By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“A Gentler Yoke”

Rev. Art Ritter

July 5, 2020


Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


Back in the early 1980’s, I used to go to movies regularly.  Now, I really can’t recall the last time I visited a movie theatre.  I remember the 1983 film War Games starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy.  The movie was about a young computer whiz who, while searching for new video games to play, unknowingly hacks into a national defense program’s supercomputer which was originally programmed to predict the possible outcomes of nuclear war.  After starting a game called Global Thermonuclear War, the young man discovers that he has activated a weapons control system and the computer, unable to tell the difference between simulation and reality, has attempted to start World War III.  At the end of the movie, the computer and the young man and the military defense team all learn the same lesson.  The deadly game cannot be won.  The young computer whiz gets to deliver the moral of the film when he says, “The only way to win, is to not play.”

It is hard for us – to not play the game.  We usually measure our worth by our participation; by how much time and effort and resources we have put into the project.  We evaluate the success of our lives by our contributions, by how far we have climbed on the ladder of success.  Our busy-ness implies our value and our worth.  We want to take advantage of every opportunity, to follow every path, to pass every test, to know every secret, and to fulfill every demand.  But sometimes whatever we do is simply not enough.  No matter how impressive the effort we understand that whatever we do just isn’t enough.

Recently, the circumstances are different but perhaps the feeling is the same.  The pandemic has changed my schedule.  I am not as busy as I used to be with meetings and classes.  Perhaps demand and expectations aren’t quite the same.  Yet I am feeling more tired and weary.  It has been hard for me to rest but not because of my busy-ness.  It is more because of my worry.  I worry about what I might be able to do to control the seemingly out-of-control world around me.  I am not resting easy because I am looking for a way to control my own life and life situations.  I want to keep healthy and I want my loved ones to be healthy.  I am concerned about the future of our church as we try to deal with this extraordinary situation in methods with which I am not familiar and with technology that I never dreamed I would need to use.  I am looking for solutions, trying to solve problems, examining and seeking to prepare for every possible outcome – when the dilemmas and questions and scenarios seem to change each day.  I know that you are doing the same.  You can’t get away from it.  Colleen Foster mentioned to me this week that many of us are working from home, or working more from home.  But that means we never really leave work behind.  It is always in our minds, in the next room, or in the keys of the smartphone that we carry with us all of the time.  It can be a load.  We carry that burden with us every day.  The yoke weighs heavy upon me.  The yoke leaves me numb and exhausted, burdened with a heavy sense of hopelessness.

In the 11th chapter of Matthew, Jesus spoke to the Pharisees.  We tend to think of Pharisees as bad people- enemies of Jesus.  Yet in those days, Pharisees were highly respected many of society.  They were the educated leaders, the devout followers of God, capable and conscientious, always trying to do what was right and to make the world a better place.  They were a lot like us.  Their biggest problem perhaps was that they had a tendency to be “over-responsible.”  They wanted to be found worthy in God’s eyes and worthy according to their own standards.  They tried to live up to impossibly high standards and obligations.  And they insisted that everyone else do likewise.  There was something about the Pharisee philosophy that demanded that they always try to do something more, to try harder, to be better, and to worry more about things.  I wonder, does that sound like anyone you might know?

In a sermon on this piece of Scripture, author and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “I may believe that I live by God’s grace, but I act like a Scout collecting merit badges.  I have a list of things to do that is a mile long, and while there are a number of things on that list that I genuinely want to do, the majority of them are things I ought to do, that I should do, that I’d better do, or I might feel that God doesn’t love me anymore.  I may believe that my life depends on God’s grace, but I act like it depends on me and how many good deeds I can perform, as if every day were a talent show, and God has nothing better to do than keep up with my score.”

It is an exhausting way to live.  It may lead us to worry, to despair, and to hopelessness.  To those who can hear Jesus says, “Come unto me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  I like hearing that, don’t you?  Words of encouragement.  An invitation to a better place.

The yoke of Jesus is not a heavy burden.  The yoke of Jesus is weight released.  The yoke of Jesus is rest for the soul.  Right in the middle of all of the complexities and mysteries and confusion he stands and says, “Come to me and I will give you rest.  Let me dwell with you and you dwell with me.”  The yoke of a contented soul doesn’t come in finding actions that prove our worth, solutions that ensure our safety, or ideas that secure the future.  The burdensome yoke is the one we wear when we try to save ourselves.  The yoke of Jesus reminds us that God already knows all about us and loves us anyway, unconditionally, always.

We might, especially these days, prefer a God who takes away our problems rather than helps us cope with them; who eliminates our challenges rather than equips us for them; who vanquishes our opponents rather than enable us to make peace with them.  But in the yoke of Christ we get not what we want but what we need.  We get a God who shows us in our pain.  We get a God who comes beside us when we are lost.  We get a God who bears our burdens when we are broken.  That is the yoke of Christ.

There is a feeling I recall from my childhood days.  Every once it a while it sweeps over me again and I can recall feeling the same way when I was seven or eight years old.  That feeling came on the first warm and sunny day of spring in mid-Michigan; when the snow and ice had at least partially melted and the green grass began to appear.  You could take off your winter coat and at least exchange it for a sweatshirt or spring jacket.  I remember getting off the school bus and running up the long driveway to my house, running carefree, like a young colt out to pasture, running as if my feet were floating on the air.  On those kind of days, the weight of the gray and cold winter was over and the promise of the play of summer was just ahead.  The heavy yoke was lifted and a gentler yoke was embraced.

Jesus knew that our life would have its burdens.  Taking on his yoke does not mean the burdens will disappear.  But it does mean that the weight will be tender upon our shoulders because we know that it is shared.  We can begin to live life not as if we carry things alone, but as if Jesus were standing with us.  We can lay down self-imposed expectations and understand we can open our arms for help.  We don’t have to measure ourselves only to earthly standards because we know our ultimate goodness comes from God.  We lay down our burdens of the weighty yoke of the world to find the blessings God’s promises in a gentler yoke.  Our load is lighter when we walk with God.





Welcoming Jesus

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Welcoming Jesus”

Rev. Art Ritter

June 28, 2020


Matthew 10:40-42

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”


Dan DeLeon tells the story of traveling with a group of students from the Center for Global Education to the Mexican village of Amatian.  A resident of the village spoke to the group about his experience crossing the border and seeking employment in the United States.  While he was talking, his wife sat next to him quietly knitting.  The man, in his thirties, told the group about how when his wife became pregnant they had no money and no financial hope so he made the decision to go to the United States to find work.  Before leaving, he worked to save $500 to pay a guide to help him cross the border, risking the blazing sun by day and unseen hazards at night.  He carried a dehydrated older man on his back for the last part of the trip.  When the group crossed the border, they were immediately intercepted by the Border Patrol and taken back to Mexico.

Without money and ashamed, he started over.  He again saved $500 for a guide and took the same journey but this time made it into the United States where he found work.  He worked ten hour shifts at less than minimum wage, washing dishes.  He was treated poorly by his employers, laughed at by his co-workers, but since he couldn’t speak much English, he could not express his anger and hurt.  He put up with the abuse quietly because he had a goal in mind.  After three years the man saved up enough money, went back home to Mexico, and met his now three year old daughter for the first time.

DeLeon said that all the while the man was telling the story, his wife continued to knit but tears began to roll down her cheek.  Finally, a young student in the group, moved by the man’s story asked, “How can we help?  What can we do to change this?”  The man telling the story looked at everyone and said, “Just be nicer.  Don’t treat us like we are horrible.  Be kind.”

Just be nicer.  Be kind.  A cold cup of hospitality poured over the simmering heat of the world’s anger and resentment.  Small acts of compassion usher in the way of God on earth as it is in heaven.

For the past three weeks, we have been reflecting upon the 10th chapter of Matthew and the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples as he sent them out to preach and teach and heal in the name of the Gospel.  We can remember from the two previous weeks that Jesus knew his friends would receive something less than a warm reception.  He wanted to remind them that their task would often be uncomfortable because it would challenge the assumptions of the world; but that the mission was urgent and important because it was God’s intention.  There was going to be opposition and hardship.  He told them to travel lightly, to bring peace to those places where peace was first offered, but to move on quickly from places where they were treated harshly.  Those disciples must have wondered how they were ever going to succeed, how they were ever going to reach the hearts and souls of anyone out there in such a time or place.

