Essential Activities of Faith

justlovefinal

Sermon preached at First Christian Church in Hammond, LA on July 12, 2020 and Northminster Presbyterian Church in Pearl River, LA August 30, 2020

When states began issuing stay-at-home orders in March, several made exceptions for religious gatherings as “essential activities.”

I believe this raised an important question for those of us who take our faith seriously: “What is an ‘essential activity’ when it comes to practicing the Christian faith?” And maybe more importantly: “Is the way we have always done church essential?”

I have been a student and even a teacher of Sunday School for much of my life. I have always believed in the importance of Sunday School? But a very good question may be: “Is Sunday School essential?” Like, can one be a Christian and not go to Sunday School?

Is singing hymns an essential activity? I love hymns, especially the old, traditional hymns I grew up with. But can one practice one’s faith and no sing?

And here’s a disturbing and potentially dangerous question for a preacher to ask: Is preaching a sermon or listening to a sermon an “essential activity” when it comes to practicing the Christian faith?”

When it comes to faith, what is an “essential activity?”

Jesus seems to have stated what he believed was essential to faith when he said:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’” (John 13:34-35).

And when a scribe literally asked Jesus what is the most essential law we should follow, Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”’ There is no other law greater [ I hear “more essential”] than these’ (Mark 12:28-31).

The Apostle Paul agreed that love is the most essential activity of our faith as he wrote: “All of the commandments are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

And just in case some people did not understand what love means, he added: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:8-10).

So, it should be obvious during this pandemic that if singing in a worship service, or attending Sunday School or a fellowship dinner can make our neighbors sick, and possibly kill them, then these things should be avoided. In fact, according to Jesus and Paul, it is an “essential activity” of our faith that we avoid them, contrary to what some of our states’ governors proclaimed.

I am praying that churches will continue to reevaluate what is essential to practicing our faith long after this world crisis is over—that we will continue to rethink the way we do church.

Because I do not believe Jesus ever said: “If you want everyone to know you are my disciples, it is essential to build a building and gather inside of that building at least once a week and worship me.” And as far as I know, Jesus never said: “To practice one’s faith, it is essential to sit in a Sunday School classroom and study me.” Or: “No one can be my disciple unless they sing about about me or listen to a preacher preach about me.”

However, Jesus did say: “No one can be my disciple unless they carry a cross and follow me” (Luke 14:27).

In other words, Jesus said that to be his disciples, to practice the Christian faith, it is essential that we sacrificially do the things that he did to love his neighbors: be willing to sacrifice it all; embrace humility; fight for the vulnerable; empower the underprivileged; feed the hungry; shelter the homeless; heal the sick; free the oppressed; welcome the outsider; forgive the sinner; defend the marginalized; and always speak truth to power.

Selfless and just service to our neighbors is what is essential to practicing the Christian faith. Attending a service with our neighbors has never been essential.

My colleagues have expressed sympathy to me for having the job of trying to plant a new church during a pandemic when large gatherings are not permitted. However, I do not believe there has been better time in any of our lifetimes to plant a new expression of church. Let me explain.

As soon as I moved to the Northshore in January as a church planter, I started hanging out at coffee shops on Sunday morning to meet people who did not attend church. And I met a lot of them! Most everyone I met expressed faith in Jesus, however, for many different reasons, they no longer expressed that faith through the church. They had a desire to follow Jesus, they just no longer had a desire to go to church.

Then, the Stay-at-Home orders came. Coffee shops closed.

I thought, “What in the world am I going to do now?” “How am I going to meet others who may want to be a part of something newd?”

Then, one evening while as I was home watching the local news on TV, a segment on people helping their neighbors during the pandemic caught my attention. They were doing a story about woman with a big heart named Pamala McKay, whose non-profit, God’s Unchanging Hands Feeding Ministry, was cooking hot meals and delivering them to food-insecure residents here on the Northshore, including the homeless.

I met Pamala the following Wednesday and she immediately put me to work helping to prepare, package and deliver meals to over a dozen food insecure households between Covington and Abita Springs.

I asked her if she needed any more help. She said, “I sure do.” So I called some of the folks I met in hanging out in those coffee shops and they have pitched in. The man who I said never felt welcomed in church as an adult is now delivering meals each week right here in Pearl River and Slidell.

Delivering the meals presented me with a new opportunity to build relationships with people who, living in poverty, have a plethora of other needs besides hot meals. I could no longer meet people in coffee shops, but I could go out to meet people where they live.

I met a retired school teacher who is a dialysis patient and double amputee.

