Thoughts from Pastor Layne

Thoughts from Pastor Layne

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. – Romans 5:1-5

It has been a season of loss of late. In addition to the relentless pandemic and the losses of family, friends, and others who have died from the virus, we have also suffered the loss of certain freedoms and privileges that we had perhaps taken for granted in pre-pandemic years. We now are painfully aware of how much we miss the ability to travel and gather without worry, and how much we took for granted that our stores would always have full shelves or that our favorite restaurants and entertainment venues would always be fully staffed and open for our pleasure.

But the last several months have brought losses on top of those, as we have experienced what seems like a wave of death of beloved celebrity actors and musicians, as well as deaths of influential and trusted spiritual leaders. Episcopal Bishop Shelby Spong, Catholic Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Zen Buddhist Monk Tich Nhat Hanh all contributed much to inter-faith dialogue, and helped us all with the work of becoming more tolerant, more just, and more spiritually attuned, no matter what our faith tradition. They are and will continue to be much missed.

When it seems that death comes in waves, it is important to remember a few things:

1. The presence of death does not signal the absence or indifference of God. Death is a natural part of the order of life, and the good news of the Christian Gospel message is that God is with us in the midst of death and will be withus on the other side of death. None of us should ever make the mistake of declaring that God has forgotten or abandoned us because we have suffered great losses. At such times it can feel as if God is distant or inattentive, but that feeling is in us and should not be blamed on God.

2. Even as waves of death occur, waves of new life also occur. We can make the mistake of focusing on the deaths and forget to simultaneously note and celebrate the births. Even in the midst of a deadly pandemic, babies are being born. New artists, new musicians, new spiritual leaders are being born each and every day. God is continually at work sending new love and life back into our world even as God receives back former vessels of love and life. We do a great disservice to God when we focus too long and hard on death without an equal focus and appreciation for new life.

3. As the above teaching from Romans attests, we can actually receive spiritual benefits from enduring the suffering of loss that death can inflict upon us. In the immediate pain and anguish of such losses, this can be hard to acknowledge, but those of us who have lived long enough to have experienced seasons of loss before can attest to the truth that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” We must be sure to give grief it’s season and never attempt to hurry anyone through their suffering (as if we know just how long is “enough” for them), but we can be ready for that season of hope that can follow if we turn our eyes back to God as revealed in Christ.

4. We are not alone in our grief. Especially for members of a church family, members of the body of Christ, we should feel encouraged, strengthened, and supported by the fellowship available to us within the church. Not only our immediate local congregation, but the broader church universal stands alongside us and is ready to have us lean into it when we need some extra love and assurance. Let us always look for opportunities to be of support to those who are grieving, and may we grievers trust that such support will be earnestly available if we reach out for it

All of this should certainly give us hope!

Peace, Pastor Layne

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