Each week Pastor Sarah offers a devotional reflection to connect with the South Shore UMC Family. Use this entry as a way to prepare your heart and mind for worship. See you Sunday!
This week the South Shore Community continues our summer series entitled This We Believe. During this series we will study core concepts of United Methodist Belief. This knowledge will enrich our faith and draw us towards greater lived expressions of Christ-likeness in our daily lives. I hope you will join us safely in-person or online via our broadcast platform for this time of study!
Sunday's Scripture ~ Matthew 7:21-27.
Devotional Scripture ~ James 5:13.
Yesterday I presided at my Aunt Jean's graveside service. I am grateful for the privilege to have honored her life and love with my leadership. In between the rain showers in the memorial garden we shared memories, shed tears, and shored up hope in the midst of heartbreaking loss and immense grief.
James 5:13 instructs, "Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise." What speaks to me - convicts me - in this verse is that I am not always quick to pray when I am experiencing trouble. I am quick to do other things - like gripe or squabble or ignore or hide - but not always quick to pray. On the other hand, as sung by Ella Fitzgerald, when it is "summertime and the living is easy," I am so quick to sing those songs of praise. And then when the hardships rear their heads - like they do - the songs silence...and the prayers are not always first on my lips.
This is my human experience. This, I believe, is a common human experience. And I spoke about that at my aunt's service yesterday. In reading these words that I shared with my family and my aunt's closest friends, I pray that you will be both comforted and encouraged. In times of trouble - God is with us and we can lean into our faith. In times of happiness - our God is with us and we can lean into our faith.
Whether we offer prayers or praises, thanks be to God that God is with us.
I think sometimes, as Christians, we think we are not supposed to grieve or ask questions because it means that we are somehow not faithful enough. But the truth is, we do not have to choose between our very real and human emotions, responses to tragedies, and our faith. To grieve and to doubt, to shout and cry, to fall silent and question where God is in all of this is not a failure of our faith, but a testament to it. Scripture is full of examples of people, just like us, feeling the devastations of human loss and crying out desperately to God. We can not be okay and still be faithful.
It is okay to not be okay right now. It is okay to not be able to reconcile the loss of Jean. It is okay to demand answers to the question ‘why,’ even if those answers do not come in our earthly lives.
Death has a way of challenging us to our very core. It pushes back against our joy, our hopes and our expectations. Death takes away the ones we love.
And yet I believe – I trust – I am counting on the word and witness of Jesus being true – that as the grave was not the final resting place for him, so it will not be for Jean. So it will not be for us. Death thought it had won that day. Death was wrong. Death will never be the final word.
The Christian story did not end with Jesus’ death; it began with his resurrection – and a promise of resurrection to all who believe in him.
Jesus, like the good shepherd, will always be our protector and provider. Jesus is committed to accompanying us through the darkest valleys, with our final destination being peace-filled waters where our souls are restored. Where we are whole. Where we are with the ones we love.
There is nothing – no loss, no act, no grievance, no separation, not even death that Jesus has not, cannot, and will not overcome. We heard Jesus say in John 14, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me” (v.1). Jean underlined this Scripture in one of her Bibles and wrote next to it, “Trust is the antidote to a troubled heart.”
It is a challenge to trust right now. We all feel so let down. We know that Jean faced troubling times in her life, and she did not give up. She showed up. She found the silver lining. She invested in people; she poured her heart into each one of us. And because she did this I know with confidence that she wants us to continue showing up. She does not want us to give up. She wants us to seek and name silver linings. And of greatest importance and delight, she wants us to invest in one another and others. She wants us to pour out our hearts in generosity, graciousness, and love. Her death has taught us that life is too short. She wants us to invest time together, not waste time apart. Jesus comforted his disciples in their distress so that, in time and through understanding, they would be at peace.
Jesus counsels us in Matthew 11, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Resting Jesus, finding comfort in his peace, eases our hurt. Resting in Jesus has the ability to make the aching and the longing we feel a bit more bearable each day. And in time, resting in Jesus sustains in us the assurance, born of resurrection, that we will be reunited with Jean again in glory.
In the time that passes until we see Jean again, until she holds us again, lean into the love that she has for you. Nothing can separate you from that love – just as nothing can separate us or Jean from the love of Christ. Not even death. Our presence here today gives testimony – we are a physical witness – that hope of resurrection, which is the promise of salvation, has been fulfilled.
Reflection: Feelings and circumstances change. Our God's faithfulness to us and with us does not waver. Express your thanks to God for God's faithfulness, companionship, and leadership by making a list or journaling about the reasons - or
evidence - that God is worthy of praise.
Prayer: "God of the ages, whose almighty hand leads forth in beauty all the starry band of shining worlds in splendor through the skies, our grateful songs before thy throne arise. Refresh thy people on their toilsome way; lead us from night to never-ending day; fill all our lives with love and grace divine, and glory, laud, and praise be ever thine."* Amen.
*”God of the Ages,” The United Methodist Hymnal 698. **Devotional Resource: The Weekly Prayer Project by Scarlet Hiltibidal