Finally Jesus closed this bit of traveling and evangelism instruction with the lesson that we hear today.  “Whoever welcomes you welcome me.  Whoever even gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple-truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”  Jesus was telling them, and I believe telling us today, that the power of God wasn’t in a textbook or creed.  God’s mercy wasn’t a secret formula or an ability that one can magically obtain.  Jesus taught that we can bring people to God with the testimony of our struggle, when our kindness that is shared, and with the proclamation of Jesus that we share in gentle and compassionate ways.  He taught that we are drawn into a relationship with God through what we see in the actions of others and what we hear in the words of others.  If we can see God in others, they can certainly see and learn about God from what they see in us.

Nineteenth century English author George Eliot wrote, “the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts.”  A cup of cold water.  Such a little thing, the disciple must have thought that day.  But Jesus seemed to accent the important nature of minimal actions.  Even a cup of cold water.  While we might imagine our witness to the world involves huge sacrifice, heroic deeds, and difficult circumstance; here Jesus reminds us that most of the time following him faithfully and preaching the gospel can be a simple as giving a cup of cold water to someone in need.  Being a disciple is responding to Jesus’ love in small acts of devotion, forgiveness, and caring that might go unnoticed by many in the world.  Yet Jesus promised that if such acts are done in his name, they will have lasting significance in the building of the Kingdom of God.  Kindness creates hospitality.  Hospitality creating understanding.  Understanding broadens our experience of others and helps us to stand at their level.  Jesus is present each and every time that we offer kindness and hospitality to others.

Jesus said the participation in the Kingdom of God is the reward for those who are righteous.  We might prefer promotions and public acclaim or gold stars, or a round of applause.  But Jesus says that our reward is something less noticeable yet something more intrinsic.  We act in welcome and hospitality and kindness because such acts participate in and point toward the Kingdom of God.  We act in welcome and hospitality and kindness because such acts themselves bring us closer to God.  Welcoming anyone, especially those whom are most vulnerable in society or most challenging for us to accept, is to welcome Jesus and to participate in the Kingdom of God.  People will see us and they will see God.

Alyce McKenzie tells of an interview that actor Michael Douglas had with Oprah Winfrey.  He spoke of his relationship with his father, Hollywood film legend, Kirk Douglas, and told this story.  “My dad called me the other night and said, ‘Michael, I was watching myself in an old movie earlier tonight and I didn’t remember making the movie.’  ‘Well, Dad, you made 75 movies and you are 94 years old.  Don’t be so rough on yourself for forgetting one on them.’  ‘No, Michael, you didn’t let me finish.  I realized halfway through that it wasn’t me.  I was watching one of your films.’”

McKenzie writes, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if certain aspects of our lives and ways that we relate to others were all but indistinguishable from Jesus’ own example?  What if we reminded others of Jesus, just a little bit?

Yvette Flunder, pastor of Refuge United Church of Christ in San Francisco, and frequent speaker on the Living the Questions videos we have viewed at our Mayflower Café writes that there is no ball and chain upon the heart of the body of Christ.  Welcome is crucial to the gospel and to the Kingdom of God because it actually represents Jesus.  Flunder writes, “See, when Jesus liberates us from having to distinguish between who is deserving in our judgement and who is not, the shackles of partially are loosed so that we can freely offer more and more of those simple acts of kindness to all of God’s little ones.”

Max Lucado writes, “Hospitality opens the door to uncommon hospitality.  When you open the door to someone, you are sending the message, ‘You matter to me.  You matter to God.’”  That is a wonderful way of looking at it.  Who among us would not want to assure the next person we meet, the next person we talk to, the next person who looks upon us: that they matter to God.  Church growth expert Lyle Schaller often said, “Always welcome people.  Practice hospitality.  If you are uncomfortable knocking on doors, make sure that you at least open your own door.”

Offer the cup of cold water of kindness to the stranger on the street or at the market, especially behind the masks we need to wear today.  Offer the cup of cold water of kindness to those with whom you share the road.  Offer the cup of cold water of kindness with someone who expresses a view that differs from your own worldview.  Offer the cup of cold water of kindness to someone in need.  Offer the cup of cold water in places in which you have no relationship with others, so there is a space where you can listen and learn and value until all rough places become a common ground.

In God’s eyes, with mercy and love, there are no small gestures.  When we give our lives away for a purpose beyond ourselves, we gain by bringing ourselves closer to God.  Look for people to whom you can share a divine welcome.  Look for places where you can bring a cold cup of water.  Know that even your smallest act of compassion will make our world a better place and will bring the Kingdom of God that much closer to hand.





The Great Divider

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“The Great Divider”

Rev. Art Ritter

June 21, 2020



Matthew 10:24-34

“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

One of the 20th century prophets that I always admired was Clarence Jordan.  Jordan, who died in 1969, left behind a legacy of achievement that continues today.  He was a man of genuine faith, standing for his Christian principles in the face of serious opposition.  But what I respected about his story was that he always seem to stand by his principles with a great sense of humor.

Jordan was an agricultural major at the University of Georgia and then a graduate of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned a PhD in New Testament.  I first became aware of him when a mentor of mine in seminary would sometimes offer the weekly Scripture reading from Jordan’s folksy but amazingly accurate The Cotton Patch Gospels.  Clarence Jordan’s crowning achievement was the founding of the racially integrated Koinonia Farms in Americus, Georgia in 1942.  Koinonia Farms is a Christian agricultural community which raises crops to feed the hungry and is a place where people can go to work and serve and find hospitality.  Koinonia Farms was actually the birthplace of a more well-known service project- Habitat for Humanity.

As you might imagine, Jordan’s racially integrated project was not well received in the mid-1940’s Georgia.  When the farm tried to sell peanuts from a roadside stand, the Ku Klux Klan dynamited the stand.  Stubbornly, Jordan put up another stand.  It also got destroyed.  Jordan, always with that courageous sense of humor then resorted to mail order ads saying, “Help us ship the nuts out of Georgia.”  When accused of having conversations with reputed Communist Myles Horton, Jordan wryly answered back, “I really have trouble with your logic.  I don’t think my talking to Myles Horton makes me a Communist any more than talking to you right now makes me a jackass.”

There is an old Nordic saying about the Scandinavian people.  It goes something like this:  “It is the north wind that made the Vikings strong.  Without the north wind, the Vikings would not have survived for so long.”  The point of the saying is that if the Vikings would have lived in a much warmer and suitable climate, they never would have developed the strength and resilience needed for them to become a successful people.  It was the north wind, the cold wind that made them stronger.  British historian Arnold Toynbee once wrote, “It is the difficulties that lead to a flowering of a civilization.  Any civilization which does not have difficulties or obstacles will not be a great civilization.”

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  Perhaps Jesus never spoke more challenging words.   Perhaps he never spoke more divisive words.   We can wrap our arms about the sweet, innocent baby born in a manger.  We can be motivated by his teachings about the nature of discipleship.  We can be encouraged and inspired by his healings and his lifting up of the downtrodden.  But here Jesus speaks some painfully challenging words that give us pause and make us think again.  Following him will not bring peace, but a sword.  We are not to cling to the loyalties of earthly relationships but give our life for the sake of God’s Kingdom.  Our loyalty to Jesus may put us at odds with our parents, our family, and our friends.  We are to remain firm in our commitment to Jesus and his mission, even when that commitment generates conflict for us.  Jesus taught of us taking up a cross and losing our life for his sake.  He urged us not to try and follow a middle of the road path of faith that makes us comfortable.  In following him, there will be no compromise, no peaceful walk.  Jesus called his disciples to be peacemakers but he told them and us that the very act of making peace and healing and restoring will threaten the foundation of cultural assumptions of power.