I met a 41 year-old man who suffered a stroke and is disabled.

I met an an elderly widow who lives all alone with very little income.

I met a young father who is awaiting a kidney transplant who’s raising a house full of kids in a small single-wide mobile home.

I met a nursing home custodian who lives with her sister and several children in a home that is badly in need of repairs.

I met another man who has also been shunned by church his entire adult life, who is a caregiver for his elderly mother. They live in a trailer that leaks badly every time it rains.

And I met a seventy-year-old man, who worked 24 years at a country club until he got injured on the job and was subsequently let go with two-weeks severance pay. He currently lives alone in a shell of a home his parents built with no flooring, no furniture, no kitchen sink, no appliances, with the exception of an old ice-box.

And I met many others in similar situations.

I immediately reached out to all the folks that I met before the pandemic, some who said they were “done” with going church, and I offered them opportunities to not go to church, but to be the church.

Some started helping us prepare, package and deliver the meals with Pamala.

Others helped get a new wheelchair donated to the double amputee and retired school teacher. They helped to get the 41-year-old stroke patient home-healthcare. And they bought gift-cards to give to the nursing home custodian to help put gas in her car.

One donated a stove to the man who was injured at the country club who only had a hot plate with which to cook his meals.

And just this past Friday, one donated a double-oven and hooded stove-top to help Pamala cook more meals.

And many others have seen what we are doing via social media and have joined us.

Three families routinely purchase groceries for the children who live in the households that receive the hot plates. They will ride along to help deliver the meals and groceries and so they can assess needs and explore other ways they can help. Two are attorneys. One is a nurse. One is a healthcare professional. One is a retired police officer. And one is a baker, who has not only cooked meals for us to deliver, but now bakes cookies weekly to deliver to each of the households. One who is involved in delivering the meals each week buys fresh flowers to deliver with the meals. Each possesses a variety of gifts that can meet a variety of needs.

As a pastor, I have had tea with the elderly widow who lives alone. I have also offered pastoral care in the hospital when one resident became sick. I routinely offer pastoral care in the homes when I deliver the meals. I have even had the opportunity to serve communion.

With many church buildings closed during the pandemic, the folks involved in helping me with the new church are not attending a service of worship every week. But, more importantly and most essentially, they are worshiping every week withtheir service. These days, they may not be singing about Jesus, listening about Jesus, studying Jesus. They are, however, following Jesus. Together, we are doing what is an “essential activity” of our faith, we are loving our neighbors as ourselves. We are not going to church; we are being the church! We are making disciples. And together, others know we are disciples of Jesus by our love.

Just this past Friday, I discovered that 3,000 evacuees from Hurricane Laura were staying in hotels in New Orleans, many of them low income, children and elderly. I reached out to the person on the ground who is doing relief work with them and was told they were had an urgent need for adult diapers and baby formula for their most vulnerable evacuees. After reaching out to our little group, less than 20 of us, yesterday we were able to deliver 24 boxes of Depends and 16 big cans of Similac to the Sheraton Hotel on Canal St.

Here’s the thing, I reached out to the same group this week and asked them to come here me preach hear this morning, and looked around at who showed up. My wife is here.

But I have decided that that is ok. Because no matter what a governor may say, listening to me preach on Sunday morning is not an essential activity. Loving our neighbors everyday of the week is!

I truly believe that if all people of faith embraced the “essential activities” of our faith, if we stopped sitting around bemoaning how our church buildings are empty— if went out and just loved, if went out into the world, met people where they are and just lovingly treated them as we would like to be treated, if we just loved them as we were created to love, shown how to love by Jesus—then a light would shine in the darkness that is so bright, all of the evil that present in this world today, no storm, no wildfire, no virus would never be able to overcome it.

Church would begin to become meaningful and relevant to all people.

Selfishness would begin to vanquish.

Greed would start fading away.

Corrupt, dishonest, divisive politics would be voted away.

Racism, sexism and all types of bigotry would finally begin to die.

And a sick world and very sick nation would finally begin to heal.

Light It Up

Sermon preached at First Christian Church, Slidell, Louisiana, June 21, 2020

Matthew 5:1-14 NRSV

I would like to begin this morning by wishing all of the Dads watching a Happy Father’s Day and by sharing personal story about my father. I am not sure who else can relate to this, but my Dad has always been always been very persnickety about the lights. Ultra conservative might be a better word, but since we are living in this politically-charged era, I am going to stick with “persnickety.” Everyday, I heard it: “Who left on that light?” “Turn off the lights.” “Why is every light on in the house!” “Son, is there really a need to turn on the hall lights to walk a few feet to your bedroom?”

