Sometime I will have to gather my thoughts about this breathtaking revolution that has been forced on us in the larger context. Mine is one local congregation of people with whom I’ve been for twenty-seven years come July. Things always change, but this one has been especially momentous. Others have had enough to say, but I’ve observed a few little beams of light in the dark. Consider these:
- Churches forced to innovate everything we do. How appropriate that Holy Week would be the big test. And the people are still there. Turns out that little rhyme we did with our hands as a kid had something to it. “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple,” (fingers interlocked and hands folded, index fingers joined in a spire. “Open the door,” and you’d unfold your hands and wiggle your fingers, “and there’s the people.”
- I see a lot of cooperation, humility and mercy down here on the ground level.
- Leaders rise up in the worst of times. Anybody can lead in good times. Only in the crises can you tell the difference.
- Imagine that Christianity in a short while has had to watch the burning down of the Cathedral of Notre Dame and Vatican Square empty except for a blind man singing “Amazing Grace” on Easter Sunday after the Pope stood there alone. But people sang “Amazing Grace” all over the world Sunday.
- People sewing, volunteering, sacrificing and praying harder than usual. Constant cheering and appreciation for our medical workers. I often pray when I go to a hospital (I miss that right now), “Lord, we know that you’ve given us wisdom and medical knowledge so that these doctors, nurses and workers do every day and routinely what Jesus did miraculously.” Healthcare is a daily miracle. We just appreciate it more right now.
- Being away from people we love makes us yearn for their presence and anticipate the first time we can see one another. You can feel it all the way into prayer.
- The earth has been given a sabbath of human activity. Sea turtles in India are flourishing during our quarantine, and people can see the Himalayas from a hundred miles away for the first time in years. We ought to remember what we’ve learned.
Morning coffee comes to our cells,
We are not in jail, we are monks of the pandemic
“Go to your cell. It will teach you everything.”
This time can teach us, too.
We can go to Good Friday here.
By three o’clock, the world shaken,
The darkness a shadow across our souls,
the failures and oblivion of us all fully revealed and judged.
By three o’clock, the thieves will have died, too.
The crowd dispersed, the disciples disheartened,
His mother and the Beloved Disciple,
Having to keep their distance, wait to receive His body.
All will descend into silence.
Even Easter will begin with a graveyard disruption
A woman alone
And disciples hiding behind locked doors.
We can do this.
Sermon preached on Sunday, March 29, 2020 at Vestavia Hills Baptist Church. You can view the recorded version here.
NRS Luke 9: 44 “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.” 45 But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying. 46 An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, 48 and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.”
This is the final message in my series on “Better Reasons to Believe” and it is this: “because we are invited to serve.” That sounds strange, I admit. “The chance to sacrifice what I want so someone else can have it” doesn’t top most people’s lists of what matters the most.
The poor lieutenant governor of Texas this past week, in a moment of bravery, said, “We grandparents need to risk sacrificing our lives for the economic futures of our grandchildren, even if we die.” The firestorm was predictable. Whatever his intentions, a lot of people said, “After you, sir.”
But how do we sacrifice in this moment of global pandemic? And will that be enough? It’s a real question. But not a new one.
This Bible story happened in the aftermath of the confession at Caesarea Philippi, when
Peter acknowledged that Jesus is the Messiah, and then followed the Transfiguration, when three of the disciples went with Jesus to the top of the mountain and saw a vision of Jesus radiant with the glory of God and a mysterious voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved son”
After this astounding spiritual experience, though, they went back down the mountain and the next day everything started to go wrong. First, the disciples, giddy with their calling to go forth try to help, try to help a poor child who suffered from convulsions and the father came to Jesus, saying in essence, “Your disciples tried, but they couldn’t help.” Continue reading “The Invitation to Serve”
My daughter is an executive coach and a counselor and sent me an article this week in the Harvard Business Review titled, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief,” by Scott Berinato. It is well worth reading because it connects to something around the edges of this pandemic that we bypass in the adrenaline rush to survive and find answers. Meanwhile, fear and panic, the threats of economic ruin and the very real terror of possibly passing a disease on unwittingly to others has weighed on us all.
Business owners who were riding a wave of prosperity a short time ago now sit at a social distance, wondering how long they can hold on to see things going again. Doctors and nurses and hospital workers live under the constant strain of a new “abnormal.” The public at large is being asked not to touch, to hug, to embrace their newborns and grandchildren and one another. Rationally, we know we’ll get through this particular iteration, but something deep and irreversible has come one us. I think of my own grandchildren, wrenched away from classmates and the love of a teacher and suddenly, inexplicably, sent of spring break without end.
Berinato interviewed David Kessler, a colleague of the late Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who created the Stages of Grief framework for understanding what people go through as they’re dying. She and others extrapolated the five stages—denial, anger, depression Continue reading “The Grief Among Us”
Prayer and blessing given at the Chamber of Commerce monthly meeting, Vestavia Hills, Alabama, March 10, 2020, by Dr. Gary Furr, pastor, Vestavia Hills Baptist Church.
God of grace and mystery, healing and love
In this moment, we pray
For health workers and the CDC, and all in positions of care
Protect their lives, use their skills, lift them up in their weariness
For lab workers and immunologists, scientists and community leaders
for nurses and physicians, and those already exposed to illness.
Above all, protect us from hopelessness and the fear of one another Continue reading “A Prayer Amid the Epidemic”
Those of us who are pastors consider ourselves called into ministry, but sometimes you realize what a wonderful privilege it is to do it. You meet remarkable people, and I count Iva Jewel Tucker among them. Yesterday we had her funeral. I was her pastor for many years, and she was the light of Christ among us. Not in an ethereal, hyper spiritualized piety, but in an honest, human, incarnation of the gospel. Funny, always sharp in her observations and humor. And yet when she filled in with our office once as a temp while we were hiring, she came to work with a serious face on every day. I saw an entirely other side to her—no nonsense. That’s how she was with anything to do with words or faith.
Yet as a part of this church, she attracted everyone to her—children loved her, and she adored them. If you were privileged to be one of her 23,000 closest Facebook friends, she loved your pictures and talked about what was going on in your life. She was interested in everything.
Her obituary listed a life that tires the reader to think about. By the time she died at age 93, she listed the following activities (I’ve summarized):
She graduated from Howard College (now Samford University) where she studied journalism and spent much of her life as a writer, editor, and artist working for the Baptist Sunday School Board and on the staff of the national Woman’s Missionary Union, where she was editor of Girls’ Auxiliary (Girls in Action) magazines and materials. She was an editorial assistant and later Director of the Editorial Department for The Alabama Baptist, the state Baptist newspaper. Continue reading “Remembering Iva Jewel Tucker”