Tag: hope

Psalm 22: A Surprising Lenten Study

Last Wednesday night I led the meditation for our community Lenten “meal and meditation” service. I chose Psalm 22 from the lectionary for the previous Sunday, but used the entire psalm rather than just the last portion. Here’s the study — 

Psalm 22: A Lenten Study

During the Lenten season, Psalm 22 provides a wonderful narrative of the movement from despair to hope. This psalm is particularly appropriate for the Lenten-to-Easter season because Jesus quotes the first portion of verse one while he hangs on the cross (Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46).

But, there might be more to Jesus’ quotation of this psalm than his lament over God’s abandonment. There might be something there both surprising and encouraging.

David, the psalmist to whom this song is attributed, begins in the depths of loneliness and despair in verses 1-2:

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

   so far from my cries of anguish?

2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

   by night, but I find no rest.

Here is the cry of one who feels utterly abandoned, and yet knows that his God is still somewhere within hearing. One commentator suggested that verse one is a contradiction, expressing abject abandonment by God, while at the same time addressing God as “my God.” Walter Brueggemann notes that this is classic lament — a cry from the heart in the midst of turmoil and loneliness.

However, in verses 3- 5, the psalmist begins to recount God’s history with Israel. Perhaps the psalmist thinks that by reminding God that in the past, Israel has a history of crying out to God and then being saved by God, that this history will move God to action this time.

3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;

   you are the one Israel praises.

4 In you our ancestors put their trust;

   they trusted and you delivered them.

5 To you they cried out and were saved;

   in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

The psalmist speaks of God “enthroned” and as the “one Israel praises.” The psalmist’s ancestors “trusted and you delivered them,” he argues. Then, using parallelism, he repeats his argument that Israel “cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.” In other words, the psalmist is saying, “I’m standing in the tradition of those before me, who cried out to you, and whom you then acted to save.” This passage exemplifies the Old Testament tradition of “contending with God” — which sounds much more respectful than arguing with God. Nonetheless, that is what is happening.

In verses 6-8, the psalmist reiterates not only his abandonment, but the ill-treatment and abuse he suffers at the hands of those who mock him and his God:

6 But I am a worm and not a man,

   scorned by everyone, despised by the people.

7 All who see me mock me;

   they hurl insults, shaking their heads.

8 “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,

   “let the Lord rescue him.

Let him deliver him,

   since he delights in him.”

Of course, these words and phrases are echoed in the New Testament crucifixion of Jesus in Matthew 27:27-44. Jesus is scorned, mocked, despised, and ridiculed, along with his God’s reputation.

We don’t know exactly what difficulty David was experiencing when he wrote this psalm, but somehow these descriptions in Psalm 22 become prophetic indications of how Jesus will be treated. This is the lived personal experience of both David and Jesus.

In the midst of describing the insults he is enduring, David reminds God of their personal relationship. It’s not enough for God to be reminded that God has acted on Israel’s behalf in the past (v3-5). The psalmist now reminds God that:

9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;

   you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.

10 From birth I was cast on you;

   from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

This is not an appeal to the general history of the nation of Israel, but a personal account of God’s action and David’s response. David says that God was instrumental in his birth — “Yet you brought me out of the womb.” But, God also created the circumstances for David to trust in God — “you made me trust in you,” David says, as if to further obligate God to help him in his present distress.

Again, David restates verse 9 in verse 10 by saying, “From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” This connection involves God’s presence and power before, during, and after David’s physical birth. This is David’s claim to God’s response.

In verses 11-18, David asks for God’s near presence — “Do not be far from me,” he pleads. David equates God’s proximity to him as the assurance of God’s action for him.

Then, as evidence of why David needs God, he details the threats surrounding him, and the weakened condition he is experiencing:

11 Do not be far from me,

   for trouble is near

   and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls surround me;

   strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

13 Roaring lions that tear their prey

   open their mouths wide against me.

14 I am poured out like water,

   and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart has turned to wax;

   it has melted within me.

15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,

   and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;

   you lay me in the dust of death.

16 Dogs surround me,

   a pack of villains encircles me;

   they pierce my hands and my feet.

17 All my bones are on display;

   people stare and gloat over me.

18 They divide my clothes among them

   and cast lots for my garment.


