This is God’s City (Excerpts from the homily preached at the installation service for Chaplain, Rev. Dr. Beverly Wilkes-Null at McKendree University)
I bring you greetings from the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the United Methodist Church. Today is a day of new beginnings.
If I were a golfer, I would say that it seems like we are trapped in a season of mulligans. For nongolfers, a mulligan is a “do-over!” We find ourselves trying our best to move forward, even as the winds of adversity continue to swirl around us. We continue to search for stability and that which is familiar and normal. The complex circumstantial societal winds push against us. The winds are blowing, and the landscape is saturated with ever challenging debris.
Adversity of every kind are all around us: isolation, detachment, suffering, anger, distress, mistrust, unrest, economic uncertainty, global crisis, racial tensions, division, emotional and physical trauma, devasting loss, and the reality of pain and death.
I don’t know about you, but I could use a MULLIGAN. I could use a do-over. I could use a RESET. I could use another chance. I could use a new beginning. These are turbulent times to be in leadership.
It does not matter if you are the leader of the free world or simply the leader of a two-car funeral, ALL leaders are under a pressurized microscope! Folks are looking at leaders and to leaders, and they all want the same thing, even if they don’t know how to express it. Folks are looking for stability, strength, satisfaction, and sanity. In short, they are all looking for HOPE! I believe that it is the primary job of leaders during tough times to be conduits of hope, help, and healing. Leadership in tough times is not for wimps, whinners, and weenies.
Today’s leaders face an ever shifting, uphill climb, and as I’ve already reminded us, the winds are contrary winds. The leader is responsible for giving people hope during a season filled with hardships and challenges. Susan Beaumont tells us that we are in liminal times. A time when the old way of doing things no longer works but a new way forward is not yet clear. A liminal season is a time when uncertainty about the future fuels doubt and chaos. The old ways don’t work, and a new way has not yet emerged.
Let me remind us that seasons of transition and change are not new. YODA, in Star Wars, reminded young Skywalker, “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future, ever changing it is.”
Winston Churchill was quoted as saying, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Leaders recognize that there are opportunities to be seized even during a crisis.
I believe that we are standing at the greatest opportunity for a world-wide proclamation of the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ. The fields are ripe for harvest! I challenge spiritual leaders, both lay and clergy, don’t waste this crisis! Those were beautiful words shared by the Psalmist, in Psalm 46: “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
We will not fear because God is with us. The Psalmist also says, “Be still and know that I am God.” The Hebrew word, rapa, is translated, “STILL.” To be still means to stop striving, stop fighting, stop struggling, to relax, to put your hands down, to stop trying to be in control, to recognize human efforts are futile, and to cease. My granddaughter says it better than that, “chilllax!” Chill out and relax, God’s got this!
The message of hope and the GOOD NEWS is, “this is God’s City and God has not abandoned us.” This is God’s City and God’s arms are not too short to reach you. This is God’s City and God still holds us in God’s hand. My grandmama was right, as she sat in her rocking chair and sang with confidence, clarity and conviction, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”
“In those hands, are the little bitty babies, in those hands, are you and me brother. In those hands, are you and me sister, in those hands, are the wind and the rain.”
Be still and know that those hands can calm the raging sea. Those hands can open closed doors. Those hands can build bridges of reconciliation and peace. Those hands can make wars cease. Those hands can lift the downtrodden, set free the captives, give sight to the blind, help to the helpless, give strength for the weary, provide directions for the loss, and offer God’s loving embrace to all that would be gathered into God’s embrace.
Those hands may not look present to the untrained eyes, but to God’s called leaders, it is our task to point the way and to make those hands visible with the message of hope.
THESE ARE DAYS OF CHALLENGE. We are knocked down, but we are not knocked out. As citizens of God’s City, leaders are expected to be conduits of hope.
Hope is not delusional thinking that ignores the facts of reality. Hope is an “in spite of” what I see, feel, or experience, faith that God can and will make a way out of no way. Hope is the belief that I can trust God, and God has something better ahead.
The Psalmist says, “Be still and know.” God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. I have experienced God’s blessings and have hope that even as I take a mulligan from time to time, my hope is anchored to the solid rock.
“My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus' blood and righteousness, I dare not trust the sweetest frame But wholly lean on Jesus' name. On Christ the solid rock I stand All other ground is sinking sand, All other ground is sinking sand.”