When I was learning to drive with my learner’s permit, I will never forget daddy ingraining it me that the headlights of the car should never be done until the sun set, until all of it completely disappeared over the horizon. If it was getting dark before sunset, only the parking lights were permitted. Turning on the headlights before the sun went down was a waste of valuable light! My father was, and probably still is today, a light-miser.

Jesus was also persnickety about light, but he seemed to be persnickety in the opposite direction. What I mean is that I am pretty sure no one ever called Jesus “a light-miser.” In fact, Jesus said that he was light, and not only light, but he was thelight. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

I believe Jesus was all about light because it was his life’s misson to get us to see something special in the darkness: the truth of who God has created us to be, of how God has created us to live.

I think it is interesting that Jesus actually spoke less about how we sin and more about how we see. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see…” (John 9:39).

Throughout the gospels, Jesus asks: “Do you have eyes and fail to see?” (Mark 8:18) “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye?” (Matthew 7:3) “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!” (Luke 10:23) “Prophets and kings desired to see what you see but did not see it!” (Luke 10:24)

Over and over Jesus talked about importance of seeing something that most people have difficulty seeing.

And what is it that we have so much trouble seeing? What is the truth that God wants us to see?

I believe the answer is in Jesus’ first recorded sermon.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus wants us to see the truth that God favors the “poor in spirit.” Not the religious, the devout, the pious, or even the spiritual. Not the pastors, the elders and the deacons, not even the church member who serves every week in the soup kitchen. No, God favors the ones who have come to be served at the soup kitchen. They are not the ones with something to give. They are the ones with nothing to give. Jesus says the ones who are blessed, the ones who are blessed by God are those who, spiritually speaking, are completely destitute and needy. Their very spirits have been broken. And notice that Jesus uses the present tense. Not willbe blessed. Not mightbe favored. They are, right now, right here, blessed. And their future is the kingdom of heaven. Can you see it?

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Jesus wants us to see that God favors the mourners. Not only those who may be mourning the death of someone, but maybe especially those who are mourning over their own lives, those who are wondering if their lives have any value. They remember how their fathers and mothers, their ancestors, were valued by this world. They consider how they are valued by this world. And they look into the eyes of their children and grandchildren, and they grieve. They cry out in the streets for their lives to to matter, yet Jesus calls them blessed and promises comfort. Can you see it?

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

The meek are favored, says Jesus. Not the strong. Not the ones with the personalities or the confidence or the physical ability or the privilege to do whatever is necessary to overcome all sorts of adversity and make it to the top. Jesus says, blessed are the ones who never seem to get ahead. It is the last, says Jesus, not the first, who survive and inherit the earth. Can you see it?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.

Not the ones who are righteous, but the ones on whose behalf the prophet Amos preached: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).These are the ones who are unjustly judged, mistreated, shunned and bullied by society, even by communities of faith. They suffer grave injustices simply because of who they are.

They have been beaten up so badly by the world that they hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness like a wanderer lost in a hot desert thirsts for water. Jesus says that they are blessed, and they are the ones who will not only be satisfied, but will be filled, their cups overflowing. Can you see it?

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Not the perfect and the proud, the boastful and the arrogant. Not the ones who never admit any mistake. But God favors the ones who are fully aware of their imperfections, the ones who have made mistakes, terrible mistakes, and they know it. Thus, when they encounter others who are also suffering from unthinkable errors in judgment, they have mercy and compassion, and in their hearts, there is always room for forgiveness. They give mercy, because they need mercy for themselves. And because they are favored by God, they will receive it. Can you see it?

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Not the pure, but the “pure in heart.” Not the ones whose outer appearance and abilities suggest that they have the best genes. No, God favors the ones with obvious disabilities and who are viewed by the world as genetically flawed. We are reminded of the words of 1 Samuel “for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). God will see the pure beauty of who they truly are and they will see God. Can you see it?

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Not the ones who have necessarily found peace for themselves. But the tormented, disturbed and restless, who, because they are so continuously in chaos, seek to make peace whenever and wherever they can. Blessed are those who are without stability, but seek it, because they will find a home, a place of security, rest and a peace that is beyond all understanding, within the family of God.[i]

And this, Jesus pronounces, is not a prescription of how things should be or how things could be. Jesus asserts that this is how things are! Can you see it?

If not, then maybe more of us need to stop being light misers and get up and turn on the lights! Every light in the house!