Bulls, lions, and dogs are incredibly strong and ferocious adversaries. These predatory images are metaphors for the real threats to David’s existence, and also reminiscent of similar threats faced by other Old Testament heroes.

Along with these descriptions of predatory threats, David describes his physical condition in verses 14-15 and 17. Being “poured out like water” could mean that his strength is ebbing and he is almost empty of reserves. Bones out of joint, heart melting, mouth dried up to the point of his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth, and being laid in the dust of death, are all indicators of the low level to which he has sunk physically and spiritually.

Again, in these verses there are prophetic echoes of the treatment and condition of Jesus as described in the crucifixion scenes. Jesus’ thirst on the cross; his exposure to both the elements and the stares of onlookers; his humiliation as bystanders gloat about his fate; and, the scene where those who witness his suffering not only do nothing to intervene, but cast lots for his clothes are horrifying.

In verses 19-21, David again requests that God “not be far from me.” As David asks for God’s intervention, he again details the threats against him and asks God specifically to meet those threats. He asks, “Deliver me from the sword…the power of the dogs…the mouth of lions…the horns of wild oxen.” The implication is that God can defeat all of these threats, and David uses pleading petitions for God to “come…deliver…rescue…save” him from these impending calamities.

19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me.

   You are my strength; come quickly to help me.

20 Deliver me from the sword,

   my precious life from the power of the dogs.

21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;

   save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

Suddenly, the scene and tone shift dramatically beginning in verse 22. David is no longer alone, but in the presence of “my people” and “the assembly.” Perhaps this means a worship setting, possibly the Tabernacle. Not only does a worship setting imply that people are with David, but that God is also present, just as David has requested.

Because God is present, the tone of the psalm also shifts from lament to praise.

22 I will declare your name to my people;

   in the assembly I will praise you.

23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!

   All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!

   Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

24 For he has not despised or scorned

   the suffering of the afflicted one;

he has not hidden his face from him

   but has listened to his cry for help.

 25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;

   before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.

26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;

   those who seek the Lord will praise him—

   may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth

   will remember and turn to the Lord,

and all the families of the nations

   will bow down before him,

28 for dominion belongs to the Lord

   and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;

   all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—

   those who cannot keep themselves alive.

30 Posterity will serve him;

   future generations will be told about the Lord.

31 They will proclaim his righteousness,

   declaring to a people yet unborn:

   He has done it!

David, to an ever-widening audience, sings the praises of God. He begins first with his people — perhaps his family and those closest to him — “I will declare your name to my people,” he says. Then, the circle widens to the “assembly” which is typically thought to be those assembled at the Temple for high holy days.

Then, the circle expands to include the descendants of Jacob, reiterated as the descendants of Israel — Jacob’s name having been changed to Israel. Verse 27 expands the circle to “the ends of the earth” and “all the families of nations.” Further, in verse 29, “All the rich” and even the dead — “all who go down to the dust.” All people in every circumstance from the best off (rich) to the worst off (the dead) will kneel before God!

But there is another aspect to these final verses 22-31. Previously, David recalled both God’s action in the nation’s history and his own person story. Here, however, he shifts from past tense to present to future tense. David says,

“For he has not despised or scorned

   the suffering of the afflicted one;

he has not hidden his face from him

   but has listened to his cry for help.”

No longer pleading with God to act, David now proclaims that God has not done as the crowds did to him — God “has not despised or scorned” him. In addition, God “has not hidden his face, but has listened to his cry for help.”

Typically, the Bible links God’s presence and hearing with God’s acting. So, if God is present, then God acts. If God hears, then God acts. If God’s “face” is turned toward the petitioner, then that is a sign of God’s favor and action. God’s attention, in other words, means that God is acting.

But, there is a future component to God’s response as well. The poor will eat and be satisfied

…all the ends of the earth will turn to the Lord

…all the families of nations will bow down to him

…all the rich will feast and worship (feasting being a part of a holy day)

…all the dead will kneel before him

…posterity will serve him

…future generations will be told about him

And what will the future generations be told about God? He has done it!

In other words, God has saved David, his people, and his creation, again!

Now, imagine the crucifixion scene with me one more time: Jesus is hanging on the cross and has been for several hours. His strength is failing, his bodily systems are shutting down. He’s thirsty, wounded, bleeding.

