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STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 69

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 69, May 21, 2020
“Our Summer in Holland”

I was sitting at a restaurant with a woman who has raised two children. Her two children have special needs. This woman and her husband are very close to me. She and her husband have done an amazing job with their two children. The children are doing remarkably well. Both children have graduated from college. Nevertheless, you can imagine her journey has been one of many challenges. Because I have not been on that journey, her experience is one I will never truly understand. But that day in the restaurant the woman shared a story that helped me understand at least some of what she and others experience as they raise children with special needs. It is a story by a woman who raised a son who was born with Down syndrome. The story, written by Emily Perl Kingsley is titled, “Welcome to Holland.”

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this…

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.” “Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you never would have met. It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…and you begin to notice Holland has windmills…and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy…and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say, “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away…because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.

But…if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to go to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things…about Holland.

With tears in her eyes my friend told that story about Holland. Life didn’t go like she planned. But what I heard her saying, and it is a powerful statement of faith, is that Holland was full of lovely things. Did you have plans for the summer of 2020? Some were preparing for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. An excited group of youth and adults were all set for a life-changing mission experience in Ghana. Graduations were planned. Plane tickets were purchased. Dates were circled for family reunions. Children and teens eagerly anticipated vacations in the mountains, the beaches, amusement parks and National Parks. That was our Italy. We were chomping at the bit to land in Italy and live our dream. Now we know that because of the Coronavirus we are going to spend the summer in Holland. Just like we spent the spring in Holland. Holland might be home for us come the fall. And maybe longer. Probably longer as we learn to live with a new reality.

Here we are in Holland. It would not surprise me to see many, if not all of us with tears in our eyes as we realize our plane has landed in Holland. When I get tears in my eyes, I’m going to try to remember the tears in the eyes of my dear friend, who had been expecting Italy and has now spent some 25 years in Holland raising her children who have special needs. The tears in her eyes were real tears. Obviously, the tears represented sadness and loss. But there was more to her tears than sadness and loss. She has learned that Holland, though not her expected destination, has proven to be filled with some beautiful and lovely treasures, some beautiful and lovely relationships, and some beautiful and lovely experiences.

Welcome to Holland.

· When we mourn because we are in Holland, know that Jesus came to comfort those who mourn.

· When we grieve because we are in Holland, know that Jesus came to provide for those who grieve.

· When we feel like we are sitting in a pile of ashes that represent our burned-out dreams, know that Jesus came to bestow on us a crown of beauty instead of ashes. (Isaiah 61:3) Welcome to Holland. Jesus says, “Welcome to Holland.” Hold fast to Jesus friends. With Jesus as our guide and with Jesus as our friend, I do believe this summer in Holland can be a summer filled with wonder and awe, discoveries of beauty and times of joy, and many, many, many experiences of God’s steadfast love.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 68

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 68, May 20, 2020
“I was glad”

Church has been such a good place for me. My experiences of church and my memories of church are ones that are filled with gladness. I do not know how many times I have stood to welcome you all to worship and the first thing out of my mouth are the words of the psalmist, “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go unto the house of the Lord.’” (Psalm 122:1)

I am glad for the humor we have in church. Without church we would not have about 90% of the jokes ever written. A common thread tying many a good church joke together has to do with people falling asleep during worship…or more specifically, during the pastor’s sermon. Julie’s dad was especially fond of the one about the preacher who was notorious for preaching long sermons. The choir loft in that particular church was directly behind the pastor.

• One Sunday morning it seemed the sermon would never end as the preacher droned on and on. Finally, someone in the choir picked up a hymnal and fired it at the preacher, hoping to knock him out and bring the sermon to a merciful end. Unfortunately, the choir member’s aim was off. The hymnal missed the preacher and hit a woman in the first pew. The hymnal smacked her right in the center of her forehead. She fell to the ground. As her husband knelt over her, he asked with great concern, “Darling, are you alright?” She moaned in a low voice, a voice that was barely audible, “No, I can still hear the preacher.”

For some reason Julie’s dad loved that joke. I never quite understood why, until I led a group of church members on a trip to Italy. Much of our time was spent traveling by bus. As the bus rolled along through the beautiful countryside, especially on afternoons that followed a bountiful lunch comprised of the most amazing food you could imagine, I would often find myself growing drowsy, and eventually falling asleep. It happened often enough that my napping on the bus made an impression on our tour guide. At one point as she was speaking to us on the bus she said, “I have never seen anyone fall asleep so quickly as your pastor.” To which my good friend Mark boomed from the back of the bus, “You should see us when he preaches.”

Ah, church humor. Honestly, I am glad for good church humor. It is such a blessing to laugh together.

I am glad for the humor we have in church and I am glad for the unexpected interruptions we have in church. Church is normally meant to be a place of welcome, but one Sunday church had an unwelcome visitor. A wasp wandered into worship. That wasp must have felt very safe entering a Presbyterian Church…after all, Presbyterians are known for being the Frozen Chosen. What harm could become a wasp in a Presbyterian Church? That wasp found out what harm awaited as on his way toward an alert member his path of flight was interrupted by a swat of the hand sending that poor wasp whirling to the other side of the church where even more trouble lurked. On that other side of the church a member was waiting with his bulletin. Employing the bulletin in a way never imagined by the worship committee, that wasp met his fate as he was squashed and sealed inside the pages of the bulletin. Proud of his triumph that church member lifted the bulletin high in the air as the congregation broke out in cheers and loud applause.

I am glad for humor and unexpected interruptions and…for those beautiful times when a person finds their place in the community of faith. I was talking with a guy a few years ago who said he grew up in a home where neither one of his parents believed in God. When he was ten years-old he said something in his heart was yearning to learn about God. His parents were not going to take him to church, so he got on his bicycle and rode around in search of a church. The first church he found was a Presbyterian Church. Unlike the wasp in our previous story, the people of that church welcomed the little ten-year-old boy and his bicycle. That church told him about Jesus Christ. The man said he was looking for Christ and he found him. I thought he meant he found Christ. He clarified that when he said, “Christ found me.” Christ found a ten-year-old boy in a church that had the wisdom to welcome that little boy and his bicycle.

I’m glad about a lot of things when it comes to church. I’m glad church has humor. I’m glad for unexpected surprises. But most of all I’m glad because of Christ, who has this amazing way of finding us. I’m glad for the Christ who finds us, who welcomes us, who forgives us, who cleanses us, who fills us, and who wraps us in his arms of love. No wonder that time and time again, as we gather to worship our awesome and amazing God we begin with these words, “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go unto the house of the Lord.’”

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 67

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 67, May 19, 2020
“Every day”

The Day of Pentecost is fast approaching, a day we will celebrate in worship on Sunday, May 31st. Because Pentecost is found in the Book of Acts and because the Book of Acts tells us the wonderful beginnings of the church, our Sunday scriptures leading up to the Day of Pentecost are drawn from the Book of Acts. Our celebration of Pentecost in 2020 provides us a unique opportunity to learn from the early church how to respond to a crisis. In 2020 our crisis is the Coronavirus. The crisis facing the first church was learning to live without the physical presence of Jesus Christ, who after rising from the dead ascended into heaven. (Read Acts 1)

The fact that the early church learned to survive without the physical presence of Jesus Christ is amazing. The fact that the early church learned to thrive without the physical presence of Jesus Christ is a miracle, and it is a miracle that is not meant to be limited to that one particular body of believers in first century Jerusalem. Because Jesus has not left us alone…because Jesus has sent his Holy Spirit to be his vital spiritual presence in our lives…because the Holy Spirit brings power to our lives…we too can learn to thrive in our time of crisis.

As the Day of Pentecost winds down, the second chapter in Acts closes us with a vibrant depiction of those early believers who learned not only to survive, but more importantly, believers who learned to thrive. Although Acts chapter two does describe a dramatic burst of spiritual energy on the Day of Pentecost, the filling of the Holy Spirit turned out to be more than a one-time power surge. Acts chapter two uses a telling phrase, and that phrase is, “Every day.”

“Every day” they continued to meet in the temple courts. (Acts 2:46) You get the sense that every day discipleship was the mark of those early believers, who were:

• Devoted to the apostles’ teaching

• Devoted to fellowship (that wonderful Greek word Koinonia)

• Devoted to breaking of bread

• Devoted to prayer

Today is Day 67 of having these daily devotionals, daily devotionals written in response to the Coronavirus Crisis. As there is a time and a season to everything, sometime down the road these daily devotionals will eventually come to an end. But if we are going to survive this Coronavirus Crisis, and if we are going to thrive as we come through this Coronavirus Crisis and establish new patterns of discipleship in the days ahead, while these daily devotionals might come to an end, our daily devotion as disciples must not come to an end.

While these daily devotionals will eventually come to an end, one way I hope to offer encouragement for our daily journey of faith is to offer daily readings in the Gospel of Matthew that will guide us through all 28 chapters over a period of eight weeks. That will begin early in June. At Dunn’s Corners we make available copies of The Upper Room, which is a helpful daily devotion. There is a similar devotion with a title that is very appropriate to Acts chapter 2. That daily devotional is called, “Our Daily Bread.” Daily bread hearkens to images of the manna in the wilderness, manna which was given every day. Daily bread echoes the words of Jesus who taught us to pray for our daily bread. And daily bread goes so far as to give us a seat at the table with those early disciples whose lives were marked by being devoted every day to the study of God’s word, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.

Somehow and some way, we will make it through this Coronavirus Crisis. God’s plan and God’s purpose will not fail. We will make it through this Coronavirus Crisis. Somehow and some way, we will survive this Coronavirus Crisis. But my hope is that we will do more than survive. As difficult as this crisis has been, we have been presented with an opportunity not only to survive, we have been given the opportunity to thrive. How? By putting into practice every day the marks of being devoted disciples.

Some might remember the popular song from the musical Godspell, “Day by Day.” There is another “Day by Day,” an older hymn. The presence of a more contemporary praise song and an older traditional hymn and an abundance of daily devotionals and daily bible reading programs all point to something of utmost importance. From the day the church was born, that great day of Pentecost, disciples who are devoted to Jesus Christ have been putting their faith into practice on a daily basis. Disciples of Jesus Christ practice their devotion to him every day. With that in mind I offer to you the words from the older version of “Day by Day.”

Day by day and with each passing moment, strength I find to meet my trials here.

Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

He whose heart is kind beyond all measure gives unto each day what he deems best. Constantly it’s part of pain and pleasure, mingling toil with peace and rest.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 66

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 66, May 18, 2020
“Have you seen Jesus?”

One of the highlights of working with youth was the time spent at numerous camps and retreats. Every few months we would set off for the mountains or the ocean. The days would be filled with games, hiking, and competitions. As the day drew to a close, we would gather around a campfire. Wrapped in our jackets the guitars would come out and we would sing songs of faith. Something about the setting, surrounded by the amazing wonder of God’s creation made one particular song stand out.

“Have you seen Jesus, my Lord?”

Invited by the gentle strums of the guitar and sweet voices lifted into the night air, the song would ask us to reflect on whether we had seen Jesus.

• Have you ever looked at sunset with the sky mellowing red, and the clouds suspended like feathers? Then I say, my friend, you’ve seen Jesus my Lord.

• Have you ever stood at the ocean with the white foam at your feet, felt the endless thundering motion? Then I say, my friend, you’ve seen Jesus my Lord.

Have you seen Jesus? Have you seen Jesus in the beauty of the sunset? Have you seen Jesus in the white foam of the thundering ocean? Have you seen Jesus in the lingering tail of a shooting star? Have you seen Jesus as the wind gently rustles the leaves of a tree and the grasses of a field? Have you seen Jesus in God’s majestic and marvelous creation, a creation that fills our hearts with wonder and awe?

From an early age I have seen Jesus in vivid displays of God’s grandeur. It has taken me longer to realize we can also see Jesus when life is not beautiful. That thought has been on my mind as we go through this Coronavirus Crisis. Thankfully there have been near daily reminders of God’s presence, hopeful sunrises and peaceful sunsets, walks near the water to calm the soul, spring bursting forth in ways that are bright and breathtaking. Thankfully, those daily reminders are with us.

But what has accompanied the Coronavirus is truly a crisis. Life has been disrupted. We have been separated from one another. Loneliness and depression are real by-products of this extended time of isolation. And the numbers are staggering of those who are sick and those who have died. That question that was so welcome as we would sing with our youth group at the end of days filled with God’s goodness and grace becomes a more difficult question in the midst of a crisis. “Have you seen Jesus?”

Have you seen Jesus? In the midst of life’s many crises, have you seen Jesus? Apparently, the answer to that question is yes. Your testimonies of how Jesus has been with you when the bottom falls out are not only amazing, they are inspiring. You, all of you, have helped this one pastor learn that when God said he would never leave us nor forsake us, he meant it. You have helped this one pastor learn that when Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” he meant it. You have helped this one pastor learn that when the waves of life threaten to capsize the boat, Jesus is there to calm the storm, saying “Do not be afraid. Take heart, It is I.” You have helped this one pastor learn that when you were slumped over in a heap of heartache, weeping buckets of tears that seemed to have no end, Jesus was there, alive, risen from the dead, calling your name, and holding your hand as you found the strength to walk through that garden of grief.

So, it would not surprise me at all to hear you say that in this most recent crisis, this Coronavirus Crisis, that you have seen Jesus. Thanks to your inspiring example of faith in the midst of these troubled times, you have helped this one pastor to see Jesus even during this Coronavirus Crisis. You have helped me see Jesus even in a time of great sadness and loss. Surprisingly, even in this time of great sadness and loss, there have been some wonderful and joyful appearances of Jesus. Our children have seen Jesus. Knowing that our children have seen Jesus during the Coronavirus Crisis has lifted my spirit. Seeing pictures of our children as they see Jesus has brought the biggest smile to my face and the warmest and fuzziest feeling to my heart.

Have you seen Jesus with our children? The prelude that was posted with our bulletin yesterday had pictures of our children with what is called “Flat Jesus.” Flat Jesus is just a cut-out picture of Jesus. But this flat Jesus was captured in the sweetest frames with the sweetest faces of the sweetest kids you could ever want to know. Have you seen Jesus? I hope you have seen Jesus during this Coronavirus Crisis. And I want to offer again today a chance to see Jesus…with our children. Click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UaCcktfc5tM&feature=youtu.be to see the prelude. See Jesus. See Jesus with his children. Maybe it will serve to remind you that you are a child of God, that we are all children of God, and that Jesus loves the little children…all of us…all of God’s little children.

I would not do justice to, “Have you seen Jesus” if I did not include the final two verses of the song. Those final two verses go a long way to helping us see the full picture of our precious Lord Jesus.”

• Have you ever looked at the cross, with a man hanging in pain, and the look of love in his eyes? Then I say, my friend, you’ve seen Jesus my Lord

• Have you ever stood in the family with the Lord there in your midst, seen the face of Christ on each other? Then I say, my friend, you’ve seen Jesus my Lord.

I’ve seen Jesus in the cross and I’ve seen Jesus in you, my brothers and sisters in faith. I hope and pray that you also have seen Jesus. (Have you seen Jesus my Lord, by John Fischer)

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 65

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 65, May 17, 2020
“Buried treasures”

What kid has not dreamed of finding buried treasure? A secret map…mysterious clues…cloak and dagger…hidden intrigue…clever disguises…melted snow. Melted snow? Ever since I slapped on an eyepatch and joined Long John Silver in the search for Treasure Island, I have been enamored with buried treasure. When I finally did discover buried treasure, it was not through secret maps, mysterious clues, cloak and dagger, hidden intrigue, or clever disguises. I found the buried treasure through melted snow.

