The Revealing

Greetings, welcome to worship with Shiloh United Methodist Church in Granite Quarry, North Carolina. My Name is Reverend Kathy Randall Bryant, and I am honored to be filling in for my husband, John, for worship for March 14, 2021.

I WANT JESUS TO WALK WITH ME

I want Jesus to walk with me

I want Jesus to walk with me

All along my pilgrim journey

I want Jesus to walk with me

In my trial, Lord, walk with me

In my trials, Lord, walk with me

When the shades of life are falling

Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me

In my sorrow, Lord walk with me 

In my sorrows, Lord walk with me

When my heart is aching

Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me 

In my troubles, Lord walk with me

In my troubles, Lord walk with me

When my life becomes a burden,

Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me

This weekend marks the year anniversary since we entered lockdown. It’s been a heavy year. TodayI’m naming this heaviness, because our hearts are heavy. But the promise is, we’re turning to the light. 

I began a Covid journal on Monday, March 16, 2020, and wrote “social distancing” in quote marks, because it was a new term to all of us. School was closed. We closed our sanctuary. We knew we would not gather indoors for Easter. 

I wished I was less worried, in part because I was coughing and couldn’t lay down and breathe. 

I also started keeping track of the numbers, a log I’ve kept for a year. We had 0 cases in Rowan county, 39 confirmed cases in North Carolina, 3,774 in the US, and 169,378 global confirmed cases. 6,513 people had died of Covid since the virus had been identified. 

Today those numbers are much different. As of the morning of this recording, March 2, which also happens to be the eight year anniversary of the death of my grandmother Janet Randall, we have ___ global cases, ___ in the US, ___ here in North Carolina, and ___ in Rowan county alone. And in Rowan county, ____ have died, North Carolina has lost ___, over half a million in the US have died, and over two and a half million lives have been lost across the globe from this pandemic since it was first identified late in December 2019. 

I grieve. I lament.  

And in the midst of this lament and grief, I recognize all the other things we are dealing with: loneliness, impatience, boredom, hope, and fettered joy. We are caught in a Lent that has lasted a whole year and we’re not to the end of it yet. 

And we have lost so much more than these numbers tell us. We’ve lost visits with friends, handshakes, hugs with relatives, plans that keep getting put on hold or suspended, confidence in the safety of simple things like going to the grocery store or out for a walk in the park or playing on the playground. 

And it seems that we’ve gained only longer hours alone. 

And the thing is, this crisis has revealed so much about who we are. We can be incredibly selfish as a people, and we can be incredibly selfless. We can come together and make huge sacrifices for the good of the community, and we have. 

We also have a really hard time trusting what we hear, especially if it sounds different from what we are used to or asks us to consider changing what we thought was the way things worked. 

And I think what has been the hardest for me is that we can’t practice our normal responses to crises. Our instinct is that we pull together, we get a potluck together, we have a prayer meeting in a living room… and we’ve learned that the most dangerous thing would be to gather together. We rely on others, on people, on being interdependent, and we didn’t know how to stay safe and draw comfort at the same time. 

We’ve gained knowing the importance of gathering together, especially because we have not been able to come together as a people face to face. This temporary action, of staying apart, has saved more lives than we know. 

We have learned that we rely on others for our lives. 

But we have lost so much. Touch and community and communion, celebration and singing, and live music and going to the movies and family tables and seeing the faces of the people we pass in the midst of our days. 

We’ve learned how to smile with our eyes. 

And I want to keep looking with better eyes at the world around me. My deepest hope, in the midst of all of this, is that we will be able to see with clear eyes that the needs that people have are not because of some individual moral failing, but because of systems in place that have created disparities. 

 A year ago I wrote in my Covid Journal: “The world is about to turn. This pandemic will change us. I pray that we gather together as a people and help protect those most vulnerable. […] May the coming weeks be a time where we practice patience with one another, and may we be creative in ways that we extend community and grace as we are physically isolated.” 

Here, in the middle of Lent, we also mark the celebration of when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her that she would conceive and bear a child who would save the world. It’s this strange pause of Christmas in the midst of the penitence of Lent. 

And when Mary learns that she will bear the savior of the world, she sings. 

Canticle of the Turning

Song by Gary Daigle, Rory Cooney, and Theresa Donohoo

My soul cries out with a joyful shout

That the God of my heart is great

And my spirit sings of the Wondrous things

That you bring to the ones who wait

You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight

And my weakness you did not spurn

So from east to west shall my name be blest

Could the world be about to turn?

My heart shall sing of the day you bring

Let the fires of your justice burn

Wipe away all tears for the dawn draws near

And the world is about to turn!

Though I am small, my God, my all, 

You work great things in me

And your mercy will last from the Depths

Of the past to the end of the age to be

Your very name puts the proud to shame

And to those who would for you yearn

You will show your might

Put the strong to flight

For the world is about to turn

My heart shall sing of the day you bring

Let the fires of your justice burn

Wipe away all tears

For the dawn draws near

And the world is about to turn!

