The Other Side of Redemption (Congregational Letter)

Dear Friends,

         I’m sitting in my study right now. Wearing a flannel shirt. And a jacket. It’s 49 degrees outside, and I’ve got a fan in the window pulling air inside. (Brr! Georgia boys don’t cotton to sub-sixty-degree mornings in May.) If you were to walk around the first floor of the education building today, you’d see all my books scattered in random stacks in the nursery. The two “visiting chairs” in my study are also filled with books, prayer shawls, photos, diplomas, and the obligatory knick-knacks that one finds in offices. It’s a mess.

         So, what’s going on?

        Graham N. is what’s going on. Graham has built some new shelves, including a beautiful corner cabinet for the pastor’s study. For months he’s been taking exact` measurements, constructing, squaring, sanding, matching stains, planning configurations, patiently waiting on a certain someone to rise to the occasion and move all his stuff out of the way. And now he’s installing them. The stain has been on for a while, but the tang is just enough to require some fresh air, so the window is open to yet another chilly run of blackberry winter.

        The pastor’s office is in disarray right now. And when the new shelves are in, it will be time to reassemble all that stuff. The arrangement will be different. It may take a little time getting used to looking for things in different places even though I will be the one to decide where they go. But this is a splendid upgrade.  When things begin to get back to normal-ish, I hope all of you will drop by to see his work. Graham is a true craftsman, an artist. Thank you, Graham!

        By the same token, the fellowship hall is a wreck right now. Tim W. and Rick G. have been restoring the front doors and rebuilding the threshold. The doors are on saw horses above drop cloths. The tables where we have meetin’s and eatin’s are covered with tools, paint cans, and door parts. The guys have been plotting, problem-solving, sanding, painting, cleaning—and laughing. Those two don’t just work well together, they have a good time doing it. Rick and Tim are also extremely careful, artful craftsman. Thank you, Rick and Tim!

        Like the pastor’s study, the nursery, and the fellowship hall, our lives and the world around us feel out of kilter right now. What was orderly and “normal” appears disorganized and chaotic. And disruption can drive us nuts.

        When the world dissolved into chaos and uncertainty, the Israelites, God’s chosen people, asked Moses if he had led them in the wilderness to die. At least in Egypt we had plenty to eat, they cried. When fleeing from the murderous Jezebel, Elijah, God’s chosen prophet to Israel, not only feared for his life, he asked God to go ahead and take it. I guess he figured God would kill him more humanely than Jezebel—probably a fair assumption. When God showed mercy to the Ninevites, Jonah, God’s chosen mouthpiece calling for repentance, felt double-crossed. So, he went out in the desert, built himself a hut and wished himself dead.

        When the world, created and beloved by God, seems to be falling apart, our storied faith asks us to remember that the world always appears to be falling apart, at least somewhere for someone. Our faith tradition also asks us to remember that whatever is happening, God is in the midst of it, not causing suffering, but, as the ultimate opportunist, redeeming it. God redeems even our worst choices and our most painful experiences.

        On the other side of redemption, life is always different. It feels new. Some things are rearranged. And it may smell strange. Whatever the case, though, it forever remains God’s beloved creation. And our calling will continue to be to nurture a grateful, worshiping, servant-hearted community that doesn’t exist for its own self, but to reach out in grace and love to those whose lives are being turned upside down and inside out. Our calling won’t change. It’s who we are. And that’s who we are because that’s who the stories of Israel and of Jesus show us that God is: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” (1John 3:16b)

        Hang in there. Tell your story. Keep the faith.

                                             Blessings and Peace,

                                                      Allen

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