Our move to Rhode Island in February of 2015 coincided with a rash of snowstorms that blanketed the ground several feet deep. And then it kept snowing. Through February, through March, even into April. We loved it! This was our first experience with snow. Our streets were covered in snow. Our driveway was covered in snow. Our beaches were covered in snow. And our yard was covered in snow. For two California kids, the snow was a welcome treat. Four months of White Christmas!

The winter of 2015 was long, lasting well into what should have been spring. When the snow finally melted, we were presented with a wonderful blessing. We realized there was a nice big yard in front of our house. Bullseye, who thus far had not found the cold and snowy weather in New England much to her liking was reborn as a frisky pup, bounding out to play, chasing birds and rabbits, and soaking in the sun as she lay on the warm pavement of our driveway. After the snow melted and the grass and beddings were finally visible, I was outside watching Bullseye frolic in the yard. It was then I noticed a treasure that was in our front yard. We had not been able to see the treasure because for the first several months it was covered in snow. The melted snow revealed that the previous owners had placed a stone at the base of one of the trees in our yard. On the stone were written these words:

GROW OLD ALONG WITH ME

THE BEST IS YET TO BE

I still get excited about putting a patch over my eye and hunting for treasure with Long John Silver. I still love the idea of secret maps and mysterious clues, cloak and dagger and hidden intrigue, and I’m always up for throwing on a disguise. But in the spring of 2015, we unexpectedly found buried treasure through the melting of the snow. Now in the spring of 2020, I am starting to find some buried treasures through something as strange as a virus that has caused us all to hunker down at home.

Just last Sunday, Nancy Fortin set up her weekly video chat with the kids from church. Nancy invites all the kids every Sunday morning at 10:30 to go online. We spend about 30 minutes listening to a story from the bible. We hear how the kids are doing. Best of all we see their smiling faces. Our time closes with a prayer together. Last Sunday Nancy sent me on a treasure hunt. Last Sunday was Mother’s Day. Nancy remembered I had used a story in church several years ago that is a perfect Mother’s Day story. The cover of the book is a drawing of a boy who has destroyed a bathroom, pulling out yards of toilet paper and leaving it spread all over the floor. The boy sits on the floor of that bathroom as happy as can be, his face flush with the most beautiful and innocent smile. The cover of a destroyed bathroom belies the tender tale that awaits when you open and read, “Love You Forever.” Nancy asked if I could find my copy of that precious little children’s book.

Immediately, I was off on a treasure hunt, all because of this crazy Coronavirus Crisis. I found the book. I found the treasure. Last Sunday, on Mother’s Day, Nancy read the story to the kids who gathered with her on a Zoom call. Nancy’s voice broke as she came to end of the story. That little bathroom destroying toddler grows to be a pretty decent adult. The man, now a father himself, comes back and holds his aging mother in his arms. The story swells with emotion as at each stage of the relationship between the mother and her son, there are these heartwarming words: “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like for you always, as long as you’re living, my baby you’ll be.”

The Coronavirus Crisis is many things, most of them terrible, most of them the cause of great stress and distress. While not downplaying the damage of this devastating crisis, I wonder if it has not also been a treasure hunt. I have heard from many that they have done some extensive housecleaning during the long stay at home. Whenever we clean house, we find buried treasures, keepsakes that mark precious moments or photos sending us back to days long ago and happy times spent with loved ones. Yesterday, on an absolutely perfect New England spring day, we rediscovered a treasure known as the East Bay Bike Path. We walked from Barrington almost to Bristol under a canopy of trees with the warm sun brightly reflecting on the waters, serenaded by birds and refreshed by the breeze. The Coronavirus Crisis has given us time to find the buried treasure of rediscovered and renewed friendships, relationships that have reconnected after 10, 20, 30, even 40 years. Along with all the difficulties and loss associated with this long time of isolation, I hope these days spent at home have also been a treasure hunt. It has certainly been a chance for me to discover some very special treasures. Even now, sitting on my desk as I write these words, no longer buried away but instead occupying a place that is front and center so I can see it every time I sit down, on my desk is a treasure, a book with a title that says so much about how I feel for you, our dear friends. “Love you forever.”

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 64

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 64, May 16, 2020
“A Super Supper”

Greetings on what promises to be a gorgeous New England Saturday. The Eberlys have had an early morning run down by the water, the surfers are already paddling to their places among the waves, the clouds are clearing, and all systems are go for great day. Today is the perfect day for a church supper. Bummer! Even though all systems are go for having a great day, we do not have the official go-ahead to gather together. No problem. I am inviting you to a “virtual” church supper. I am inviting you right now to join me at a church supper, a virtual church supper.

I love church suppers. We come together. We talk. We laugh. We line up. We fill our plates. We sit side by side. We break bread. We celebrate being a community of faith. I love church suppers, and I miss church suppers. Won’t you join me for a church supper on this beautiful Saturday in May.

Where will we find the food for this “virtual” church supper. Well, since this virtual supper is a church supper, I thought we might use our imagination and create our menu from the bible. It turns out the bible is not a bad place to turn when you are planning a church supper. Go figure! I mean, the bible begins in a garden. Walk through the biblical Garden of Eden and you can forage for the leafiest lettuce, the most remarkable radishes, the crispiest cucumbers, and tomatoes that are terrific. What better way to start our virtual church supper than with salad from the Garden?

• The salad would be followed with soup. I heard this guy named Jacob makes a mean lentil soup.

• The bread would be abundant at our church supper. We have leavened and unleavened bread, manna from heaven, and big barley loaves to boot.

• King David would make a guest appearance at our church supper. There is a wonderful story in II Samuel chapter 6, when the Ark of the Covenant has been rescued from the Philistines and returned to Jerusalem. It is that story where David dances before the Lord with all his heart. To celebrate that great moment in the life of Israel, David the King provides a treat for all the people. King David “gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd.” That sounds yummy. David, welcome to our church supper. Thanks for bringing us all a cake of dates and a cake of raisins.

• When you show up for a church supper served up from the pages of the bible, you better bring an appetite of biblical proportions. Go big or go home! You know there will be goat, lamb, beef, and fish to feed five thousand.

• Not a meat eater? Not to worry! This fellow named Daniel, along with his buddies Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they have a table of vegetable set aside just for you, and their steady vegetarian diet has not diminished their vim or vigor one bit.

• Isaiah the prophet will come by during the dinner with a beverage cart, inviting everyone who is thirsty to come, come to the waters, come for wine, come for milk…and don’t even worry about paying for it. It’s all been provided by our gracious host, our God in heaven.

What do you think of this “virtual” church supper? You feast at this table and you are guaranteed to have your hunger satisfied and your thirst quenched. But for all the wonderful produce you can harvest from the Garden of Eden, for all the bread you can literally pick up from the desert floor, for all the baskets of fish left from those miraculous waterfront picnics, and for all the feasts with fattened calves, the one section of a biblical church supper that seems lacking is dessert. Yes, Samson has his honey and David his cakes of raisins and dates, but there is no mention in the bible of brownies, no chocolate chip cookies, no apple pie (Adam and Eve sort of made that off-limits), and for all the spiritual imagery in the Good Book there is not one mention of an Angel Food Cake or a Devil’s Food Cake. Where is the dessert?

It seems that in terms of dessert, our real-life church suppers might actually “take the cake” so to speak. When we have finished our feast, when we have pushed aside the chicken bones and the last bits of a Waldorf Salad, when only a crust of bread remains uneaten, we know at any church supper worth its weight, the best is yet to come. We still have dessert to look forward to. How can the bible not have dessert?

During our Coronavirus Crisis, a friend sent me a little story that might be familiar to you. The story has to do with desserts and church suppers. It is a story that reminds us that even though the bible might not feature much in the way of a literal dessert, the treat that we all look forward to at the end of our lives is downright delicious. Our little church supper draws to a close with these words:

There was a woman who was a faithful churchgoer. She had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. She invited her pastor to come visit so she could go over her last wishes with him, things like the hymns she wanted sung and the scriptures she wanted read, even the dress she wanted to wear when she was placed in the casket. Her plans were so exact she told her pastor she wanted to be buried with her favorite bible in her left hand. And in her right hand she wanted a fork. Well, the pastor listened to all her instructions, and he was okay with everything she had planned, right down to the bible in her left hand. But the fork? When she said she wanted a fork in her right hand the pastor was speechless, until she explained. “You see, Pastor, in all my years of attending church suppers, I remember that when the dishes were being cleared from the table, someone would inevitably lean over to me and say, “Keep you fork.” I loved hearing someone say, “Keep your fork”, because I knew something better was coming, something like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something very wonderful was coming. Pastor, when I am buried and people see me in the casket, I want people to see me with a fork in my hand. And if they ask you, “Why does she have a fork in her hand?” I want you to tell them, “Keep your fork, the best is yet to come.” Thanks for joining me for this “virtual” church supper. I hope you enjoyed our brief repast. Even though our “virtual” church supper is coming to an end, I want you to hold on to something. I want you to take something with you. I think you know what it is, don’t you? I want you to hold on to your fork. I want you to keep your fork because there is no question and there is no doubt, that the best is yet to come.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 63

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 63, May 15, 2020
“LOW EXPECTATIONS”

One of the unintended consequences of the Coronavirus is that it has lowered our expectations. Before things shut down, a place like Facebook would feature photos of people traveling the world, eating out at nice restaurants, attending plays on Broadway, getting caught up in the noise of the crowd at a ballpark, or singing along at a concert with a celebrity performer. Before the Coronavirus shut things down, there were studies that showed seeing others engaged in such awesome activities was having a negative effect on people. They were dissatisfied with their own lives. Seeing how others were living raised expectations, and for many, they felt like their life did not match those high expectations.

And then the Coronavirus hit. Things shut down. We were all in the same boat, stuck at home with little or nothing to do. The smallest thing became the biggest deal. There’s a Disney singalong. Oh my goodness. We can’t miss that! The mail should be arriving sometime in the next four hours…so we watch intently out the window and listen for the putt putt sound of the mail truck. It’s Friday. We get our milk delivery today. Our faces are pressed to the glass as we wait expectantly for the arrival of our friendly Munroe Dairy driver.

High expectations have gone out the window. The smallest things get us excited. Why? Because we have low expectations. One of my favorite posts during this Coronavirus Crisis was when our friend Trish posted, “Now I understand why Laura Ingalls would get so excited when she would get to go into town with Pa.”

Low expectations are not a bad thing. High expectations set us up for failure. Low expectations set us up to be surprised. I read a story a few years ago about low expectations. The story was a beautiful reflection on life. A man wrote a thank you note to his mom. He wrote it late in his life. In fact, he wrote his mother the thank you note thirty years after she died. I understand that. It can take a long time to appreciate fully and to thank properly the folks who have played such a significant role in our lives.

Well, thirty years after his mother died, this man wrote his mother a thank you note. In the note he remembered a day from sixty years before, when he was just a child. In that thank you note to his mother, a note he wrote to her even though she had been deceased thirty years, he told her how he vividly remembered the day when his dad brought home a watermelon. They took the watermelon, put it in the river, and let the cold waters chill the melon through and through. Then they cracked it open and ate it all. He wrote, “How simple and memorable a good day can be when expectations are low.”

I stopped reading. I closed that book. For the longest time I pondered what an incredible gift it is to have low expectations. When our expectations are low, just about everything that comes our way comes as a gift, a surprise, even a blessing. If what the studies say is true about Facebook and social networking, we are becoming trained to have high expectations. Those high expectations come with a cost. Things such as a watermelon, chilled in a stream, eaten together with mom and dad and a hungry little brother, can be cast aside and downplayed because they are not big, impressive, or expensive. This man knew better. He wrote a thank you note about it. Some sixty years after the fact, he wrote a thank you note. Such are the blessings of low expectations.

I am not alone in appreciating the value of low expectations. I read the story about the watermelon in the summer of 2013. After I read the story, I posted a reflection about low expectations on Facebook of all places. That post drew 24 comments. It seems people do realize the significance of little things. For many, that image of a family sharing a cold watermelon reminded them of childhood experiences when low expectations yielded precious memories like a dad bringing home fresh donuts on a Saturday morning or making root beer floats as a family, or as in the case of our friend Trish, getting as excited as Laura Ingalls to make a trip into town.

But those memories of low expectations tell another story. It isn’t just the watermelon…or the root beer…or the donuts. What makes those times so memorable is they are shared with a mom, a dad, a brother, a sister, or a friend. One of the comments that day on Facebook was from a high school friend whom I have not seen since our graduation in June of 1979. Connecting the surprises that accompany low expectations to the loved ones with whom those memories are shared brought forth a bittersweet response from my high school classmate. He wrote, “I lost a really good friend this spring and it still hurts.” He is not alone. The man who wrote about low expectations in a letter to his mom confesses in that letter how even after 30 years he still desperately misses his mother. Who would have thought reflecting on low expectations would yield such tender touches. Some memories of the blessings that surprised me when my expectations were low are now the high-water marks of my life. Those memories bring both joy and tears. Let me finish with one final response I received when I posted about low expectations. A dear friend from Sacramento wrote: “As you get older, you begin to appreciate the little things. When my grandmother was in her 80’s she told me, ‘I don’t get less busy. Things just take a little longer. I stop to listen to the birds sing and notice the new flowers blooming.’” May our expectations never be so high that we miss the birds singing, the flowers blooming, the waves crashing, the stars shining, and the juice from a watermelon dripping down our face as we enjoy it in the company of family and friends. The Coronavirus has taken much from us all. But if it has given us back an appreciation for low expectations, at least I’m thankful for that.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 62

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 62, May 14, 2020
“Declaration of In(ter)dependence”

The Declaration of Independence is filled with soaring language that stirs the soul. “When in the course of human events…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…we therefore declare that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.”

It can be argued that much of the force behind the movement toward freedom that marked our beginnings as the United States of America came from the stories in the bible, including the epic deliverance found in Exodus. God’s decisive move toward freedom is captured in the memorable phrase, “Let my people go!” (Exodus 5:2) A symbol of the freedom sought by our ancestors is the Liberty Bell, which was once placed in the steeple of the Pennsylvania State House (now renamed Independence Hall), and is now located in the Liberty Bell Center in Independence National Historical Park. Inscribed on the Liberty Bell is a phrase directly from the bible, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” (Leviticus 25:10)

The Exodus is undoubtedly a celebration of being set free from the cruel bonds of slavery. The Israelites danced and shook the tambourine when they had their first taste of freedom. But the Exodus is more than a story of independence. At its heart, the Exodus is a story of dependence, of being dependent on the God who delivered Israel from their bondage. That dependence is displayed fully in the Commandments that guided and shaped their life together as a community, spelling out in detail how to live in right relationship with God. Not only are the people dependent on God, but their life together as the people of God requires that they be dependent on one another, or in a phase that is meant to help us understand the importance of our relationships with one another, they are interdependent.

The interdependence of God’s people is found in numerous ways as their lives are forged together in the forty years of wilderness wanderings.

• Their first battle hinges on Moses holding his arms high in the sky. When exhaustion sets in and his arms droop, the troops on the battlefield falter. But Moses was not alone. Aaron and Hur stood by his side and supported his arms. The arms of Moses remained uplifted until the victory was secure.