But before he dies, Jesus quotes the first verse of Psalm 22, in Aramaic, his native language — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Of course, through the history of Christianity, those words have been interpreted as God’s abandonment of Christ as he bears the sins of the world.

But what if Jesus is really trying to communicate a message to those nearby, and to us today? What if all Jesus can manage is to utter the first words of Psalm 22, but he knows how that psalm ends? It’s like when someone utters the first part of a famous saying or song, and without thinking you fill in the rest of it. Suppose I said, “A stitch in time…” Those familiar with the maxims of Ben Franklin would add, “…saves nine.”

Or if I started singing, “O say can you see…” and immediately you and other Americans would know I was singing The Star-spangled Banner, our national anthem.

Jesus knows Psalm 22. His hearers know Psalm 22. So, perhaps by just beginning to utter this psalm, which says so much prophetically about Jesus, he knows that some will understand. Jesus knows that while Psalm 22 begins in lament, it ends in praise and rejoicing.

Suppose Jesus is trying to encourage his disciples, his mother, and those who are standing at the foot of the cross by reminding them of the meaning of the whole psalm.

Suppose Jesus is saying, “I’ve cried out to God for help, and things look bleak now. But God has always saved his people, and he will do so again. God has always responded. Like David, God has known me since before I was born and called me to this work. And, like David, God will come near, listen, and act. And, when this is all over, we will all know that God did it!”

Read Psalm 22 with that idea in mind. If you do, you might just hear the psalm’s lament, repeated by Jesus on the cross, as the beginning line of the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Quite an appropriate and encouraging passage for this lenten season.


Podcast: Opening Graves, Restoring Hope


For the fifth Sunday in Lent, I preached on Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave, from John 11:1-45. After encounters with Nicodemus (John 3), the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), and the man born blind (John 9:1-41), Jesus raises his friend, Lazarus from the dead. This is a rich story with many perspectives, but one very important idea: opening graves raises hope among God’s people. Here’s the podcast:

Podcast: The One Thing We Can Know


Last week for the third Sunday of Lent, I preached on the story of the man born blind from John’s Gospel the 9th chapter. It’s an interesting story of bad theology, judgmental assumptions and an inexplicable miracle. And, it has an important lesson for us today. Here’s the podcast from that message:

Sermon: Sacrifice Demands Responsibility

On Mothers’ Day, I delivered the chapel message at Hargrave Military Academy. The 800-seat chapel was filled with cadets and their families on a beautiful Sunday morning. 

Sacrifice Demands Responsibility
1 Samuel 1:27-28 NIV

27 I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.

Mothers In The Bible

The Bible, as I’m sure you know, contains the stories of several mothers. First, there is Eve, whose name literally means “mother of all living.” Then there was Sarah, wife of Abraham. Moms, how would you like to have God’s messenger tell you at the age of 90, that you were going to have a baby? That’s what happened to Sarah, and she became the mother of Isaac.

Isaac married a beautiful girl named Rebekah, who eventually gave birth to twin sons – Jacob and Esau. To make a long story short, Rebekah’s favorite was Jacob, and she helped her son trick his aging father out of the birthright that really belonged to his brother, Esau. After that, Esau was pretty unhappy, so Jacob left home for a long time. And people say the Bible isn’t realistic. Here we have one of the first completely dysfunctional families, with a lot of drama and intrigue. Think “Survivor” but with relatives. Anyway, things finally work out for all of them, Jacob included.

Then we have the mother of Moses, Jochebed. You remember the story of how the evil Pharaoh wanted to kill all the Hebrew boy babies. Moses’ mother put him in a waterproof basket, and set it in the Nile near where Pharaoh’s daughter would bathe. Pharaoh’s daughter appears, sees the baby in the basket and takes him as her own. Moses’s sister, Miriam, is hiding in the reeds there, and pops up just in time to offer to find a Hebrew woman to nurse the child. She, of course, finds Jochebed who gets to raise her own son, until he moves into Pharaoh’s palace. Mothers, even in the Bible, are always looking out for their children.

Of course, the most famous mother in the Bible is Mary, the mother of Jesus. We know that Mary loved her son, marveled at the work God had in store for Jesus, and suffered at his death. We know that Jesus loved his mother, Mary, because as he hangs on the cross dying, Jesus entrusts his mother into the care of his close disciple, John.

