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Atlas Park Service 8/30/20


Jeremiah 15:15-21 & Psalm 26:1-8

In preparing for today’s message, I was looking for Scripture readings which would reflect the feelings and thoughts I had been having about events that have occurred in the last two years, including the situation we are in now with the COVID virus. I was looking for scripture to describe suffering, frustration, hopelessness and uncertainty about the future. Jeremiah 15 discusses persecutors, pain, wickedness, loneliness—a sense of being in a hopeless and stressful situation with no apparent plan forward. Jeremiah doesn’t specifically mention “fear”, but certainly describes it in verses 19-21: “Therefore thus says the Lord”, “I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.”

What I’ve come to realize, again, is that God has a plan, but we don’t know what that plan is. In the summer of 2018, I had run a business since 1984. I owned my own building on main street and had kept it in good repair with several major remodeling projects, including new siding and a new roof. My daughter had joined the business and my employees were happy as well as extremely competent. I had been grateful to God for the blessings that came with having a successful business and have always believed that God has had an integral part in the direction of my life. That’s what I believed and still believe. But it seems that for a while I forgot.

Let’s just say that a person came to town. I’ll pick out some of the words from Jeremiah to provide a description. Persecutor. Susser insult. Indignation. Pain. Deceitful. Wicked. Ruthless. If you drive downtown these days, you will see the havoc that one person can do. Unfortunately, this person bought a building next to mine. The large back parking lot was rendered unusable. There were at least two ruptured gasoline events. The common alley became a driveway for heavy equipment in and out at all hours. There were threats of blocking access completely to the back of my building, as he had already done to three buildings north of me. When I made arrangements to purchase some vacant city lots behind my building to build new access, the person covered the city lot with boulders.

Well, as you can see, it was beginning to seem pretty hopeless. I would pray to God about how this was all this going to end. I trusted, but not very much. Maybe a better word would be “hoped”. This is where the Psalm 26 scripture fits in. “Prove me, O LORD and try me; test my heart and mind.” I sure was being tried; my heart and mind were being tested. I can see that now. At the time, not so much. It was pretty awful.

Even so, while all this is going on, I’m telling myself I need to be thankful for all the good things, and grateful for so many blessings, like family, health, work, beautiful weather, home, church, friends. And living in a country where there is so much abundance. Still, the situation was very stressful on everyone at the office. The noise, the parking, the inconvenience, the bullying.

Suddenly God’s plan sprang into action. It was unbelievable how quickly it happened. Someone wanted to buy my building and was wondering if I would be willing to sell it.

This was in May of 2019, last summer. My daughter and I started looking for someplace new to set up shop. I looked at several buildings that would have required major remodeling and rewiring. Then my daughter came across a commercial building for sale in St. Croix Falls on Polk Parkway. Neither of us had ever heard of that address. But, we made arrangements to see the building. It was perfect. We moved into the building in July 2019. Psalms 26: 7-8 are fitting: “singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling of your wondrous deeds. O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.” This was God’s plan and I can see now what a blessing it was. The lesson from this should be to put our trust in God. One person from our congregation has expressed to me that as it regards our present situation with the COVID virus, that she has put her faith in God, having lived a good life, and is not afraid of the future.

So that brings us to this situation with the virus. We are closing in on six months since our world was turned upside down. Nobody could have possibly predicted how a virus would be able to control our very lives, from where we go and what we can or can’t do, job losses and high unemployment, incompetent and inconsistent leadership on state and national levels, loss of faith in institutions. Some wonder if this will be the End of Church. There is a weariness about dealing with the virus and not being able to experience our usual worship routines and fellowship. As we are all looking at getting back into our churches, we will realize that it won’t be the same as it was before. The handshake will be an elbow bump or a small wave; there will be no singing; there will be no coffee and snacks. The relationship part of church is major. How will we connect with each other and continue the relationship?

As we have learned here at Atlas this summer, the Church is not the building. The Church is about relationships with each other and our pastor. As so many things are changing, this may be an opportunity for a Revival of Church. If we can’t sing, we can listen to the music instrumentally and focus on the words in the hymns and the meaning of those words. Much of the time when I sing, I’m concentrating on the music, the harmony, and not so much the words. Many of the Wesley hymns are quite theological, and as we read, we can more intensely focus on the beautiful words and meaning. Maybe our priorities will change. Maybe there will be more outreach to those in need, both for financial needs and emotional support.

I listened to a Discipleship podcast on the United Methodist Church Discipleship website about when to reopen church. There are lots of opinions and lots of experiences. The guiding advise seems to be, take your time and don’t feel like you have to follow suit from the church down the street or across town. Some churches have re-opened only to have to close again. Some have set re-opening dates for May of 2021. Some have said, when it is safe for everyone to come back, we will re-open. Probably an advantage for our churches is that we are pretty small and physical distancing shouldn’t be a problem.

It’s tough not being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We are living in uncertain times. One day, people will look back just like we look back at the 1918 flu pandemic. But, living it and looking back are incredibly different. Living it right now is stressful and unfulfilling. We yearn for the days when it was normal to have meetings in person, potlucks, church dinners. When it was normal to not wear a mask. But, this history we are living is not ours to write. Finding ways to connect with each other safely and continue the relationship safely will be a priority.

For now, Jeremiah 15 offers hope: “For I am with you to save you and deliver you, says the LORD” Psalm 26 reminds us to be thankful. “I wash my hands of innocence, and go around your alter, O LORD, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling of your wondrous deeds.”

One final thought. When we walk our dog on these lovely mornings, nothing is different. I remind myself to be grateful for the beautiful day. Last week we went fishing at Pike Lake near Webster. Nothing has changed about the thrill of seeing that bobber go under and pulling that fish out of the water, and for that I am grateful. “O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.”