• Moses again faces exhaustion, this time from the overwhelming burden of judging the cases the people bring to him. His father-in-law Jethro gives wise counsel. “Don’t do it all yourself.” Judges are appointed, the demanding work is spread among many, and a crisis is averted.

• The manna in the wilderness is a dramatic miracle, and yet it is also a subtle display of the interdependence of the people. No one gathered too much. No one gathered too little. Everyone had enough. Those who wanted to be independent, those who selfishly hoarded the manna, those who gathered too much with the intention of hiding it for the next day, they were disappointed by the discovery that the manna didn’t keep. It rotted right before their eyes. God wants all his children to have enough. In a world where many of God’s children hunger, we must never forget we are interdependent.

Leviticus is the book that gives us the verse inscribed on the Liberty Bell. Leviticus also presents a chapter that focuses on our interdependence, Leviticus 19.

• The interdependence that comes to us in Leviticus 19 is an interdependence that takes root in our family relationships, calling for us to respect our mothers and fathers. (19:3)

• The interdependence that comes to us in Leviticus 19 is an interdependence that sets limits on our own needs so that we can meet the needs of others. “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field…leave some for the poor and the alien.” (19:9-10)

• The interdependence that comes to us in Leviticus 19 is an interdependence that places high values on the personal integrity that serves to undergird the life of the community. “Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive others.” (19:11)

• The interdependence that comes to us in Leviticus 19 is an interdependence that will not allow justice to be perverted or slander to be spread. (19:15,16)

• The interdependence that comes to us in Leviticus 19 is an interdependence that embraces the stranger and the alien. “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.” (19:34)

• The interdependence that comes to us in Leviticus 19 is an interdependence that leads to the most fundamental affirmation of the need we have to care for and nurture our relationships with our fellow human beings. It is in Leviticus 19:18b that we find for the first time the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Coronavirus Crisis has taken many things from us. We cannot deny that. But deep in my heart, I do believe that this current crisis has been a great reminder that we are not independent. We are interdependent. We need each other. Because we need each other the way we treat each other, the way we treat each other and work with each other and look out for each other and the way we love each other as we move from our isolation back into a life as a community, the way we love each other will be the key to getting our life back together. Let me put it in personal terms. Here is my Declaration of Interdependence. “I need you. I miss you. I am better with you. I am less without you. I am so ready to get back together as a community, to work, to serve, to live, and to love with you, with you all. We are interdependent. We are the Body of Christ. Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.”

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 61

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 61, May 13, 2020
“A Reverence for Life”

He might have been considered a silly man. You might see him walking carefully on a path, guarding each step to avoid stepping on bugs and plants. You might see him bending down to move a worm from the road, setting the worm on soft ground so that it could live. You might see him using a small hook to rescue an insect from drowning. He was aware that others often thought him ridiculous. He might have been considered a silly man.

But this man held a deep reverence for life. This reverence for life led him, a man who was a famous theologian, pastor, concert organist and medical doctor, to go to a poor African village hospital and spend most of his life as a missionary. He might have been considered a silly man. Instead, what might have been considered foolishness was recognized as profound greatness when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. His name was Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Dr. Schweitzer tried to treat all life with reverence, even in its smallest forms. He wrote:

“Do not go after spectacular displays of love—it is likely that in your whole life you won’t experience them—but, rather, build from the bottom up. Do the insignificant and the hidden things that are much more difficult than the acknowledgedly grand gesture. Then you will do the grand gesture as it ought to be done and is done in the spirit of Jesus: unconsciously.”[1]

“A Reverence for Life” is the title of a book written by Dr. Schweitzer. In it he tells of his concern for the smallest of insects and plants. In it he tells of his concern for the greatest of human problems, medical, social, emotional, and physical suffering. It is a humbling book in that it is so easy to race through life without reverence. While the book is humbling, it is also very inspiring. As humans we have the potential to live with a reverence for life, to be aware of the beauty and wonder of all God’s creation. Dr. Schweitzer was dedicated to causes that truly impacted the world, and for this he was rightfully recognized. While addressing great causes, his book also includes a story that involves just a simple encounter between two human beings. I love knowing that a great man like Dr. Albert Schweitzer was able to see just how important an encounter between two people can be. Maybe the great things in life begin with recognizing that the person next to us is of incredible value, of incredible worth, and because of that, the person next to us is worthy of our kindness and our concern. That is what it means to have a reverence for life. Here is the simple story that impacted a great man like Dr. Albert Schweitzer.

“A Parisian trolley conductor was asked by a passenger of his car why he looked so sad. To that this response: ‘You are the first person with heart whom I have encountered today. The whole day long I have discharged my service and not been able to master the pain. I have a child dying at home. You are the first who has seen that I am sad and who has said a comforting word to me. For the others I was not a person, but only a man who had a service to perform.’”[2]

That story touches my heart. That story also worries me. The man was wearing a sad look. His pain was written all over his face, and yet only one person noticed. For the foreseeable future, we are going to be wearing masks. If it was easy to miss a man’s pain when his face was visible to all, how will we be able to recognize the pain people experience when we all wear masks?

Maybe Dr. Schweitzer’s attention to insects, bugs, and plants offer some clues on how to notice things like sadness and pain in a world where all wear masks. Walk slowly. Tread softly. Look carefully. Listen intently. Notice the small things. And pay attention. At all times, pay attention. Behind every mask is a person. Behind every mask is a child of God. Behind every mask is someone God created. Behind every mask is someone loved by God. Behind every mask is a chance to show a reverence for life. Now more than ever, may our reverence for life be evident to all through acts of kindness, concern, compassion, and care.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 60

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 60, May 12, 2020
“Disembark”

States are beginning to reopen after the time of social distancing. For many of us who have not been in the essential lines of service, and we are extremely grateful for and owe a huge debt of gratitude to the ones on the front lines of the pandemic, but for many of us who have not been in essential services it has been a time of “hunkering” down. I have thought more than once that there are similarities in our experience of “sheltering in place” and Noah, his family, and the many animals who all shared safe space on the Ark. The Ark was a place of shelter. The Ark protected the inhabitants from the devastation taking place outside as the floods raged. And as much as the Ark was a place of safety, shelter, and protection, at some point they couldn’t wait to get off the Ark! Can I get an Amen! We’re all ready to get off the Ark and get back to living.

To embark is to get on a boat or a ship, and the related word disembark is to remove from on board a vessel; to put to shore; to land; or to debark. I have had no luck finding the genesis for the words embark and disembark in the biblical story of Noah and the flood, but embark and disembark sure seem to have a lot to do with that long journey of Noah on the Ark. As we begin the process of disembarking from our various “arks” where we have been sheltering in place, there are some important lessons from Genesis we can take with us as we “disembark.”

• It could always be worse. We are somewhere near day 60 of our “embarkment”. It is pretty common knowledge that the rains during the time of Noah lasted forty days and forty nights. Before we grouse and complain that we have had to be in our “arks” for sixty days, remember that it was not the ceasing of the rain that led to their release from the Ark. The forty days of rain left behind a flood that lasted 150 days, and it then took many more months for the earth to dry sufficiently for Noah and his clan to leave the Ark. They actually embarked on the seventeenth day of the second month of Noah’s six hundredth year and they did not disembark until the twenty-seventh day of the second month of Noah’s six hundred and first year. Compared to one year and ten days, our sixty days fall far short of what Noah and his clan endured. It could always be worse.

But the true lesson of the Ark is not that it could always be worse. The true lesson Noah and the Ark teaches us is that it can be better. As Noah and his clan prepare to disembark, there are some symbols that accompany their disembarking that are powerful symbols of a life that can be better.

• The dove is a symbol of peace. The dove is released by Noah to fly out and find if the land has dried up enough to disembark. The first trip the dove could find nowhere to land and returned to the Ark. On the second trip the dove finds a bit of dry land, evidenced by the branch of a tree with which the dove returns. The third trip the dove does not return. The world is now safe and the dove sets about building a new life.

• A primary reason the dove is considered a symbol of peace has to do with the branch the dove returns with on the second trip. The branch is from an olive tree. Have you ever heard the term, “Extending an olive branch”? The world pre-flood was a place that was profoundly broken. That world caused God pain. The dove and the olive branch are symbols of peace and reconciliation. There is a new beginning. There is a new world. There is a new opportunity to live in a right way. Ultimately, we will learn from the bible that the right way to live is to be in a right relationship with God and with our fellow human beings. Will an “olive branch” be something we take with us as we disembark? Is there a relationship that is fractured, a trust that has been broken, words or actions that need forgiving? Might we recognize this as a time in which God is extending an olive branch, offering a chance for each one of us to renew our relationship with the One who is our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

• Added to the dove and the olive branch, far and away the most memorable symbol of the story of Noah and the Ark is the rainbow. The rainbow is a sign that we live not under God’s curse but under God’s covenant. “Never again will I curse the ground because of human beings…and never again will I destroy all living creatures…As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Genesis 8:21, 22) Having made these wonderful promises of life, God says, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making…I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (Genesis 9:12)

Noah and his clan must have been itching to disembark. After being cooped up for over a year they were ready for some freedom, to break loose of the boundaries that had confined them. But an incredible opportunity is missed if we do not think carefully about how we disembark. The rainbow fills the whole sky with bright and beautiful colors, colors made even more beautiful because they are different colors. Rightly so, the rainbow is a sign of inclusion.

As we disembark…
• May the dove remind us of peace, and the call Jesus gave all his followers to be ones who make peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

• May the olive branch remind us of our call to be ones who work for reconciliation in our world, practicing forgiveness and holding fast to our Lord Jesus Christ, who has torn down every dividing wall of hostility that stands between people.

• May the rainbow remind us that God’s blessing is for the whole world, for all people…may the rainbow remind us that God’s kingdom has a place for all people, as the first chapter in Genesis greets us with the good news that we are all created in the image of God…and may the rainbow remind us all of God’s love for this world, of God’s love for all the people of this world. “For God so loved the world he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16)As the call comes for us to disembark, to reenter this world, may we find ourselves filled with wonder and awe, filled with a great sense of responsibility, and filled with a great sense of joy that God has once again entrusted us with a new beginning. O Lord help us to use this new beginning as an opportunity to spread your light and your love into a world desperately seeking to find healing and hope.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 59

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 59, May 11, 2020
“Well done”

Words are very interesting in the English language. They can be extremely difficult as you are learning the language, but once you have obtained a certain degree of understanding the English language can become playful, even fun. Think of our words and how flexible and varied they are. I’m especially thinking of words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have completely separate meanings.
We have words like where, wear, and ware
There, they’re, and their
Eye aye and here hear,
Hi high and bye by
Know no and ho hoe
We have bought and bot, not to be outdone by not, knot and naught.
For a person who enjoys words I think God knew what he was doing when he brought me to the Dunn’s Corners Community Church, Presbyterian. Just last week I was able to play with the spacing of Dunn’s Corners Tone and by simply removing a space come up with something new, “Dunn’s Cornerstone.” This wasn’t the first time I have had fun with our church name. For those of you who do not take such pleasure in these play on words, I regret to inform you I’m not even half “Dunn” with wordplays.

I love ice cream. When summer comes, I love ice cream cones. When summer comes and the weather warms, when tourists flock to our seaside community, the ice cream stores open up on seemingly every corner, every beach, and everyone’s favorite Sunflower Farm. Our Vespers group enjoys being together for our Wednesday service. In the summer, we finish by 7 pm, which leaves us plenty of time for some Presbyterian Fellowship, which almost always involves food. I suggested several years ago that during the summer we form a group to go out for ice cream after our Vespers services. A good name helps when you form a group, so I suggested we call ourselves the Dunn’s Coners. The name stuck!

As we began the New Year as a church in 2019, I wrote a newsletter article making a play on the phrase, “Been there, done that.” Usually that means I’ve done something once, why do it again. A simple twist on that tired phrase has brought quite a bit of life to our church social life. Now we ask, “Been there? Dunn that?” It has become an invitation to hike the Cliff Walk in Newport, walk the trail through Wakefield to the Narragansett Beach, a chance to gather for snacks and a game night at church, and to attend musicals at Theater by the Sea. Even though the Coronavirus cancelled our trip to Sturbridge Village, we will get there someday!

Friends, I’m not “Dunn” with having fun. A few weeks ago, we sent you an email alerting you that it was Administrative Professionals Day. I asked you to send an email to Luba, our wonderful friend who serves us all so well in our church office. But when we sent out the email, we removed Luba’s name, so she had no idea of our little plan. I got to church before her that Wednesday morning. I checked the church email and saw a whole page of emails she had received. When Luba walked in, I made up some problem I was having with email and told her she had to check the church email immediately. I put on my best “This is an emergency” face and voice. She was momentarily flustered and got right on checking the email. She looked at me to ask for more information and I had to duck behind my office door because I could not hide my laughter. When the screen came up, she was stunned…surprised…and needless to say, extremely happy and grateful. You all responded in a way that brought great joy to someone who does so much for us. When I told Julie about it later a new phrase came to mind. “Well Dunn!” Well Dunn you Dunn’s Corners friends.

I can already tell I’m going to use that new phrase often. Here in the midst of the Coronavirus Crisis, a parable of Jesus comes to mind. Workers are given talents to use. One receives a measure of five, another a measure of two, and finally a person receives a single talent. The amount is not the key aspect of the parable. What each person does with their talent, now that is the key aspect of the parable. The one with five returns five more, the one with two returns two more. The one with one…well, read the parable in Matthew 25. The one with one does not use his talent wisely or productively. But to those who do use their talents wisely, productively, and yes, faithfully, they hear these words from Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We have not all been given the same measure of talents during this Coronavirus Crisis. Some have been on the frontlines in hospitals, nursing homes, grocery stores, emergency services, and other essential lines or work. Others of us have been given the job of staying home and not spreading the virus. It doesn’t matter. Those who are on the front lines are doing amazing work. Those who are staying home are sewing masks, praying, writing, calling, reaching out, sending food, and spreading God’s love in a multitude of ways. You have even taken time to write a word of thanks to our good friend Luba who has faithfully been handling the office duties even during the crisis. It gives me great pleasure to share with you my new favorite Dunn’s Corners phrase: “Well Dunn, good and faithful servants.” And thank you. Thank you so much for your kind and caring hearts.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 58

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 58, May 10, 2020
“A mother’s comfort”

“The Best Loved Poems of the American People” is a tattered volume of poetry that has traveled with me from California to Texas and now sits in a place of prominence on my bookshelf in Rhode Island. I rescued this tattered treasure from a Presbyterian Women’s Rummage Sale in Fair Oaks, California. These sweet and sentimental poems have brought me great inspiration, encouragement, and comfort. On a Mother’s Day when we are all missing so much, this touching poem, filled with memories of a mother’s love, warms my heart with tender remembrances. I hope it is helpful for you.

“Rock me to sleep” By Elizabeth Akers

Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,
Make me a child again just for tonight!
Mother, come back from the echoless shore,
Take me again to your heart as of yore;
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;
Over my slumbers your loving watch keep;—
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Backward, flow backward, O tide of the years!
I am so weary of toil and of tears,—
Toil without recompense, tears all in vain,—
Take them, and give me my childhood again!
I have grown weary of dust and decay,—
Weary of flinging my soul-wealth away;
Weary of sowing for others to reap;—
Rock me to sleep, mother — rock me to sleep!