From the halls of power to the fortress tower

Not a stone will be left on stone

Let the king beware for your

Justice tears ev’ry tyrant from his throne

The hungry poor shall weep no more

For the food they can never earn

There are tables spread, 

ev’ry Mouth be fed

For the world is about to turn

My heart shall sing of the day you bring

Let the fires of your justice burn

Wipe away all tears

For the dawn draws near

And the world is about to turn!

Though the nations rage from age to age

We remember who holds us fast

God’s mercy must deliver us 

from the conqueror’s crushing grasp

This saving word that out forebears Heard 

Is the promise which holds us bound

‘Til the spear and rod can be

Crushed by God

Who is turning the world around

My heart shall sing of the day you bring

Let the fires of your justice burn

Wipe away all tears

For the dawn draws near

And the world is about to turn!

This. This has been my prayer from the beginning of this pandemic. This magnificent song that calls for the world to turn, for us to look around us with clear eyes, so that we remember God’s love is holding us fast. 

Our gospel for today is:

John 3:14b-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

And[…] so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

This is the word of God for all people, thanks be to God. 

This is the revealing. 

The world has turned. 

So many things have been laid bare in the past year. 

The first reported covid death in the US was on leap day last year. And we crossed half a million deaths from covid less than a year later. 

These deaths have been disproportionately of our elders and those who have continually been pushed to the margins—our siblings in christ who are black and brown skinned, who have not been extended the same care as those with white privilege. 

So much wisdom we have lost. Too many stories that will never be told again. Laughs around the table, with old jokes and familiar recipes that you just can’t get quite right again. 

We have lost so much.

And in our losing let us not lose sight of what has been revealed. We have too many places where we do not meet the needs of people who have been denied basic care. 

If anything, this pandemic has shown how we are connected in far more many ways than we understand. Our connections, the lives of those who are closely linked to ours, are tighter and closer and deeper than we realized. 

I surely had not realized how essential our grocery workers were: they create space for our provision. And even as I have worked in a grocery store pharmacy before, I didn’t realize how essential that work was, until the grocery store became the only place where I regularly encountered people in my community for a year. 

In my conversations with the people who work at the register, the point of contact with so many people, I learned their stories, how their grand kids are doing, when they are caring for relatives, watching out for their kids who are in school with my kids. 

I remember a conversation I had with a woman I have seen regularly, where she commented: “and you, we see you often enough. We know you.”

And I replied, “how interesting it is that we can recognize each other, even with our masks across our face.”

She laughed, and we shared a smile with our eyes. 

The world is turning. 

Christ came to live among us, to be connected with us, to share smiles and stories and share food at a table with us. Christ came into the world in order that his life would be closely linked with ours. And in linking his life with our own, with the lives of the world, he died and rose again in order to bring life to the world. 

This pandemic is not a holy judgment on the world, but it has shed light anew on the ways that the structures of our world and our country have been designed to leave behind and risk the lives of people who do not deserve to be treated with so little care. 

It has exposed the ways we fail to care for others. 

But. I still have hope.

Because Christ came to link his life closely with our lives. 

Because I keep seeing people looking with new eyes, with eyes that smile above masks that are itchy and uncomfortable and yet we still wear them because we are protecting our neighbors. We have seen how much we rely on others for our lives. 

Because I have seen people working to the mutual good, heard stories about sharing together. 

For instance, there was a couple in Austin during the winter storm who created an ad hoc soup kitchen for their neighbors, and when people helped chip in above their costs, they shared it with other area networks who were doing the same thing. 

I’ve got another friend who has been helping with a monthly food cooperative feeding folks in the durham area, once a month they get together and cook, and in the first eight months of the pandemic they served 40,000 meals. All cooking outside and wearing masks, and meeting the needs of their community. 

Here at Shiloh, we’ve kept Rufty Homes and Meals on Wheels open, feeding people, even when our sanctuary was closed. We are meeting people’s needs.

I have hope because I keep seeing people working for what Jesus came to build. I keep seeing the kingdom show up. I keep seeing the hungry fed, the wounds bound, and the lost found. 

The world is turning. 

The work is not done. The light is still shining on evil that would seek to continue to escape into the shade. We have far yet to go. But I have hope as I see us working together for the good of our community. People keep doing work that glows with God’s glory.

Our psalm today names how the people of God have seen God’s work throughout history. Hear these words from Psalm 107

Psalm 107:1-9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

    for his steadfast love endures forever.

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,

    those he redeemed from trouble

and gathered in from the lands,

    from the east and from the west,

    from the north and from the south.

Some wandered in desert wastes,

    finding no way to an inhabited town;

hungry and thirsty,

    their soul fainted within them.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,

    and he delivered them from their distress;

he led them by a straight way,

    until they reached an inhabited town.

