No More Surprises?

Have we decided that nothing surprises us anymore? Like, what HAVEN’T we seen or had happen in 2020??? But wait, before we decide that with all the stresses and the pressures and the stuff we haven’t been able to do – remember the Chiefs won the Super Bowl! Does that seem like a lifetime ago? And maybe how unlikely. They were behind nearly every game through the playoffs including the big one, and they came back every time. It would be way fine with me if they could maybe not do the get behind thing so much and kinda lead the whole way. But maybe winners shouldn’t be complainers, especially in 2020. Did we think three years ago, you know PP (pre-Patrick) we’d see a Super Bowl win again in this city??? Surprise!

Do you know that we celebrated the Grace Extravaganza 2 weeks before the country shut down in March? The Extravaganza live and silent auction that raised over $115,000 which is ALL direct to mission! The direct fund the need amount allowed the renovation of the sanctuary at the Center of Grace during the pandemic which did at least two things. One it empowered and invited safe-distancing and limited numbers but yet volunteer service that frankly helped hearts and spirits in a difficult time, most especially “demo-day” from what I understand. What better way to take out frustrations about the virus than getting to destroy stuff for a good cause! And two, the space is now so much more useable for worship and for meetings and for what we might not have dreamed God already has in the works ready to go for gatherings after this limiting time is over! How much fun we had on that night being together and celebrating what we can accomplish for God’s work in the world. Looking back it seems more of a God-thing than I would have said then.

Do you know that we started a focus on small groups using the “Class Meeting” model that hearkens back to the days of John Wesley for our Lenten study? And that those groups had been meeting together long enough that they continued and became more of a support and family connection through zoom than any of us might have imagined at the start. Lenten studies have always been important to this church, but we had no clue in the planning how much of a lifeline they might turn out to be for hearts and spirits continuing to meet virtually to support one another.

And what about on-line worship? Do you remember that Chandler had already started putting the reading of scriptures and sermons on FB on Mondays for anyone who missed church? That was easy for me to ignore essentially because there was so much going on in worship for Saturdays and Sundays in-person that it rarely crossed my mind that part of the service was on-line the next day. But because of that when we needed to go fully on-line, we already had a start. We still were drinking from a fire-hose those first 6 weeks, but we had a template, a door had been walked through that allowed us to build on what was already started. I look back at that and marvel at the grace of the right people on this staff whose gifts suddenly moved from let’s slowly expand our capacity, to essentially saving our worship lives to spread the gospel.

When I stop for a minute and begin looking at all the things that have happened in ministry that we never would have dreamed, I’m humbly overwhelmed at God’s vision that frankly, this community of faith that includes Olathe and far beyond Olathe continued and continue to support with flexibility, a whole lot of forgiveness for our “learning curve” and a great sense of humor for the moments we fall short.

There are a whoooooooole mess of things I can tell you hurt my heart about the last year from the massive changes in how we can/cannot do pastoral care, the limitations and redefinitions of how we do weddings and funerals and confirmation, and simply missing seeing people that I love in-person on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, may I never take that for granted again! And there is so much sorrow for families that have lost and continue to lose loved ones and others who will have serious chronic illness as a result of the Covid 18+1. My heart hurts for all that without any rose-colored glasses, AND I continue to be surprised by God’s saving grace in ways I never before would have imagined.

Maybe you too?

This season is much about the surprise of Christmas morning – the wonder of gift-giving and receiving and every now and again finding just the right, often very simple thing, for just the right person who is wonderfully overwhelmed at your thoughtfulness.

I don’t think God’s desire for us to experience the surprise and wonder of generosity and love has changed because we’re in the full-force of a horrible pandemic. In fact I believe God wants those gifts for and through us for others more than ever. Don’t decide that nothing will surprise you anymore with a cynical shake of your head. As long as there is God, there will be surprises that will lift us up in encouragement, and maybe surprise us with the strength we have to keep walking through great struggle and sorrow. And whether it is one or the other, or the other or the one, God awaits each of us with an eternal gift of life and light that overcomes all death and darkness.

Remember that with me as we move closer to a Christmas celebration that will be more virtual than in-person, I pray, for the world’s safety. God needs us perhaps to surprise ourselves with our willingness to sacrifice our usual family gathering traditions in the short-term with the promise we will celebrate them again, perhaps with more humility at their true meaning, when life is better and less dangerous for everyone in the long-term.

No, we haven’t seen it all, that little child born in Bethlehem is still working in the world and in us. And the surprises he yet has in store will be no less miraculous than that first Christmas morning!