Tired of the hollow, the base, the untrue,
Mother, O mother, my heart calls for you!
Many a summer the grass has grown green,
Blossomed and faded, our faces between:
Yet, with strong yearning and passionate pain,
Long I tonight for your presence again.
Come from the silence so long and so deep;—
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Over my heart, in the days that are flown,
No love like mother-love ever has shone;
No other worship abides and endures,—
Faithful, unselfish, and patient like yours:
None like a mother can charm away pain
From the sick soul and the world-weary brain.
Slumber’s soft calms o’er my heavy lids creep;—
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Come, let your brown hair, just lighted with gold,
Fall on your shoulders again as of old;
Let it drop over my forehead tonight,
Shading my faint eyes away from the light;
For with its sunny-edged shadows once more
Haply will throng the sweet visions of yore;
Lovingly, softly, its bright billows sweep;—
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

Mother, dear mother, the years have been long
Since I last listened your lullaby song:
Sing, then, and unto my soul it shall seem
Womanhood’s years have been only a dream.
Clasped to your heart in a loving embrace,
With your light lashes just sweeping my face,
Never hereafter to wake or to weep;—
Rock me to sleep, mother, — rock me to sleep!

On this Mother’s Day, in a bible filled with so many images of God as our Father in heaven, it is a nice balance, and such a nice blessing to note that in the sad, lonely, dark and difficult days of the exile, one of the enduring images of God’s steadfast love is given to us by the prophet Isaiah. “As a mother comforts her children, so I will comfort you.” Isaiah 66:13

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 57

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 57, May 9, 2020
“Overshadowed”

The bible is filled with drama, with miraculous events, and with amazing signs and wonders. This is all good news. And yet if we are not careful, the drama, the miraculous events, and the amazing signs and wonders can overshadow the revelation of God that accompanies these astounding divine interventions.

• Moses was tending the sheep out in the desert…With a stunning flash a bush in that dry desert burst into flames…flames that did not consume the bush. It’s a miracle! Moses is drawn to the miracle. The miracle gets Moses’ attention…and ours. But don’t let the miracle of the burning bush overshadow the revelation of God, who says to Moses, “I have seen the misery of my people. I have heard their cries. I am concerned about their suffering. I have come down to help.”
• Standing on the mountain, full of fear, chased by the wicked Queen Jezebel, waiting for God to appear, the prophet Elijah witnessed a miracle…a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the very rocks surrounding him. After the wind there was more drama…an earthquake. After the earthquake there was even more drama…a fire. The wind, the earthquake, the fire…those dramatic events threaten to overshadow the revelation of God. On that day the revelation of God came in a whisper, in a still small voice.
• You do not get more dramatic than the Sunday school favorite, the story of the Fiery Furnace. Our heroes Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are thrown into the blazing flames of fire. It is tempting to remember only the outcome of that dramatic event as not a hair on their heads was singed. But do not let their remarkable rescue cause you to forget the words of faith they shared as they entered the fire. “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand.” Do not let the flames overshadow the faith of these men of God, their faith that was in the living God.
• Jesus healed a man who had leprosy. Jesus healed the man immediately. The leprosy left the man. Amazingly and miraculously the man was made clean, all of which understandably might overshadow the words that tell us Jesus was filled with compassion when he saw the leper, the words of Jesus telling the leper he was willing to make the man clean, and words that tell us Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man everyone else called unclean.
• How can a handful of fish and a few small loaves feed crowds of four to five thousand? It is a miracle. Knowing full well the hunger that can swell up inside us when we have been too long without food, the multiplication in this miracle most definitely causes the motivation of the miracle to be overshadowed. What was the motivation? Jesus had compassion on the crowd.
• Standing in the shadow of the cross, watching our dear Savior die, the sound of a hammer pounding the nails, the reality of those nails piercing his flesh, the voices of his enemies taunting him and the guards teasing him, the sight of that crown of thorns thrust mockingly upon his head, standing in the shadow of the cross, the cruel suffering Jesus endures threatens to overshadow the meaning and purpose of his death. Or maybe in the case of the cross, none of the cruelty, none of the agony, none of the rejection, none of the taunting, and none of the teasing can overshadow the great miracle, the greatest miracle, the most amazing sign and wonder in all of the bible. In the case of the cross, there is not one single thing that can overshadow the miracle that we witness on that Friday we now call Good. “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Nothing can overshadow the words Jesus spoke when Nicodemus came to Jesus in the shadows of the night. “For God so loved the world he gave his only Begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Filled with amazing stories like Joshua and Jonah, astounding stories of the Red Sea parting and the storms on the Sea of Galilee being stilled, miraculous stories of water turning to wine and bread coming down from heaven, may these marvels and miracles never overshadow the wonderful truth of God’s everlasting and eternal love that we discover when we stand in the shadow of the cross. May nothing in all creation overshadow the steadfast love of our Lord, the steadfast love of the Lord that never ceases. May nothing overshadow that love, especially not this cruel Coronavirus. In the shadow of the cross, dear friends, that is where stand. In the shadow of the cross, that is where we find our hope.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 56

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 56, May 8, 2020
“Our tone”

Sitting on the desk in my home office is a commemorative coffee mug. The mug is from our church. The coffee mug has a peaceful picture of our church, the front of the church with the big cross that is displayed so prominently. Beginning my morning by looking at that coffee mug with such a peaceful picture sets the tone for my day.

I wonder if a church has a tone. We refer to a tone of voice, whether it is happy tone, a kind tone, a harsh tone, maybe a sarcastic tone. Does a church have a tone? I think a church does have a tone, and I am happy to tell you I like the tone of our church.

Recently Alex Houston said he had some friends who were struggling with the Coronavirus, including the wife, a nurse, who has tested positive. The husband reached out to Alex. Apparently, Alex makes an awesome corn chowder, and the husband was hoping as they faced this difficult time that Alex would make some of his corn chowder. When you face a crisis comfort food comes in handy. If you know Alex, you know he got right on it. He pulled out his recipe book that he uses to make his delicious corn chowder. It is a Cookbook put out by our church sometime in the 90’s with the title, “Recipes from the Plate.” He found the recipe for the Corn Chowder and he noticed the recipe had been submitted by Betsy Jewell. Along with making the chowder for his friends, Alex asked if I might find a way to let Betsy know her recipe was still bringing not only delicious soup to people, but also stirring some delightful memories. Guess what? As I read that email from Alex, I really liked the tone of his note.

Wednesday I wrote a letter to Betsy telling of what Alex had done. I drove over to the Royal, the Nursing Home where Betsy lives. I dropped a letter off for her at the front door. Without even knowing she did it, Betsy was one of the first friends who set the tone for me at Dunn’s Corners. Unfortunately, soon after we moved to Westerly Betsy had some setbacks and had to be moved to a nursing home. I showed up to visit her. When the attendant at the front desk asked who I came to visit, and I told her Betsy Jewell, she practically broke down in tears. She said, “We all know Betsy. She used to come here all the time, visiting anyone who was sick or lonely. Betsy is the most amazing person.” Does a church have a tone? I think so. I think a person like Betsy Jewell sets the tone, thinking of others, visiting, caring, and showing kindness.

Driving to the Royal Nursing Home I thought of Peg Wolstencroft. Peg is now at the Royal. Peg and Sam Wolstencroft were founding members at Dunn’s Corners. Peg helped set the tone. Before her health took a turn for the worse, Peg would drop by church on Tuesday afternoons. On Tuesdays Peg would have lunch at the Senior Center, and at the lunch they would always give her a cake to take home. Well, the cake never made it home. Peggy knew the youth group met on Tuesday nights, so every Tuesday afternoon she would drop off her cake for the teens. Peggy set a sweet tone at the church, and I mean that in more ways than one.

Barbara Green is also at the Royal. A few months after arriving at Dunn’s Corners Dutch and Barbara asked me to come visit them at their home. I arrived at their home and Barbara greeted me with a big smile. She said Dutch had the car warmed up and wanted to take us all out to lunch. I climbed in and Dutch took me to the middle of nowhere. Literally…there is this darling café somewhere on the way towards Providence that is called “The Middle of Nowhere” café. We had the best lunch. The smiling faces and warm welcome of Dutch and Barbara helped set the tone for our church, and it is a happy and friendly tone.

Florence Madison used to live at the Royal before she died last fall. Among the many remembrances Florence would share about Dunn’s Corners, one stands out. Florence was deeply touched by Dutch’s dad, Ed Green, whose store at Dunn’s Corners was a fixture for many years. At some point on almost every visit Florence would think back on Ed Green and his store and say, “Ed Green carried a lot of people through difficult times.” I guess Ed Green extended credit. I’m pretty sure he did even more than that. Whatever Ed Green did, it set a tone that our dear friend Florence never forgot. So here I start my day looking at my coffee mug with the picture of the cross on the front of our church, and I’m asking myself, “What is the tone for our church?” Then a pleasant thought comes to mind. What is Dunn’s Corners tone? That cross holds the key to the answer for what our tone is as a church. What is Dunn’s Corners tone? Let me spell that question just a little differently. I’m going to remove the space between Corners and tone. “What is Dunn’s Cornerstone?”
“The stone the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone.” Psalm 118:22
Jesus is our Cornerstone, and his life of love sets the tone that lives in each one of our hearts.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 55

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 55, May 7, 2020
“Prayer”

Today is the National Day of Prayer. Wikipedia gives this as background for the National Day of Prayer; “The National Day of Prayer is an annual day of observance held on the first Thursday of May, designated by the United States Congress, when people are asked ‘to turn to God in prayer and meditation.’” What is prayer? Among the numerous definitions, most which are very theologically grounded, I happen to like one that on first hearing sounds sort of silly. After email grew in popularity, someone was quick to borrow on email to label prayer as “Knee mail.” I like that.

On our National Day of Prayer, I hope you will take some time to send God a “Knee mail.” The bible has 367 occurrences of the word pray, while prayer appears 154 times. The patriarchs prayed for basic things. Abraham’s servant prayed he would find just the right wife for Abraham’s son Isaac, Isaac prayed that his wife Rebekah would be able to bear a child, and Jacob prayed for reconciliation when he faced his brother Esau after their bitter breakup.

Psalms is known as the book of prayer, and the sheer number of references validates that central place for the psalms, with prayer being mentioned 29 times and pray another 34. Prayer in the Psalms can be as peaceful as the green pastures and still waters of Psalm 23 and as dramatic as the gripping prayer that comes right before the 23rd Psalm, a prayer Jesus prayed on the cross, in his moment of greatest need. Psalm 22 begins with his heartfelt cry, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” Prayer can be praise. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Prayer can be lament. “How long, O Lord, how long?” Prayer can be with hands lifted up or with heads bowed down.

Prayer can be long, as we are told sometimes Jesus would spend the whole night in prayer. And prayer can be brief and succinct, as when Peter began to sink when the waves of doubt caused his faith to fade. Peter’s prayer, so brief and succinct as he began to sink was this. “Lord, save me!” You can make prayer even briefer and more succinct by simply saying to God, “Help!”

There is a rather long history about the invention of email. Bill Gates appeared on the Today show sometime in the early 90’s and made an announcement that there was this dramatic new invention that would transform the way we communicate. It is funny to watch that old interview and see everyone’s jaw drop as he announced email. What a revolutionary concept. It turns out email had been around since the early 70s, but it did not burst forth in use by the masses until the 90s, even providing the title for a sweet romantic movie, “You’ve Got Mail.”

I don’t know who coined the phrase, “Knee mail” as a play on the word email, but I think you could make a case for linking the original popularity of “Knee mail” to the Apostle Paul. We know Paul used letters to his great advantage in sharing the gospel. His letters were most likely written on papyrus and references are made to “parchments”. Whatever he used it took time to write out the letters, time for the letters to travel from one place to the next, whether by foot or by boat, and time to be read and passed around, to say nothing of the time it would take for a reply to be written and sent back. Sending and receiving mail was a slow process, to say the least.

Can you imagine how revolutionary it must have been when this firebrand Apostle would show up in places like Athens, Ephesus, Berea, and Corinth, places very familiar with papyrus and parchments, and proclaim to all these people who had never heard of having a personal relationship with God Almighty, the creator of the heavens and the earth, that there was this marvelous and amazing form of communication called, “Knee mail.” Paul had the great honor and privilege of telling new believers they could pray to God, directly, through Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit. You just take your requests directly God, and God immediately receives your “Knee mail.” God hears your prayers.

God hears our prayers. Friends, in these difficult days, please remember God hears our prayers. God receives our “Knee mails.” On this National Day of Prayer, I hope you will take some time to send God a “Knee mail.” I am thinking of “Knee mail” because when Paul offers his beautiful and soaring prayer about God’s love at the end of Ephesians 3, he begins by telling us it is a “Knee mail.” Paul writes, “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-20) When we send a “Knee mail”, Paul wants us to remember that God is strong and mighty and able, able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. And Paul wants us to remember, Paul wants us to grasp how wide and long and high and deep God’s love is for us, the love that comes to us in Jesus Christ. Remembering God’s power, and remembering God’s love, I hope you will take some time today to send God a “Knee mail.” Like any good parent, our God likes to hear from his children.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 54

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 54, May 6, 2020
“Bittersweet”

                “Don’t touch those cookies Wayne.” My mom had just made a batch of her famous oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. The smell of those cookies had drawn me into our kitchen. But it wasn’t time yet to have the cookies, so my mom told me not to touch those cookies. Then to be sure I could not touch the cookies she put them on the counter, safely out of reach. I was four years old. I could not even see the top of the counter, much less reach it. The cookies were safe. Seeing that the cookies were safe my mom left me in the kitchen and headed off to fulfill yet another of her endless duties keeping a young family functioning. My mom left me in the kitchen…alone…with the chocolate chip cookies.

                No sooner had she left than I set my mind to tackling the problem before me. The cookies smelled good. The cookies were on the counter. I was standing on the floor, barely knee high to a grasshopper. How could I get from the floor to the cookies? Ahhh…my young eyes noticed a cord hanging down from the counter that was home to the coveted cookies. If I just grabbed that cord and pulled myself up, the cookies would be mine. I grabbed the cord and pulled. Unfortunately, the cord was attached to the coffee pot. Equally unfortunate, and actually quite dangerous, the coffee pot was filled with extremely hot coffee. When I pulled the cord, the pot tipped over and the hot coffee scalded my leg. The burns were severe.

                That must have been sometime in the late spring. What I remember is my burned leg was bandaged. The pain was constant. But the lingering pain from the burn was nothing in comparison to those days when my mom would take me to the doctor, who would proceed to remove the old skin. It must have broke my mother’s heart to hear me scream in agony.

                On top of that, my leg was bandaged all summer, meaning I could not go in the water. Summer in the central valley of California is filled with days well over 100 degrees. Swimming is the one escape from the heat. Here I was, four years old, and I could not swim all summer. I was in quarantine. Unable to swim, my leg wrapped in an uncomfortable bandage, subjected to regular visits to the doctor where I experienced the excruciating pain of the removal of the old skin and the cleaning of the wound, that summer of quarantine was a bitter time for little Wayne.

                Our neighbors had a pool. They would invite all the Eberly kids to come swimming on hot afternoons. My siblings would frolic and play, splash and shout “Marco Polo” with their friends. I watched. I was in quarantine. I could not get near the pool for fear my bandage would get wet, which would be disaster. It really was a miserable summer. It was a bitter summer. But for about ten minutes every hour, there would be a brief time of relief. Our neighbor’s dad would come out to the pool once an hour and tell all the kids to get out of the water. They would clear the pool. When it was all safe, he would turn to me and say, “Wayne, now it’s your turn.” For a few moments I would put my good leg in the water. I couldn’t move at all, for fear of splashing onto my bandage. But I could put that one good leg in the water. I have to admit I sort of felt like a king. My quarantine was halted, even for just a brief burst of freedom. I had the pool all to myself. In a summer that was largely bitter, those moments with my leg resting in the pool were sweet. Those moments were incredibly sweet.

