Paul’s Message: Faith For the Middle of Things

Life is tough in the middle of things…and it seems that we are always in the middle of things.

We are in the middle of a search for a new associate pastor to help lead us into an exciting new era of ministry. It’s taking longer than we had hoped.

As I write, the General Assembly of our denomination is meeting. On the agenda are such ‘easy’ issues as same sex marriage, whether or not to divest from companies that actively support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank [update: the Assembly voted down divestment by a two vote margin], and a pretty radical re-visioning of the structures of Presbyterian government. This assembly takes place in the shadow of many congregations who are in the middle of leaving the denomination because they do not agree with stands the denomination has taken (particularly in areas of inclusiveness and LGBT equality). We as Presbyterians, are definitely in the middle of things.

We are smack dab in the middle of another election season. Billions are being spent to steer (or commandeer) the course of our nation because we struggle in the middle of many urgent issues (and the powers that be want to ensure that they stay the powers that be).

In the middle, things are undecided, unclear, uncertain. In the middle, too much of life dangles frustratingly beyond our control. Do you have areas in your life where you feel like you are stuck in the middle? (…thought so)

We are always in the middle of things.

The good news is that our Christian faith is precisely for the middle of things. Through our faith, God lightens our middle with thanksgiving and joy that come from the good things God has done. Jesus heals our middle by setting us free from the brokenness of Sin (the kind of our own making and the kind visited upon us). The Holy Spirit shades our middle with hope–the kind rooted in God’s steadfast love and enduring faithfulness. Though many things are maddeningly beyond our control, our Faith reminds us that we can entrust them to God’s control.

Our faith, when we live it, also brings out the best in us for life in the middle. It calls and enables us to listen with humility, to speak truth in love, to move forward with purpose in the face of risk, and to rest when needed.

By showing us where we can make a difference and by setting us free from anxiety about what is out of our reach, our faith empowers us. God gives us a faith for life in the middle of things.

Friends, may you discover faith for whatever middle you find yourself in, and may it be an awesome adventure

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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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