March 15, 2020
by Mark Patrick, Care Minister
On 54th Street between France Avenue and Wooddale Avenue there’s a bridge over the Minnehaha Creek. That’s where my friends and I used to fish, spear carp, and float in inner tubes down the creek. We were in grade school. We’d fill our inner tubes with air at the gas station on 54th and France and head to the creek, then meander through the beautiful landscaped yards trying to avoid the rocks that were a bit too high. I have general memories of the gentle floating, the cool water and the warm sun. And I have a very specific memory of the first time we floated through the opening under the bridge on France Avenue. “We won’t die,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said. But as we entered the space we weren’t so sure. It all became black, the water moving faster as the entry narrowed, we couldn’t see the end, we had no idea where it was leading. Panic for a short time…then we literally saw the light at the end of the tunnel; and all of a sudden we were safely moving on away from the bridge on the other side.
I see this as a metaphor for hanging on to hope when things feel overwhelming.
Hebrews is the ultimate writing for us when we feel like giving up.
We connect with God:
Since we have confidence to enter God’s presence based on his sacrifice for us
Since he is now our high priest—the go-between linking us to God
Let us approach God because we are made clean, forgiven, acceptable to God
Images from Old Testament- Hebrews was written to a Jewish audience. The holy place in the temple was where the priest would offer sacrifices for the people. He alone was able to enter there. But now, with Jesus as our high priest we are invited and welcomed into God’s presence.
Let us hold fast to hope…We can hang on to hope – with no wavering…
Because He is faithful…
And we can say this based on God’s promises to us.
And then let us stir one another up! (In other words, let us provoke, motivate, or be a catalyst for action) to love and good deeds. Let us bring out the best in each other
This interaction with one another is intentional, initiative, inspiring. Our relationships as followers of Christ are designed to both challenge and encourage us as we live in God’s way. We are challenged to continue meeting with others, to connect with one another:
We must be careful not to isolate ourselves — isolation is not the same as “social distancing,” Especially in these days we need to encourage each other This can be done by texting others, emailing, making a call, going for a walk outside, sending cards, special notes
There are two prayers for times when we are overwhelmed or experiencing too much to deal with:
1. Lord, what were you thinking? I’m overwhelmed, and you’re nowhere to be seen!
2. Lord, what was I thinking?! I’m overwhelmed, and it’s my fault
How do we ever find hope in situations like this?
I have three stories, all true; all recent, that I would like to share with you:
First story: Son in law, Abe, was teaching in at a middle school in Ypsilanti, Michigan. It was a very difficult situation: lots of turmoil, challenges, students struggling. One of his seventh-grade students needed to leave school. His mom had lost another job, they had been homeless off and on for years. Now, another change. One of nearly 20 changes during his school years.
On his final day Abe saw this student leaving the building visibly upset. “Hey, Richard, what’s up? You ok?” “No, I’m not; my mom is waiting for me. This is my last day. I have no idea where we’re going.” They talked for several minutes. Then as Richard was about to literally leave, Abe said, “Richard, maybe this sounds weird, but this is the last time we’ll see each other. Could I just give you a hug before you leave?” Bear hug ensued… and they parted, never to see each other again.
That was 8 years ago. Just over a year ago, Abe and Megan and their boys moved from Michigan to Edina. Last fall their 5-year-old son, Trevor, was in swimming lessons at a local pool. Megan always drove him, except Abe drove him for two days when she was on a work trip. The second day Abe noticed how much fun Trevor was having and what a great job his instructor, a big handsome college kid, was doing with the kids. The instructor really looked familiar, so Abe approached him before the class. “Hey, man, thank you! My son loves your class; he’s learning a lot, and…” The young man looked at Abe, “Mr. Jacobs?!” “Richard?!”
Then Richard started weeping right there by the pool. They had just a few minutes to learn that Richard had found another school. A football coach recruited him for the ninth-grade team. He started working out and started growing like crazy. And his coach guided him through high school and connected him with contacts at Concordia College in St. Paul. He did say, “By the way, you’ll never know how important that hug was to me that last day at that school. Thank you!” Life isn’t easy, and he continues to make progress toward his goals. They’ve had Richard to their home a couple times and took their boys to one of his football games last fall. They’re staying in touch.
While the day in seventh grade was important, reconnecting recently rekindled his hope and his faith in different ways. He’s not a kid anymore; he’s a young adult trying to stay on a path toward real meaning.
Remember: Hope is something that needs to be rekindled throughout our lives. We aren’t surprised when it’s tested. We can come to expect God to come through in ways we couldn’t orchestrate or plan. Hang on to Hope!