                We are all facing a bitter summer in 2020. For those of us in Rhode Island, so much that we look forward to and anticipate in a community situated along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean will be different. It won’t be just a bitter summer. Graduations halted, summer trips in jeopardy, economic uncertainty and fears about jobs and rent and mortgages, all related to a lethal virus that has caused great sickness and death, this Coronavirus Crisis is a bitter experience for all. Thinking back on my summer of quarantine so many years ago, I pray that somehow these bitter times will be punctuated with moments of sweetness.

                Our neighbors that summer, our neighbors our whole time we lived in Hanford, California were the Ramms. Mr. Ramm was that lifeguard who was a lifesaver, clearing the pool for me to have a fleeting respite from my bitter summer of quarantine. Anyone who has ever heard me preach a sermon has heard about Mr. Ramm. Mr. Ramm was not only our neighbor he was also a pillar of our Presbyterian church. Mr. Ramm was a huge man, especially from the perspective of a little boy. And his hand was gigantic. I know. I would get lost in that hand every Sunday morning. Showing up to church, a little guy trying not to get under somebody’s foot, Mr. Ramm would notice me. He would call out my name with his warm and welcoming voice. And then he would extend that gigantic hand and shake mine, like I belonged at church. Like I had a place at church. Like I was part of the family at church.

                Looking back on my bitter summer so many years ago, that summer of quarantine, I realize my memories are no longer bitter. Oh, it was a painful and difficult time. Nevertheless, my memories are not bitter. I remember my mom, who chose not to chastise me for my bad behavior in grabbing that coffee pot. Instead she would hold me close and comfort me during those dreaded visits to the doctor. I remember Mr. Ramm, oh do I remember Mr. Ramm. The word sweet hardly does justice to the memories I have of Mr. Ramm. Maybe that is what is so sweet about something that is bittersweet. Because the bitter is present, because the struggle is so real, the pain so sharp, the sadness so overwhelming, just the simplest act of kindness can seem so sweet. A mother who holds your hand. A neighbor who makes a place for you at the pool. And somehow the bitter fades and the sweet lingers.

As we live through what is in so many ways a bitter time, I pray for God to open our eyes to see the blessings that are present in these bitter times. Two verses to hold onto when times are bitter. “Weeping may remain for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5 “You have turned my mourning into dancing.” Psalm 30:11

May the God who is able to bring joy and dancing out of our weeping and mourning fill our lives with sweet and tender moments that soften the bitterness of the Coronavirus Crisis and remind us that the love of God is always near.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 53

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Each day our Pastor will post a message to keep us connected while the Church is closed.

Day 53, May 5, 2020
“Wanted: A carpenter’s helper”

We had a Men’s Group in Houston that met every Tuesday morning at 7 am. The group was made up of men from a wide variety of backgrounds. Our conversations were animated and fun. We laughed often, prayed always, and shared ways God was working in our lives. Bob was a member of our group. Bob would usually sit quietly and let the other men have their turn talking. Every once in a while, Bob would speak up. He always began softly and gently, along the lines of, “Well, I was thinking…” One morning we were on the topic of helping others. Right toward the end of the meeting, Bob gave us his warm and wonderful smile, and said, “Did I ever tell you about the time I met Billy Graham?”

Bob started to tell us about a time when he was a young man working as a carpenter’s helper on some construction at Rice Stadium. Rice Stadium was the site of the 1974 Super Bowl in which the Miami Dolphins defeated the Minnesota Vikings. Rice is an old stadium, built in 1950. Though it was old, it was large, capable of holding 70,000 spectators. Bob told us about working on Rice Stadium. Bob was remembering a day some 50 years in the past when Billy Graham had come to Houston to do a big crusade at Rice stadium. Bob asked our group, “Did I ever tell you about the time I met Billy Graham?”

One afternoon as Bob was doing his work as a carpenter’s helper, Billy came to the stadium. Bob said they struck up a conversation. Billy asked, “What does a carpenter’s helper do?” Bob explained all the jobs he did. As they talked, they began to walk around the stadium. Bob showed Billy the projects he was involved in. Bob said the whole time Billy gave him his full attention. Finally, their time was done. Billy Graham thanked Bob and left to return to whatever he was doing to prepare for the crusade.

 Bob stopped telling the story. He looked at us all. Then Bob smiled and said, “I have always found it curious that Billy was so interested in the work of a carpenter’s helper.” I will always remember that morning, because when Bob said that, the room was quiet for a really long time…I mean a really long time. I think we all had the same thought. Bob said he found it curious that Billy Graham was so interested in a carpenter’s helper. Finally, one of the men in the group said what seemed so obvious to all of us, “Bob, don’t you see, that is all Billy Graham is. Billy Graham is nothing but a carpenter’s helper.”

A carpenter’s helper. What a great title for a follower of Jesus. All of us who follow Jesus, we are nothing but a carpenter’s helper. My friend Bob was a carpenter’s helper. When my friend Bob died, I had the great honor of leading his memorial service. I used that phrase about being a carpenter’s helper. Bob truly was a carpenter’s helper. We needed some lines painted in our church parking lot. There was Bob laying on the ground measuring and taping and spraying paint. Bob’s wife told about making many trips to a favorite spot in Colorado. One time on their way home to Houston they were at a rest stop. The back of the car was tightly packed with all their luggage. His wife came to the car and found all the luggage had been unpacked. The luggage was spread all over the ground. Why? Bob had met someone who needed a jump for their battery, and Bob unloaded the whole vehicle to get the jumper cables. Another time while hiking in Colorado they came upon a woman in a wheelchair. Her daughter was pushing her up a steep incline. Bob took over and pushed the wheelchair up the hill until they came to a stopping point where the woman could get the perfect look on a beautiful view. When the sewer line in our back yard broke, I was digging it up to replace it. I heard a friendly voice ask if I could use some help. I looked up. There was Bob, with a shovel, a pick, and a big smile.                

A carpenter’s helper. I am sure there is a specific and exact job description detailing all the aspects of being a carpenter’s helper. But I sure hope it has that famous last line that is on so many job descriptions. “And other duties as assigned.” When you are a true carpenter’s helper, you just never know what other duties will be assigned. We are in a real crisis right now. During a crisis, people need help. Who knows how people need help? It can be in so many ways, ways that are big and small. What an important time to be a carpenter’s helper. What an important time to be a person on the lookout for the ones who are in need, the ones who are lonely, the ones who are hurting, the ones seeking help, the ones desperate for encouragement, the ones who could use a meal or a ride or a prayer. There is plenty of work for each one of us. There is plenty of work for all of us. Whether you are Billy Graham, or my kind-hearted friend named Bob, there is plenty of work for all of us to be a carpenter’s helper. The Carpenter is Jesus. We are his helpers. May we do our job with glad and grateful hearts.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 52

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Day 52, May 4 2020
“With the wind”

I love the places in the bible where we are told that in Christ Jesus we are a new creation, or that by the grace of God our lives can be transformed. I have found the truth of transformation and new creation time and again in my spiritual life. But I didn’t expect new creation and transformation to impact my physical life so dramatically.

            I was caught off guard when I went on an early morning run about a week ago. Just for the record I am 59. I suppose I should clarify that for the sake of my wife. When we complete our run, which covers the same route every day, I will say, “Well, we just ran five miles.” She corrects me, “It was 5 ½  miles.” So, just for the record, I am 59…and a ½. Except for that day last week, when I experienced transformation and new creation in my physical being. I was not 59…and a ½…I felt more like I was 19…and a ½. I was flying. My step was light. Each stride was filled with a youthlike spring. I was light as a feather. And I was fast as a phenom.

            Did you notice the title of today’s devotional? “With the wind!” I was not really paying attention, I guess because I felt so good. But what I discovered finally is that when I felt 19…and a ½, when I was blazing down the road like a comet zipping across the sky, when it felt like my feet were barely even touching the ground…what I discovered is that I was running with the wind. And it was not a gentle breeze. This was a gale force wind of 30-40 miles per hour. And, we were running downhill. I wish I could tell you I was wise enough to figure all this out when I was running with the wind, and when I was running downhill. Instead, I really believed it was all due to me! I really thought that I had discovered the mysterious fountain of youth. In other words, I took all the credit for my sudden youthful vigor.

            No, I did not notice all this when I was running with the wind, when I was running with the wind and running downhill. Can you guess when I made my discovery? We made a turn. We headed back home. Now we were running on a slight uphill. More importantly, now we were running into the wind. Now we were heading directly into the wind. At this point I must report I experienced another physical transformation. In the space of 20 or 30 yards, as we turned into the wind, as we went full on into a gusting headwind, I experienced another physical transformation. Now instead of being 19…and a ½, I felt like was 99…and a ½. Every step was a struggle. Every breath was a battle. Every single inch…felt like it was a mile. But the wind provided a foil for my feebleness. I had something to blame. The wind! The wind is why I felt so old and why I ran so slow.

            Here on a Monday morning, as we begin yet another week facing the headwinds of the Coronavirus Crisis, I am thinking about the wind that blows constantly throughout the pages of the bible. There are times the bible refers to the Spirit of God as a mighty wind. Fortunately for us, the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, is always a helping wind. The Holy Spirit is always at our back. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit is always a helping wind. Unfortunately, I find myself time and time again wanting to take the credit when things go well in life, when blessings are abundant, when projects succeed, when harvests are plentiful, when health abounds. As if I could survive this world through my own strength. One of the verses that serves as a corrective to such thoughts is found in Zechariah 4:6. “Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit”, says the Lord. We are not self-powered people. We are powered by the Holy Spirit. We receive power when the Holy Spirit fills our lives. I will try to remember that when the wind is with me. “Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit” says the Lord.

            When I say the Holy Spirit is always a helping wind, I by no means am saying we will not face headwinds in life. The pages of the bible and the lives that fill those pages are rampant with examples of headwinds, of trials, of tribulations, of disappointments, and of doubts. The bible does not portray a world in which there are no headwinds. What the bible does portray, what the bible witnesses to, what the bible proclaims, is that in the headwinds of life, we have a helping wind, a wind at our back, the Holy Spirit who lifts us and leads us, who strengthens and who sustains us.

One of my favorite hymns captures that sense that we always have a helping wind, we always have the Holy Spirit helping us. It is a hymn that moves from the creation story to the great deliverance of the Exodus, from the Exodus to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and from the resurrection of Jesus to the world in which we live today. Beginning another week in which we face the headwinds of the Coronavirus Crisis, remember that we are not in this alone. We do not face these headwinds through our own power. We have a helping wind at our back. We have the Holy Spirit. May the words of this hymn serve as a prayer for us as we begin this new week.

Spirit, Spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness, calling and free.
Spirit, Spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness, wind, wind on the sea.

You moved on the waters; you called to the deep;
Then you coaxed up the mountains from the valleys of sleep
And over the eons you called to each thing, “Awake from your slumbers and rise on your wings”
You swept through the desert; you stung with the sand
Then you goaded your people with a law and a land
When they were confounded with idols and lies,
Then you spoke through the prophets to open their eyes
You sang in a stable; you cried from a hill
Then you whispered in silence when the whole world was still
And down in the city, you called once again
When you blew through your people on the rush of the wind
You call from tomorrow; you break ancient schemes
From the bondage of sorrow the captives dream dreams
Our women see visions; our men clear their eyes
With bold new decisions your people arise.

Spirit, Spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness, calling and free.
Spirit, Spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness, wind, wind on the sea.

(Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness, James K. Manley)

Friends, we have a helping wind. We have the Holy Spirit. Hallelujah! Thanks be to God!

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 51

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Day 51, May 3, 2020
“He knows your name”

John 10 is a wonderful chapter of the bible that has Jesus telling us he is our Good Shepherd. In John 10 Jesus tells us that contrary to the Devil, who only comes to steal, kill and destroy, as the Good Shepherd Jesus has come to bring us life, and life abundantly. And in John 10 Jesus, our Good Shepherd, shares with us the good news that he knows his sheep by name. He literally knows us by name, from A-Z. Throughout the bible you can find a name for every letter in the alphabet…well, for almost every letter in the alphabet. It’s almost as if the bible is telling us, from A-Z, Jesus knows us all by name. There is…
A…as in Aaron, Abednego, Ahaz, and Abiah
B…as in Bartholomew, Bartimeus, Baruch, and that Son of Encouragement Barnabas
Cas in Calno and Candace
D…as in Dan, Daniel, David, and Dorcas, that kind woman from Acts 9 who was always doing good and helping others…that same Dorcas whose namesake invented the famous Thanksgiving favorite, the Green Bean Casserole.
E…as in Elijah and Ebenezer
F…as in Felix and Festus
G…as in Gehazi, Gershom, and Gezer
H…as in Habakkuk and Hezekiah
I…as in the laughter inspiring Isaac and the powerful prophet Isaiah
J…as in Jabez whose prayer touched so many and Joshua who fought the battle of Jericho
K…as in Kir
L…as in Leah, Lois, and Lydia…L has lots of women’s names
M…as in Martha, Malachi, Matthew, and the trusting young virgin with the beautiful name of Mary
N…as in Noah who lived on an Ark and N as in Nicodemus who came to Jesus in the dark
O…as in Ophrah and the prophet Obadiah
P…as in Peter and Paul, Philemon and Philip, and Priscilla who got top billing over her husband
Q…as in Quartus and Quirinius, only two with Q, but Quirinius was governor at the time of the birth of
you know who!
R…as in Rebecca and Rahab, Rhoda and Ruth
S…as in Silas who traveled with Paul
T…as in Thomas who doubted but then stood tall
U…as in Ucal, Uphas and Uzal, names that are strange, one and all
V…as in Vashti, the Queen who from her husband’s favor did fall
X…as in Xerxes, Vashti’s husband who didn’t have a lot on the ball
Y…as in Yakob, Yoav and Yoel (the Hebrew rendering of Jacob, Joab, and Joel)
Z…as in Zacchaeus, Zechariah, and Zebedee…and at the end of the list is Zuzim.

A name for every letter in the alphabet. Multiple names for every letter in the alphabet. That is certainly good news. There are lots of names, and a letter for every name, except…except there is no name in the bible that starts with W. Could it be true? It might not matter much to you Alberts and Zechariahs, or any other letter in between, but some of us think W is a pretty important first initial. Apparently, there is no name in the whole bible that starts with W. Somebody posed the following query on the internet: “We were playing Scattergories last night, and this one stumped us all. Is there anyone in the bible who has a name that begins with W?” This was the answer: “Woman at the well.” Clever answer. I guess that works…but no Wayne? Not even a Waynina or Waynona, a Waynette or a Wanda?

Feeling rather left out, I decided to open the first bible I was ever given, the bible that was presented to me by my 3rd grade Sunday school teachers, two saints from the First Presbyterian Church in Hanford, California, Rosemary Knudson and Frances Nicholas. I was determined to start at the beginning and read all the way to the end to see if there wasn’t at least one W name in the whole of the bible. Well, before I go any further I also ought to note that under the letter J you can find the name Jehovah Jireh. Jehovah Jireh means “The Lord will provide.” Faced with the daunting task of reading all 66 books of the bible, from Genesis to Revelation to find if there was one W name in the bible, God provided. There was a W name on the very first page. There was a W on the very first page! I had not even come to the beginning, to the book of Genesis, and the first page had a name with W. Jehovah Jireh! God provides!