Jesus announces: “I have come as light, as the Light of the World, to help you see it, to give all who are blind to it, the sight to see this world as God sees it.”

And not only that, Jesus says, you who seek to follow me, you who seek to do the things that I do, you who want to go to the places that I go, are also the Lights of the World. And you are called not to hide or conserve or be persnickety with your light, but to shine your light on what is the truth, so all may see the world the way God sees it.

We are to shine our lights by lifting up, accepting and caring for all people, but especially those the world leaves behind. We are to light it up by loving, accepting, and caring for the least among us: the poor, those who are crying out for their lives to matter, the weak and the underprivileged, those who need mercy, the marginalized who hunger and thirst for justice, the obviously flawed but pure in heart, and the spiritually or mentally troubled who yearn for peace.

Will we be despised for it? You bet. Will people say that the way we accept and love and affirm others is socially and even theologically unacceptable? It’s likely. Will we be demeaned and even persecuted by others, even by those in organized religion? Most certainly.

But here is the good news:

Jesus also said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you[notice the change in person] when people revile youand persecute youand utter all kinds of evil against youfalsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

So while some continue to live as persnickety light-misers in the twisted, dark worlds that they have created, a world where they blindly believe that it is the rich, the prosperous, the privileged and the powerful that are blessed and favored by God,

let us commit ourselves to living in the world created by our gracious, loving God, in the world that Jesus, the Light of the World, came to help us see.

And let us, as lights of this world, for the sake of this world, keep lighting this world up, keep turning on every light in every house, until the day comes when the eyes of all are finally fully opened.

COMMISSIONING AND BENEDICTION

Go now into the world and light it up!

So the poor will know that they are blessed.

Light it up,

So all who cry out for their lives to matter will be comforted.

Light it up,

So that the underprivileged will know that they are favored.

Light it up,

So that those who ache for justice will be satisfied.

Light it up,

So that the obviously flawed but pure in heart will see God.

Light it up,

So that those you yearn for peace will know security as God’s beloved children.

Light it up,

Knowing that if you are persecuted, yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Light it up,

Until the day comes when the eyes of all are finally fully open, and all may know love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ and the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i]Inspired by Frederick Buechner. Whistling in the Dark: An ABC Theologized (New York: Harper Collins, 1988), 18.              

 

Religion Is Making the Pandemic Worse

This pandemic is terrifying, and religion is making it worse.

Science is being denied in the name of religion as pastors, politicians and parishioners are ignorantly insisting that people should still gather for worship putting all of us at risk. But what I believe is even worse than that is the insidious theology that is being expressed by people of faith everywhere.

“God is in control” they post. “God doesn’t make mistakes” they say. “God is trying to teach us something” they sermonize.

Really? God, the creator and source of love, Love Itself, wants the most vulnerable among us to die alone, sick, afraid and unable to breathe?

I believe religion is making this pandemic even more terrifying, because there are too many people in this world who are following the wrong god.

Too many Christians have created their own version of God, their own Lord, their own King, who sits up on some heavenly throne pushing buttons, pulling levers, controlling, dominating, dictating.

A tornado strikes. They say, “God is trying to get our attention.”

Cancer happens. They say, “God has God’s reasons.”

A loved one dies. They say, “God needed another angel.”

A pandemic rages. They say “God must be angry.”

“God is in control. God does not make mistakes. God knows what God is doing.” They think they are making things better by saying these things, but they are only making things worse.

This is why I believe this week that we call “Holy Week” which begins this weekend is so important. The events we remember this week remind us what kind of God, what kind of King, we serve. Holy Week reminds us, contrary to what some of our Christian friends say, God does not rule like the rulers of this world. God does not reign from some heavenly throne in some blissful castle in the sky, but God rules from an old rugged cross, right here on earth, between broken people like you and me.

The rulers of this world rule from places of self-interest and self-preservation. They rule from places of greed and pride.

However, this Holy week teaches us that Christ is a King who rules from a polar-opposite place—a place of self-expending, self-dying, sacrificial, suffering love.

Christ the King does not rule with an iron fist; Christ the King serves with outstretched arms. Christ the King does not cause human suffering from some far away heavenly realm; Christ the King is right here in our realm sharing in our suffering.

Theologian Arthur McGill put it this way:

God’s power is not a power that takes, but is a power that gives.

God’s power is not a power that rules, but is a power that serves.

God’s power is not a power that imposes, but is a power that loves.

God’s power is not a power that dominates, but a power that dies.