These words of Scripture this morning are words that perhaps I would rather not hear.  These are words that challenge me rather than comfort me.  These are words that prod me rather than offer me the promise of reward. These are words that promise division not unity.  These are words that challenge instead of comfort.  These are words that prod me rather than reward.

The teachings of Jesus are a bit frightening, perhaps in every age and time.  But they seem to be especially challenging given the tests and trials of our own experience.  Believing in Jesus is risky business.  There is a cost involved.  Our human relationships with family and friends will be altered.  We will have to decide whether to point out the truth about our own sins and seek forgiveness and turn our behaviors around.  We have to decide if we have the grace within us to forgive our wounds and move on with our hurts.  We have to decide whether we point out the sins of our society or simply stay quiet, compromise, be agreeable and let someone else be responsible for the change.  We will have to choose whether to proclaim that the Kingdom of God can happen right here and now or play it safe and continue to ignore the change that can end the mediocrity and sometimes tragedy of what is what is happening around us.  As we consider the work of Jesus, we all have to decipher whether or not we will embrace the call that might divide or simply choose the urge to keep things calm and settled.

Jesus knew it would be hard.  But he didn’t send his disciples out to proclaim his Kingdom without some kind of help, some kind of encouragement.  They may have been hopelessly naïve about things but at least he gave them a bit of comfort and reassurance. Alyce McKenzie compares these reminders to the beads of a pearl necklace or a wrist bracelet.  They are things we can feel wrapped around us and reminders we can count upon and trust even in the midst of every challenge of faith.  He promised this.  Everything will be known to you.  Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered.  God knows you well.  Even the hairs on your head are counted.  You are of more value than the many sparrows.  If you acknowledge me before others, I will acknowledge you before God.  Those who find their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  Remember these things and trust in my presence.  That is how you will get the job done.

Donald Miller, in his book Blue Like Jazz: Non-Religious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, writes, “The trouble with deep belief is that is costs something.  And there is something inside me, some selfish beast of a subtle thing that doesn’t like the truth at all because it carries responsibility, and if I actually believe these things I have to do something about them.  It is so, so cumbersome to believe anything.  And it isn’t cool.”

Edward Markquart tells the account of Spanish essayist and philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset who was speaking about the French impressionist artist Paul Gauguin.  Most of Gauguin’s admired works were produced in his early years.  As time passed, Gauguin grew less creative and inspired and less productive in his work.  He grew disillusioned and distant.  He even attempted to take his own life by swallowing arsenic.  Ortega y Gasset said of him, “His creative energies degenerated into hobbies.”  What a terrible thing to say about someone: their passion turned into a mere hobby.  But perhaps that is what Jesus was warning us about in the words of the gospel this morning.  When our creativity and passion and courage leaves us, our faith is nothing more than a hobby.  When we fear standing out from the crowd or are worried that our actions might cause division we have lost the spirit we need.  When we think of our faith as something that will bring us a sweet life with no problems and there are no chances we have to take, then we will end up being much less of a follower of Christ than Jesus wishes.

Jesus’ passion was in bringing the Kingdom of God into being and serving it in ways that challenged the tradition and institutions and relationships of his day. In that regard, he was truly a divider.  “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  These are difficult words for us to hear.  Perhaps he meant that he did not come to bring passiveness and contentment.  Instead he brought a desire for peace that would move his followers to seek justice, healing, forgiveness, and mercy, for all of the world, and for all of God’s people.  He came to open our eyes.  And that is a challenging thing.  That is a good and challenging thing for all followers of Christ.






Shaking Off the Dust

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Shaking Off the Dust”

Rev. Art Ritter

June 14, 2020


Matthew 9:35 – 10:23

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.


I am well aware of the frustration of social media.  I don’t spend as much time as I used to posting on Facebook or reading the latest Tweets on Twitter.  While social media is a good place to find some attention diverting humor and personal updates from old friends, these days it is also a setting for much anger and venom and false information.  I have talked with many people who are weighing the need to block or unfriend others whose views not only disagree with their own but whose views they might even find offensive or even dangerous.

A couple of months ago, in the peak of the COVID 19 crisis in Southeast Michigan I read a Facebook post contributed by a former high school classmate.  The basis of the post was that the coronavirus was a hoax and that no one other than a few older people were getting sick and that the governor’s stay-at-home orders were unnecessary and even a political stunt.  While I normally ignore these kinds of posts, something moved me that day to respond- not in anger or in judgment, but in what I thought was a presentation of some measured facts.  I told her about what I knew to be the conditions at the local hospitals here in SE Michigan and about the trials of the doctors and nurses here.  I told her that I knew of people in my congregation with the virus.  I told her that I thought COVID 19 needed to be taken more seriously.  Within minutes my former classmate and two of her Facebook friends had responded to me.  It wasn’t pretty.  I was “accused” of being taken in by the reports of the mainstream media and too easily accepting the leftist conspiracy that was attempting to control all of us.  I was taken aback, a bit stunned, and I have to admit, even hurt that the nature of my words were completely ignored by the certainty of their response.

At that moment I decided to take a break from posting on Facebook.  I still use it for church communication.  I still check it each day to read updates from friends and family.  But I seldom, if ever make a post or comment on another’s post.  I certainly avoid anything political.  In these important times with so much happening around us, I feel a bit guilty for my silence.  I want people to know where I stand but it just didn’t seem like Facebook was a place to engage in any kind of constructive dialogue.  On that day, as far as Facebook is concerned, I shook the dust off my feet and moved on quietly.

I read an article this week written by Karoline Lewis, a professor at Luther Seminary in Minnesota.  The article, written about a year ago, described the first time that she was “trolled” on Facebook.  She had always expected it to happen but when it did she felt quite stung by the hurtful comments.  Lewis said that in her social media posts, she tries to be faithful to her own commitments, to her own truth, and to her own faith.  If someone doesn’t agree with her, that is fine.  That is the nature of discourse.  But when the dialogue devolved into inflammatory remarks, she- like me, backed off from social media.  Lewis offered a quote from journalist Charles Blow saying, “One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm.  The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient.”

In the 10th chapter of the gospel of Luke, Jesus prepares to send his disciples to go out and spread the good news of the gospel.  Jesus was a realist and he knew the truth about the human condition.  He wasn’t as naïve as I was when making my Facebook comment.  He wanted to make certain that his followers knew that this discipleship business wasn’t going to be a cakewalk.  For one thing, the disciples weren’t yet qualified to be good gospel salesmen.  They were rather clueless to the shape and manner of Jesus’ mission.  Scott Hoezee writes that it was like sending high school students out to build a skyscraper.  It was an impossible task to begin with.

Jesus also knew that he was going to be rejected and that consequently those who spoke for him would also be rejected.  The task is urgent and the message is important, but it isn’t going to be as easy or as well received as you wish.  “Cure the sick.  Raise the dead.  Cleanse the leper.  Cast our demons.  But don’t get too comfortable in your tasks.  Prepare for failure.  As you enter the house, greet it.  If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”

I have shared with you before that during my senior year of high school I spent a few days campaigning for then Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern.  I still have one of his campaign signs in my Tiger Den at home.  I was pretty naïve about it all, expecting to change the world, or at least expecting to change the hearts of voters in Grand Rapids, Michigan where a group of us knocked on doors one Saturday.  I soon found out that duh, conservative Grand Rapids was not a George McGovern stronghold.  Not everyone wanted to hear what I had to say.  I don’t think anyone wanted to hear what I had to say!  I had a few doors slammed in my face.  I was called a few names.  My excitement was quickly tempered by a strong yearning to call it quits and just go home.  Jesus’ disciples must have experienced that same kind of reception.  Rejection.  An unappreciative crowd.

Likewise, not everyone wants to hear about the Kingdom of God.  Karoline Lewis writes that perhaps our own world is not much different than the mission field into which Jesus’ disciples were sent over 2,000 years ago.  As modern day disciples, trying to speak and live out the gospel message we must remember to do our work not with naïve innocence but with eyes wide open.  There are many around us who are all too comfortable in their understanding of the world.  There are many who refuse to see their sin.   There are perhaps many more who fail to see the sins of society and our culture.  There are many who only want to hear a gospel message that will save their own skin.  They do not want to know that the Kingdom of God is near because if that is true they will have to change and be moved from their places of comfort.  They will be challenged.  And so it is easier to reject the message and messenger who brings it.

Dallas Willard writes that when he was a young boy, electricity was just coming in to his rural hometown.  Yet even when the lines were up and the power was running to homes, many continued to use their old kerosene lanterns, scrub boards, ice chests, and rug beaters.  A new and better idea waited for them but they just didn’t trust it.  They thought it to be too much of a hassle, or they simply didn’t believe what they were being told.  Certainly they were more comfortable sticking to the old ways.

Jesus knew the danger of opposition and the discouragement of rejection.  He sent his disciples out in pairs hoping that they would come to understand the value of one another in preaching the gospel message.  He told them to travel lightly, to not expect times and places of satisfying success and complete comfort.  And he told them that if they were rejected, they should simply shake the dust off their sandals and move on.  Not everyone will have the ears to hear what you are saying.  Be prepared to fail and don’t be discouraged by your failure.  Don’t take it to heart.  Don’t allow the hurt of rejection to affect you.  Do not be controlled by the opinions and malice of others.  Don’t lose the joy of the gospel message.  Don’t hide behind palatable platitudes.  Don’t just go through the motions of discipleship.  Keep moving.  Get over the sting of rejection and seek out those who will receive our love and our message of the good news of Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

Perhaps my decision to mute myself on social media wasn’t the correct one.  Perhaps I need to understand that in shaking the dust off my feet, I move on but I don’t give up.  It is God who can take the dust of any failure and create something fresh and new.  It is God who can speak through any spirit of indifference and rejection with a fresh word of creation that can bring a desire to begin anew.



It’s All Relative

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“It’s All Relative”

Rev. Art Ritter

June 7, 2020


Matthew 28:16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.


If you think that your family has problems, consider the marriage mayhem created when 76 year old Bill Baker of London recently wed a woman named Edna Harvey.  She happened to be his granddaughter’s husband’s mother.  That is where all the confusion began, according to Baker’s granddaughter.  The granddaughter said, “My mother-in-law is now my step-grandmother.  My grandfather is now my stepfather-in-law.  My mom is my sister-in-law and my brother is my nephew.  But even crazier is that I’m now married to my uncle and my own children are my cousins.”  Kind of reminds me of that old silly song, “Now I’m My Own Grandpa!”  A commentator remarked that because of this, the granddaughter should gain some profound insight into the theory of relativity.

This morning is Trinity Sunday.  Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday in the Christian year that is devoted to a doctrine and not an event or feast or person.  It is the day in which preachers usually bring out the same old tired clichés: holding up images of triangles or shamrocks; pointing out H2O’s ability to be water and ice and steam; or bringing up that age old story about the three blind men in the same room with an elephant.  Preachers are always trying to find a way to make the difficult concept understandable in the minds of their listeners.

The doctrine of the Trinity is not biblical.  The Trinitarian formula appears in Scripture only once, in Matthew 28, during the Great Commission when Jesus tells his disciples to go forth baptizing others in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The doctrine of the Trinity was first formulated in the fourth century and then developed throughout the succeeding centuries.  It has been the subject of many debates within councils of church authorities.  It has been the focus of wars between rulers and peoples.  It has been the starting point for many heresies and excommunications.  Today the doctrine of the Trinity is something that we usually accept without much thought, probably because we think that we are supposed to accept it, even if we don’t understand it.  Questioning it seems impolite and it may hurt our heads trying to really wrap our brain around its issues.  Martin Luther, in great wisdom once said, “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; to try and explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”

Essentially the Trinity confirms that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We modernize that to say that God is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.  Back in the fourth century, when all of the Trinitarian talk first started, St. Augustine had a wonderfully simple idea.  He developed a metaphor for the Trinity that said God is Lover, Beloved, and Love itself.  I am also fond of H.C. Read’s explanation of Trinity that I have shared with you before:  God everywhere and always; God there and then; God here and now.”

One of the things that struck me most as I contemplated the Trinity is its emphasis on relationship.  Too often our faith is more mechanical than spiritual, more in our head than in our soul.   To get closer to God we might go to books for answers or test ourselves through the discipline of religious laws that measure our purity.  Yet at its simplest explanation, the Trinity teaches us that God is not an academic concept or distant law giver.  God is relational.  We truly find God when we consider the ways that God is in relationship with us.  It is when we live in relationship with God and in God with others that something of structure truly becomes something spiritual.

In her book The Mind of the Maker, Dorothy Sayers divides creative action into three categories:  idea, activity, and power.  For example, if someone is to write a novel, they must first have an idea for the book.  Then the book has to be written, chapter by chapter, bringing the book into being.  Once the book is written and published, it does no good unless other read it.   But once read the book begins to effect the reader.  It has a power of its own.  It moves them to think and act differently.  Idea, activity, and power.

Sayers’ metaphor seems to fit how we contemplate our experience of God on Trinity Sunday.  It draws our attention to the three-way interpersonal relationship of God the Creator, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  God as Father is the creative idea.  God as Son is the creative activity.  God as Spirit is the creative power.  Each is necessary for the other.   The Trinity makes us see that we are invited into relationship in a way in which God can be personally experienced, where rigid doctrine becomes living faith.  As God’s love and mercy and grace is more easily understood when we are in relationship with God; such love and mercy and grace can be more clearly lived when we are in relationship with others.  The true meaning of what God creates and calls us to be comes when we are in relationship with God and with others.

As you know, this has been a difficult week in our country, beginning with the events of Memorial Day in Minneapolis, as George Floyd, a Black American died while a police officer’s knee was upon this neck.   This has happened too many times recently, with Black Americans as victims.  At first there were peaceful protests.  Then some of the protests grew violent.  There was looting and rioting and arson.  Bricks and other dangerous objects were thrown at police.  There were tear gas and concussion grenades tossed at protestors.  Politicians postured and made threats.  Accusations were raised about who really was behind the violence.  Many supported the actions of the protestors.  Many were so upset with the looting and burning that they could not listen to the concerns of the protestors.  At the end of the week, thankfully many of the protests were peaceful and included large groups of young people.  I struggled with this week even as I wrestled with the concept of the Trinity this week.

I read a powerful Facebook post by our former Director of Music, Marcus Peterson.  Marcus wrote from his heart.  He said, “I’m upset, enraged, afraid, scared, hopeful, and black.  Being a 6’7 and a half” black man is seen as scary, and I’ve been given this look of fear many times throughout my life.  People purposely cross the street to avoid running into me …. I have been give strange looks when I walk at night, and so much more.  I’m afraid to jog anywhere other than my apartment complex or my neighborhood at home, even then I am hyper aware.  I share these experiences because we do notice and there has to be change.”

Marcus’ words were a slap in the face for me.  I thought to myself, if I did not know Marcus I might be fearful of him too.  From a distance, if I saw Marcus walking toward me my rational assumption might be to try and avoid him to protect myself.  That is sad.  It brings me no small amount of shame.

But I know Marcus.  I know him as a gentle, compassionate, thoughtful, funny, and talented young man.  To think anything else is just plain silly.  I know Marcus and long for what is best for him because we have a relationship.  We have shared experiences together.  And because I know him I am moved to examine my own attitudes toward racism and move to change my thoughts and behavior.

Things need to change.  Racism is present in our world and our society and its institutions and in us.  And it is wrong.  Change can only come when we seek the intention of God, when we are active in ways that bless others and we feel blessed by God.  In this case change can come when we seek relationships that create understanding, demand justice, and reach out in love.

Thankfully all of us here at Meadowbrook have more of a soul and heart experience of Marcus that creates trust and love, rather than a head and logic assessment that generates fear and suspicion.  Our heart and soul relationship with God needs to move us to act as God’s faithful people.  As we experience God as a creator of good and as a liberator from bondage; as we experience Jesus as a healer and Risen One who breaks down the barriers of death and oppression; as we experience the Holy Spirit as an instrument of change and energy toward hope- we want to be the force of that triune God.  God desires that we be less concerned with our comfortable prejudices, our easy political persuasions and our rigid moral judgments; and more concerned with creating relationships which focus the needs and aspirations of others.   God yearns that we would reach out to others in loving action so that our experience of them has a power to teach us something different, something holy and transforming.   We learn this by experiencing God’s creating and redeeming and sustaining power ourselves.


The Miracle of Understanding

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“The Miracle of Understanding”

Rev. Art Ritter

May 31, 2020


Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’


I read an essay this week that spoke to my heart.  It was written by CNN’s Editor at Large Chris Cillizza.  Cillizza wrote that in mid-March, when the world was just beginning to shut down because of the coronavirus, he anticipated a big rush of anxiety.  He had suffered from health issues early in life and so he worried that the virus might prey upon his serious pre-existing conditions.  He took his temperature several times a day.  He followed proper social distancing.   He paid close attention to every cough and sneeze.  Eventually Cillizza survived a cold and after a few weeks his health anxiety began to fade.

As the calendar moved into mid-May, Cillizza writes that he suddenly has become anxious again.  This time his anxiety was caused not by his health but by his uncertainty.  Society was opening up.  Some people were happy.  Others were not.  Some people were venturing out.  Others were staying at home.  Some were wearing masks.  Others were scoffing at the idea of wearing a mask.  Some seemed to be content to wait for a vaccine.  Others seemed to be advocating for herd immunity.  Cillizza writes that the rules had changed or perhaps there aren’t any rules anymore.  Yes, there are still guidelines but nowadays people are interpreting those guidelines very differently.

Suddenly Cillizza has all sorts of questions.  Should he be wearing a mask?  Should his kids go to summer camp or have friends over for play dates?  Should he make plans for a summer trip?  Should he invite another family over for a Memorial Day cookout?  He has reached out for answers and found that lots of people seemed to have plenty of them.  But the answers that he has heard are often the exact opposites of each other.  There is a cacophony of voices speaking with different wisdom.  The certainty of people’s sure answers provide him with even more uncertainty.  It is frightening!  Cillizza quotes Rousseau in saying, “When things are important, we prefer to be wrong than to believe nothing at all.”  This may indeed be the logic behind people’s strong opinions about things today.  They just need to believe something.

As I mentioned in a sermon a few weeks ago, it seems to me that in the face of our struggle against COVID-19, uncertainty is growing.  Like Cillizza, much of my uncertainty comes from so many other people being absolutely certain about things that have no easy answers.  I understand the tension between the health concerns that keep our stay at home requests in place, and the economic concerns that resulting job furloughs and unemployment cause.  But other divides seem to grow deeper.  The wearing of masks, seemingly a simple yet important gesture of health, has become a hot button political issue.  People who wear masks live in fear.  People who don’t wear masks don’t care about the welfare of others.  Some people have dismissed the idea of social distancing to the ash heap of weeks ago, believing that when it comes to gatherings, now is the time to just get back to normal.  Crazy conspiracy theories swirl and gain strength with each news deadline.  I read this week where many people will refuse to get a vaccine for COVID-19 if and when it becomes available, because they believe that a certain billionaire is putting a tracking device into the vaccine.  It is almost laughable yet frightening.  It seems as if we are speaking different languages today; that we are divided by our inability to listen to each other and understand what the other person may believe to be an important truth.

Long ago, on the day of Pentecost, the believers of Jesus Christ were gathered together in Jerusalem.  While they were there the gift of the Holy Spirit came upon them.  A strong wind began to blow.  Tongues of fire danced over their heads.  Each person spoke in their own language but everyone around seemed to have the ability to understand that language as their own.  Ex-fishermen and tax collectors suddenly gained the ability to talk in ways that learned scholars and trained experts could hear.  The sights and the sounds of Pentecost drew people together.

Calvin Seminary’s Scott Hoezee writes that one can only imagine the cacophony that filled Jerusalem’s streets and alleys before the day of Pentecost.  Given the many different opinions and voices we hear today, we might imagine the chaos of a community who spoke in at least fifteen different languages trying to communicate with each other.  And then wind and flame and the power of God moved God’s followers to speak in those different languages, but not to divide but to bring together.  All of those in the diverse crowd heard as if the words were spoken directly to them.  There was no longer uncertainty and division.  There was no anger and suspicion.  There was unity and purpose.

On the day of Pentecost, the followers of Jesus began to act boldly upon their faith.  They began to share of their life together in common meal and prayer.  They united to pool their resources so that no one went hungry.  Instead of trying to persuade others to come to their side through the power of logic and language and politics, they brought others to hear the good news by doing God’s work in God’s world.  They no longer felt bound to the correctness of tradition.  They no longer worried about who was more right or who had the higher moral ground.  They no longer saw themselves as one group pitted against another or one culture trying to change another.  They were simply people of God’s compassion and healing and justice.   The Holy Spirit brought people together by unleashing their ability to be the body of Christ.

Amy Lindeman Allen, professor at Christian Theological Seminary, writes that the miracle of Pentecost is not so much a miracle of understanding as it is a miracle of hearing.  What caught people’s attention, what gave them pause, what lead them to want to learn more, was that the followers of Jesus were speaking in the people’s own native languages.  When you preach to others with your moral superiority, when you stand over another with threats and insults, we you claim to rule with only your own power, it is hard for others to listen.  When someone reaches out to you, when someone approaches you at your own level, when someone sees you for who you are at your core, it is a lot easier to hear what they have to say in return.  Allen writes that throughout the book of Acts, the apostles of Christ engage in proclamation and mission that goes out to people of all nations, that accommodates different views and cultural practices, that does not demand that people come to them, but rather, brings the good news of Jesus to meet everyone where they are.

The Holy Spirit is still loose in our world of pandemic.  On this day of Pentecost we are to consider how that Spirit continues to draw diverse and even disagreeing people together.  It is not through the logic of our arguments or through the politically charged language or the volume of our voices.  Those methods only contribute to the chaos and uncertainty.  It is through the work of love spoken in words and acts of kindness and compassion.  It is through seeing others genuinely and speaking in their own tongue that we will be heard.  We pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon us and between us, turning lives around from the inside out, taking the selfish viewpoints of different interests and creating a desire to love each other with abandon and compassion.

In The Meantime

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“In The Meantime”

Rev. Art Ritter

May 24, 2020



Acts 1:6-14

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.


One of my friends is getting ready to retire.  He and his wife are ready to sell and leave the house that they have lived in for thirty-eight years, and move closer to a warmer climate in another state.  As you can imagine, the house is full of memories.  My friend talked emotionally about the day they moved into the house, about bringing babies home from the hospital, about watching all of the neighborhood children grow up, about hosting friends at summer cookouts, about celebrating Christmas and decorating the tree, and about the house being the one constant through a life of changing circumstances and situations.

My friend told me that the house by itself is nothing special.  It is relatively small, three bedrooms and two baths – but it fit their family of four.  They had the bathrooms changed and the kitchen remodeled twice, but the house was never what anyone would call a palace.  It was just a modest house that sat in a modest neighborhood.  My friend said that when he and his wife moved into the area, they had to find a house quickly.  While they toured many they just couldn’t seem to find what they really wanted.  And so they settled on the house in which they lived for thirty-eight years, thinking that they might live there for just a few years, that is until they found the house that they were really looking for.  It was never the house of their dreams.  They were always searching for the house of their dreams, and in the meantime they managed to build and live their dreams in the little modest house that became their nearly forever home.

In the meantime.   How much of life do we live hoping for a situation to change?  How much time do we waste waiting for tomorrow to bring something more to our suiting?  How many opportunities go by while we seek resolution to our needs and our source of uneasiness before we are motivated take action?  How much of our lives are lived while we await the promise that we hope will be coming, lived in that unknown yet perhaps ordinary territory that we call- in the meantime.