There on the first page of my bible, my 3rd grade bible, the bible that has helped shape my faith and sustain me through joys and sorrows for fifty years, there was a W name on the very first page. And it was my name! Right above the place where Rosemary Knudson and Frances Nicholas wrote their signatures were these words, “The Holy Bible, presented to Wayne Eberly”. There was a W in the bible. And it is in my own bible.

As happy as I was to find a W name in my bible, it is even more wonderful to think of that J name I mentioned, Jehovah Jireh. God provides. In so many ways, God provides. In a world filled with billions of people, in a world where it is very tempting to think no one knows us by name, a world that does not seem to care about individuals, a world where too often lives are forgotten, people are excluded, a world filled with vulnerable people who are even enslaved and trafficked, in a world like that, we are bold enough to believe God has the name Jehovah Jireh. We are bold enough to believe God provides. How do we know that? Well, there is another J name. That name is Jesus. Jesus, God’s Beloved Son, is the Good Shepherd who made an amazing promise. He said, “The Good Shepherd knows his sheep by name.” Do you hear that? Jesus is saying, “I know my sheep by name.”

On a Sunday morning when our Scripture lesson is about this Good Shepherd who not only knows his sheep by name, but who even lays down his life for his sheep, I ask you to say a short prayer with me. “Dear Jesus, you are my Good Shepherd. You know me by name. You even laid down your life for me. Jesus, my name is ­­­__. Thank you for knowing me by name and for loving me with your everlasting love. Amen.”

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 50

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Day 50, May 2, 2020
“Asymptomatic?”

One of the troubling things about the spread of the Coronavirus is that there are asymptomatic carriers. Asymptomatic is a word I was not familiar with before the Coronavirus. A symptomatic carrier of the virus has the symptoms, or some of the symptoms, such as a cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, or even loss of smell. An asymptomatic carrier would have the virus, but not display any of the symptoms. Asymptomatic is an interesting word when it comes to a disease, when it comes to a virus. People can be carrying the virus, but no one knows they are carrying the virus. They have none of the symptoms.

Could a word like asymptomatic have any correlation to the Christian faith? The Apostle Paul writes in II Corinthians 4 that followers of Jesus carry within them a treasure. The treasure is our faith in Jesus Christ, and all the hope and blessing and promise and power that come with having faith in Jesus Christ. Interestingly enough we carry that treasure in our very real and human bodies, bodies that are frail and fragile. We are so frail and so fragile Paul makes the analogy that our bodies are like clay jars. They are easily broken. The treasure is not our physical bodies. The treasure is the vital and lifegiving faith that we carry within us, the faith that comes from Jesus that we carry within us. That is the treasure. That is the treasure we carry.

What might be the symptoms that we carry that treasure? Would we display the symptom of standing on a street corner and blowing a loud trumpet every time we gave help to ones who are need? Would we stand up in front of a big crowd and say a loud and long prayer? Would we disfigure our faces to show people what great suffering and sacrifice we endure as we do some act of penitence like fasting? Would those be the symptoms of the treasure of Christ we carry within us? Jesus gives a thumbs down to those symptoms. Jesus gives a big thumbs down to those symptoms in Matthew chapter 6. Jesus calls those symptoms displays of “self-righteousness.” Those do not seem to be the symptoms a faithful follower of Jesus would display.

If those displays of self-righteousness are not the symptoms, what might be the symptoms? One big huge symptom, at least according to Jesus, would be love. “By this will people everywhere know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Every child of Christian folk music is familiar with that symptom, captured so well in the words, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Jesus said those words about love in John 13:35. His words were not fluffy, warm-fuzzy words about love. John 13 begins with Jesus taking off his outer clothes, wrapping a towel around his waist, and washing the feet of his disciples. John 13 begins with Jesus doing the work of a servant. John 13 leads to John 15 where Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that they lay down their life for the friends.” Jesus was not an asymptomatic carrier. His life displayed the symptoms of love, whether by touching an unclean leper, wiping a tear from a repentant sinner, wrapping a towel around his waist, or climbing up on a cross and giving his life. The symptoms were all there.

I guess it is possible you can be an asymptomatic carrier of the Christian faith. I guess it is possible that your life would not show any hints of love, kindness, compassion, or concern, and yet you could be still be carrying faith within you. I guess it is possible, but it sure does not represent the carriers of the Christian faith that I have met. By and large, overwhelmingly, thankfully, and joyfully, the Christians I know are symptomatic. Absolutely, positively, and most definitely, the Christians I know are symptomatic. You can just tell by their actions, by their values, by their desire to serve, to help, to bind the wounds, to feed the hungry, to visit the sick, to clothe the naked, and to seek the kingdom of justice and righteousness that honors our great God and King, you can just tell these salt of the earth disciples are carrying the treasure of Jesus Christ within them.

The followers of Christ I know are symptomatic. The followers of Christ I know are not only symptomatic, they are contagious. In the best way possible, they are contagious. Friends, you are contagious. Please, please, please, be symptomatic in every way, shape and form. Friends, please, please, please be contagious. Spread the light and the love, the hope and the healing of Jesus Christ. Something as serious and threatening as the Coronavirus Crisis is no time to be an asymptomatic carrier of the Christian faith. Let your light shine so that all the world may see your faith and give praise to our God and Father in heaven.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 49

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Day 49, May 1, 2020
“Happy May Day”

May Day was a special day for the Eberly kids as we grew up on Fitzgerald Lane in Hanford, California. May Day was a special day because of my mom, Clara Eberly. When our granddaughter was born on April 25, 2019, Julie and I immediately noted how close her day of birth was to May Day. We noticed because like my mother, our granddaughter has the name Clara. Our granddaughter has the name Clara Eberly. Last year, for her first May Day, I wrote our little Clara Eberly a letter explaining why May Day was so important in our family.

“Dear Clara, one of Grandma Clara’s favorite days of the year was May 1st. She called it May Day. She would keep an eye on her flowerbeds and early in the morning on May 1st she would pick the brightest and most beautiful flowers and make them into bouquets. Then she would gather all five of us kids together and send us out. On May Day we would sneak up to a neighbor’s house with a bouquet of flowers, ring their doorbell, and then run and hide behind the nearest tree. When our neighbors would open their door, they would find the flowers and it always made them happy. Somehow, they knew it was the Eberly kids who delivered the flowers. Maybe we weren’t very good at hiding…or keeping quiet. Anyway, it was a day we all enjoyed, and my mom would want to hear all about it when we would come home from delivering the flowers.”

May Day became even more special for our family on my mom’s last May Day, May 1, 2012. Our long-time neighbor on Fitzgerald Lane in Hanford, California, Mrs. Senna, sent her caregiver to visit my mom on May 1, 2012. Mrs. Senna was not able to make the visit herself. We all understood. After all, Mrs. Senna was 110 years old by then. We understood why she could not make the visit herself. My sister Anne was with my mom that day. The caregiver told my sister Anne that Mrs. Senna wanted all of us Eberly children to know something. Mrs. Senna wanted us to know that she had a burlap bag in her garage. In that burlap bag she had saved all the flowers we had delivered for all those years on May Day. None of us could believe it. In that gunny sack in Mrs. Senna’s garage was every single bouquet of fresh flowers all of us Eberly kids ever delivered to her door on May Day? We moved to our house on Fitzgerald Lane in 1960. My mom didn’t move from that house until well after the year 2000. In the garage of a woman who was110 years old were all the flowers that showed up on her doorstep for some 50 years. Amazing. So yes, we hope May Day will be an important day for Clara Jean Eberly, now one year old. (Julie took the idea of a gunnysack and upgraded it…she sewed Clara Jean her own May Day bag. It is beautiful and will work perfectly as little Clara grows up and carries on Great Grandmother Clara’s tradition of delivering flowers on May Day)

Looking back on May Day I see a pattern among the people my mom would choose to have us deliver those May Day baskets. Mrs. Senna lived alone. Grandma Crass was widowed. Mrs. Hernandez had family nearby, but she lived all by herself. Another family on our street had lost a son in an accident. Those May Day baskets, filled with bright and beautiful flowers, were meant to let someone who was alone, or feeling the sadness of loss, someone who needed a ray of light in a time of darkness and a message of hope during a time of struggle, those May Day baskets were meant to bring joy. Stealing a glance from our hiding place behind a tree, waiting with great excitement as our neighbors would open their doors and find the surprise of a beautiful basket of flowers, and watching the look on the faces of our beloved neighbors, I would have to say, “Mission accomplished.” Those baskets brought joy.

Like so many good gifts, May Day is a gift that keeps giving. Today is May Day. Here in Rhode Island May Day is cold and rainy. The wind is howling. The sun refuses to shine. We have entered another month still cooped up and cut off. Interrupting these dismal thoughts was the ring of the doorbell. I roused myself from my grumpy mood and made it to the door. No one was there. Just a big basket of bright and beautiful flowers. Someone remembered May Day. SURPRISE!

Actually, it was a “virtual” May Day. Diana and Phil Clark remembered me talking about my mom and how much May Day meant to her. Remembering this was a special day for us they sent me and Julie a virtual May Day basket. They sent it by email. With the May Day basket of flowers was a kind note.

“Knowing that May Day has significance in your lives, we wanted to send a ‘virtual’ May basket your way. This celebration was a very special one in my childhood, and we often celebrated, especially in sharing with friends and with people who were isolated. Diana and Phil”

Sharing with friends and people who are isolated. Diana and Phil, that is exactly what a May Day Basket is all about. Do you know anyone right now who is feeling isolated? Maybe it’s you? I know we have felt the isolation during the Coronavirus Crisis. Maybe there is someone you know who might be experience that feeling of isolation. Is God is putting someone on your heart who could really use a May Day Basket. Anyway, I’m including the beautiful May Day Basket we received from Diana and Phil. I’m passing it on to you. If you think of someone who could benefit from some brightness in their day, go right ahead and send it to them.

With the May Day Basket I am including a verse to brighten your day as well.

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

May Day flowersHAPPY MAY DAY!

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 48

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Day 48, April 30, 2020
“Koinonia”

   In June of 2018 Karthik Nemmani stepped to the podium and was presented with the final word in the National Spelling Bee competition. Karthik, a 14-year old student from McKinney, Texas had survived the previous round. His opponent stumbled on the word Bewusstseinslage. Karthik advanced by correctly spelling Haecceitas. Now he had only to spell one more word and he would be crowned the champion. After the two previous words, I buckled up my seat belt. How do you find words more difficult than Bewusstseinslage and Haecceitas? (I am sure you are as familiar with those words as I was, but just in case, Bewusstseinslage means a state of consciousness or a feeling devoid of sensory components, and Haecceitas is a term from medieval scholastic philosophy.) And those were the penultimate words!

As Karthik held his breath, and as I joined him in holding my breath, the judges gave the final word of the competition. Koinonia. Koinonia? Wait a minute, I know that word. I had no clue about Bewusstseinslage and Haecceitas, but Koinonia is a word I know, and it may well be a word you know. Koinonia is the word that is translated “Fellowship” in Acts 2:42. In a printed article about the Spelling Bee the following definition was given for Koinonia: “Intimate spiritual communion and participative sharing in a common religious commitment and spiritual community.”

Koinonia. That word means something to those of us who draw our strength and support from a church community, a church family. When young Karthik correctly spelled the championship word in June of 2018, a group representing churches from Westerly and the surrounding area had just returned from a short-term mission trip doing recovery work in Houston to help ones who suffered devastating loss from Hurricane Harvey. Sleeping in makeshift trailers, using communal bathrooms, sharing meals, and more importantly, working side by side to help others, praying, studying God’s word, and growing in the bond of Christ, our group experienced Koinonia. Our Confirmation class of 18 young people had just stood up to be received into membership on a Sunday in April of 2018. Each young person had an adult mentor, each young person had family and friends surrounding them, each young person was received into a church family. That Confirmation Class experienced Koinonia. Our Bible Study Groups had just completed a 32-week overview of the whole Bible, the Disciple Bible Study. We had studied and wrestled with scripture, wept at heartbreaks that had touched our lives, rejoiced at victories and celebrations, and we had grown close to one another. We had experienced Koinonia.

This past week the National Spelling Bee, scheduled for June 2020, was canceled. Normal summer events throughout our nation and the whole world are being canceled. Yesterday our Governor announced nearly every normal summer gathering in Rhode Island has been canceled for June and July. The music festivals in Newport, canceled. The historic 4th of July Parade in Bristol, canceled. The Washington County Fair announced it has been canceled. To use a phrase that was popular a few years ago, “It just got real.” And for churches, we know summer will look very different for us. Fellowship will be different. The honest truth is fellowship will be difficult. In a real way, there might be a Koinonia Krisis this summer.

Or…the summer of 2020 might be a unique opportunity to explore Koinonia in new ways. There is a saying somewhere that every crisis is also an opportunity. Who says we need more than 50 people together at one time to have Koinonia? Not Jesus. Jesus said, “Whenever two or more are gathered in my name, I am there with you.” Maybe the summer of 2020 will be our “small” summer. Small groups who worship, small groups who study, small groups who pray, small groups who sing, small groups who serve, small groups who hike and bike, small groups who walk the beach, small groups who take kids on field trips and fun outings, small groups who share a meal in a home, a meal at church, a meal together on a picnic.

The Governor canceled large gatherings. That makes sense as there is still a great threat of the virus spreading when large groups are together. But the Governor did not cancel Koinonia. I imagine many here in Rhode Island are reeling from yesterday’s announcement. This will be a different summer. This will be a difficult summer. Let me ask you this morning to take a few moments and read Acts 2:42-47. It is in those verses that we find the word Koinonia, or fellowship. As you read the verses, as you read how the early church joined together in such an intimate bond and such a warm fellowship that they were blessed with glad and sincere hearts, see if God gives you some ideas for how we can experience Koinonia this summer.

I know I am itching to get together with you all. Thankfully, it looks like we will be able to get together this summer. Just not all at once. This summer will be a “small” summer. If we let the Holy Spirit give us creative guidance, I believe this can a rich and full summer filled with many, many times of being together…in small gatherings, in small groups. It will definitely be a small summer, but my hope is that when all is said and done we will be able to look back and say it has been a spiritual summer, a spiritual summer filled with the great blessing of Koinonia, the fellowship of sharing life together as brothers and sisters in faith. Koinonia Krisis? Maybe. Koinonia Opportunity? Definitely!

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 47

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Day 47, April 29, 2020
“One”

  The Holocaust was a particularly terrible component of a World War that was filled with the terrible and devastating loss of life. And yet with the terror there were countless examples of bravery from those who affirmed the importance and dignity of human life in a time when so many lives were lost. Oskar Schindler’s heroism was captured in the novel and the movie of the same name, “Schindler’s List.” As Schindler saved more than a thousand mostly Polish-Jewish refugees by employing them in his factories, both the book and the movie refer to a single sentence that is attributed to the Talmud. “He who saves one life saves the entire world.”

When more than 6,000,000 Jews died in the Holocaust, it takes a deep faith to believe that saving one life compares in any way to such staggering loss. And yet, saving one life does make an incredible difference. We worship the one who said if a shepherd has one hundred sheep and one of those sheep becomes lost, the shepherd will leave the ninety-nine in the fold and go off in search of the one that is lost. And when that one lost sheep is found there is great rejoicing among the angels in heaven. One matters. One makes a difference.