But for all the stories of mothers in the Bible, I think the one I like best is in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel. You heard part of that story in the text today, but let me fill you in on the whole story.

The Story of Hannah and Elkanah

This story happened about 3,000 years ago. Elkanah was a kind man who was married to two women, which I would not recommend today, but 3,000 years ago things were different. Hannah and Penninah were his wives, and Penninah had given birth to children but Hannah had not. In those days, children were the equivalent of Social Security today, and parents needed children to help them, and to provide for them in their old age.

Because Penninah had children and Hannah did not, Penninah picked on Hannah mercilessly. Elkanah, caught in the middle, (which is why you shouldn’t have two wives), tried to make it up to Hannah by giving her his attention, and a double portion of meat to offer when the went up to Shiloh to make a sacrifice. As well-meaning as Elkanah was, I don’t think an extra chunk of meat made Hannah feel better.

As a matter of fact, one day when they were all at the tabernacle in Shiloh, Hannah was so distraught that she began to pray. As she prayed, she wept so hard that she could not speak. Moving her lips in silent agony, Eli, the old priest at Shiloh, thought she must be drunk.

Eli accused her of being drunk, but Hannah protested that she was only praying out of her grief because she did not have a child. Eli understood, and pronounced a blessing on her, saying, “Go in peace and may the God of Israel grand you what you have asked of him.”

Of course, what she had asked was for a son, and in her asking Hannah had promised that if God would give her a son, she would give him back to the Lord’s service.

She prayed, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life.”

Hannah Brings Samuel To The Tabernacle

Of course, God hears Hannah’s prayer, and Samuel is born. Perhaps three years pass until Hannah is ready to keep her promise to God. So, on the appointed day, she and Samuel, who is probably 3 or 4 at this time, appear at the Tabernacle in front of the old priest, Eli.

There Hannah gives Samuel into Eli’s care, with these words –

“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”

So that’s the story of how Hannah prayed for a son, and then trusted him to God for the rest of his life.

A Story We Can Live

But this is more than a Bible story, even though it certainly is that. This story has the ring of authenticity. Here’s a woman, Hannah, who wanted more than anything to have a baby. Her prayer to God wasn’t a negotiating ploy, but a revelation of her own faith in God.

Hannah trusted God with her deepest desire, and with her future son. Hannah believed that if God allowed her to bear a child, that child would be so special that God would have great things planned for him.

Like Hannah, those of us gathered here today believe our children are special gifts from God. Our prayer may not have been the agonizing prayer of Hannah’s, but in some way each of us has prayed for our children.

If at your house, your children were happy accidents, as they were at ours, you may not have prayed for them to come. But as soon as you knew they were on the way, your heart was filled with concern, with love, with hope, and with a kind of desperate desire that God would bring them into this world safely. And, your on-going prayer, is that God keep them safe, guide them carefully, and help them reach their potential.

There is another way in which you moms and grandmothers, and others gathered here today are like Hannah, though. Like Hannah, you trusted your child to others at a young age.  Okay, maybe not three, but at 12 or 13, I’m sure you weren’t ready for your son to leave the safety and security of your home.

Yet, because you love your son, you have entrusted his safety, his education, and his future potential to Hargrave Military Academy. Like Hannah, last fall, or several falls ago, you delivered your son to this campus, to give him into the care of the faculty and staff here at this historic institution.

Why did you do that? Because you believed, like Hannah, that your son deserved the best. That your son would benefit from attending school here at Hargrave, an institution founded upon Christian values.

I can’t imagine the sacrifice that this must take on your part. For some of you, that sacrifice is financial. But for all of you, there is a bigger sacrifice that you as mothers and grandmothers have made.

Now, I don’t want to make any of you cry, but I do want to salute your sacrifice. When you sent your son to Hargrave, you realized that the back door would no longer bang loudly at 3:30 PM each day when school was over, because your son is here. You realized that you would miss out on that whirlwind of endless soccer practices, football games, drama club presentations, and all of the other afterschool activities kids are involved in.

When you sent your son to Hargrave, I’m sure you realized that when he got hurt, you would no longer be there to put a band-aid on his scraped knee like you did when he was six. (By the way, don’t do that now because he’ll be really embarrassed!)

You and your family have missed seeing him compete at swim meets, or on the baseball field, or in the science fair because you made the sacrifice to send your son here instead of keeping him at home.

