewithal to write, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” (Psalm 46:1-3)

        Faith gave Paul (an object of Roman oppression, a prisoner of its jails, and, at times, a prisoner of his own memories of having terrorized Christians in the name of God) the wherewithal to write, “…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)

        We all need a little more faith these days. We all need a little more Nonetheless as we navigate the uncertainties of living through the loneliness and isolation, the fears of contagion for ourselves and those we love, and through the anxieties of having enough flour, sugar, soap, and toilet paper. And we all need to help each other through these concerns. We especially need to help those who have been most immediately affected by the losses of loved ones and livelihoods. You all have been part of a magnificent outpouring of money and food to JAMA. I also know of one small group of people actively seeking ways to donate their stimulus checks to help people in need rather than just squirreling away more money they don’t need.

        In the midst of all the reasons we may have to feel anxious, what fantastic ways to live the Nonetheless of grateful faith! Thank you all!

        While there is an “other side” to our Covid-19 experience, it’s further out than any of us want it to be. Nonetheless, God is in the midst of our trouble. Nonetheless, the holy alchemy of suffering being transformed into hope (i.e. Resurrection) is at work.

        May that promise give you hope, and may that hope give you peace.

        God’s blessings on all of you.

                           Pastor Allen

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