In the meantime.   Those moments between one door closing and another door opening.  Those times lived between an unexpected ending and a hoped for yet uncertain new beginning.  Meantime moments are longer versions of the time when the nurse takes our weight and temperature and blood pressure and then leaves the room, assuring us that the doctor will soon be in to see us.  In the meantime things are out of our control until we speak with the doctor and hopefully get on our way again, back to the place where things are the way we think they should be.

In the meantime.  Perhaps that is how all of us are living right now.  With the arrival of the COVID-19 virus, our world and our lives changed.  Nothing is as it was before.  Work.  Schools.  Travel.  Shopping.  Medical appointments.  Visits with family.  Child care.  Leisure.  Worship.  Each of us yearns for that day when things get back to normal although we all may have a different interpretation of what that day might look like.  Will it be when restrictions are lifted?  Will it be when there is a vaccine? Will it be when for whatever reason we are certain the pandemic is over?

William Bridges, in a book called Managing Transitions, writes about the meantime as a neutral zone, an in-between time when the old is gone and the new is not yet fully operational.  In the meantime there is a state of limbo with nothing to hold onto.  He gives examples of graduating from college without a job; of awaiting the birth of a new baby; of waiting for a loved one to pass within the hospice experience; and of having children leave home.  It certainly seems like this time of living with the virus around us is one of those moments.  We are living in an in-between time.  We are living in the meantime.

The Scripture lesson from the book of Acts describes what we might know as Ascension Day.  Most of us Protestants don’t realize it but the church observed Ascension Day last Thursday, forty days following Jesus’ resurrection.  The event was in the midst of a time of great uncertainty.  Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus was asked by his disciples, “Is this the time when you will restore the Kingdom of Israel?”  They wanted to know if this was the time when things would happen that would make all of their hopes and dreams come true.   Will things get easier for us now Jesus?  Will life become just like it used to be Jesus, controllable and certain?

Jesus’ response was that it was not for them to know what would happen.  The future is in God’s hands.  They were to understand only that they would receive the power to live in their time through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  He was not leaving them without wisdom and energy and courage.  And he was giving them a job to do.  “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”   And then he lifted up out of sight.  For the meantime he left them with work to do and a promise of the power to do it.

They stood there gazing up for quite a while, perhaps wondering if Jesus would return immediately or be more specific in his instruction to them.  Suddenly two men dressed in white robes came and stood with them asking, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  This Jesus will come back to you in the same manner that he left.”  In the meantime, he has given you something to do.  Get busy!

And so the disciples returned to Jerusalem to await the gift of the promised Holy Spirit.  And they returned to the familiar Upper Room.  And they shared in fellowship together.  And they devoted themselves to times of prayer.

In the meantime.  The words of those angels seemed to inspire the disciples.  They were taken from their sadness and their apathy and their worry and their grief; and they were reminded that God’s promise of the Holy Spirit awaited them.   They really didn’t know what was coming next.  But in faith they accepted the task and trusting in God’s promise they moved forward, knowing that God had something important for them to do- in the meantime.

On Ascension Day I like to recall a scene in the Inherit the Wind, the play loosely based on the famous Scopes monkey trial in early twentieth century Tennessee.  In the scene one of the characters says, “He got lost.  He was looking for God too high up and too far away.”

Perhaps that is a lesson for us as we find ourselves living in the meantime.  We might see God only in our safe and secure past.  We might hope for God only in the future that restores our certainty and brings complete safety.  We might be looking for God too high up and too far away.  And yet we discover that God is with us in the meantime.  Jesus went to be with God so that he would not be bound to a specific time and place.  He went to be with God so that he could always be with us, experiencing our breath, our hopes, our fears, our very life.  We cherish what we had.  We yearn for something better.  But in the meantime we can find the presence of God not in a far away heaven, or a distant dream.  God is close at hand.  Jesus is in our midst.  We will find him when we prayerfully consider what is at hand and we faithfully follow his call to be is witnesses.

This is the promise of God.  Things will get better.  Something good is coming.  In the meantime stay connected to God in prayer.  And be witnesses of Jesus in your words and actions of grace and mercy.

Left Behind

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“Left Behind”

Rev. Art Ritter

May 17, 2020


John 14: 15-21

”If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”  

In a sermon on this particular piece of Scripture, Barbara Brown Taylor shares a childhood remembrance.  As the oldest of three daughters, she was the designated babysitter.  When her parents would go out for the evening, she was the one left in charge.  The routine was always the same.  Her father would sit her down and remind her how much he and her mother trusted her, not only because she was the oldest but because she was the most responsible.  And being the most diligent and oldest of the three daughters, she would not let the house burn down.  She would not open the door to strangers.  She wouldn’t let her little sisters fall down the basement stairs and hurt themselves.

Before leaving, her mother would give her the telephone number of where they would be for the evening and tell the girls when they would be home.  The three sisters would then walk their parents to the front door and kiss them goodbye.  Then the front door would lock from the outside and the new regime would begin.  Taylor was in charge!  She said that she remembers her sisters looking back at her with something between fear and hope.  But the girls had a good time.  They played games together.  They read books aloud.  They enjoyed snacks.  They laughed at one another’s jokes.  But as the night wore on, they grew more and more anxious.  They wondered, “Where is Mommy and Daddy?  Where did they go?  When will they ever be back?”

Older sister did her best to remind her younger sisters that they were just fine and not to worry.  She was there to take care of them until their parents returned.  She promised that if they would go to sleep that she would make sure that Mommy and Daddy would kiss them goodnight when they returned home.  The only problem came when fearful thoughts entered older sister’s mind.  What if their parents had had a terrible accident?  They might never come home again, the sisters might be split apart, each sent to a different foster home so they would never see each other again.  Anxiety took over her thoughts and she created the most dire circumstance of fear, repeating it over and over in her mind.

I think that Barbara Brown Taylor’s story speaks well to our present time and situation.  During the current pandemic it may seem as if our preferred life of secured routine has left us for a time.   The world is not as safe or as predictable as we wish.  We are in charge of what happens in our life even though it feels as if we have no control.  While we hope for the best, our anxiety creates scenarios of the worst.  We may wonder if God is with us through it all.  If God is absent, where did God go and when will God return?  Are we left alone to deal with these circumstances beyond our wisdom and our ability?

The gospel lesson for the Sixth Sunday of Easter is another part of what is known as Jesus’ last discourse from the book of John.  Following the Last Supper in the Upper Room, following Judas’ decision to arrange a betrayal, following Jesus’ warning to Peter of impending denial, Jesus spoke to his disciples about leaving.  He said that he would be going away yet he said that he would be coming back.  He didn’t say that he would be stopping by every day to check on them.  He didn’t say that he would call them every hour to see how things were going.  He promised that he would come in the form of the Holy Spirit- an advocate, a helper.  “I will not leave you orphaned.”

We can only imagine the fear in that room.  We can only imagine the confusion and uncertainty.  What was going to come next?  What would be expected of each of them?  That was when Jesus looked them right in the eyes and said, “Please do not be afraid.  It is going to be just fine.  I know that it looks bad and sounds bad.  But in the end I will be with you in a way that you cannot imagine.  I will be with you in a Spirit that you can understand and will enable you to be connected to me in a living and lasting way.  You will not be alone.  It will be just fine.”

I read about a sixth grade teacher in Pittsburgh who has a final day of school assignment for her departing class.  She asks them to consider what they have experienced in sixth grade, how they began the years and how they have changed.  She asks them to write a note that next year’s sixth graders can read on the first day of school.  What did you enjoy the most?  What did you find was most important?  What is the most important thing?  What thing should you not worry about?  I thought it was a wonderful tool to relieve some anxiety and uncertainty that surely accompanies the first day of school.

That’s about where we are in the living of these days.  We might feel that we are left alone to our own knowledge and strength and ability.  We want some reassurance.  We want to know that something greater and stronger and smarter than us is not only present but in charge.  We want to be assured that somebody loves us.

