Exactly a year ago, I wrote expressing to you all concern over the increasing uncertainty of what the days ahead would bring. At that time, reports from parts of Asia and Europe led to an increase in anxiety and fear creating an ominous cloud overshadowing everyone everywhere. It was in that third week of Lent 2020 that the reality of life being radically altered really sank in. Over the past 12 months, life has changed to a new normal that we first thought would last only a few weeks or months but is still with us in varying degrees. We adapted to isolation, social distancing, wearing masks, testing, quarantine, working from home, virtual meetings, and livestream worship, making the best of a terribly difficult situation as we found ways to cope. It has been difficult with many lives lost to COVID-19 over these months leaving millions of families and friends grieving. We wonder how long this will last, and though the human spirit is resilient, we wonder if we can we endure much more and how the struggles and stress will be seen in lives post-pandemic. All the unresolved grief, frustration, bewilderment, lost dreams and eroded hope will affect us all whether in our personal lives or in systemic social ills that affect communities. On this milestone, it is important to acknowledge and give thanks for those in healthcare who work so hard and risk so much in caring for those with COVID, the scientists who worked feverously to come up with a vaccine and continue to do so, the essential workers providing the necessary goods and services for our safety and daily necessities, and the untold number of nameless individuals who care for friends and neighbors who are most vulnerable. The list could go on regarding those that touch us when we see the genuine love in caring for others. I believe that the prayers offered for others and for ourselves have seen us through thus far, and provide all the more reason to pray daily, especially in this period of preparation of Lent. I want to invite you to a virtual event of prayer that will take place March 15 at 7:00 p.m. It is a memorial service organized by the Southside Faith Communities in which I will participate along with a number of other local clergy.
The period in the church year following Epiphany and leading up to Lent is called “Ordinary Time,” meaning the Sundays not associated with Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Advent, Christmas or Epiphany. The use of the term “ordinary” likely comes from “ordinal,” meaning counted, and should not be confused with being common. Although, during a ten-month period of a pandemic during which you are limited in activities, or even confined at home, the days may seem quite common. One thing is for sure, this year, though, the days following Epiphany and even Epiphany itself, January 6, have been anything but common, typical, or ordinary. The appalling events in Washington D C. last week left us bewildered, dismayed and incensed at words spoken and actions taken. These days are not common or ordinary and concern us all. Everyday, but especially over the next two weeks, we should pray for our nation, the elected officials, security officers, and every citizen, praying that God will grant wisdom and understanding to those in positions of power, that a peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another will take place and that a spirit of peace and cooperation may come to those in positions of leadership. Hopefully, this will calm fears and restore and increase confidence in those elected so that all in our nation can live with hope.
Sunday morning, I heard a knock on the office door and was surprised to find someone making a delivery to the church rather than asking for assistance. The unexpected visitor was Terry Gloor, a local attorney, who managed the estate of Mrs. Marie Goodman. Terry had stopped in to deliver the final distribution in settling Mrs.Goodman’s estate. Marie left a significant legacy to Southside Baptist Church which provided the funds to put a new roof on all the flat-roofed portion of the building with some funds left over to create a designated fund in her memory. This is the major portion of the building as it houses the non-profits and three other congregations. Were it not for this bequest, the deferred maintenance so desperately needed would exhaust other funds used to carry on with regular programming and ministry. It does not come as a surprise that Marie was so generous in her bequest since she was the same with her financial resources while living. Marie was one of many strong and dedicated female members of Southside Baptist who gave expression to their faith by using their time, talents and resources in remarkable ways. These women gave so much of themselves to Christian education, missions and worship in their lifetimes. It seems appropriate that the last disbursement of Marie’s estate came at a time of the year when we consider our personal stewardship.
The gospel series of readings on recent Sundays point us to consider how we receive and use all of that with which we are blessed everyday. This Sunday, our text is from Matthew 25 where we are confronted with not only what we do with our resources but also the motive behind their uses as well. It is a call reminding all of us to truly care for and love others, ministering to them to alleviate pain, suffering, despair and lost hope in the name of Jesus. When we do, it is as though we are ministering directly to the one who loves us and gave himself that we may be forgiven and experience the peace that only Jesus can provide.