This is why it is no accident that Jesus undertakes his mission to the poor and to the weak and not to the rich and the strong; to the dying and not to those full of life. This is why Jesus was so concerned about those marginalized and demonized by organized religion and the power-that-be. McGill continues:

For with these vessels of need God most decisively vindicates the divine power: a power of service whereby the poor are fed, the sinful are forgiven, the weak are strengthened, and the dying are made alive.

God did not cause this pandemic. The day the first person was infected was a day of anguish for God.

God did not create the layoff. The day you were told that your job was ending, God stayed up with you and worried with you all night long.

And God did not take our loved one. When they died, something inside of God died too. For self-givers are never takers.

A more accurate and theologically sound way of describing what happened to our loved ones when they breathed their last breath is that God came, and God, wholly, completely and eternally, gave all of God’ self to them.

So when this pandemic gets us down, we need to remember the great truth of Holy Week—Christ is King. And this King is reigning, suffering, sacrificing and giving all that God has to give from the cross. God’s throne is not made of silver and gold. God’s throne is made of wood and nails. God wears not a crown of jewels, but God wears a crown of thorns.

And when more people begin to understand this, that God did not bleed for only a few hours during one Holy Week, but continues, even today, to bleed for us, to pour God’s self out for us, perhaps religion will cease making this pandemic worse.

It will be what gets us through it. And then, together with our Easter God, we will make something very good come out of it all.

Are Religious Services Essential to the Christian Faith?

Of the 39 states that have implemented stay-at-home orders, 12 make exceptions for religious gatherings as “essential activities,” because practicing one’s faith is protected under the first amendment of the Constitution.

I believe this raises an important question: “What is essential to practicing the Christian faith?”

Jesus seems to have stated what he believed was essential when he said:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’” (John 13:34-35).

The Apostle Paul agreed that love is the most essential activity as he wrote: “All of the commandments are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

And just in case some people did not understand what love means, he added: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:8-10).

So, it should be obvious during this pandemic that if attending a worship service can make our neighbors sick, and possibly kill them, then attending a service at this time should be something we need to avoid. In fact, according to Jesus and Paul, it is essential to our faith that we do not gather during this time.

I am praying that we will continue to reevaluate what is essential to practice our faith long after this world crisis is over.

Because I do not believe Jesus ever said: “If you want everyone to know you are my disciples, it is essential to build a building and gather inside of that building at least once a week and worship me.” And as far as I know, Jesus never said, “To practice one’s faith, it is essential to sit in a Sunday School classroom and study me.”

However, Jesus did say: “No one can be my disciple unless they carry a cross and follow me” (Luke 14:27).

In other words, Jesus said that to be his disciples, to practice the Christian faith, it is essential that we sacrificially do the things he did to love his neighbors as himself: be willing to sacrifice it all; embrace humility; fight for the vulnerable; empower the underprivileged; feed the hungry; shelter the homeless; heal the sick; free the oppressed; welcome the outsider; forgiver the sinner; defend the marginalized; speak truth to power.

Selfless service to our neighbors is what is essential to practicing the Christian faith. Attending a service with our neighbors is certainly not now, nor has it ever been, essential.

Hope in the Midst of a Pandemic

APTOPIX Taiwan China Outbreak

For thousands of years, when people in the world found themselves in a crisis, they have turned to the Psalms for words of hope and peace.

About one-third of the Psalms are called “Lament Psalms.” These Psalms are unashamedly real, blatantly honest. They speak to the reality of the pain of our world: the plight of the poor; the despair of the displaced; the evil of war; the scourge of disease, and the horrors natural disasters.

Psalm 6 is perhaps my favorite “Lament Psalm.” For here the Psalmist honestly pours out his heart before God like none other:

2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;

O Lord, heal me, for my bones are shaking with terror.

3 My soul also is struck with terror,

while you, O Lord—how long?

4 Turn, O Lord, save my life;

deliver me for the sake of your steadfast love.

5 For in death there is no remembrance of you;

in Sheol who can give you praise?

6 I am weary with my moaning;

every night I flood my bed with tears;

I drench my couch with my weeping.

7 My eyes waste away because of grief;

they grow weak because of all my foes.

We do not know why the Psalmist is languishing so, why their bones are shaking and their soul is struck with terror. We do not know exactly what is causing them to grieve. What was lost. What made them so weary, so afraid of dying. Why their bed is flooded, their couch drenched with tears. We do not know what great change happened in the world of the Psalmist that caused them to experience so much fear and uncertainty, lamenting, how long, O Lord, how long?

But living in 2020, we can certainly relate.

