What a great service! A baptism, communion, receiving of new members and a full crowd to worship with. I couldn’t be more pleased. Here is today’s sermon – I don’t have the audio uploaded yet. Hopefully tonight. Enjoy!
It has been a hard year.
I know it has been a hard year here. I don’t need to tell anybody that. I have spent a lot of time over the past two months sitting with people and hearing their stories and helping them to find peace so that the ‘New Beginning’ that hangs on the sign out front can truly be a reality in the lives of everyone in this community. Let no mistake be made: There is still work that needs to be done.
But today I am going to pause. And I am going to tell you all my story.
On June 1, 2010, I woke up at 5:30 in the morning in my apartment in Atlanta. I nervously got myself ready, put on business casual clothing, packed my bag, made breakfast and poured coffee in a to-go mug. I walked down to my car, said goodbye to Bruce and headed downtown.
For twelve weeks last summer I was a chaplain at Grady Memorial Hospital, a Level One Trauma Center in downtown Atlanta. Grady was the only Level One Trauma Center within a 100-mile radius of Atlanta. Grady was also a county hospital, and it served the un-and-under insurance populations of the two largest counties in Atlanta.
I was taking part in a program called Clinical Pastoral Education (or CPE), a program required for many – including myself – for ordination. CPE uses the action-reflection model (going out into the field then coming back to our group to reflect on what we did and how it made us feel) to train chaplains and pastors how to survive in the fast paced, stressful and highly emotional world of full time ministry.
I learned many things during my time at Grady. I learned the ins and outs of hospitals and of the healthcare system. I learned how to think on my feet, to quickly triage a situation and react quickly. I learned how to minister in times of crisis, to be comfortable with prayer and liturgy in a more extemporaneous and less prepared form. I learned how to quickly switch gears and how to push my breaking point further and further every single day.
But more importantly, I learned that life is fragile. I learned that life is a gift. And I learned that life can change in an instant.
My second night on-call I received a page from a chaplain at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. There had been an accident on the lake about 40 miles north of the city and a 16-year-old girl was being flown in by helicopter with a massive brain injury.
My world changed that night.
And after twelve weeks of intense trauma, of lives cut too short, of tears that could not be comforted, of late night prayers in the NICU, of early morning walks to deliver bad news in the ER, of tense family meetings with doctors in stale conference rooms and of days where it felt like time had stopped, my life was different than when I started. I realized that everyday problems, petty arguments and unnecessary drama did not have a place in my life.
It was hard for me to re-integrate myself into my life after those twelve weeks at Grady. In a way, one year later, I am still trying to process what I went through. As the one year anniversary of the death of that young girl approaches, I can’t help but wonder if I will ever revert back to me old ways. And do you know what? I hope I do not.
Because of my time at Grady, I have realized that a little bit of grace and a whole lot of humility goes a long way. I have learned that every single day I need to wake up, do the best that I can and walk through life with a smile on my face and positivity in my heart. I have learned that I need to embrace differences rather than reject them. I have learned that I do not want the choices I make today to become the regrets that I feel tomorrow. I feel like my time at Grady gave me the opportunity for a new beginning in my own life.
1 Peter is a letter addressed to Christians that were living in the northern half of the peninsula of Asia Minor (what we now know as Turkey). The purpose of the letter was to talk to Christians about how to handle themselves in the face of suffering. Christians, at that time, living in that part of the world, were being persecuted for their beliefs.
They endured a type of suffering for their beliefs that is hard for us, as citizens of the United States of America, a country founded on the basis of religious freedom, to ever understand. As I prepared my sermon for this week, I wondered if this particular text would even be relevant to a group of people who have never been persecuted for their faith.
And then I remembered what a long journey it was for you all as a congregation to get to where you are today. I know it wasn’t easy. Persecution might not have happened in the same way that it did for these Christians in the northern half of the peninsula of Asia Minor, but the persecutions that happened here between families and friends were real. And they caused a lot of pain, a lot of suffering and a lot of hurt. And I know that deep down, ‘A New Beginning’ is not just something written on a sign hung on the front of the church.
The scripture says to “discipline yourselves,” to “keep alert.” It says, “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.”
Now we don’t often talk about the devil around here. And to be quite honest I was ready to remind myself that I am not in Georgia anymore and gloss over it in my sermon. But then I read a commentary that caused me to pause; and to nod; and to take a deep breath. I would like to share that with you this morning. Gordon McClellan, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Networks Journal, said the following about that passage:
“The text also refers to the devil, who “like a roaring lion … prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” I suppose there are many ways to interpret this line, and indeed there are many ways to interpret what Scripture means by “the devil.” With regard to this particular text, it helps to note that perhaps the greatest form of violence the devil can render is to separate people from one another—that is, for people to forget or abandon this notion of our connectionality, of being united with all Christian around the world in our struggles, triumphs, joys and fears. So to forget would be to sever the most important tie that binds people of faith together in the commitment to love one another as Christ loved.”
Gordon continues …
“Indeed, these ties are being tested today, we argue with our brothers and sisters from every side of the Christian faith over … issues … questions, and more. Whether that is the work of the devil, or simply what comes with differing opinions on emotionally charged issues, is for each of us to decide on our own. For sure, it is imperative that the differences that exist between Christians not be allowed to sever the connectionality that we have and that this text urges us never to abandon.”
Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. But now is a time of new beginnings. Now is a time to focus on what truly, truly matters in life. Now is a time to be united by our faith and not divided by our differences.
I am going to repeat something that I said earlier: Because of my time at Grady, I have realized that a little bit of grace and a whole lot of humility goes a long way. I have learned that every single day I need to wake up, do the best that I can and walk through life with a smile on my face and positivity in my heart. I have learned that I need to embrace differences rather than reject them. I have learned that I do not want the choices I make today to become the regrets that I feel tomorrow. I feel like my time at Grady gave me the opportunity for a new beginning in my own life.
The scripture also says, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.” The scripture says to “cast all your anxiety on him [God], because he [God] cares for you,” that “the God of all grace … will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.”
I ask you today – let God be apart of this new beginning.
When I looked at my calendar and realized that on this Sunday we would be celebrating the Sacrament of Baptism, the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the reception of new members into our congregation and the graduation of several of the youth in our community in one worship service, I couldn’t help but smile. Because I know that today is a blatant reminder of what is happening every single day in this church and in this community. Today is a day of new beginnings.
Today is a day where we invite God into this time and space and ask him to protect us and guide us as we embark on this new phase in our lives and in the life of this church. Today is a day where we choose to focus on what really matters. Today is a day when we embrace the things that bring us together. Today is a day when we join our hands together, when we embrace one another and when we walk forward – together.
Today is a day of new beginnings.