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,

    for his wonderful works to humankind.

For he satisfies the thirsty,

    and the hungry he fills with good things.

Psalm 107:17a,18b-22 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Some were sick […] and they drew near to the gates of death.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,

    and he saved them from their distress;

he sent out his word and healed them,

    and delivered them from destruction.

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,

    for his wonderful works to humankind.

And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices,

    and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

This is the word of God for all people, thanks be to God. 

Even in the midst of our grief, God is not done with us yet. Even as we still are not together, we are not alone. May you see God in the smiling eyes of those around you, May you have hope in the revealing. 

In the name of the father, son, and holy spirit. Amen. 

Pastoral prayer:

Wounded Healer, draw us near to you. Be with us in our wounds, losses, and grief. We have lost so much this past year: loved ones, safety, security, health, time around the table, visits with friends and family, well-being, and rest. 

The time has been tedious and anxious, monotonous and filled with alerts. It is exhausting, Lord. We are weary and worn thin. Our hearts are threadbare with grief and uncertainty. 

Turn us, Lord, back to you. Grant us the wisdom that comes from being near to you, that even as we are apart from each other, we are together in worship, in faith, and in hope. 

Make our moments of joy times when we can catch sight of your glory, renew us in times when we are at our last shred of patience, and hold us when our grief washes over us in tears and weeping. 

In the name of Jesus, who came into the world to save the world, we pray, saying: 

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name;

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

and forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us;

and lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

for ever and ever. Amen.

I’ll close with this hymn: What Wondrous Love Is This UMH 292

1 What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?

What wondrous love is this, O my soul?

What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss

to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,

to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?

2 When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,

when I was sinking down, sinking down,

when I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,

Christ laid aside his crown for my soul, for my soul,

Christ laid aside his crown for my soul.

3 To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing,

to God and to the Lamb I will sing,

to God and to the Lamb who is the great I Am,

while millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,

while millions join the theme, I will sing.

4 And when from death I’m free I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,

and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on,

and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be,

and through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,

and through eternity I’ll sing on.

Benediction:

May the liberating grace of the lord Jesus Christ, the wondrous love of God, 

and the revealing power of the holy spirit go with you. 

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you;

may he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm;

may he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you;

may he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.

Amen, Go in peace. 

turning

The sky should be a different color

yellow

or red

purple perhaps

maybe jade green, a harbinger of shift and 

change

and 

Chaos.

This blue is wrong for a world so turned

into fear and scarcity

and the presence of death.

We ration out our conversations 

with those who live outside our homes

trying to live on 

the threads of conversations limited to ten words a day.

The world is turning inside itself, and we don’t know how long we will be staying inside. 

We are all apart from each other.

Dismembered. 

Scattered and sifted because we cannot know if 

we will endanger our neighbor by being too close. 

The sky has no right to be this blue. 

The world is not normal. 

We will be changed. 

Oh, I yearn for a red sky of warning or a glint of 

green ushering in the storm about to break and pour over us. 

A Lament, Four Days after Independence Day

Mercy. Mercy. Mercy.

We woke up to more wretched, horrible, heartbreaking news today. It’s like the United States decided to go insane after it’s birthday. Were we not just celebrating Independence Day four days ago? And now, there have been deaths upon deaths upon deaths. Each day we wake up to more news of lives stolen.

More fear. More hate. More blame.

We want to point fingers at someone else because then we don’t have to evaluate our own complicity in the evil around us.

“I’d never do anything like that!” “Why can’t they just be peaceful!” “They should have known better!”

I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else. I have my host of characters that I want to blame for each of the different violent incidents that happened this week, and I bet you do as well. And we probably don’t agree, which makes it even worse. Because then we can blame each other for blaming the wrong people. And then that becomes the new “talking point” rather than grieving the loss of lives that should not have been taken.

I’m sick. I’m tired. I’m weary.

And I don’t have to worry about most of the things that many of my brothers and sisters in this country have to worry about.

Because you know this is about race. And I’m white. So I don’t have to worry about it as much. I’m allowed to not have to think about what I need to tell my daughter about wearing a hood at night. That’s privilege.

And this morning, we woke up to news of more death in our centuries old story about race and power and hate.

Black people shouldn’t be shot if their tail light is out.

Black people shouldn’t die in prison after not turning on their turn signal.

Police officers shouldn’t be shot while protecting our right to protest.

Police officers shouldn’t die in the line of duty.

But they do. They are. And it’s wrong.

I grieve over all of it. I grieve that I don’t have the right words to say. I don’t know enough and I don’t understand how so much death has happened and we still don’t see any change. Whose death will finally turn the tide?

I’m a Christian, so I believe that we have already had that death. But even that death, and the people who so firmly proclaim that death was defeated, have not been able to make the radical change that is needed so that people. Stop. Dying.

Mercy. Mercy. Mercy.