From Pastor Kenny's Desk

February 28, 2021

Dear MCC Richmond Family,

Sounds like truth and feels like courage.  -Brenè Brown

I love the quote by Brenè Brown. It reminds me that when we are able to acknowledge, accept, and live into truth … about any circumstance … we experience and live with courage.

The past couple weeks I have received more text messages, phone calls, requests for Zoom and in-person meetings than I have had in a long time. All these messages have something in common … requesting prayer for a variety of reasons.

It is always a pleasure and a blessing to listen to your concerns, share with you, pray with you, and to visit with you. Thank you for your willingness to share your truth and the courage it takes to stay engaged with your life. Thank you for trusting me and counting on me to be present with you to support and encourage you during whatever you are facing. I consider it a joy to hear about your lives … both your successes and difficulties.

While many of you are going through health challenges and changes … practically everyone I speak to these days is confronting the realities of Covid fatigue. No matter what you are facing … I encourage you to continue to connect with me and others for prayer, encouragement, support … and most of all, to be reminded of God’s presence, healing, hope and transforming love.

This week I came across the following passage of scripture. The Apostle Paul is trying to encourage the church at Rome or help them get through a challenging period in their lives. Paul writes:

We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. – Romans 5:3-5

I’ll be honest, the idea of boasting in our sufferings does not come easily to me. Like most of us, I tend not simply to avoid suffering but when I am suffering or even struggling, I prefer to hide it. My hunch is there are a number of reasons for that … not wanting to burden others, not wanting to admit even to myself that I’m struggling, not wanting to appear weak in a culture that defines strength in terms of power rather than vulnerability or suffering, or simply to avoid facing the truth because sometimes the truth leaves me feeling vulnerable ... can you relate?

But the Apostle Paul doesn’t seem to share any of them! Rather, he believes that suffering is part of life and that when approached from the point of view of our spirituality can actually lead to growth in faith and confidence.

But … and this is super-important to notice … that does not mean Paul is advocating suffering for suffering’s sake or that he believes God intends for us to suffer. Far from it! Rather, Paul teaches that we worship a God who surprises us by showing up to meet us right in the middle of our vulnerability, pain, and suffering. This was a surprise to his first-century audience … and is likely surprising to his twenty-first century audience as well … because we tend to think about God in terms of strength and power, so we assume that’s what God looks for in return.

Truth be told, that’s likely what Paul believed for much of his life also. That the best way to meet God was through spiritual discipline, or strict obedience to God’s laws, or by displaying the kind of faith that can move mountains. But when Paul is confronted by the crucified and risen Jesus, all of his ideas about who God is and where we can expect to meet God are turned upside down. God’s messiah showing up as a convicted criminal? Put to death in the most awful barbaric of ways? Surrounded by two-thieves? Suffering as weak and pitiful a death as one can imagine? That thought simply astounded Paul and forced him to think about God differently.

As it turns out, God is not waiting until we become good enough, or strong enough, or righteous enough, to come to us. Rather, God comes to meet us in our weakness, struggles, and vulnerability in order to comfort us, strengthen us, and equip us to comfort and strengthen others.

With all this in mind, if you are feeling anxious or stressed or frightened, not only are you not alone … these are normal responses to a pandemic! … but you are also not somehow disappointing God or failing others. Rather, you are being honest … and staying engaged with your life and facing what is difficult … by being truthful about the dramatic and challenging nature of our circumstances.

Brené Brown … one of my favorite researchers and story tellers … reminds us of the fact that courage is not the absence of fear or vulnerability, but rather is the ability to persevere in the midst of fear and vulnerability. She has challenged more than 10,000 people in the various presentations she’s given to come up with a single example of courage that did not involve vulnerability… and to date, no one has been able to offer one. Similarly, Admiral James Stockdale … a Medal of Honor winner for valor during the Vietnam War … during which he was tortured more than 20 twenty times while being held prisoner for seven years … once said, You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever that may be. So, MCC Richmond family, we will together continue to confront the challenges and hardships of this pandemic … by welcoming the fears, concerns, tears, and more as honest expressions of both the vulnerability and solidarity we share.

As we share with one another, we’ll remind each other that God chooses to meet us precisely in our weakness and vulnerability so that we know that God always loves and accepts every part of us … even the parts we have a hard time accepting and loving ourselves. I think this is what Paul means by saying that suffering can lead to endurance, and endurance to character, and character to hope. Because when you realize God is with you and for you … and that God is always on your side … then you find a way not simply to survive challenges but even persevere and flourish. In fact, sometimes it’s only when things are most difficult that we recognize God’s presence most powerfully.

And so we will continue to gather virtually for worship and small group activities. We will continue to show up and reach out to each other in as many ways as is possible. We will continue to meet, share, and pray with one another using Zoom, FaceTime, and Facebook … supporting each other with the confidence that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

We will get through this. And we will get through it together. And when as we do, we may be surprised that we have grown in our faith, confidence, and awareness of God’s continual presence and transforming love in new ways … ways we never dreamed possible.

I’ve shared Brené’s incredible first TedTalk before but if you haven’t seen it yet … it is totally worth the 20 minutes it will take (the video is just below). Enjoy!

Many blessings and much love,

~ Pastor Kenny

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