Four years ago, following the 2016 election, I wrote a piece for the Weekly Updates as I contemplated what effect the election results would have on the next fours years, especially in consideration of the division among citizens of our nation becoming increasingly evident; a divide causing deep rifts between friends, family members, and even fellow Christians. Today, I reviewed the paragraph from four years ago and remembered comments that were made about the election results then. Not surprisingly, many comments post-election 2020 are very similar to those voiced four years ago, differing primarily in that the individuals making comments were on a different side of the election outcome. Some people are thrilled, some are dismayed and some angry, as was the case in 2016. All Christians have a responsibility to be a source of healing for the division and broken relationships that differing political views have fueled. There is one big difference in 2020: the presence of a health crisis that enshrouds the world heightening concern, anxiety and fear. Few people, if any, envisioned the world dealing with a pandemic like COVID-19, although we knew one was possible. Our daily lives have been altered dramatically. The manner in which we work, manage our households, worship, and interact with family and friends are so different now than even a year ago. We need each other more now than ever, and we need to focus on the aspects of our lives that bind us together.
Jesus called his Disciples to follow him, and in like manner we are also called to follow him. An election does not change who we are as individual believers. It does, however, give cause for us to examine our lives and consider how we respond to those who hold different views and have different feelings about the election outcome. His teachings in the beatitudes speak to how we view and relate to God, ourselves and others. Later in scripture, Jesus gives his disciples the new commandment, “to love one another even as he has loved us,” which embodies a great reversal in human inclinations. We are recipients of God’s grace, his “unmerited favor;” and therefore, how we relate to all people, and especially other believers, can only be fully understood in light of his grace. We must not only speak the words of Jesus’ new commandment, but live them daily. In so doing, we will move closer to understanding and practicing the words of the prophet Micah:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8
Thinking about the faithful followers that have gone before us always reminds me of the great responsibility entrusted to us. A responsibility brought to the forefront on All Saints Day, Nov. 1, which is this Sunday. Certainly, there are several of those departed Christians whose memories I hold dear because of their relationship to me and their influence on my life. I am sure some of those individuals were aware of the importance they had on my faith development, and perhaps they are able to know even today that their influence continues as I reflect on things taught and modeled through their lives. Many others, however, likely never knew that a child, teenager, or young adult was watching, admiring, learning and developing a faith that grew by their example. Not one of us lives a perfect and faithful life, but when we strive to follow the Christ who called us and redeemed us, we live out a faith that God’s love, mercy and grace have touched us and changed us. It causes us to see the world through the eyes of the one who came and dwelt among us, Jesus the Christ, and by His Spirit, is still with us everyday at every moment. This promise, when embraced as reality, provides the courage to face the uncertainties of life knowing that we are secure. I am thankful for those saints who went before us, living out their faith and inspiring us as they did. I pray that we may also be found faithful in all that we do and that those coming after us will hear and accept the Gospel through the words we say and actions we take in the name of Christ our Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Being a visible presence in our community and city is at the heart of our mission of “Building an inclusive community of grace first in this community and then beyond.” This presence is one that shines as a beacon of hope for all people because it is the presence of Christ that radiates outward to the community as you express loving kindness in words and through actions. Individuals all around us are weary and are struggling to find meaning and purpose in life, especially during this pandemic. The opportunity and duty before us is to live out our calling by being the presence of Christ. It is not an impossible task. It is simply living our lives and making ourselves available to the Spirit of Christ, sensing and responding to the nudges and directions we receive to lovingly speak and act toward others with kindness. Through our prayers, words of encouragement, and actions that demonstrate the love of Christ, God touches, redeems and restores lives. What a wonderful opportunity it is to bear the hope of Christ to others.
This week, the Wednesday evening prayer and Bible Study and our worship on Sunday will address this topic through Jesus’ response to the question, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” This question is in Matthew 22:34-46, one of our texts for this week. I look forward to our times together in the Zoom meeting and through the livestream broadcast. In the meantime, pray for and encourage one another so that we may be a strong presence for Christ in our Community and beyond.
Efforts to carry on with missions and ministries are still ongoing at Southside during the pandemic. The direct services to individuals and families through the Southside Food Bank have taken on a greater cooperative effort through the joint efforts of Southside Baptist Church, Iron City Church, Bridge Ministries and Family Promise. This cooperative effort has provided greater relief to those needing assistance through access to funding grants that in some cases require matching funds. We are privileged and blessed to have great working relationships with all these organizations and to be a place providing hope for individuals who are distressed. If you would like to help in these efforts, please read the special information below, or you can make a donation designated for the Food Bank. A portion of the gifts received through the regular contributions to SSBC are included in our budget to help fund this and other direct service ministries; however, additional designated gifts are very helpful.
We Need Your BOXES!
Do you order from Amazon, Walmart, Wayfair, or any of the meal services? The Food Bank is in need of boxes. I know you have all seen the local news and the pictures of the different sponsored food give-a-ways. We could definitely use these kinds of boxes as they makes distribution so much easier than all being in sacks. The Community Food Bank will sell those boxes to us at $1 a box, but we think we could use that $100 each Thursday on food and not boxes.