Story Two: Polly’s friend, Debbie, lives on the East Coast. They’ve known each other since Deb was in grade school and Polly was in high school. They reconnected last summer with numerous phone calls and a visit from Polly to New York on a business trip. Recently, Deb called and said her friend, Cher, was in a bad spot. She lives in the Twin Cities and had been visiting Chicago. While she was there she made some decisions that she now regrets. Within a couple weeks she would need to go back to the Chicago area to spend six weeks in jail; she was devastated and depressed; she was suicidal… and Polly, would you talk with her?
They did connect and talked with one another. Then I heard Polly say, my husband, Mark, is here also. He’s a pastor and therapist and he’d be glad to talk with you as well. She and I then talked and eventually we prayed together — not that her situation would magically disappear, but that she’d find the ability and grace to face it all with courage; and that she’d get a fresh start. She said she’d keep in touch and let us know how she was doing.
Polly and Debbie decided to write Cher each week. And they invited a few friends who didn’t even know Cher to write to her as well. A couple friends are from this church community. Thank you by the way!
Well, a few weeks into her time in jail we heard that Cher was doing much better. Many of her fears about her time there weren’t realized. In her pod/group, she had received over 40 letters and cards. One other woman had received two. No one else had received any mail at all. She was grateful… and not feeling so alone.
Then later we heard she was in a study group with other women reading The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. At one point she remarked, I should stay a couple extra weeks; I still have more to learn! What a difference!!
Hang on to hope. Cher sent us a letter shortly before she was released saying, “thank you for saving my life!” We wouldn’t take credit for that. But we are reminded that at times we are surprised by the ways our hope is renewed.
We don’t, we can’t, always plan it. Amazing how it all works out. In simple ways people show they care…they want to care if we let them. And that can be a catalyst for good things to come. When we asked her permission to share some of her story for this morning’s message, she said, “Yes, of course; use my name if you like…anything. I’m just so glad to be alive and seeing life in a new way. You interrupted how I was thinking and feeling.” It seemed fitting when I told her the topic for this week: Hope Interrupts Despair: Interrupts how we’re thinking, how we’re feeling, and hurtful actions we’re considering. So, lets Hang on to Hope!
Story 3: Early in my work as a Care Pastor here at Colonial, Jeff asked me to visit Kris Berndt. Kris was from Sweden, a very long-time member at Colonial. She knew Jeff from when he first came to Colonial. Now she was in hospice care. Kris had reverted to only speaking Swedish.
Many times as a pastor or counselor or a chaplain I don’t know ahead of time what I will say to someone I meet. That was especially true on this visit. In the parking lot at her facility I prayed for just that… Lord, what do I say? The answer was clear; don’t say anything; bring her something. What? A song.
I recalled an old Swedish hymn we used to sing in the Baptist church I attended years ago: “Children of the Heavenly Father,” a gentle song of hope and grace. I found it on my iPhone on YouTube. And in Swedish!
As I arrived at her room, I met her nurse, Nancy. And said hello to Kris. But when I extended my hand to her, she recoiled with a very stressed look on her face. Nancy let me know that often we don’t know where Kris is in her mind these days, but it’s not here. And Kris hasn’t slept in two days. She’s so troubled. It’s hard to connect with her. I pulled a chair up next to Kris and said slowly, Kris, I’ve brought you something…a song. She paused and looked at me trying to understand; I started playing the song…
Children of the heavenly Father
Safely in His bosom gather
Nestling bird nor star in Heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given
Kris slowed down and listened as though she recognized it. As she listened Nancy came around her chair, knelt down and put her arm around Kris’s shoulders. Kris was now leaning into Nancy as she lay in her recliner and was breathing deeply as she listened. At one point I thought she had fallen asleep she looked so peaceful.
God, his own doth tend and nourish
In His holy courts they flourish
From all evil things He spares them
In His mighty arms He bears them
After the song I offered a prayer for Kris… for comfort and that she’d sense God’s presence with her. As I stood to leave I told Nancy, “I know Kris doesn’t want me to touch her so I won’t; I’ll just say good bye.” As I stood in front of her though, she reached out her hand to me and took my hand and held it in both her hands; then pulled it to her and simply held it next to her cheek, then next to the side of her head. I said, God loves you Kris. When you’re ready, when you’re ready… and stroked her head as a blessing.
Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord, His children sever
Unto them his grace He showeth
And their sorrows all He knoweth
Kris had gone from restless and troubled to peaceful and receptive because of a song that brought her back to herself, to her faith, to her hope. And she shared the meaningful touch that she had initiated.
Sometimes hanging on to hope isn’t so much “wrestling with faith” as it is “resting in faith.” This is true in life whatever our age.
Let us hang on to hope…and trust that God hangs on to us. Amen
Now, Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,
for he who has promised is faithful. Amen.