You made these sacrifices because just like Hannah, you believe that your son is special, that God gave him to you and your family. Because you believe in your son, and his future, like Hannah, you have entrusted him to others to shape his life, strengthen his character, and send him home as a responsible, mature young man.

So, on this Mothers’ Day, I commend your sacrifice, your love, and your dreams for your son.

Sacrifice Demands Responsibility

But, before I finish here today, I have a word for your sons, for these cadets whom you have entrusted to this institution.

The sacrifices that your mother, and your family have made need to be acknowledged and repaid.

Let me tell you what happened to Samuel after his mother left his at the Tabernacle in Eli’s care.  As a young boy, Samuel was sleeping one night, when he heard a voice calling him. “Samuel, Samuel” the voice said.

Thinking it was old Eli calling, because young Samuel was now old enough to be Eli’s helper, Samuel went to the old priest’s room. “Did you call me?” Samuel asked Eli.

Eli replied, “No, I didn’t call you, go back to bed.”

This happened again. A voice calls “Samuel, Samuel” but when Samuel went to Eli’s room, Eli said, “I didn’t call you, go back to bed.”

Well, the third time this happened, Eli figured out what was going on. “God is speaking to you. The next time you hear the voice call your name, say ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears you.”

Samuel did just that, and God called Samuel to be one of the great Old Testament leaders. Samuel would become the spokesman for God, God’s representative to the nation of Israel. When Israel clamored for a king, Samuel would anoint Saul, and when Saul failed, Samuel would anoint King David to be King over Israel. Samuel took his mother’s sacrifice seriously, and lived up to the opportunity given him as Eli’s helper, and then as the spiritual leader of Israel.

Let me tell you a story about a young man who responded to his mother’s sacrifice. Peng Si is from Guangzhou, China. About four years’ ago, his family scraped together enough money for him to attend college in the United States. Peng Si enrolled in the University of Northern Colorado, and graduated in May 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

During the three years it took Peng Si to complete his degree, he was very careful with his expenses. His family had already sacrificed over $75,000 to give him an education in the United States, so Peng Si did not even travel home to see his mother and father during his entire three years of study. He did not want to spend a penny more of his parents’ money, than he had to.

After graduation, Peng Si planned to start a master’s program. But word came from China that his mother was gravely ill with hepatitis. Her only hope was a partial-liver transplant. Peng Si’s twin sister volunteered to donate a part of her liver, but doctors said she was too thin to survive the surgery.

Against his mother’s wishes, Peng Si volunteered to donate 60% of his liver to his ailing mother. The surgery took place on July 22 last year. Both mother and son came through the surgery well.

The Chinese press picked up this story of mother and son. He was called a “shining example for all his peers all over China to follow” by the doctor who performed the surgery.

But the reason Peng Si gave for his act of love was interesting. He said, “Everyone at my US university was very proactive about getting involved in charity and social justice causes,” he said. “It really focused my outlook on what I need to do to help other people, not just to take care of myself.”

I hope you never are faced with a situation like Peng Si and his mother were, but you can still honor the sacrifice your mother and family have made by sending you to Hargrave.

You can listen for the voice of God in your life, maybe not like Samuel did, but God’s voice just the same. That inner voice that tells you to rise above the crowd, to distinguish yourself in your studies, your sports activities, and your relationships.

Several weeks ago, the news media carried the story of 11 Secret Servicemen. These men thought that because they had a privileged position — guarding the President of the United States — that they were exempt from the rules of decency and self-respect. That’s a mistake that is often made by those who enjoy special privileges.

What these 11 men failed to understand is that their special privilege demanded a higher level of accountability and conduct than would be demanded of most people. They made the mistake of thinking their privilege was a license to do as they pleased, when really their privilege was the opportunity to excel. Instead they embarrassed themselves, humiliated their families, and brought shame and ridicule on the United States.

Character counts. The decisions we make matter. You can’t just take care of yourself. Sacrifice demands responsibility. Honor your mothers today by exceeding expectations, overcoming obstacles, and demonstrating character. That is your mom’s hope for you. Give her the gift of your best on this Mothers’ Day.

