A Pastor's Ponderings and Such

Choosing Our Direction

Biblical Witness 1 Corinthians 3:10 – 17
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — the work of each builder will become visible, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Contemporary Witness “The Shallows” by Amanda Gorman
Touch-deficient &
Light-starved we were,
Like an inverted flame,
Eating any warmth down to its studs.
The deepest despair is ravenous,
It takes & takes & takes,
A stomach never satisfied.
This is not hyperbole.
All that is gorgeous & good & decent
Is no luxury, not when its void
Brings us to the wide wharf of war.

Even as we stand stone-still,
It’s with the entirety of what we’ve lost
Sweeping through us like a ghost.

What we have lived
Remains indecipherable.

& yet we remain.
& still, we write.
& so, we write.
Watch us move above the fog
Like a promontory at dusk
Shall this leave us bitter?
Or better?

Then choose.

Reflection “Choosing Our Direction”
So far this Lent our spiritual practice as a community has been to intentionally grieve our losses, mostly due to the pandemic. We’ve meditated on and expressed our griefs for ourselves, family, work, and church. Today, taking all those truths into consideration, we ask what’s next. What are your hopes and dreams for your future and for the future of Plymouth?

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he reminds them that they have choices to make. The foundation they’re building on is solid. It’s the foundation of Jesus himself, that of love and grace. He also reminds them that each of them are God’s temple. When he reminds them, he also reminds us. Each one of us is the dwelling place, the house, the vessel of Holy Love. He writes, “God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

As a holy temple, Paul teaches that it matters what we build with. It matters how we build – the patience we have and whether we cut corners. How we build on our strong foundation determines how long what we build will last. And that could mean many many things. For instance, it isn’t just how many years a ministry is running that makes it successful, but how long did the ministry live in the hearts of those who participated in it? Some ministries are meant to only be for a year or two, but they last a lifetime in the hearts and souls of those who are a part of it.

This goes well beyond church ministry. We can talk about school, work, neighborhoods, friendships, any number of things that we build. How long they last in our hearts and souls determines how well they’re built. Not how long they last in active years.

In the poem called, “The Shallows,” Amanda Gorman lists griefs about the pandemic. Things like, “Touch deficit.” “Light starved.” She says, “All that is gorgeous & good & decent is no luxury, not when its void.”

And then she asks us a question. “Shall this leave us bitter? Or better? Grieve. Then choose.” Like Paul, Amanda is reminding us that we have choices that we can make and that how we build is as important as what we build.

We’ve learned a lot in the past two years. Did you know how resilient you could be? How innovative? Did you realize just how lonely you could get or how deeply you could enjoy the quiet of solitude? Maybe you’ve discovered that both are true for you? What have you discovered about yourself? The world? How have you changed for the better? How are you struggling in new ways? And what tools have you gained to better deal with life?

Finally, and possibly most importantly, how have the priorities of life changed for you? Is there something you’ve realized that you don’t want to lose? That you don’t want to forget? Something that you want to build on?

Amanda Gorman asks, should this experience leave us bitter or better. Well, we know the answer we’re supposed to give to that question. Unmistakably – better. But bitterness can be so still and subtle. It can hardly make a wave on our consciousness. This is why we took the time to name our griefs. To bring out to the open for our own examination, the pains we’ve been left with. The injuries that need healing. When we bring them out to the open, they can’t fester. When we shred them, that’s the symbolic act of letting them go so that they don’t become our identity. Not that our grief goes away like turning a light switch on and off. Just that we can learn to make choices about how we grieve and even to a degree, when. Once we do that, we can start making other choices, like what direction we might go next.

Now is the time. When so much has been shifted around and nothing is quite set yet, now is the time to begin to rebuild. What was built out of straw, that got burned in the fire of the pandemic, can now be rebuilt out of precious gems. We don’t have to build quickly. What we need to do is set our direction. That starts with knowing our priorities.

Sometimes when we build, we can no longer see the foundation. We forget what we were building on and why. The uniqueness of moments like these is that our loss in so many ways is our opportunity to glimpse the foundation and choose to clean it off. See what it was we were building on and why. To consider not only what’s been lost, but how we might have built better the first time. Then, to rebuild. Either something similar yet better. Or something else entirely.

First I want to remind you, once again, who you are according to Paul’s teaching. You are holy. And you are a builder with choices. Amanda Gorman says, “What we have lived remains indecipherable. & yet we remain. …Watch us move above the fog.” This gives me chills of hope. God gives us gifts, talents, energies, wisdom, and discernment. We are the architects of the next moment. We determine what we build and how we build above the fog.

The ministry of Jesus, the anointed one, the Christ, was to those who needed good news. He said he was anointed to proclaim release, to aid in recovery, and to lift oppression. He also told his followers that they were called to do the same as him, but better. As we choose our direction for new ministries or to revitalize previous ministries, this is the foundation we’re building on.

All that the pandemic gave us and took from us, helps to guide us toward our highest priorities. As I think about Plymouth moving forward in this new way of having Sunday Service and being the church together, I ask myself, who needs to hear the good news. Who is hearing bad news and what good news do we have to offer them? Maybe it’s as simple as saying, you can hang with us just as you are. And then of course we have to prove ourselves, as Jesus had to, that we really aren’t going to judge, and coerce a certain belief. In what way do we get involved in proclamations and actions for release of those who are being held hostage to a system that is wearing them down? How can we aid in recovery and lift oppression?

There are so many ways to live a life of Holy Love and loving ministry. The foundation we build on is firm and stable. The first direction we can choose is to build well, out of a deep sense of caring for all God’s creations, which we all are. What we build is definitely important. How we build though, is what makes what we build last.

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