PLUM Pastoral Message
Jesus is willing to meet us in the dark of night
It is the time of year when it seems we awake to darkness. And the evening hour of darkness comes way too quickly. Outside, it is often dreary and cloud covered. Living in Pittsburgh, we rejoice when we have a sun-filled day, because they seem so few and far between. Yet, our days are getting longer and the nights shorter, even though it does not feel or look that way. The transition to longer summer evenings is slow and barely noticeable - until one day it is “Spring forward” and the sunny, longer days are here.
These last two years of journeying through COVID have certainly felt as if the change back to ‘sunnier’ days will never come. The new term that seems to be emerging is “COVID weariness”. We are weary from being cooped up, from having our interactions with each other restricted, from simply living with COVID. And yet, we have made so many positive strides together as family, as church and as a community. Reflect for a moment on all the changes we have experienced individually and collectively. (Yes, really pause!)
What a journey! We have weathered losses of friends and loved ones - and added new members to our families. We have witnessed baptisms and weddings; we have explored new ways of worship and we have learned - hesitantly and not always in agreement - ways to be in community with each other. We have experienced staffing changes with Minister Mandy answering God’s call to share her gifts in unexpected (to us) ways. And, we will experience even more changes as we respond to God’s voice to shift our staff again, including retirement, reduction in hours and calling a new pastor to join our community.
Have you noticed the pattern of “ands”? There is always more than what we see and feel. God’s revealing presence continues to manifest, if we pause to notice. I experienced one of those moments in the story of Nicodemus (John 3:1-21), a passage that we studied recently. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, according to scripture, visited Jesus at night to seek answers to questions he had. He was unsure of what he was seeing - the signs pointing to Jesus as Messiah and how they aligned with his traditional faith teachings. It was confusing, it was uncomfortable and yet, there was an element of hope and joy. Could this really be the Messiah that his people had been praying for? It certainly did not look at all as they had expected.
Nicodemus’ visit with Jesus was the first of many opportunities for him to wrestle with his changing world: His status as a Pharisee; the things he knew and taught previously; and an openness to the “Way” that Jesus was pointing to. The gospel writer John gives us glimpses of that journey. I encourage us to notice those moments when we encounter them, in the weeks ahead. Jesus understood Nicodemus’ uncertainties and he was willing to meet him where he was and help Nicodemus along the journey of discovery and acceptance that comes from trusting not what his eyes saw, but instead where God directed. We, too, will continue to have our own moments of uncertainties and shifts in in the familiar. Our hope and assurance…like Nicodemus…Jesus will meet us there and guide us through.
There is another unexpected moment of hope I experienced in this familiar story: The name “Nicodemus” in Greek is translated to mean “Victory of the People”. Nicodemus’ story reminds us that the journey to being victorious people is accepting who we are (with all the messiness and doubts), being open to God’s slow and steady transformation of us, and being willing to extend the love we receive to others, even at risk to our familiar way of being.
My prayer for us in this coming year, as we continue our journey of transformation of being God’s victorious people, are the words to the hymn “Help Us to Accept Each Other” by Fred Kaan (1975).
Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us; Teach us as sister, brother, each person to embrace. Be present, Lord, among us, And bring us to believe, We are ourselves accepted,
And meant to love and live.
Teach us, O Lord, Your lessons, as in our daily life; We struggle to be human, And search for hope and faith. Teach us to care for people, for all, not just for some; To love them as we find them Or as they may become.
Let Your acceptance change us, So that we may be moved; In living situations, to do the truth in love; To practice Your acceptance Until we know by heart; The table of forgiveness And laughter’s healing art.
Lord, for today’s encounters, with all who are in need; Who hunger for acceptance, for righteousness and bread; We need new eyes for seeing, New hands for holding on: Renew us with Your Spirit; Lord, free us, make us one!
Pittsburgh Lutheran United Ministries (PLUM), 405 Kennedy Avenue, Duquesne, PA 15110 412-466-7773