This week, our Bishop Brenda Bos came to Shepherd of the Valley to meet with a
handful of our congregation's leaders.
No, we're not in trouble (I don't think).
It was simply our turn in a series of vitality visits organized by our Twin Valleys Lutheran Parish and offered to every church in our conference in the wake of two
very unusual and stressful years.
We had a good, honest, wide-ranging conversation at which we realized that Shepherd is
far more vibrant and impactful than many of us tend to appreciate.
In three years, among other things, we've successfully completed a capital campaign,
installed solar panels and other property improvements, voted to become Reconciling in Christ to welcome all God's children, grown the preschool twice, sponsored seven tiny homes, provided food and socks for thousands of people, initiated live stream worship ... oh yeah, and survived a global pandemic.
Yes, but ... there aren't enough people in the pews, and Sunday School isn't in person, and
things aren't the way they used to be, so we dare not sin against God and our ancestors by settling for contentment with how things are.
We remember the good old days ... which I suspect are different for every one of us.
If today is your first day at Shepherd of the Valley, welcome, and thank you for being with us; you may sit this part out.
If you have been here twice or more, welcome, and thank you for returning; something
brought you back.
Tell someone during coffee time: what is the memory here that you hold most dear?
When was this congregation what you most fondly remember, and what made it
so wonderful and special?
Was it the music, the grade school, a full sanctuary, the senior lunches, the camping trips,
the Bible studies with Pastor Vaswig, the listening ear of a Stephen minister, the time that you and your family ... fill in the blank?
Who were the teachers, the friends, the pastors when God was doing great things here?
What favorite story about this church do you tell the most?
For the children of Israel languishing in exile, that story was the exodus from Egypt.
They still tell it every Passover; in Babylon, it went something like this:
"There were a lot more of us then, which is why Pharaoh was so nervous about us, unlike the old, small, faithful remnant nowadays.
God was with us then, and Pastor Moses led us through the Red Sea to freedom and the edge of the Promised Land, then Pastor Joshua took over and we got our new campus, which was flowing with milk and honey.
Those were the days."
You can read about those days in the Bible, but the account is skewed.
The writers back then didn't appreciate how good they had it: there wrote about conflict and complaining and campaigning to return to the shackles of slavery, where they ate melons instead of manna.
Those were the days, they said.
Back then, you see, people were nostalgic for an earlier time rather than grateful for what God was doing in the present.
They didn't know how good they had it.
Now Isaiah stokes the nostalgia in Babylon and then punctures it like a balloon full of hot
Eugene Peterson paraphrases:
This is what GOD says, the God who builds a road right through the ocean, who
carves a path through pounding waves,
The God who summons horses and chariots and armies—they lie down and then can't get
up, they're snuffed out like so many candles:
You can almost hear the patriotic music playing in the background as Isaiah recites glory.
Tears streak down the cheeks: pride at what was, mixed with sadness for what
isn't anymore, salty wet nostalgia, a word that literally means homesickness.
Those were the days.
Ears perk up to hear whether the God of Passover and Promised Land, who has been so silent for so long, might finally have something to say to us.
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
Forget about what's happened; don't keep going over old history.
I am about to do a new thing.
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, God says.
I will move the waters again so that my people will live—a totally different story,
exactly the same story.
The God of the good old days is now up to something new; do you not perceive it?
Or are you stuck in a past that was never as good as it looks now, from a present
moment full of grace and grit and promise, a time that someone years from now
will remember as the good old days?
Because right now God is doing a new thing, a different thing, the same thing.
God is loving and leading us through change.
God is moving water to move us.
God is making a path forward where we can't imagine one.
As the children of African-American slaves so often testify, Our God can make a way out
of no way.
A way out of pandemic and pessimism.
A way out of dashed hopes at diminished size.
A way out of the prison named nostalgia.
A way out of drowning and a way out of running dry.
A way through danger and even death.
A way through and beyond Good Friday to Easter.
A way that is hard and holy and paved with hope.
At our meeting with the bishop, heads nodded when someone said, God is changing and
This flowed shortly after the devotion that Bishop Bos poured upon us from Ezekiel 47:
Then [God] brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was
flowing from below the threshold of the temple.
It was ankle-deep...it was knee-deep...it was up to the waist...it was deep enough to
swim in, a river that could not be crossed.
He said to me, "Mortal, have you seen this?"...
When it enters the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh.
Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be
very many fish ...
On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food...
they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the
Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves will be for healing.
Remember the good old days when so many came to be baptized here, and the water stayed in the bowl, and the people stayed in the building, and the roof didn't leak?
Forget about them.
The waters are shifting; a different way is opening.
God is up to something new.