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo became emotional on a recent broadcast. He read a letter from a farmer in Kansas. The farmer, a man named Dennis, wrote that his wife Sharon was sick, but that the two of them wanted to pitch in however they could during the crisis.

“Dear Mr. Cuomo, I seriously doubt that you will ever read this letter as I know you are busy beyond belief with a disaster that has befallen our country. We currently…are a nation in crisis, of that there is no doubt. I’m a retired farmer hunkered down in N.E. Kansas with my wife who has but one lung and occasional problems with her remaining lung. She also has diabetes. We are in our 70s now and frankly I am afraid for her. Enclosed find a solitary N-95 mask left over from my farming days. It has never been used. If you could, would you please give this mask to a nurse or doctor in your city. I have kept four masks for my immediate family. Please keep on doing what you do so well, which is to lead.” (From People.com, April 24, 2020, Benjamin VanHoose)

We are currently approaching one million people in our nation who have become ill with the Covid-19 virus, and somewhere close to 60,000 have died. Those numbers must be the focus of this great tragedy. One million infected, 60,000 dead, those are crucial numbers. But so is the number one. One mask. One person. One phone call. One meal. One touch. One tear. One smile. One hug. One…one…one. As a broken world dug its way out of the rubble of WWII the number one emerged as an important number. “He who saves one life saves the entire world.”

During a crisis that pales in comparison to the scope of WWII or the Coronavirus pandemic, a little four-year old girl moved with her family from Fresno, California to Houston, Texas. Her dad was a pastor and he had received a call to a new church. The little girl landed in Houston in February and found that the middle of the school year was not an easy time to make friends at her new preschool. For her, and for her anxious parents that was a significant crisis. We were the anxious parents. Carlee was our four-year old daughter. For the first two weeks that we were in Houston we stayed at the home of Linda and Phil Johnson. With all the hubbub surrounding our move it was easy to miss the struggles Carlee was having. Linda did not miss the signals that Carlee was struggling. Linda took Carlee under her wing. After two weeks we moved into our own home. As the time came to move out of the house belonging to Linda and Phil Johnson and into our own home, Carlee climbed onto Linda’s lap and they snuggled together one final time before the move. Wrapped in the loving embrace of Linda’s arms, Carlee announced to our whole family, “Linda is my BFF.” Carlee said that Linda was her Best Friend Forever. In that moment, although Carlee’s crisis was not on the scale of a World War or a worldwide pandemic, it sure seemed to us that the wisdom of the Jewish Proverb rang true, “He who saves one life saves the entire world.”

That was February of 1995. Fast forward to September of 2019 when Carlee was getting married to Nate Bickley in Portland, Oregon. I had the privilege and the honor of officiating at the wedding. Early in the ceremony I stepped aside and invited a dear family friend to come forward. This dear family friend slowly and quietly made her way to the center of the ceremony. With great dignity this dear family friend read a passage the bride and groom had selected. The one who came forward to read was Linda Johnson. Carlee contacted Linda Johnson and asked her BFF of nearly 25 years if she would read during the wedding. One. One does not take away from the thousands and the millions. Those numbers matter. But one can be the number that helps us make some sense of those thousands and millions.

One. Have you noticed that important number during the crisis? When Governor Cuomo read about one face mask, my mind went to the many ways people have used that important number one to reach out with kindness, with concern, with compassion, and with care. I believe that ancient saying is true: “He who saves one life saves the entire world.” I believe that ancient saying is true, and I want to thank you for being the type of people, and the type of community, and the type of church that cares about that number, the number one.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 46

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Day 46, April 28, 2020
“Thanks”

  It would have been an awesome April Fools joke, that April first of 1974. I was thirteen years old. At that time basketball meant everything to me. If I wasn’t shooting hoops for five or six hours a day, I was anxiously awaiting the next broadcast of an NCAA or NBA game. Back in the day a broadcast was a rare occurrence. An NBA game on Sunday and a college game or two on Saturday. That was all we got, a couple of games a week. During those days of limited broadcasts, it was a great thrill when the mighty UCLA Bruins would be the featured game. Beginning with Lew Alcindor, who achieved even greater fame as Kareem Abdul Jabbar, UCLA won the college title in 1967, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, and 73. In the 1974 season my favorite player, Bill Walton, was the star. At one point, UCLA won 88 straight games, an NCAA record that lasted until…anyone from New England? Until the Connecticut women’s team set the new mark with 90, followed by an even longer unbeaten streak of 111.

It would have been an awesome April Fools joke that April 1, 1974 if the cover for my Sports Illustrated magazine had been magically changed. On March 23, 1974 the North Carolina State Wolfpack had defeated the perennial champions, the UCLA Bruins, by the score of 80-77. It was a thrilling game, a game that was extended into two overtimes. The fact that it was a great game, a thrilling game, an epic game, did nothing to ease the pain of the biggest UCLA fan in Hanford, California, a certain teenager named Wayne who had been moping around for a whole week following that devastating defeat.

Friday was a big day in my life back then. The mailman always delivered my Sports Illustrated magazine on Friday. As soon as I got home from school that Friday I waited. The game had been nearly a week before. For that whole week I had been learning to accept defeat, and for a thirteen-year old boy, that was no easy task. Sometime late in the afternoon I heard the familiar putt-putt of the mail carrier. As soon as he pulled away, I raced to the mailbox to get my issue that would tell all about the game. The first thing I noticed was the date on the cover. April 1, 1974. For a fleeting moment I hoped it had all been an April Fools joke. Maybe UCLA really did not lose. Maybe John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood had pulled off one more miracle. Maybe David Thompson had not soared…maybe the mighty Bruins had roared. The issue was dated April 1, 1974. Alas, the cover dispelled any doubts. The headline simply said, “End of an Era.”

Isn’t it rather amazing the things we remember from our childhood? It was just a game. It was just a basketball game. The world did not end. Shoot, that was just the semifinal that year. Thousands of fans came out two days later for the championship game and they cheered and slapped high fives and ate popcorn and drank soda. The world went on. Why does something like that stick in your mind?

For me the reason goes beyond a love of basketball and the die-hard devotion of a teenage boy. When I got up the courage to read the article about that dismal day when the Bruins went down in defeat, I came across a story that helped me come to grips with the loss. Curry Kirkpatrick was the author that day, writing about the classic confrontation between UCLA and NC State. He chose to close the article with a story that made an impact on me as a teenage boy. Curry Kirkpatrick chose to close the article with a story that continues to make an impact on my life as a grown man approaching 60 years of age. Remember, Bill Walton was my favorite player. Curry Kirkpatrick wrote in the closing paragraph of his article, “After dressing (from his shower), Bill Walton shoved his uniform into a bag and left to sign autographs for some children. He stopped at the Coliseum exit when a man in overalls grabbed his arm. ‘Mr. Walton,’ the man said, ‘I work here, and I just wanted to shake your hand.’ ‘Thanks,’ said Walton. And thanks for all you’ve done for us.’”

On the heels of what was surely at that point the biggest loss in his life, Bill Walton took time to tell a Coliseum worker, dressed in overalls, thanks. Bill Walton told him thanks. I had to look up the story online to remember the details. For years I have remembered the story as Bill Walton walking back on the floor of the arena, a floor empty save for one person, the custodian sweeping the floor. Bill Walton told the custodian sweeping the floor, “Thanks.” Even though I now stand corrected, I think I will hold on to my own version of events.

This morning on our local news, in the midst of a Coronavirus Crisis that has brought the world to its knees, our local news ran a brief Public Service Announcement. Two workers were in the hallway of a hospital. They were sweeping the floors. They were custodians. The Public Service Announcement was simple. “Thanks to all our workers in this difficult time.” Thanks.

We are feeling the loss right now, the loss that has come from this long time of isolation, the loss that knows more than 55,000 of our fellow American citizens have died, the loss of missing birthday celebrations, the loss of not being able to gather as a church family, the loss of….We are feeling the loss right now. Something about that Public Service Announcement, capturing two custodial workers faithfully doing their job, brought me back to a time nearly 50 years ago when someone stopped to say thanks. Someone experiencing loss, albeit only the loss of a game, someone experiencing loss stopped to say thanks. Our loss is bigger than a game. Our loss has greater consequences than a game. But it seems to me because our loss is bigger, and because our consequences are greater, it might be even more important now, maybe more important now than ever, to be sure we stop and say that word that means so much. Thanks. That one simple word means so much. Thanks.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 45

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Day 45, April 27, 2020
“Your Go Bag”

People who are prepared for any emergency keep at their ready what is called a “Go bag”. The idea is that if some unforeseen situation arises that requires you to leave home immediately you are set to go. You just grab your “Go bag”. I have heard expectant mothers often prepare a “Go bag” so that in case of unexpected labor pains they are ready to go. Sometime in the future, hopefully the near future, it will be time to go back to church. I don’t think it will be like an earthquake that comes out of nowhere when we find out it is time to go back. Our governmental leaders will undoubtedly give us some time to prepare. And although I don’t think it will happen unexpectedly like an earthquake, I am definitely praying the gestation period before we can meet again is not nine months. Lord, please let us “go back” before another nine months!

Whenever it happens, and we all hope it will be sooner rather than later, I would like to encourage you to have a “Go bag” ready for when we can finally gather together again. Here are some suggestions for what to include in your “Go bag”:

·        A name tag. It has been a long time since we have been together. We might have to reintroduce ourselves. Get a big huge sharpie and write your name on an 81/2 by 11 piece of paper and tape it right onto your shirt or blouse.

·        With the name tag, it might be helpful to include a picture of yourself Pre-Coronavirus. I have not gone without a haircut for this long in I don’t know how long! We are all going to look a little different after this time of self-isolation. I have never had any luck growing facial hair, but Andy Wallace has a fine beard coming in. We will all have changed in what is coming up on two months. Bring a Pre-Coronavirus picture to help identify yourself.

·        Of course, you have to bring a mask. It is almost certain post-quarantine we will still be wearing masks. How about this…if you made your mask, or someone who is a friend, a member of your family or a church member made the mask, give them a shout-out! Put a little “Made by” note on your mask. What an amazing thing to see so many who sew use their gifts to help others.

·        Throw a tape measure in your “Go bag” just to be safe. Six feet, friends, six feet. Measure it out and keep that safe distance.

·        Don’t forget to bring a pillow. That old pastor of yours has not preached to a live audience in a looooong time. There is a good chance it will be a looooong sermon, so bring a pillow.

·        And by the way, don’t be surprised if your pastor tries to add a little levity when he stands up and calls for the offering while he is wearing a mask. How often does a pastor get to stand up before a group of people, wearing a mask that makes him look like a bank robber? There’s a good chance I’m going to have a little fun and say, “Give me all your money!”

·        I plan on throwing the biggest Ziploc bag I have into my “Go bag.” I am going to use that Ziploc bag to catch all the air kisses that we are going to be blowing to one another. It will be hard to be back together and not be our old hugging selves. By capturing those air kisses in a Ziploc bag, I will be able bring the joy of community home with me and that is a gift I will treasure.

·        With your Ziploc bag bring several Tupperware containers, the bigger the better. I am thinking we might have the most elaborate Coffee Fellowship in the history of the church. There better be some famous Artichoke dip, cinnamon rolls, homemade cookies and brownies and nut breads and pies, some deviled eggs and some Angel Food Cake, more fruit and veggie trays than you can count, big huge slices of salami and cheese, and some finger sandwiches thrown in for good measure. Bring Tupperware. There’s going to be lots of leftovers.

          It’s not too soon to get your “Go bag” together. Just like that great day when Jesus will return, we don’t know the time or the date that it will happen, at least not yet, but we do know it will happen. The announcement will come that churches can meet again. Oh, that will be such good news. I hope when that announcement comes you are ready “To go!” I hope when that announcement comes you have your “Go bag” all ready to go.

All kidding aside, we are going to begin preparing for when the time comes to meet again. There will be restrictions that we will follow, and precautions we will take. And even though we will all probably bring some things to church we would have never imagined bringing to church just a few months ago, please know I am speaking mostly in jest when I talk about having a “Go bag.” When we start meeting again, and it cannot be soon enough for this pastor who misses his people, when we start meeting again, one thing will be exactly like it has always been. You just come as you are. Just come as you are. You are welcome, you belong, church is your home, and the doors will be wide open.

I do not know when that date will be. But I do know the words I will say when we have all settled back into those precious pews. “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go unto the house of the Lord.’” Until that day stay safe and know that the Lord is watching over us even in this time of being alone.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 44

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Day 44, April 25, 2020
“Good Rest”

Genesis chapter one ends with God’s dramatic declaration that everything he has created is “Very good.” The sixth day of creation comes to an end. But there is a seventh day. The seventh day is found in the first three verses of Genesis chapter 2. On this Sunday, the day traditionally set aside by people of the Christian faith as a day of rest, hear the action of God on the seventh day, as found in Genesis 2:1-3

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day God rested from his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” God rested on the seventh day. In a world marked by goodness, it seems very clear that rest is a good thing. After all, God rested. Setting aside one day in seven to rest was formalized in Exodus 20 with the commandment for Sabbath rest, but way back in the story of creation, in the story of beginnings, in the story of our beginnings, God rested. And it was good rest.

This might be a strange time to be reminded that rest is good. This is the 44th day I have been writing these daily devotionals. I began writing them because our Governor and national leaders told us to stop what we were doing and get home in a hurry…and stay there. In other words, we have had a long rest, perhaps for many, a rest that feels too long.

The rest of the Sabbath is not normal rest. We rest not just because we are tired or worn out. We rest not just because the work at the office is completed. We rest not just because we have punched our timesheet and we are off the clock. When we rest the rest of Sabbath, we are resting in the Lord. We are resting in recognition that there is one greater than us, one beyond us, one who is so in control of this universe that we can rest. We rest to remind ourselves that the world does not depend on us, on our actions, on our busyness, on our contributions, on our fervor, or on our zeal. God has this. God is in control. Sabbath rest draws us back to God, calling us to rest in God, to meditate on God, to remember God, to worship God, and to celebrate God.

Here are some Sabbath words I have found helpful.

“The story is told of a South American tribe that went on a long march, day after day, when all of a sudden they would stop walking, sit down to rest for a while, and then make camp for a couple of days before going any farther. They explained that they needed the time of rest so that their souls could catch up with them.” 

Many of us have been resting a lot these last six plus weeks. But that does not mean our souls have caught up to us. The stress and the uncertainty of the Coronavirus Crisis might have had exactly the opposite effect. We might feel disconnected from our souls, anxious and worried about today, tomorrow, and the days to come, fearful about our physical health, our financial health, and our emotional health.

As a pastor these times are very humbling. I don’t have the answers to these complex and daunting questions and fears. But I know the one who does have the answers. And so do you. You know the One who has the answers. We have spent six days watching God work and hearing God say, “It is good.” We have leaned in at the end of those six days to hear God give his summary judgment, “It is very good.” Hear now our God calling us to a seventh day, a day not of work, a day of rest, a day of spiritual rest, a day for our souls to catch up.

·        Maybe you will light a candle today and let the flame of the light remind you of the God who burns bright in your heart.

·        Maybe you will find a quiet place where you can, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

·        Maybe you will take a walk and pay attention to all the sights and the sounds that are God’s way of saying, “I am with you. I am here. I love you. You are mine.”