Jesus tells his disciples of the one who is coming who will be with them in their times of celebration and trial.  It is the Spirit, the Helper, the Advocate.  The word used in early Scripture translations was Paraclete, which means someone called alongside to help or to assist.  The Paraclete is our counselor, our intercessor, and our comforter.  Richard Burridge writes that the original meaning of the word was “to give strength or courage.”  Jesus’ disciples were given this Helper for the strength and courage to minister to a hurting world.  We as disciples of Jesus are given the same Helper for strength and courage.

How do we find that presence?  How do we encourage others to find that presence?  Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father.”  Jesus told his disciples to keep his commandments.  He made certain that the word “love” was front and center.  If you love others, it won’t be hard for you to figure out what to do next, even in times of fear and uncertainty.  If you love one another, doing what is right and good will come more naturally and easily.  Jesus tells us, “If you love me, you will do what I have commanded you to do.  If you love one another, I will be with you despite the difficulty of your situation.”  Be agents of my love.  Be examples of my grace and mercy.

In a Facebook post this past Tuesday, theologian and author Parker Palmer quoted a poem by Anne Hillman entitled, “We Look With Uncertainty.”

We look with uncertainty

Beyond the old choices for

Clear-cut answers

To a softer, more permeable aliveness

Which is in every moment

At the brink of death;

For something new is being born in us

If we but let it.

We stand at a new doorway,

Awaiting that which comes…

Daring to be human creatures,

Vulnerable to the beauty of existence.

Learning to love.


In his comments, Palmer talks about uncertainty making us anxious.  When things are “normal,” we soothe ourselves with the illusion that we are in control- until we are reminded that we are really not.  But uncertainty, rightly held, can generate creativity, offering situations that give life rather than diminish it.   He urges all of us to use this time to wrap ourselves around what he calls “good questions” to bring the better world we want and need into being.  We are to consider where we might find the presence of God and how our actions and attitude might contribute to bringing that presence to others.

That’s how Jesus taught it long ago.  He would not leave his disciples alone.  By doing as he taught, by living as he lived, they would find him with them always.  In our current time of fear and darkness, we are not alone.  We are not orphaned.  Jesus is with us.  Jesus is with us when we are the point where God’s love and mercy and grace become active in our world.

When the Wheels Fall Off

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“When the Wheels Fall Off”

Rev. Art Ritter

May 10, 2020


Acts 7:54-60

When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.


It feels to me like this has been a much harder week than those immediately before it.  While there may not be much logic to my feeling I must admit that there is a bit more uneasiness and doubt within my soul.  Perhaps we will look back and find that staying at home was the easiest part of our pandemic experience.  Isolation wasn’t a great deal of fun but at least there was some assurance that we were safe, with the exception of those grocery store adventures.  Staying at home wasn’t enjoyable but we had the motivation that we were helping fight the COVID-19 virus and that our time of sacrifice would bring results.

We knew that many were hurting.  It was obvious that doctors and nurses and health care workers were sacrificing their lives to provide care for the sick.  We soon learned about the risk of first responders and grocery store workers to keep us safe and nourished.  Staying at home meant that our children were out of school and parents had to make additional sacrifices to keep the household functioning.  We knew that many of our friends and family were out of work, laid off or furloughed and the economy suffered from our isolation resulting closures.  The practical realities of lowering the curve came to light and the debate between health and economics was real.  But we felt like we were doing something, sacrificing something to aid in the treatment and to prevent the spread of the virus.

It feels now as if another page has turned.  The next phase of living through the pandemic is right around the corner or perhaps has already begun.  Ready or not, states have begun to unlock their economies.  Slowly, in most cases, steps are beginning to be taken for businesses to open.    People are congregating again at parks and beaches.   There’s talk of professional sports returning, of malls and shopping plazas re-opening.   We may be able to sit down in a restaurant for a meal again, albeit in a restaurant with much fewer seats.  There is a group here at Meadowbrook that is examining what our worship and ministry will look like when we can return.

Some places are moving quickly, in the minds of many, much too quickly, to restore what is fondly remembered as normal.  Others are persuaded that a prolonged shut down will mean the death of our economy and jobs and way of life.  There are protests, including the demonstrations inside the capital in Lansing.   Social media is ablaze with comments about the authenticity of science, the credibility of COVID 19’s death rate, about whether or not one really needs to use a mask, about the validity of continuing social distancing.  One person’s vision of freedom seems to be another person’s nightmare of disaster.  One person’s idea of health seems to be a tool that enslaves another.

In some ways this week it felt like the wheels were falling off.  Any vision of a unified, focused, and purposeful mission to lessen the pandemic came crashing to earth.  The veracity of the disease, the economic and political realities, and the emotions and worries and fears leave me wondering what to make of all of this right now.  It feels so strange for me to be living in a time in which the advice of health care experts is ignored in the face of politics.  It seems maddening to me to read of so many who are willing to embrace conspiracy theories to attach blame and attempt to make their own personal sense of the virus.    I am worried that the right of those with weapons and loud voices are heard while the rights of those dying quietly and alone are ignored. There is a swirling pot of hope and fear, politics and science, fact and misinformation.  Where is God in this?  What is the best way to be faithful?  How can I best make sense of what is happening?

We are now five Sundays in the season of Easter.  So far the stories of the Risen Christ and his followers have been rather amazing.  Jesus appeared to the group behind locked doors and offered them peace.  Jesus encouraged even the doubting Thomas.  Jesus walked with two of his followers on the road to Emmaus and after breaking bread with them they recognized him and their hearts were lifted.  Last week we reflected upon Jesus as the Good Shepherd and the good and tender care we receive daily from him.  In readings from the book of Acts, which we have discussed at our Bible Study, we have heard an encouraging speech from Jesus, a inspirational sermon from Peter, and the optimistic news that hundreds of people had been converted to the way of Jesus.   For a while, everything was looking good for this new faith!

On this fifth Sunday of Easter, the wheels fall off.  A different reality is presented.  Stephen, a follower of Jesus is stoned to death.  Stephen was a leader in the early church, perhaps he was one of the original deacons.  He was full of faith and the Holy Spirit and devoted himself to serving others, distributing food to those in need.  Barbara Brown Taylor describes Stephen as a pretty ordinary guy:  “He was not one of the Twelve.  He was not even a candidate to replace Judas when that slot came open.  He was simply a good and faithful man who could be trusted to distribute food to those who were hungry.” But his words and his witness to Jesus angered the established religious authorities.  Stephen’s life of faith suddenly got more complicated.  Lies and rumors and conspiracy theories spread about him.  His words and actions threatened the order of those in power and the reason of the masses.  In their anger and rage a crowd dragged him into the city and stoned him to death.

This isn’t a good and uplifting story.   Unlike many of the post-Easter stories there isn’t a happy ending.  This is a story of fear and lies and hatred and violence.  I don’t know how this incident made those newly baptized converts feel.  It would have frightened me.  It would have left me feeling a little less certain about the future.  It would have me wondering if following the resurrected Christ is such an easy and worthwhile bargain.

But perhaps that is the message of this story.  It wasn’t going to be easy.  Faith in the Risen Christ would require some difficult choices and some painful decisions.  Faith in the Risen Christ would have its days of discouragement and doubt.  Even the story of Jesus wasn’t fair.  Jesus took risks and paid the price.  He warned his followers of sacrifice and suffering.  He offered no guarantees other than that even in darkness they would find his presence.  I am with you always.  In that the early Christians found their purpose.  When the wheels came off they found hope instead of despair.  When things got difficult they knew that striving to know Jesus as closely as they could was the way to bring eternal meaning upon the temporal.  Even when everything seemed to be falling apart, imitating Christ would offer some meaning in chaos and uncertainty.

Princeton professor and preacher Tom Long writes, “Hope implies a deep-seated trust in life that appears absurd to those who lack it.  In fact, when Christians gather at a graveside and announce hope in the resurrection, it is precisely counter to all possibilities latent in the present tense.  Christians can not lay the cards on the table and predict how the hand will play out; they admit they do not know what the future holds.”  Long writes that we do not know if loved ones will die.  We do not know if peace talks will succeed or fail.  We do not know if God’s agents for change in the world will be heard or ignored.  We simply do not know.  He concludes, “Our hope is based, rather, on the promise that, whatever the future may hold, God is, in ways often hidden, shaping all human life redemptively and bringing all things to fulfillment in Christ….In short, Christians do not believe, on the basis of evidence, in progress; rather, we believe, against much of the evidence, in a God who keeps promises.”