Podcast: When God Comes Down

On the first Sunday in Advent this year, I chose Isaiah 64:1-9 as the text for my sermon, When God Comes Down.  Here’s the link to the podcast from that sermon. http://traffic.libsyn.com/chuckwarnock/When_God_Comes_Down.mp3

When Death Comes To Our Community

This is the sermon I am going to preach on Sunday, February 21, 2010.  It comes on the occasion of the death of one of our members tonight, Saturday, February 20.

When Pope John XXIII lay dying, the Pope’s physician is reported to have said, “Holy Father, you have asked me many times to tell you when the end was near so you could prepare.”  The Pope replied, “Yes.  Don’t feel badly, Doctor.  I understand. I am ready.”

With that the Pope’s secretary, Loris Capovilla collapsed at the Pope’s bedside weeping.

“Courage, my son.  I am a bishop, and I must die as a bishop, with simplicity but with majesty, and you must help me.  Go get the people together.”

His reply was, “Santo Padre, they are waiting.” — Accompany Them With Singing, Introduction.

Last night one of our own left us.  Earl Hedrick went home to be with God.  I had planned to preach today on angels as God’s ushers, bringing us at death and at the end of time into the presence of God.  And while that might be a subject of great interest to us at another time, I felt today I needed to speak to you as your pastor about death, and what happens when death comes to our community.

This is not Earl’s funeral or eulogy, but because his death came so close upon our gathering here today, and came as such a shock to each of us, I want to take a few minutes today to talk about death and how we as followers of Christ deal with the grief and loss that accompanies death.

Dying Is Part of Our Life’s Journey

We all know we are going to die someday, but the will to live that beats in our chest does all it can to push death away.  We have sought to remove death from our lives, our homes, even our churches so much that when death does come in unexpected and surprising ways, we are struck with its finality and force.

There was a time when death was seen as the shadow companion of life.  Walk through any old cemetery where the grave stones display dates that reach back a hundred or more years.  What strikes me each time I visit an old cemetery is the number of small

Continue reading “When Death Comes To Our Community”

Paying Attention to the Outrageous

Hitler_w_youngmenSomebody did it again.  They compared one of our political leaders to Hitler.  It really doesn’t matter who did it because this is becoming a regular tactic for the extremists.  The frustrating thing is they get what they want — publicity.

The media pounce on their pronouncements as though the words they uttered were the first like them.  Bloggers and political sites pick up the refrain — “How dare they invoke the name of Hitler!” The outrage is palpable, and then the next day it starts all over again.

Frankly, I’m tired of it.  I’m tired of pop media personalities cheapening the tragedy of the Holocaust with their self-serving tirades.  If this is what passes for discourse and dialogue in America, we are at a new low.

But I also tell myself we must be on the cusp of change because so many are so afraid right now.  In times of turbulent change, the dividers voices are often the loudest.  It was that way during the Civil Rights struggle, it was that way during the Viet Nam war protests, and it’s that way again.

But I also know that the nascent signs of change in churches are encouraging.   Multi-ethnic congregations are blossoming, and new expressions of church are springing up in unlikely places.  Multi-culturalism is becoming almost as popular a topic among church conference planners as multi-site strategies.  More and more congregations are moving out into their communities, connecting with new groups of people who are helped, and who in turn change the helpers. Just as some courageous churches led the way in seeking justice for African-Americans, and later in seeking peace, these churches are the bellwether for change in our society.

That’s what we should be paying attention to — this new consciousness that I have not seen before in so many churches.  A consciousness of need, but of more than need.  An awareness of our responsibility as followers of Jesus to make a difference in the lives of people around us.  Next week I’m speaking to Duke Divinity School students about rural church ministry.  I’m going to talk about this new thing I see happening because it is unprecedented.

Examples emerge in unlikely places.  A church heals its community by planting a community garden in the wake of a local murder.  Another church reaches out to bikers and blue collar workers, not just for worship, but to help create jobs for them.  Churches feed people now in towns where before that need went unmet.  Kids are given school supplies, and encouraged to come after school for tutoring to an urban church that provides a safe haven until their working-class parents get home.

Change must be on the way because the voices of fear are growing louder and more shrill each day.  That’s the reason I pay attention to the outrageous statements of those publicity seekers.  I pay attention because I believe their outrageous statements carry with them a harbinger of hope, an indicator of impending change.   Let’s hope so, and let’s find a place to bring about that change.