Notice that the Psalmist is not afraid to reveal their grief. There is no holding back. There’s no masking the pain, no pretending to be strong because others might think they are weak. Things are about as bad as they can be. Their eyes are wasting away with grief. And they are brutally honest about it.

I believe this is a great reminder for us that is okay to grieve what we have lost. It is okay to grieve the uncertainty. And its is good to grieve openly and honestly.

However, as the Apostle Paul once said, we grieve, but we do not grieve without hope. And here, it is the honest, grieving Psalmist who also reminds us that even when our eyes are wasting away from grief, our souls are struck with terror, there is hope.

Notice the change in tone beginning with verse 8:

8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil,

for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.

9 The Lord has heard my supplication;

the Lord accepts my prayer.

10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror;

they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame.

Somewhere between seven and eight, something happened in the life of the Psalmist. New life is experienced. Blessed assurance, amazing grace, and a peace beyond all understanding are received.

Just like we do not know what exactly happened in the Psalmist’s world that caused them to express their grief so openly in verses one through seven, we do not know what exactly happened between verses seven and eight that turned their life around. We just know that something happened, and that something was miraculous. Somehow, someway, new life, inexplicable, yet certain, came. Somewhere between verses seven and eight, Divine Love and hope showed up. The Psalmist does not say exactly how God showed up, but we can certainly take some good guesses.

Perhaps people from all over the Psalmist’s world came together, realizing that despite their differences, they were all connected, they were intrinsically dependent on one another. Perhaps they came together to truly love their neighbors as themselves, to do unto others as they would have others do unto them. They came together and sacrificed much, valuing people more than anything else.

Yes, the workers of evil were still working. Some people, I am certain, behaved selfishly, hording essential supplies. Some behaved fearfully purchasing more weapons. Some, I am sure, even in the name of God, struggled to put the well-being of the most vulnerable ahead of their self-interests and greed.

However, most of the people were workers of good and not evil. They shared necessities They chose people over politics. They chose their neighbors over money, as they chose the way of love over the way of fear.

And when they chose the way of love, when they began to look after one another, perhaps Liberals and Conservatives put aside their differences. Households of faith finally began to realize that their buildings were not that important because what the world needed was people to worship out in the the community with their service more than it needed people worshipping behind four walls in services.

So, maybe we do know what happened between verses seven and eight after all. The Holy One showed up. In different ways through different people, God came. Selfless, sacrificial, united love came.

This is how we can grieve honestly, yet grieve hopefully in this uncertain and frightening time.

I have heard many people say that when this pandemic is over, we will never be the same again.

Let’s pray that this is true.

O God,

Despite our differences, may we never forget that we are all connected and dependent on each other regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, politics and religion.

As our healthcare professionals risk their lives to heal all who are brought to them; as our teachers find creative ways to love and teach their students; as police, firefighters and first responders continue to faithfully serve and protect; as people everywhere pick up and deliver medications and groceries to their neighbors; as we have witnessed that it is selflessness and not greed, that it is love and not fear, that will us through this crisis–may we continue to love our neighbors in such a way that the entire world will not only be healed of this virus, but it will be more kind, more just, more forgiving, and more unified.

We pray that the most vulnerable among us will be protected more. Science will be respected more. Truth will be upheld more. All people will be valued more. Gratitude and graciousness will be expressed more. Mercy will be shared more.

And when we face another crisis, when we face any adversity, may we always remember that it is okay to be afraid. It is okay to grieve, confident that being afraid and grieving does not mean we are weak. Because, with you help, we will be as strong as we have ever been, never allowing, even for one minute, our fear to shut out love, and our grief to diminish hope. Amen.

Be the Light

shirt backA Christmas Charge to the Congregation of First Christian Church in Fort Smith, Arkansas

Before I depart as your Senior Minister, I just want to say:

“I’VE SEEN THE LIGHT!”

And no, that is not why I am leaving!

For two and a half years, I have seen the light of Christmas shining through this church.

I saw the light the first Sunday a transgendered woman walked through these doors, and you welcomed her with open arms. I saw it again you when you showed up to support the LGBTQ community at a rally during Pride Week. I saw it yet again when you voted to be an Open and Affirming Congregation by placing an extravagant statement of welcome in your bylaws.

I saw the light when you collected Christmas gifts for the families of undocumented workers following an ICE raid in Alma. I saw it again when you gathered for a prayer vigil to protest the mistreatment of our southern neighbors at the border.

I saw the light when the first African-American woman was ordained in our church. I saw it again when you showed up at the Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast and parade to stand against racism and for the sacred value of every human being..

