Stand by Me

The presence of the Holy Spirit (Paraclete, Advocate, Comforter, Friend) reminds me of the classic song “Stand by Me.”  The zeitgeist has me really feeling that song lately:

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No I won’t be afraid
Oh, I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me (Ben King, Stand By Me).

As a member of the clergy here in Grand County I know many people are looking for me to offer comfort or reassurance and hope for these dark times. As if the Co-Vid crisis, isolation, and physical distancing wasn’t enough, many of us felt our heart pierced by the dying cries of George Floyd and then faced further anxiety over the ensuing riots and violence that the media has on replay.

The scripture I chose for this week in our series, “Amazing Acts of the Apostles” offered an astonishing parallel to my situation. I often keep my voice and opinions quiet and gentle while preaching in response to division (except to constantly beg us to listen to someone with a different opinion or viewpoint. . .to listen in love and compassion and restrain judgement to continue holding our minds and hearts open to each other or what God may be calling us to speak out to as a congregation).

The scripture is the very moment when Peter crosses all ethnic and racial lines to speak out about the wonders of Jesus’s teachings, death, and resurrection. It follows last week’s fiery gift of the Holy Spirit by visible tongues of fire that enabled all ethnic and language barriers to disappear and “everyone understood.” And Peter found his voice!

Peter declares: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”  Peter replied, “Repent . . . Save yourselves from this corrupt generation!” (selections from Acts 2:34 ff)

If only we could find that in today’s culture – the part about ethnic and other barriers being lifted and “everyone hearing and understanding.”  Instead, we feel more isolated and more divided than ever. I admit that I don’t have answers, but I am seeking for the Truth that always rises over the chaos. Truth . . . is different from facts. Everyone wants facts and data and details.  But we only find Truth when we listen deeply to all of Jesus’ teachings and when we heed the powerful words of the prophets throughout our scriptures. When we find that Truth, sometimes we know that we may also be “cut to the heart.”

The apostles were able to do brave and courageous things after they stared fear down in that room for weeks upon weeks. When the Holy Spirit rained down on the day of Pentecost, the timing was perfect for a miracle of understanding and transformation. We learn from this that sometimes understanding and transformation only come after fiery, terrifying revolution. Think about the voice Martin Luther found when he nailed those 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg castle church! He didn’t expect the fiery Reformation to sweep across Europe in the way it did, yet it changed everything: theology, politics, church, and personal identity.

Nearly 500 years later, Martin Luther King, Jr found his voice through peaceful protest and eloquent speaking crying out for the day “. . .That my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The fiery revolts and riots following his assassination seemed to effect little change in our nation when we consider how many Americans find it hard to breathe because they have too quickly been judged — and not on the content of their character.

Yes, I am disheartened. Yes, I am discouraged. But you know what? I’m not afraid. Like Peter, the time has come for all of us to raise our voices and speak out the Truth. As Presbyterians we truly believe that the Truth also comes to us through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit, through deeply listening for the Truth that bubbles up out of chaos through our work together. I’m not afraid because Jesus promised us we would not be left alone — that he was sending along the Advocate to guide us and teach us Truth. We must work together, listening deeply to hurts and our own stories, learning from scripture together, trusting that we are not separated from God in any way because the Holy Spirit is standing with us just waiting for our awareness. To do this we need to find our voice together and be courageous enough to speak out as a congregation.

Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for raising his voice against the violently oppressive Apartheid, eventually rose to become a voice of reconciliation and forgiveness as President of post-Apartheid South Africa. He reminds us, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Which is why our Confirmation Students are reacting with courage to the anxiety and fear so prevalent all around us and offering a Parking Lot Peace Day. We will worship at home, sharing Communion with the elements we find in our own homes, and then try a fellowship experiment this Sunday, June 7. Please drop by between 1-6 to see the imaginative ways our treasured Confirmation students offer our community to lament together, speak out for and pray for peace, and include a virtual “audience” of those who wish to fellowship with us but are still isolating or quarantining themselves.

CEH has always been seen as a rational voice during times of division, and I pray we will do so through this Peace Day as well. Because no matter what our political or ideological philosophies are, we recognize that we worship the Prince of Peace who challenged us to live into the Kin-dom of God (“Kin” like family; a better word for our understanding, because Jesus did not use power or political reign to spread his love; we call him King but we have elevated him to that position — he never did).  Each week we pray “THY Kin-dom Come. . . THY will be done.” Let’s make it so, and come Stand by Me.

With Passionate Love for you, the Beloved Community,

Rev. Paula

PS: I call it an experiment in fellowship, because we will have to abide by safety guidelines that require physical distancing and wearing masks. It will be similar to what we may experience at worship when we can return to worshiping together either outside in the parking lot or seated as family units with 6 feet of space between us. It means we will have to resist the hugs and embraces that so many of us long for, and have to settle on a wave instead. It means we will not see the smiles except in the eyes of our church family and community.

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