Preparing for a Different Reality

Summer night streetlight in front of bridge
Photo by Andre Frueh on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

Looks like we made it! To the other side of the year, that is. Marked as the beginning of summer (in the northern hemisphere). As we prepare for the sporadic attendance of known community members taking vacation matched with random (and returning) visitors on their own excursions through our zip code, preaching a series may seem counterproductive. The temptation to bounce strategically through texts may feel advantageous since the listeners may be intermittently present. I dare caution you against the hit-or-miss approach.

Pause and consider how you may link together these texts around a vision and mission of your congregation. Remember, among its many scenes and episodes, the biblical narrative contains one continuous testimony to the Creator God’s intention to establish a community of honesty and hope as the ultimate display of hospitality. Some may approach this as evangelism and welcome, others as mission and social justice. In either case, the intention is not numerical growth but spiritual depth. The next few weeks’ fluctuating faces may provide a foundational context for preparing listeners to lean into the long-range goals of the congregation. Let me try a memory to explain.

No one told me as a child that the longest days were now behind us as the summer solstice shifts toward ever-so earlier sunsets. It was a great teaser, being drawn into the post-school year season with lingering days and warmer weather. And then, just when I thought I’d arrived, it got hot.

As a child, I didn’t mind the heat—especially when there was a sprinkler to run through on the way to the park. But my mom, who was inside in the air-conditioned home, seemed to always worry that I was going to be cold. She would make me where a sweater every single time I stepped outdoors (remember this is my childhood memory). Anyway, the point I’m heading toward is that my mom seemed always to be preparing me for a slightly different reality than I thought I was experiencing.

And that’s the rub. I didn’t realize that the summer evenings, ever so unperceptively, were getting shorter. So, while I exaggerate this memory of wearing sweaters in the heat of the summer, I am aware my mom wisely prepared me for what I could not yet see coming.

Each text this week continues such a preparation. A thread can be anticipated through the semi-continuous first readings the next four weeks which call for a people dependent on God for discernment, especially when it seems one has finally entered the season for which one has long hoped. Is God (and God’s prophets) trustworthy? “By all means, yes!” we say, but only because we tell these stories in the hindsight of the resurrection, we always read them with the wisdom of my reevaluated childhood.

I loved my childhood, especially the innocence of not fully comprehending all that was happening around me. “Civil Rights protester” became the new classification of the Negro. Character assassinations of civic and political leaders that would result in mortal death. Ever-expanding freedoms for some in the form of sex, drugs, and entertainment. Increasing access for working class to acquire more on credit that would ensure an unsustainable level of debt. As I carelessly played until the streetlights came on, the world around me was not in as much peace as my protective parents’ limitations provided. Then, I had no idea. But, in hindsight, I recognize all the warnings were there.

So, Working Preacher, preach with the hindsight of the provision to Abraham, God will do for us, all that God has asked of us. Preach with the honest warnings of Jeremiah, who seems like my future-preparing mother, testing the weather before accepting the forecasted season. Preach with the hope-filled conviction of Paul: dishonesty, fear, or marginalization—ways one might describe sin as the opposite of honesty, hope, and hospitality—are not the death-defining end for those who experience God’s abundant grace. God’s wisdom for life is righteousness. Or specifically, only those who surrender to godly practices of holiness that defy the cultural ruler’s false promises will ultimately find peace. Mom was right more times than I cared to admit. I needed a covering. Not the wooly button-down sweater, but the steadfast love of the Holy One of Israel.

Summer regards,