I saw the light when you shared a pot-luck meal with members of a Muslim mosque. And I saw it again when you attended a worship service in that mosque to stand in solidarity with them and with Muslims all over the world after the massacre in New Zealand.

I saw the light when you committed yourself to be a Green Chalice Congregation. I saw it yet again when you marched for environmental justice in Little Rock with the Poor People’s campaign.

I saw the light when you enveloped Lori and me with your love during her sickness and surgery. And I saw it again and again and again when you did the same for others.

I saw the light each time you left the sanctuary to praise God in a brew pub with beer and hymns. And I saw it again just a few weeks ago when you sang carols and served cookies and hot cocoa in Creekmore Park.

I saw the light when you stuffed backpacks with food for poor children at the Clearing House, prepared and served meals to the homeless at Hope Campus, served people who are food insecure a sack lunch, and supported the mission of Antioch Youth and Family that no child should go to bed hungry. I saw it again when you gave Christmas gifts through Earthbound Angels, and I saw it yet again when you helped to repair a porch and did everything you could to help someone clean their cluttered home.

I saw the light when you supported the inclusive mission of Ainsley’s Angels, a spark that started right here and then spread like wildfire throughout Arkansas. I saw it again when you removed some pews to make this place of worship more accessible for those with different abilities.

I saw the light when you freely offered Disciples Hall to other groups, expecting nothing in return, when you used the holy space God has given you to bless our community.

But as we have learned, we live in a dark world where the light of Christmas can be painfully bright. The intensity of the light is just too much for some. It is too inclusive, too encompassing. We have also discovered with Jesus that although the Light has come into the world, some people will always love the darkness rather than the Light.

Thus, there is a great temptation to dim the light, to tone it down, or to adjust the light in such a way to make it more pleasing–to soften the light to make it less offensive, less embarrassing. There is a temptation to even hide the light, to put it under a bushel. Then, there’s always the temptation to keep the light to yourself, to conserve it, to protect it, to save it to warm yourselves instead of sharing it to warm others.

But on this Christmas Eve, I want to charge you to resist these temptations, and shine on! Shine on graciously. Shine on generously. Shine on selflessly, courageously and liberally.

And don’t just shine the light. Be the light. Be grace and mercy. Be inclusion and acceptance. Be empathy and kindness. Be justice and peace. Be joy. Be hope. Be love. Be Christmas! Be the enfleshed presence of Christ in this world!

And do not be afraid. Although there will be those who will abandon you, deny you and betray you, if you faithfully shine the light in the darkness, the darkness will never overcome it. Faith will not be dimmed. Hope will not fade. And love will never die.

A New Church Expression

New Church Ministry

Mark 6:6-13

When I think about following the way of Jesus, I am drawn to Mark 6. It is the account of Jesus sending his new friends out into the world for the very first time to be disciples, to do the very same things he had been doing. It has been called: “The first mission trip.” I believe it should also be called: “The way to be church.”

6aAnd he was amazed at their unbelief. 

I wonder if Jesus is still amazed at our unbelief. Having served on a church staff for 30 years, I am often amazed how many in the church today do not seem to believe that we are called to live, love and serve like Jesus. And believe that living, loving and serving in that way has the power to change the world.

6bThen he went about among the villages teaching.

Jesus never stayed in one place for very long. He was constantly on the move, going from village to village, teaching, healing and restoring. He never set up shop in a building and expected people to come to him.

7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 

Jesus didn’t go on mission trips by himself. He called and gave authority to disciples to go on mission trips and do the things that he did.

8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 

Disciples are to travel light, to keep it simple and to stick to the basics. They are adopt a minimalist approach. Disciples do not need unnecessary funds or line items, and they do not need to carry any baggage that might slow them down, make them forget about their mission, or enable them to get too comfortable in one particular place. Jesus said that they need to leave some things behind if they want to be his disciples in the world. It is a selfless journey. And notice that Jesus said they are to take no bread. Could that mean that Jesus wants them to go out and share a meal with others?

10He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ 

Disciples can expect failure. If disciples are following Jesus and taking his inclusive love out to the people, they will not be received by everyone. But they should peacefully keep moving and keep doing what they have been called to do.

12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 

Disciples go out and proclaim that all should repent of their selfish, self-centered ways. However, that is difficult to do if the disciples are not willing to repent of their own self-interested ways.

13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Disciples were sent out into the world big things. They stand up and speak out against evil. They restore, and they heal. They are a literal movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.

