Remember, our Message is not about ourselves;
we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master.
All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you.
It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!”
and our lives filled up with light as we saw and
understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.
2 Corinthians 4:6 (The Message)
Like many of you I am feeling the rhythms of the autumn – the light is changing right before our eyes. I find myself desperately trying to get home to swim ¼ mile while the pool is still open. Parents are accompanying children to schools; students are returning to college; churches are ramping up for a new program year; the presidential campaign is in full gear. It is clearly Fall – bringing with it the buzz of new chapters – as the air gets a little crisper and the days become a little shorter.
But even new chapters and seasons are not immune from the tragedies that cause us to stop in our tracks; tragedies that bring us to our knees in disbelief – causing us to take stock of what we have. As you know, one of our churches – Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church – was overtaken by a 4-alarm fire last week. Thankfully no lives were taken or injured, but the building was gutted, leaving its stone façade standing hollow from within. I am grateful for the presbytery leadership, staff and members who have faithfully prayed for and stood by this community of faith. As I was out of town when the fire happened, I went by to visit the site and its faithful pastor JB Adams this week. The smell of the smoke was still very present in the air as we exited the car. The devastation is real! There is no question that it will be a long journey for these Good Shepherd saints as they discern what comes next. But as Kevin Porter and I walked around the church grounds, three things happened that humbly reminded me of how grace and light continue to be reflected even in the midst of devastation, ashes and darkness.
As we walked around the property, we must have looked somewhat official because a gentleman from the neighborhood (walking his dog) saw us and started talking to us about the church and its pastor. He said “That was a great church. It’s pastor was a really good man.” His unsolicited words remind us that people in our neighborhoods do notice our presence. They assess our openness to who they are. They are eager to understand – Are we a people lighting up the darkness?
The second observation of our visit was all the green that still surrounded the church building – green trees everywhere. It reminded me of the story of the burning bush in Exodus – a fire that burns but does not consume. With the exception of one tree that had to be taken down to create access, all the trees were standing proudly – in all their colorful splendor. The fire did not consume them. I am still astounded with the contrasting images I am carrying in my mind’s eye of life-giving greens against the darkened images of the rubble and ashes. The colors of nature’s strength lighting up the darkness – refusing to be overcome by the devastation.”
Lastly, when we finally met up with Pastor JB, we wondered where we might sit for a while. He simply walked to the home of a neighbor, who welcomed us onto his porch in the middle of the day – with no warning of receiving visitors. I don’t know about you, but this kind of thing just doesn’t happen enough in our world. I could not help but be touched at the blind hospitality of a stranger as we discussed the situation and prayed together. I was humbly reminded of the embrace of a stranger lighting up the darkness in our presence.
There is no question I was prepared to see the burnt-out ruin of a building, but if I am honest, I was not prepared for the signs of light and hope with which I was so boldly confronted – a stranger’s word of kindness, nature’s capacity to survive the intensity of the flames and the presence of gracious hospitality. It is a light and hope that in large part was made possible by the witness of this church and its other worshipping communities in that place and space. Let me be clear, what happened At Good Shepherd is a tragedy that will take time and prayerful discernment. But the hope of God’s presence was and is evident in the midst of this journey.
This coming weekend, we again remember another tragedy – September 11th – as terrorism struck fear into the heart of our nation. It’s hard to believe it has been 15 years – its dramatic images have been permanently etched into my mind. But what has been equally etched into my mind’s eye and heart is the courage of first responders, of survivors, of the grace of stranger – of a people who would not allow the darkness to define their journey.
So as we begin this Fall in all its hope and possibilities, I invite us to offer prayers for the saints at Good Shepherd as they navigate their journey. Pray for those whose lives were forever transformed by the tragedy of 9-11. Pray for our corporate witness as expressed in our churches, chaplaincies, teaching, and social ministries. May we reclaim our call – we are indeed “messengers, errand runners from Jesus – proclaiming God’s light in the darkness in the face of Christ. “ So friends – let’s light up the darkness together!