In these difficult times, with the prospect of more difficult days ahead, we must live this present day based on the future of hope.  Hope encourages us to walk as close as we can to the living Christ, the Risen One, living out his gospel in our words and our deeds, preparing ourselves and the world for the future in him.

A pastor named Jim Lowry wrote a poem for Easter Sunday in 2004 entitled, “At Deep Dawn.”  I will close with part of it:

If everything you believe is true,

Then there is hope.

If everything you believe is a lie,

Then there is no hope.


Remember what he taught you…

Remembering what he taught you

Is what will help you believe your Jesus is alive.

Today we must remember how Jesus taught us

The meek really will at last, inherit the earth.

We do believe that, don’t we?

Today we must remember how Jesus taught us

That peacemakers really are the children of God

We believe that, don’t we?


Today we must remember how Jesus taught us

That the ones who stand for what is right will be blessed.

We believe that, shouldn’t we?


If you long for hope that will not let you go…

If you want the children to grow up surrounded by kindness born of truth;

If you long for the world not to self-destruct,

This is the story you must remember and this is the story the church must tell.


In those moments of deep, deep dawn,

When you remember what he taught you,

You will know…

You will believe…

You will be sure

There is hope so strong

Not even the grave can contain it.


The Shepherd at the Wheel

By | Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

“The Shepherd at the Wheel”

Rev. Art Ritter

 May 3, 2020



John 10:1-10

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.



I recall a road trip I took in early November of 1980.  I was living in Bridgeport Township, a community near Saginaw at the time.  I had just purchased a brand new Ford Escort and was planning to make a drive to Seward, Nebraska to visit a friend who was going to college there.  My friend Bob told me that he would be happy to make the trip with me and offer some company and conversation along the road.  I took him up on his offer.  Because it was my car and because it was a new car I preferred to do the driving.  I drove us out of Michigan, through Indiana and around the freeway confusion of Chicago.  I drove my car, as we took I-80 through Illinois and across the mighty Mississippi, into Iowa.  At that time though I was getting a little road-weary and Bob was getting more than a little anxious to drive my new car.   I decided that it was time to take a rest and to let Bob have some time behind the wheel.  I pulled into a rest stop and we exchanged places.

I sat in the passenger’s seat for around ten minutes before my eyes got heavy and I could feel myself relaxing and falling asleep.  But that didn’t last long.  Before I could enter the full peace of restful slumber, I was startled by the sound of the car’s tires hitting the rumble strips on the side of the right lane of the freeway.  Bob had quickly fallen asleep behind the wheel.  I shouted something to him, probably not very pleasant, grabbed the wheel and pulled the car safely back to the middle of the lane.  I told him to pull over at the very next exit.  We were moving back to our original places.  I could not trust Bob to drive my car.   I would rather drive exhausted than sit in the passenger seat worrying about whether Bob would stay awake.

There is an old Peanuts cartoon strip from 1972 that featured Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty having a conversation about Charlie Brown’s anxiousness.  Charlie Brown described the experience of riding in the back seat of the car while your parents were in the front seat.  It is night and you were headed back home and all was well.  You could sleep-worry free because you knew that they were taking care of everything, including the driving, the navigation, and the worrying.   You can associate that feeling that Charlie Brown was talking about, can’t you?  Everything is just fine and you are so comfortable that you can safely rest.  There is a feeling of utter trust and security provided by a reliable, loving, and all-powerful figure at the wheel.  Peppermint Patty confidently agreed.  But then Charlie Brown continued.  He told Peppermint Patty that the feeling doesn’t last.  You eventually grow up and leave the backseat and that feeling of security and trust can never be the same again.  You never get to sleep in the backseat again.   When Peppermint Patty came to the same understanding she reached toward Charlie Brown and yelled, “Hold my hand, Chuck!”

In a conversation this past week, someone mentioned to me that one of the problems of living through this pandemic and the resulting economic crisis is that we just can’t relax and rest in peace.  It seems as if we don’t have a day or in some cases even an hour when something new doesn’t become a matter of worry and concern.  Perhaps we can take a deep breath and make a resolve to rest just before our heads hit our pillows.  But others have told me that they are having trouble sleeping these days, or that their sleep is filled with strange and unsettling dreams.

Like Charlie Brown, we long for those days and those moments when we were able to sleep in the back seat of the car, trusting that the power at the wheel of the car is taking care of everything.  We wish we didn’t have to worry about COVID-19, about wearing a mask, about the future availability of a remedy or a vaccine, about a second wave of infections, about layoffs and job furloughs, about a simple trip to the grocery store, about the health of our family and friends, and about paying our necessary bills.  It is tough if not impossible to fall asleep in peace in the backseat of the car these days.

On this fourth Sunday of the season of Easter, the Scripture lesson tells us about the value of shepherds.  The reading from the gospel of John offers the words of Jesus as he compares himself to a good shepherd, one who cares intimately for his flock, one who protects them from danger, one whose voice the flock recognizes, and one who leads them to good pastures, cool water, and safe rest each and every day.

The other reading for this Sunday is the 23rd Psalm, perhaps the most well known chapter in the entire Bible.  This text is very familiar and loved.  While it is often associated with funeral services, the psalm speaks of God’s tender care throughout all of our life.  In these words, the Psalmist describes not only a source of comfort during a time of loss, but an approach to trustful living in the midst of uncertainty and worry.

The 23rd Psalm describes God as a powerful yet gracious shepherd.  God is one who does what needs to be done to make certain that trusting sheep may live.  In its words we are brought to consider the darkness and the dangers and the temptations of our existence.  We are reminded of the dark shadows that haunt us and make us feel uneasy.  We are made aware that we live in the presence of evil and that fear is a place to which we are often held captive.  The 23rd Psalm names reality and takes seriously the dangers that are very much a part of life.

Yet the Psalm is an intense and longing prayer that hopes for a deep God-given peace that overflows even when we are in the midst of such darkness.   In the words of the Psalmist, we are assured that God and Christ our Shepherd is one who leads us through and past life’s troubles.  God’s tender love leads us in situations of fear to places of joy.  God’s grace allows us, actually makes us take a rest from our weariness in places of refreshment and nourishment.  God puts us at a bountiful table where even in the presence of our enemies, we are able to recall our past experiences of joy and know that such joy will come yet again.  God offers peace in the midst of conflict, life in the midst of death, light in the path of darkness.

In his commentary on the 23rd Psalm, Calvin Seminary’s Stan Mast writes, “Into the confusion of the 21st century comes the 23rd Psalm with this good news.  Life is not a self-guided tour; there is someone who will give me the guidance I need…. You might think that the King of the Universe would have something bigger and better to do, but God has committed God self to be my personal Shepherd.  God guides me by giving me a written record of God’s will, but putting God’s own Spirit in my heart, and by governing the developments of my life with God’s invisible hand.”

Walter Brueggemann writes that although most Psalms are songs of lament or praise or thanksgiving, the 23rd Psalm is a psalm of trust.  Its function is “to articulate and maintain a ‘sacred canopy’ under which the community of faith can live out its life with freedom from anxiety…there is a givenness to be relied on, guaranteed by none other than God.”  Trust is evoked by a promise.  We either believe in the promise or we don’t.  We live as if the promise is real and trustworthy or we live as if the promise isn’t real and cannot be trusted.

Perhaps Charlie Brown was right.  We can’t ride naively and innocently in the backseat any longer.  Our current situation has taught us that much of life is out of our control.  Our current circumstance reminds us that there are dark and uncertain places in our daily life.  But the Psalmist and this Psalm hopes for return of our trust in God, in the presence of God that can bring us peace and assurance even when we sit in the uncertain, fear-provoking front seat.  Despite what is real, in spite of all that surrounds us, our lessons of faith teach us that we can frame our experiences within the larger picture of God’s loving intention of each of us.