A Community of Honesty and Hope

Double rainbow in Custer, South Dakota
Photo taken at Outlaw Ranch. Used by permission of the Rev. Melissa Adzima.

I’ve just spent the week in Custer State Park. Well, specifically at Outlaw Ranch – Lutherans Outdoors Camp in Custer, South Dakota. Each day, I—a single person without children—watched the marvel of parents and grandparents corralling toddlers; the wonder of elementary questions continuously forming; the exhaustion of long days filled with awesome activities; the patience of college-age students leading all of us in worship and events and silly songs; and the laughter when infants to senior citizens pause to enjoy community. And then a double-full rainbow peered across the grounds. During the week, the adults rehearsed the biblical story, asking the question: Can we trust this story? This week’s text brings me to say, “Yes,” once again.

The biblical narrative’s continuous testimony to the Creator God’s intention to establish a community of honesty and hope as the ultimate display of hospitality was evident to me all week. Now I revisit these texts and marvel that the people of God remain prisoners of hope. Long workdays ending with continuous childcare. Vibrant lives resulting in knee surgeries or cross country moves to be near your kin in your retirement years. Death of a partner or parent coming too soon because of cancer or COVID or complications beyond anyone’s control. Questions of how to live out one’s faith among those whose confession of Christ sounds alike but whose practices offend your interpretation of faithfulness. All buoyed by a confidence that the Creator God made known in Jesus is with us, saving us from harm.

I listened to stories of how couples met and realized I rarely listen for a prescription for planning my own next courtship. Rather, I lean in, with the rest of the eavesdroppers, to the wonder that they met at all, or marvel at the uniqueness of their courtship when I’ve heard so many over the years. And best of all, a few acknowledge divine intervention in bringing them together and keeping them together throughout the dysfunctional routines no one would imagine would be their lives for the next generation! Maybe Isaac and Rebekah’s story can be a shared story throughout the generations without being a principle to live by. Unless, of course, that principle is to just trust God to be God.

Like Paul, campfire conversations, hammock heart-talks, and midday memories recall misspoken words, ill-conceived actions, and opportunities lost. Hindsight brings laughter in the telling, but sometimes the conversations turn sober as questions become confession. Laity and clergy, seminarians and high schoolers, blend into seekers who have encountered Christ as we remember what happened in our world when God showed up.

To what shall we compare this generation? Maybe, to the very people of God in the witness of the scriptures. A people hoping beyond hope that God rescues the perishing, forgives the evildoer, and carries the burdens of the weak.  A people no less traumatized by their homelife than Jacob’s father, who still have love in their heart to give. A people nonetheless capable of hospitality, even when they don’t always display it.

So, yes, dear preachers: Having spent time in a Christian community week in and week out, these families tell their stories with a thread tied from the sermons they have heard from you. Because you have turned their eyes to Jesus, they, like the psalmist, declare that God’s steadfast love is established forever; God’s faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

Working Preacher, continue to preach. The Word matters, so your words matter. This summer, capture the ancient stories passed down through the generations that testify to the goodness of God. Even if you are detouring through a thematic series, keep your messages woven with the biblical witness to the promise and presence and peace of God made known in Jesus. These stories have convicted, comforted, and compelled those who hear it in every context. And don’t wait until a funeral to listen to the stories of your community members.

May your summer conversations bring together the generations.

Summer regards,