4 Rejoice[c] in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.[d] 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
-Philippians 4: 4-7
As I write this during Thanksgiving week, I am reminded of the tremendous contractions going on in our present lives. On the one hand there is so much trouble and sorrow that we are facing in our world. On the other hand, we are in a season of profound thanksgiving that we cannot ignore. So, we find ourselves perplexed, uncertain and confused.
There are so many “Noes” we are currently facing:
-No, the COVID-19 pandemic is not going away, and in fact it is getting worse with no real end in sight.
-No, the specter of racism is not abating in our world, and we are distracted from the work of anti-racism that should be our focus.
-No, our global climate destruction is continuing to spiral out of control, as hurricanes batter our South and East Coast, and fire danger haunts us and electrical power is cut off on Thanksgiving Day for thousands!
-No, unity of our country seems to get worse and worse, as we are polarized by political parties, and threats against the very democracy that we cherish is at stake.
It is easy to lose hope and turn to pessimism, and yet we have this choice to turn to a series of “Yeses” that are just as viable as the “Noes:”
-Yes, major vaccines are in final trials, and an antidote to COVID-19 appears to be right around the corner for millions.
-Yes, the anti-racism agenda is not going to go away, and resources and literature to wage against racism continues to plow fertile ground daily.
-Yes, we continue to be resilient in the face of natural disasters, and we pick up the pieces and continue to rebuild.
-Yes, a new Presidential administration is about to take office, and their stated agenda is to unify the nation, directly tackle COVID-19, economic rebuilding, and anti-racism work.
What we must remember is that our Christian faith is built on the very brink of hopelessness and despair. When Jesus was crucified and buried, his movement seemed lost and done. Yet, God turned this despair upside down in the divine act of resurrection. In the midst of death and despair, Easter is born and Jesus’ life is given so that all may have life. In the very fabric of our faith, there is always hope over despair, light over darkness, and life over death!
So, as Christians we can proudly proclaim: “Rejoice in the Lord always, again, I say Rejoice!” This is far from an empty platitude – It stems from deep within our souls, and we must proclaim it to all the world.
As bad as the year 2020 has been, I am so thankful for all that God has given me. I am thankful and rejoice in all of you: To our clergy who have remained faithful and tirelessly adapted when our worships are shut down…To our laity who have worked side by side with our clergy in making church happen in a new way, and continuing to support the church with their service, tithes and offerings…To our churches who have hung on and remained faithful when all the external indicators have looked as though we might have to shut our doors for good.
As Paul reminds us: The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
I find myself praying everyday this very prayer: In Thanksgiving to all of you who have remained faithful and given your all to the church, and requesting from God the many “Yeses” that I have mentioned above. Truly, the Lord is near to each and every one of us, and we have nothing to fear or despair over.
Just a reminder: we have written to each of our church’s SPRC Committees asking for extra time off for your clergy and staff. They have worked incredibly hard putting together worships and Bible studies from scratch with a completely new format and many of them are exhausted. Please give them extra time off during this coming holiday season. We are providing one full worship service that can be plugged into your online platforms. It will be segmented so you can pick and choose what you wish to incorporate, or play the whole worship in its entirety.
For inspiration this week, I was very moved over the New York Times article that invited readers to send in six words that made them thankful in 2020. Here is a few of them:
My choir still meets on Zoom.
Mom, 87, rocking pretty, pandemic ponytail.
Teenage son still likes to snuggle.
No better excuse to avoid in-laws.
I am thankful for Pastor Bob.
I am bored, but not dead.
Ambulance took him. He came home.
I held my dying husband’s hand.
Our kids, after my wife died.
Rediscovering myself by reading the Bible.
Healthcare workers. Healthcare workers. Healthcare workers.
Pandemic baby after years of trying.
Tried. Failed. Failed worse. Kept going.
Once again, my Black vote matters.
Aunt’s Jell-O salad not gonna happen.
Thankful for sweet potato pie, y’all.
Fell in love at age 75.
There’s really more kindness than hate.
Truly, let’s all be the Hope!
Bishop Grant J. Hagiya
Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop