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Signs and Wonders…What Is God Doing?

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You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ sermon, Signs and Wonders… What is God Doing? HERE.

For you church policy nerds, I have a question for you: As contemporary readers of the letter to the Galatians, can you imagine what it would be like to receive a letter similar to the one Paul sent out, at our church—Memorial? Maybe from our Southwest Association Minister, Rev. Lorraine Ceniceros? Or, our Conference Minister Franz Rigert? Or the UCC’s General Minister and President, Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer?

In this short snippet of text from Galatians, we heard Paul use words such as violence, persecute, destroy, oppose, fear, self-condemned, and death. If we were to read on to chapter 3, we would hear him admonish, “You foolish Galatians!” (v. 1). Yikes! Name-calling is not typically a good way to you endear yourself to the audience! But, it can emphasize a point.

Now… with all of our technology, texts, and social media, we do still receive letters from our Association and Conference ministers. Most often these arrive via email, and sometimes the postal service. Letters are sent to congregations in response to natural disasters, or to address a current issue of justice. While our context is quite different than the audience to whom Paul was writing, the essence of his letters echoes changes, losses, and grief we too have encountered. Some letters from our denominational ministers, while addressing serious topics, are structured pastorally. Others, not unlike Paul’s letters to the Galatians, express a distinct air of anger regarding gun violence, anti-immigration and asylum policies, or racial inequities.

Admittedly, this text from Paul is challenging. But let’s take a moment to crack it open, push aside our initial “what the…?” and hear what God is doing behind the rhetoric.

Take a deep breath.

Get comfortable.

And let’s have a conversation with Paul.

For embedded in the circular sentences and thorny church conflicts, Paul pens beautiful words of belonging: He describes God’s grace. Revealed and proclaimed. Paul writes, “THIS is what we know.”

This is what we know. Have faith. Believe. Live.

This is the grit of Paul’s message. God seeking right relationship with each and every one of us. Life is the goal. Live to God, says Paul.

In part, I believe the challenge we bump into with Paul’s letter is we each encounter God in our own, unique way. Peter’s way… James’ way… unsettled Paul, which is abundantly clear in his letter to the Galatians.

Paul wanted everyone to be “all in” with the new thing God was doing—just as he was.

Rereading these verses, I began to imagine how different my own narrative is. What if I were to write a personal “letter to the Galatians,” or even a letter to you, the gathered Fitchburg-ites and beyond? My story is A LOT DIFFERENT than Paul’s. For my journey has gone like this:

This is my letter…

“To all the members and friends of Memorial United Church of Christ,

Grace to you and peace from God.

You have heard, do doubt, of my earlier life as one who was “spiritual but not religious.” I might have actually even been a “none,” N-O-N-E, because I was someone not affiliated with organized religion. This is not at all unusual for me and many of my peers… others my age… those of us on the cusp between the Baby Boomer and Gen X generations.

You might remember I had a previous vocation, and I have shared with you there was a specific moment God broke into my life (and if you have not heard the story, I would be happy to tell it again—just let me know! We’ll have coffee!). You also know it took me a long, long time to understand what was happening. Unlike Paul, at first I had no idea what God was doing in my life. I didn’t understand what God was revealing to me… and IN me. It took me years to figure it all out.

And then, there it was. I began to understand that no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey—GOD SHOWS UP!

That’s right. God shows up. To you—and even to me.

Thus, we are the individuals for whom Paul writes, ‘we know that a person is justified’… is brought into right relation with God… ‘not by works of the law, but through faith.’ For we are all called to live to God. To be in right relation with God. To live in Love.”

Even someone like me.

And you.

Thus, over and over again, God shows up.

Can our hearts be pliable enough to see, hear, and feel what God is doing? Even if it takes us awhile to grasp it?

What if… what if we—all of us—adults, children—were to each take time over the next month to write our own letter to the church? THIS CHURCH. Memorial UCC. What if we each jotted down what we think coming back to church might look like? What our expectations are? Our fears? Our hopes?

If nothing else, we have LOTS of good models for letter writing! This week, Franz Rigert sent a letter of support to UCC congregations in Wisconsin as we talk about the next steps in reopening our buildings. Franz noted, “…Unlike the unknowns of last May, the rise in vaccinations gives us reason to be optimistic about returning to church. Many of our congregations are launching “soft” re-openings, with limited numbers and safety protocols. Other churches plan to take advantage of the warmer weather with outdoor worship venues, in anticipation of returning to church in fuller numbers this fall. Most of our congregations are contemplating hybrid worship models that will enable both in-person and virtual participation.”[1]

In her article, There’s No Going Back to the Pre-Pandemic Church, Kay Kotan suggests, “During a pandemic period when everything seems to turn upside down, there is an opportunity to stop some things that had not been working anyway, eliminate some things that were seemingly impossible in ‘normal’ times, and start new things that might have been hard to imagine in the past…

…While we all mourn the days of the past for what felt normal and comfortable, churches that embrace this as a time of disruption will likely be the most vital churches in the post-pandemic world. God wants the church to be healthy, vital, growing, and fruitful. We must understand that church health and vitality might look very different in the future.”[2]

God is showing up once again. Can our hearts be pliable enough to see, hear, and feel what God is doing?

Can we have that faith?

The faith we are all called to live to God. To be in right relation with God. To live in Love.

So… write your letter. Or poem. Song. Paint a picture. Write a prayer. Then, if you are willing to share it, email it to me. Or, mail it.

However you are moved to respond, embrace the good news that no matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey—GOD SHOWS UP!

And THAT is something to write about. Sing about. Celebrate!

May it be so.

~ Pastor Kris

Reflection on Galatians 1:13-17; 2:11-21 offered May 9, 2021

[1] Franz Rigert, “Encouragement and Invitations,” Wisconsin Conference United Church of Christ, accessed May 8, 2021, https://myemail.constantcontact.com/Encouragement-and-Invitations.html?soid=1102675987700&aid=S4tkNTbQplc

[2] Kay Kotan, “There’s No Going Back to the Pre-Pandemic Church,” Lewis Center for Church Leadership, April 1, 2021, https://www.churchleadership.com/leading-ideas/theres-no-going-back-to-the-pre-pandemic-church/.