“We have it in us to be Christs to each other and maybe in some unimaginable way to God too—that’s what we have to tell finally. We have it in us to work miracles of love and healing as well as to have them worked upon us. We have it in us to bless with him and forgive with him and heal with him and once in a while maybe even to grieve with some measure of his grief at another’s pain and to rejoice with some measure of his rejoicing at another’s joy almost as if it were our own. And who knows but that in the end, by God’s mercy, the two stories will converge for good and all, and though we would never have had the courage or the faith or the wit to die for him any more than we have ever managed to live for him very well either, his story will come true in us at last. And in the meantime, this side of Paradise, it is our business (not like so many peddlers of God’s word but as men and women of sincerity) to speak with our hearts (which is what sincerity means) and to bear witness to, and live out of, and live toward, and live by, the true word of his holy story as it seeks to stammer itself forth through the holy stories of us all.”
—Frederick Buechner in A Room Called Remember
I don’t know that I would ever volunteer to use the word “courageous” as a descriptor for being a Pastor. For that matter, it doesn’t rush to mind when I’m describing Northminster, Presbyterianism, or generally being a member of the church as a whole. Gracious? Yes. Loving? Yes. Compassionate? Absolutely. But I don’t know that I would ever draw out that idea of courage; it is thrown about more for football players, soldiers, Peace Corp members, and others who see long odds through or overcome great pain or adversity in battle.
But I happened into 2 Timothy this week and Paul’s encouraging words about courage: “ I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” He doesn’t talk about the courage of “traditional” heroes of the faith…prophets, warriors, or even apostles…he talks about a mother, a grandmother, and the faith and courage they have passed on to both him and Timothy. It is a wonderful reminder that faith and courage are not only housed on battlefields or expeditions, but in the relationships and occurrences of every day.
I’m bringing this up, friends, because I simply want to give thanks for the many ways you’ve shown courage and faith these past months. Thank you for setting aside the fear of something new when we closed in-person worship. Thank you for embracing Zoom, phone communication, and letter-writing instead of giving in to the fear of isolation. Thank you for checking in, sending gift cards, buying supplies, and running errands for people in our community and for Josh and I. Thank you for still finding ways to throw parties and celebrations even from a distance. Thank you for your obvious love and determination to see that love through this time apart. Thank you for your generosity in giving even in uncertain economic times. We live in a world that is unfortunately submerged in fear and beset by anxiety…thank you for being courageous in hope and holding that spirit of love.
And you may, in that wonderful Midwestern-Presbyterian way, be thinking: “I’m not that courageous.” I beg to differ. I’ve seen you these past few months, Northminster. You’ve been nurses, patients, and caregivers in struggles against COVID-19. You’ve had breaks, bruises, surgeries, and falls…and still called to check in on others. You’ve wrestled with the brutal realities of dementia with patient love and care. You’ve found ways to grieve and connect as we said goodbye to beloved family…and found ways to rejoice in the miracle of new life that no virus could hold back. You’ve helped those who are suddenly homeless, stood up for equality and human compassion, and brought love and live to bear in your homes, neighborhoods, and immediate communities. Trust me, you’ve shown courage Northminster.
I say this for two very important reasons: First, I am profoundly thankful for the ways you inspire and minister to me. Your courage has kept me moving ahead on the hard days of these past months. And second, we need to keep intentionally and pointedly choosing this witness of Christ-like courage and hope over fear. I know we’re all getting tired of current realities. I know there are days when it is hard to rally. But I also know that God’s promise of hope and life has not been put on hold…I’ve seen it, powerfully, in you.
So thank you, Northminster, for being brave. Let’s help each other and help our community keep it up.