Loving regard: a look ahead at Fall 2023

by Pastor Bernt

We’ve been in that Fall planning phase, figuring out class schedules, music lessons and getting kids to college. I also looked ahead at the scripture readings we’ll be hearing this Fall on Sundays. What might God be saying to us, in our busyness?

A common theme in the readings is God’s loving regard for people who are otherwise looked down on or neglected – in other words, God’s grace. Some examples:

  • (September 10): Jesus says we’re to confront wrongdoers, not to expel them, but to regain them as companions.
  • (September 17): Jesus commends the forgiveness of debt as a reflection of God’s mercy.
  • (September 24): God’s generosity, says Jesus, is like day laborers who work a half day getting paid just as much as those who worked a full day.

To say “all people deserve love and support” sounds obvious. But in our society, there’s not much grace: wrongs just aren’t easily let go of. Debts crush without relief. In our “meritocracy” there’s not much generosity; many people will never catch up.  Even those deemed successful may doubt their own worth. We need mercy.  We need to belong. With Paul, we need to find out that “Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (October 10 reading)

So, at Christ’s invitation, we gather. Rally Day, the beginning of Fall programming, is September 10. There are ordinary reasons to come to church, like, I don’t have other important things going on, or I agreed to host coffee, or I agreed to be pastor. 🙂 But ultimately, we come for grace. It’s good to remember what church is for: that we would experience God’s loving regard for all people, and show that love to others.

And it’s fitting that we gather on Sunday, because on that day Christ was raised from total human shame to glory, from lost cause to new found hope, from death to life. Grace isn’t just a commendable attitude; it’s the actual future God is making real. Because Christ was raised, Sunday, the first day of the week, is also the first day of new creation, always for us a new beginning

How have we experienced this grace and hope? Maybe just when we feel glad to be together. I also think of the gracious warmth in which you both welcome and share musical gifts, whether vocal or instrumental. And how you feast: on a recent Sunday, a refugee we know shared the Venezuelan food she hopes to be able to sell in our area as she did back home. We got to try and express our loving regard for her and the food she makes. All Sundays are Feast Days, anticipating God’s great, final banquet of joy not just for the inside few, but all people (in the readings, October 15).

The Festival of All Saints (November 4) will be the culmination of Fall worship (and a turning point towards Advent). Having heard the Book of Revelation set to music with Don Knuth’s Fantasia Apocalyptica (October 20-21) and a pledge invitation based on Revelation 22, we’ll gather that Sunday to hear from Revelation 7. That text promises victory for people who are lost causes, looked down on and helpless, crushed by injustice and put to shame:

“the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
  the sun will not strike them,
  nor any scorching heat;
 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
  and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
 and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Image above:

View near Rouen, Richard Parkes Bonington, British ca. 1825