We have tried different ways to box/sack the distribution items and with refrigerated/frozen items, the boxes are the best bet. All canned goods come in shrink wrap now. Also, do you have a favorite “spirits” store? Ask them what they do with their boxes and what day of the week they restock. Drop by and pick up the boxes and a new bottle of “spirits” to try. Your help will be greatly appreciated. We can come by and get them from you, or you can drop them off at the church.
Hooray! The livestream connection worked Sunday, and we were able to worship together virtually and celebrate Holy Communion on World Communion Sunday. Thank you to all who helped troubleshoot the problem and make the necessary repairs and adjustments. I agree with the comments I heard yesterday that the wonderful autumn weather of the last several days has lifted everyone’s spirits despite the pandemic weariness and fatigue. I know that my faith and hope is increased when I step outdoors into the cool air and see the beauty of all creation under a clear blue sky and pause for a moment to allow the wonder of it all to sink in. To experience such joy moves me to give thanks for all of creation and so much more.
The October Sunday School lessons direct our thoughts to God’s Good Gifts, reminding us that all things are God’s. We are blessed by God when we see God in creation, realize that all good gifts come from Him, and that all we are and have, our time, talents and resources, come from God. In the midst of a pandemic, we can grow and deepen our understanding of stewardship by prayerfully considering how we can best use all that we have and all that we are to honor and serve the one who loved us and gave himself for us. I encourage you to join the Sunday School Zoom meeting as we discuss these lessons. The link for the Sunday School Class is sent out on Fridays and is available on the website.
We also have a time of prayer and Bible Study on Wednesday evenings at 6:00 p.m., usually reading and discussing a text that relates to the coming Sunday’s worship theme. Both the Sunday School Class and the Wednesday gathering are ways to stay in touch with each other and to grow in our faith.
This week, barring any technical problems as experienced last Sunday, we will worship together via the livestream broadcast. Technology, for which we are grateful, and which provides us the opportunity to gather virtually, does present some anxious moments when a component fails as it did last week. But, it can also provide a time to consider all things and become more positive and optimistic. As I reflect on last Sunday and the livestreaming glitch, I also remember the twenty-seven consecutive Sundays since the middle of March on which we were all able to worship together virtually, and how they were a part of keeping us connected. Focusing on the good and successful times can in fact help us appreciate them even more when something beyond our control stops us in our tracks.
We all have many new and different experiences, some good and some not so good, upon which to reflect as we persistently make our way through the pandemic dealing with a variety of challenges along the way. There are those facing tremendously large challenges and others whose difficulties pale in comparison. As I reflect on it this week, I think of the many life-changing, even life-threatening, issues many of you are facing. Family and friends who are grieving over the loss of loved ones during the pandemic, or perhaps those who have loved ones who are losing their independence due to physical or mental health issues come to mind. Still others are dealing with chronic illnesses and pain; invasive surgery to replace joints, to repair an organ, or remove a malignancy. All of these are a part of living, a part of being human, whether we are the individual affected or just close to the person.
This is a time for us to appreciate the relationships we have with each other. A time for those of us able to walk alongside and encourage those who are facing great challenges in life, to pray for them, to give them support and to help us all maintain hope. It is a time for us to realize that God has blessed us with one another to live and experience life in community with one another and with God.
Please take a few moments today and think of your church family, giving thanks for them and praying that they will be encouraged by the prayers offered.
Wednesday evening, we will meet virtually for our weekly time of prayer and study. I hope you will join your church family for all, or part, of this time together. We begin at 6:00 p.m. and look forward to seeing all able to attend.
The first day of autumn is here, and I am grateful. It is a favorite time of the year for many and for good reasons like milder temperatures and the change in the landscape as colors emerge with brilliant clarity. Each year I look forward to seeing what wonders will be observed in God’s magnificent creation, and each year I realize that my mind cannot adequately hold and recall the true splendor of all I see and have seen. I think that the seasonal change this fall, maybe more than any other, will do wonders in restoring the vitality to life that so many need. The pandemic has drained our energy and optimism and lulled us into mental and emotional malaise. We need the cooler weather to awaken and refresh us, quickening our pulse while reminding us that we are alive and able to experience this wonderful creation. Just the thought gives me renewed hope and beckons me to consider the great privileges and blessings I enjoy. I hope you will join me and focus on the opportunities we have to appreciate the precious blessings we experience and enjoy, all coming from the love, mercy and grace of God.