15th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)
September 13, 2020
Happy Ministry Sunday friends! Ministry Sunday, traditionally the Sunday after Labor Day, is a day of celebration here at Grace. It’s the official start of our new program year. It’s a time to re-engage and to reconnect with Grace Church so that ultimately, we can delve more deeply into our relationship with God.
In years past, this Sunday would find the church building with packed pews. Ministries that took a summer hiatus, like choir and Sunday School, would kick-off again. After our 10:30 worship service, we would all head down to the Undercroft and share a meal. We’d mingle at tables with representatives from Grace Church ministries and learn about how we might be able to get more involved at Grace. Our kids would get their faces painted, play in the moon bounce, and show off their newly acquired balloon animals. By early afternoon, as we would head to the parking lot and towards home, we left with our hearts uplifted, with the feeling of being a part of a thriving community, where God’s Spirit was truly alive in the dynamic people and ministries of the parish.
This Ministry Sunday feels vastly different. Due to the pandemic, the thought of gathering in-person with 300 people is a thing of the past, at least for now. Instead, we gather remotely, spread out across Silver Spring, across Maryland, and in some cases, even across the country. For some of us, the longing to be together in-person this Sunday may be heightened. In fact, today has the potential to feel a bit sad, even painful, for some folks. We long to share our lives as we once did – to celebrate together, to mourn together, to be together. At a time like this, when all the world is changed, when fear and disease are rampant, when social distancing and masks are the new normal, at times like this, we long for the old normal.
In an interview on the Today Show in July, our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry referenced this longing when he said, “Our old normal has been upended, and we hunger for its return…,” he continued, “There is a big part of me that wants to go back to January 2020 when I had never heard of COVID-19, and when I only thought of “Contagion” as a movie. Looking back through what I know are glasses darkened by loss, I find myself remembering January 2020 as a ‘golden age.’ But of course, January 2020 wasn’t perfect, not even close. And anyway, I can’t go back. None of us can go back. We must move forward. But we don’t know for sure what the new normal will be. Fortunately, God’s rubric of love shows us the way.” As Bishop Curry notes, it can be tempting to give into nostalgia, to long for what was at the risk of missing what is and what could be. But Bishop Curry also reminds us, that we can’t go back. We must move forward. And God’s love shows us the way.
For proof of this, we need look no further than our first reading from Exodus. This passage, commonly known as the “Parting of the Red Sea,” reminds us that God makes a way when it seems like there is no way. In this story, the Israelites are pursued by the roughest, toughest army in the world, the Egyptian army. The Israelites are fleeing their lives of slavery in Egypt. If they are caught, they will be returned to Pharaoh for punishment, which may mean a return to slavery, but more likely it will mean their death. They have been on the run for days when they reach the Red Sea. Caught between the water and their enemy, they must have felt like they were caught between a rock and a hard place. They must had felt a sense of helplessness. Perhaps they even longed for the days of their enslavement. At least then they didn’t face certain death by drowning or being pummeled by an army. But they couldn’t go back. None of us can. They had to move forward. And move forward they did. God made a way where there was no way. The waters parted and the Israelites walked, as if on dry land.
In the Book of Isaiah, God reminds the bewildered prophet Isaiah of this feat, “I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters… Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. See, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isa. 43:15-19). Our God is a god of new things: of new ways of being, of new life.
While we can treasure the old things, God is always doing a new thing and calling us to participate. God makes a way where there was no way and calls us forward. God did this for the Israelites when they escaped Egypt. God did this again for the Israelites in Isaiah’s day when they escaped exile in Babylon. God does this time and time again in the lives of our ancestors of faith in scripture. And I believe that God is at work doing a new thing right now in our time. “…now that it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” God asks the prophet. Perhaps that is the same question that God is asking us today.
We can’t go back to pre-pandemic days or pre-pandemic church. We can only go forward. And our way forward is paved by the God of Moses, the God of Isaiah, the God of Jesus, the God of love. This God invites us to join God in doing a new thing, even when we may not have a clear picture of what that new thing looks like, when we can’t perceive. God asked Moses to stretch his hand out over the sea. The sea parted and the people were saved. God asked Isaiah to trust God to deliver the people from exile. Isaiah did and the people were saved. God is asking us to engage in creative adaptive ways to minister to others. It may not be what we’re used to. It may look different. It may feel different. But friends, we have the best of guides leading us in this new thing. God will never let us down.
Here at Grace, as we begin this new program year, we lean on the Lord, trusting in this new thing that God is doing and living into God’s invitation to join the adventure. We are finding ways to move forward, to be together even though apart, to grow in our faith in Jesus and our service to God’s people. There are a slew of ways to engage in the life of faith at Grace Church this fall. We are offering opportunities for Christian Formation for all ages, including online Children’s Chapel, Youth Group, Adult Forums, and Scripture Classes. Our Music Ministry is offering virtual classes, concerts and meditations. And we will have fellowship opportunities including virtual coffee hour and in-person outdoor movie nights. In this time when God is doing a new thing, I hope your faith and this community may be a place of grounding as we navigate this new normal together.
Being a part of something new isn’t always easy. There are growing pains. But in the end, we find that God was with us through it all; guiding us forward, coaxing us ahead, helping us to let go, giving us a sense of joy and wonder where fear and sadness once persisted. Let’s tread this new water together, as a community. Let’s try new things and lean into our creativity. Let’s follow the One who calls us into new life, for he is faithful, tested and true. Amen.