·        Maybe you will examine closely a picture or a painting, a famous work of art or a work of art that represents the creative efforts of a person who holds a special place in your heart, and in those mixing of colors and strokes of a brush you will be called back to the great masterpiece of art known as God’s wide and wonderful world.

·        Maybe you will listen to the words of a favorite hymn or praise song. Let the praise that fills the air draw you near to the One who fills your heart.

God is good…all the time. God is good each and every day of creation. And God is good on the day of Sabbath, on the day of rest. Rest is good. If your soul has fallen behind in this time of crisis, may today be a day to allow your soul to catch up. May today be a day of Sabbath rest, for God is good…all the time. And all the time…God is good.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 43

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Day 43, April 25, 2020

“God saw all that he had made,
and it was very good”

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” Those opening words in Genesis chapter one unleash a creative flurry that results in a universe populated with stars and planets, galaxies and nebulae, and the solar system we call our home. Those opening words in Genesis also lead to the amazing display of life that surrounds us here on planet earth. For six days God creates. For six days God declares that it is good. For a sixth day during the Coronavirus Crisis we are exploring the word “Good”.

The sixth day of creation is a special day for us human beings. The sixth day is the day we are created. We do well to take note that we are not created until the sixth day. There is a whole vast universe that comes into being before us. We come at the tail end. The creation story sort of puts us in our place, giving us a healthy dose of humility. At the same time, the creation story has something to say about human life that is absolutely amazing. From Genesis one we realize the sanctity of human life. With reverence and respect, let us hear again the story of our creation.

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply…” (Genesis 1:26-28)

Created in the image of God, we enter the scene at the tail end of the creation story, and yet God has chosen to put his very own image upon us, within us. When the sixth day comes to an end, the God whose daily refrain has been, “It is good,” now gives a final opinion. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

Genesis one is a crucial chapter in our manual of faith. Genesis one sets the stage. In a world that will often feel chaotic and spinning out of control, we learn right from the start that God is a God of order. God speaks into the chaos and brings order. Days fall into line, the stars and planets get locked into their orbits, mountains rise and seas roar, and human life is portrayed as being full of dignity and honor. Friends, we are created in the image of God. Amazing! We are given the gift of a wonderful life in a world filled with the wonders of life. And when we struggle to understand the meaning and purpose of life God tells us again and again, “It is very good.” With goodness coursing through creation Genesis one shoots us out into a world where God is constantly at work in ways that are so very good, culminating with the coming of Jesus, our Good Shepherd who lays down his life for us.

This past Monday I told Julie about my idea to write seven devotionals devoted to goodness, mirroring the seven days of goodness displayed in Genesis chapter one. I told Julie my idea as we were out on our early morning run. I told her the first day would be that very day, that Monday. She immediately said, “Oh, that’s great. That means on Saturday you will write about the creation of humans, and how we are created in the image of God.” First of all, it is always nice to hear someone affirm your idea with the words, “Oh, that’s great.” I was also very impressed that at 6 am and in the middle of a run she would have the foresight to see that Saturday would be the sixth day, the day when humans are created. Then she said words that are a double-edged sword for the Rhode Island Eberlys. “Saturday will be Clara’s birthday.”

Ah, yes. Today, Saturday, our granddaughter Clara, our only grandchild, turns one year old. She turns one year old in Houston. Pre-Coronavirus we were all set to fly to Houston and celebrate that historic birthday for a precious little girl who has rapidly become the center of our universe. Ouch. And ouch not just for ourselves. Ouch for all the graduates who won’t walk forward to receive a diploma or dance until late at night at a Grad Party. Ouch for all the others who have had a muted celebration of a birthday. Ouch for all the other happenings that have not happened, the hugs and handshakes that have not been shared. And an OUCH in capital letters for those who have lost loved ones. OUCH with heartbroken emojis and capital letters for those who have lost loved ones. And ouch for us, two adoring grandparents who will watch with tears in our eyes as Clara Jean Eberly fills her fingers with frosting and does her very best to blow out that single and solitary candle on her first birthday cake. Ouch.

And yet…what a good day to come to the sixth day of creation, when human beings, male and female, me and you, Clara and her parents Bridget and Jake, what a good day to come to the sixth day of creation, when human beings are created in the image of God…and blessed by God…and placed into a world that God has created, and God has ordered, and a world that when it spins out of control God has redeemed…and a world that when it is all said and done God will have restored to his final and good intentions…so that when the earth makes its last loop around the sun there will be no more sadness, and no more tears, no more crying, and no more pain. When the sun sets on that day, we will hear once again our kind and loving God say those great and glorious, those wise and wonderful words, “It is very good.”

Today, April 25, 2020, the first birthday of Clara Jean Eberly, we do say ouch. It hurts to miss times of celebration. And today, April 25, 2020, a day when we have returned once again to the sixth day of God’s beautiful creation, we also pause to remember that among all the “ouches” of life, there is so much to be thankful for, and so many for whom we are thankful, and so much to look forward to, and looking back, someone who gave his life for us. Among all the “ouches” of life, there is so much for which we give thanks. May we join together to affirm the words our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer spoke as that sixth day of creation came to a beautiful and satisfying end. “It is very good.”

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 42

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Day 42, April 24, 2020
“It Is Not Good to Be Alone”

Taking our cue from the seven days of creation that are so vividly recounted in Genesis one, we are in the middle of seven days focusing on the word “good”. Today we approach good in a different way. Today we look at the one time in those early pages of the bible when we find something that is not good. When the first man was created and set up to succeed in the Garden of Eden, God noticed something that was not good. “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

Having been in various forms of isolation for some six weeks, I think we all have a much better appreciation for how it is “not good” to be alone. In Ecclesiastes the preacher takes note of a man who is alone. (Ecclesiastes 4:8) The preacher confirms what we have come to know all too well, is not good for that man to be alone.

The preacher continues, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity the person who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-11)

Sometime about 20 years ago Wayne and Julie went on a bike ride. It was a beautiful spring day. No sooner had the tires of our bicycles hit the pavement than Julie punched it into high gear. She blasted off, and for the next thirty miles I was in pursuit. I married a competitive person, and she showed no remorse as I panted in pursuit. I made no progress in my pursuit, but nevertheless I persisted. I persevered. And finally, she wore out. After thirty miles, she ran out of gas.

Seeing her slow down markedly, my macho instinct kicked in and I said, “Now is my chance to pass her up and show her who is the boss.” It was surprisingly easy. I gave an extra hard push of the pedal and in no time, I was not only drawing even I was edging ahead. With a smug look of satisfaction, I turned to her and smiled. The look on her face…you should have seen the look on her face. It was not the look of a vanquished opponent. It was the look of a concerned spouse. I didn’t understand why that look was on her face, until I turned back to the trail in front of us and realized a chain link fence was blocking our path.

Oh, that’s why she suddenly slowed down. Oooohhhh, and that is why I was suddenly in a bad way. Hitting my brakes with everything I had, I pulled too hard on the front brake, causing my front tire to stop just as I hit the chain link fence. My back tire shot up into the air. Thankfully I had my feet in toe clips, which meant my feet remained up in the air, stuck in the clips. At least I did not tumble off the bike and seriously hurt myself. Still, because my feet were up in the air, stuck in the toe clips, I had absolutely no way to get down. I now had a much better understanding of what God said to Adam in the Garden of Eden, “It is not good for man to be alone.” I was stuck.

I was stuck, but I was not alone. Julie, my dear and loving wife, was there. Boy was I ever thankful that Julie was there. She immediately raced over and rescued me. By immediately, I mean ten minutes after she rolled on the ground in laughter at how ridiculous I looked. I didn’t care at that point. At least when she finished laughing, she did not leave me dangling. She came and rescued me.

Friends, it is not good to be alone. Pity the person who falls and has no one to help them up. We are in isolation right now. In many ways we are alone, and we are alone on purpose because being alone has a very important purpose, to stop the spread of a terrible virus. In many ways we are alone, but we are not really alone. I hope you know that. I hope you know when you fall you can call. I hope you know when you are sad you can reach out. I hope you know when you are hurting there is help. I hope you know we are here to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep.

It is not good to be alone. And so, let me remind of what is good. “Behold how good and how pleasant it is when the children of God dwell together in unity.” We are not alone. We are united in the love of Christ. We are united in the Body of Christ. And that is a very good thing.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 41

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Day 41, April 23, 2020
“The Good Samaritan”

   “And it was good…” Those words, words stated over and over again in the Creation drama of Genesis chapter one, are God’s clear affirmation that the world he created and the life he has blessed us with is good. The goodness of God’s creation is made manifest in human life when we put into practice God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves.

In Luke 10 an expert in the law tests Jesus with a question about inheriting eternal life. Their back and forth leads to an agreement that the key is loving God and loving neighbor. It would all would be good except that the expert asks a snarky question of Jesus. “And who is my neighbor?” What follows is a parable from Jesus about an unexpected person who rises to help another person in need. The person who helps the other person in need is a Samaritan, a despised Samaritan. In the parable Jesus never calls the Samaritan good. I wonder why it is then that the parable is universally known as, “The Good Samaritan.”

A young girl suffered the great sadness of losing her mother to death and her father to a debilitating stroke. Her church family heard of the need and responded. One particular family opened their hearts and they opened their home. They sheltered her through the storm, nurtured her as one of their own, encouraged her to pursue her dreams as a nurse, and left an imprint on her heart that was never forgotten. Who is my neighbor? The Brechtbill family saw a little girl named Clara in need, and they loved their neighbor by taking her in. They knew the little girl as their neighbor. I knew her as my mother. The Brechtbill family loved their neighbor, little Clara Meyer, “And it was good…”

Clara Meyer grew up, finished nursing school, rode horseback to deliver babies as a midwife in Kentucky, and then saw an ad in the mission journal of the Brethren in Christ Church that a nurse was needed at a Navajo Indian Reservation in New Mexico. Who is my neighbor? Clara answered the call and moved to New Mexico. In the first year she was with nearly a hundred families as she guided the mothers through the painful and yet sweet experience of bringing a little child into the world. Clara loved her neighbors on that Navajo Reservation, “And it was good…”

Clara Meyer met Carl Eberly on that Navajo Reservation and they married. For many years Clara taught the Licensed Vocational Nursing program in our hometown of Hanford, California. Who is my neighbor? Sometimes it is eager students who know the importance of nursing and want to learn how to be a nurse. Through a career that spanned decades she trained many nurses, mixing in a good dose of motherly concern and counsel. Some of our favorite family photos are of my mother pinning her students on their graduation day. One of our absolute favorites is the day she pinned my sister Anne as she graduated and became a nurse. Knowing the importance of nurses during this Coronavirus Crisis, when my mom loved those neighbors who were her students, there is no question in my mind, “And it was good…”

Who is my neighbor? Abraham and Zeuide fled trouble in the African nation of Eritrea. It was 1990. They resettled as refugees in Hanford, California of all places. Our little Presbyterian Church sponsored Abraham and Zeuide as refugees. In a faded copy of the church newsletter from that time is a single line that is pure gold as far as I am concerned. “Carl and Clara Eberly offered their home until the family could find an apartment.” When a couple fled the troubles in their home in Africa and came to California my parents knew they were called to love their neighbor. “And it was good…”

Yesterday was eight years since I said goodbye to my mom for the last time. I came to visit her after she had a stroke in April of 2012. I was fortunate to spend several days with her. I treasure each one of those moments. When I had to fly back home, I was so grateful that my sisters and brothers and their families were there to care for her. And toward the end Lorna showed up. The name Lorna might not be familiar to you, but many of us from the small church in our small town know exactly who Lorna is. You might not know Lorna, or maybe you do. Lorna is a neighbor, a real good neighbor, a neighbor who has been there for so many. When my mom was dying Lorna came to visit. She drove from Sacramento to Hanford, a distance of some 200 miles. She sat with my mom. She prayed with my mom. She recalled and rehearsed many wonderful memories with my mom. She loved my mom. Neighbors do that. From a lonely little girl who was loved by her neighbors to her dying days, my mom experienced the blessing of receiving neighbor love. And in countless ways and with countless people, including the five of us who had the special blessing of calling Clara “Mom”, she experienced the joy of giving neighbor love. “And it was good…”

Neighbor love is good. It is as simple as that. Jesus never said the Samaritan was good. But every single one of us who has ever been on the receiving end of neighbor love, we know that kind of love is good. In fact, “It is very good.”

With the love of Christ,
Wayne

STAYING CONNECTED IN A TIME OF ISOLATION, Day 40

Practicing our faith through the times of the Coronavirus

Day 40, April 22, 2020
“A Good Letter”

  We are carving out a week of this Cornoavirus Crisis to focus on the word “good”, a word that captures the beauty and wonder of God’s creation displayed so marvelously in the seven days of Genesis chapter one. Today we turn our attention to a “good” letter.

I used to have a mailbox in my office. It was in our church in Houston. Our youngest son, Alex, had stapled some papers together to make a mailbox that he taped up to the bookcase in my office. His handmade mailbox had my name on it. This was a long time ago, when Alex was a little guy and he was attending preschool at our church. Sometimes he would write me a note during his class. You can imagine the joy it brought to find a small letter, scratched out in the hand of a four-year old, stuffed into my personal mailbox.

In “The Genesee Diary”, Henri Nouwen chronicles his effort to withdraw from his normal life by taking an extended retreat. He writes, “My original idea was: No telephone, no letters, neither outgoing nor incoming, no visitors, no contact with guests—a real retreat, alone with God.” As he writes of his experience, he said most of his plans were coming through except the letter writing. He found himself both writing and receiving letters. It turns out he was glad for the letters he received. Reflecting on the importance of letters he writes, “A good letter can change the day…”

One of my closest friends in high school was Rudy. We played basketball together and spent countless hours on the court, in the locker room, on the bus, and even in the classroom. When I moved away from my hometown at the age of 19, I lost touch with Rudy. Many times, I would think of him and how much he meant to me, but I never acted on those feelings to reach out. Then in the fall of 2016, living on the other side of the nation from my hometown in California, I found out Rudy was attending church with another friend of mine. He told this other friend to, “Say hi to Wayne.” This other friend gave me Rudy’s address. I wrote Rudy a note.

And then it happened. On a crisp and cool fall day I was bringing in the mail. A simple white envelope had my name on it, written in pencil. The return address said, “Rudy”. Before I even opened the letter, I smiled. I did more than smile. I had tears in my eyes. I had tears in my eyes and joy in my heart. For the few minutes I read Rudy’s letter the years collapsed and there we were, two people sharing the gift of friendship. Henri Nouwen writes, “A good letter can change the day…” I know exactly what he means. My guess is that so do you.

When Nouwen writes about a good letter changing the day, he is advocating for letter writing as a form of ministry…. An important form of ministry. “A good letter can change the day for someone in pain, can chase away feelings of resentment, can create a smile and bring joy to the heart.” Knowing these things to be true, Nouwen continues, “After all, a good part of the New Testament consists of letters, and some of the most profound insights are written down in letters between people who are attracted to each other by a deep personal affection. Letter writing is a very important art, especially for those who want to bring the good news.” 

I like that. If you are looking for a form of ministry that can change the day for someone and is an important art for those who want to bring the good news, the answer might literally be right at your fingertips. Write a letter. It might be the very thing someone else needs. It might be the thing that changes their day. It might be just what we need to make it through this Coronavirus Crisis.

With the love of Christ,
Wayne