Grace in the Pandemic

The past weeks have been difficult and stressful for many of us, or perhaps all of us. It’s no exaggeration to say there have been sleepless nights, worries in the day, challenges in family life, and a kind of fogginess about where life is going. This is on top of the very real suffering that some of us have experienced or witnessed in relation to COVID-19.

In the midst of all of this, we can perhaps also acknowledge that there have been moments of grace and joy—when we have discovered something of God’s goodness, creativity, and grace. We have discovered this in one another and in the world around us. Not unlike in other seasons of our lives, moments of struggle and of grace are often set in tension alongside each other. (Continues below pictures…)

One of the ways in which I have experienced the grace and providential love of God in these days, has been through birds in our back yard. The pandemic season has happened to overlap, in the past few weeks, with the spring migration of all types of birds. In cool mornings on our back porch I have found a gracious reprieve from the anxiety and stress of the day. With their beautiful, feathered fluttering these birds have descended with God’s grace into my daily life and that of my family (though three teenagers are not always as excited about birds as their dad is!). Continue reading

ain’t gonna study war…

The prophet Isaiah offers us a remarkable poem to set us moving in the right direction this advent. It’s actually a poem that doesn’t belong only to the prophet Isaiah – the prophet Micah offers almost the exact same poetic words at one point in his writings. Which means that this shared poem is one that clearly captured the imagination of God’s people in ancient times. This shared poem, this shared song, gave expression to something decisive about their hope in God. And so this poem has survived the ravages of time and has survived the challenges of transcription from one scribe to the next – it has been handed down through generations so that we also may hear this beautiful description of what happens when God draws near in judgment and grace.

The Lord shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

This song has resonated down through the centuries. It is a song that has been sung in many different contexts – giving expression to the hope of God’s people. One of the more beautiful and difficult and remarkable expressions of this song is one that comes to us from pre-civil-war America. This version of the song has been known as “Gonna lay down my burden” and as “Down by the riverside” and as “Ain’t gonna study war no more.” Here is the earliest known recording of this song, by the Fisk University Jubilee Quartet, recorded in 1920:

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Christ the King Sunday – Joy, Gentleness, Peace (a sermon)

This is a day of lasts. Not a day of firsts, but of lasts. Today is our last Sunday looking at Paul’s letter to the Philippians. And today is also the last Sunday of the church year. Each year we close out the liturgical calendar, we end the church year with the celebration of the Reign of Christ. Next week a new church year will begin with Advent as we anticipate the birth of Christ and the coming of Christ. But today we close out this past year with a reminder and a celebration of the reign of Christ – the kingship of Christ in our lives, in our church, and in our world.

And what better way to celebrate the reign of Christ – what better way to celebrate the rule of Christ in our lives – than with these three beautiful words: Joy, Gentleness, and Peace. These words aren’t arbitrarily chosen of course. They come from the final passage we are looking at in Philippians. So in a way, Paul is closing out this year for us – he does so with these beautiful words.

First, joy. Paul writes to the Philippian Christians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again. Rejoice.” Continue reading