The Challenge

I believe this account of Jesus sending the disciples out on a mission trip raises several questions for the church today:

  • What if a church’s annual “Mission Trip” was not just one week a year, but it was 52 weeks a year? What if church itself was a Mission Trip?

 

  • What if the church truly left the building to move from village to village to teach the selfless, restorative, healing love of God to all people? What if the church stopped talking about getting outside of the walls of the sanctuary and the church literally had no walls? What if the church proclaimed the love of God, not in one town, but in several towns?

 

  • What if the church left behind all of its baggage—its old structures, old frameworks, and old models? What if the church left behind its love for the nostalgic memory of the way things used to be? What if the church stopped its pining to return to the good old days, and instead, dreamed new dreams and embraced a new vision, and moved freely forward into good new days? What if the church simply kept it simple by sticking to the basics, like loving others as Jesus loved others?

 

  • What if the church was a courageous, risk-taking, wall-breaking, peace-making venture that was never afraid of going to new places, even to those places it is not welcomed? What if the the church felt free to move around to multiple locations to do the work it has been called to do?

 

  • What if the church repented and changed its ways from a selfish faith that focused on going to heaven and receiving a blessing? And instead, what if the church embraced a faith that focused on being in the world and being a blessing to the world? What if the church was able to catch a new vision of how to be church, how to be on a mission to follow Jesus wherever he leads it to go?

 

  • What if the church was a literal, living movement for wholeness in this fragmented world? And what if church was about making new disciples instead of keeping old members happy?

I believe the answer is: “We could change the world!”

 

Northshore Disciples: A Movement of Selfless Love

Beginning January 1, 2020, I will begin working in partnership with the Great River Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), New Church Ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Grace Disciples of Christ Church, to create and lead a new expression of church north of New Orleans, Louisiana called, Northshore Disciples: A Movement of Selfless Love.

We will bring together a diverse group of people who believe that selfless love, the kind of love that Jesus taught and embodied, is what gives our lives meaning, purpose and direction, and believe that this love has the power the change the world.

When Jesus commanded us to love one another, he never said to build a building with a steeple at a certain address and invite people to come and get some love. He said to go out to the people and love them (Mark 6). Thus, we want to find a group of people willing to gather weekly in different places on the Northshore.

We will gather on Friday nights for a dinner party (either inside a community building, outside in a park, or in someone’s backyard) with food, drink, music and conversation about the way Jesus loved others. During the “love feast,” several opportunities for hands-on service projects will be presented that we will execute sometime during the week in that community. The projects will range from small projects that can be completed by one or two persons in an hour or less, to much larger projects that will take more time and people. Instead of renting or purchasing a building and paying expensive maintenance and utility bills, we will have an enclosed cargo trailer for all of our supplies. This minimalist approach will allow us to spend our donations on service and enables us to be mobile.

We will end each dinner party on Friday nights with Communion. Communion will be optional and always open to all. The bread will remind us of Jesus giving himself and the wine will remind us of Jesus pouring himself out. However, it will also be a symbol of our commitment to give ourselves and pour ourselves out to make this world a better place.

There is an important reason that we will gather on Friday. For the the first 500 years, Christians met on the Jewish Sabbath which begins at sundown Friday. When Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, their meetings were moved to Sunday because that was the day Jesus was resurrected. Every Sunday is said to be like a “little Easter.” Unfortunately, the only reason some people seem to be Christian today is because they want to be resurrected like Jesus and go to heaven. Therefore, we will gather on Friday, the day Jesus selflessly gave himself away, to give of ourselves, to bring a little heaven to earth.

Every Sunday for the past 20 years, I have concluded each worship service I have led with the same words. Before the pronouncing the Benediction, I say: “Let us now leave this service of worship to go out into the world to worship with our service.” This will be the mission of Northshore Disciples: A Movement of Selfless Love.”

 

Core Values and Mission

Values

Love, Service, Inclusion, Humility

Mission

A movement of selfless love following the inclusive, self-expending way of Jesus.

Strategy

Mobile Weekly Gatherings, Weekly Service Projects

Measures

Lives transformed, Community Created, New Disciples Made

 

Foundational Beliefs

 

Gather Together. We were created to live and serve in community. Community is where we find our meaning, purpose and fulfillment and are connected to the life-changing love of God.

Focus outwardly.Discipleship is not about getting people to come to our buildings, participate in our programs, believe our creeds or support our institutions. It is about making other disciples by going out and loving others where they are.

Follow Jesus.We are disciples of Christ. And everyone will know this by our love because we are going to live, love and serve like Jesus.

Make Disciples. When did Jesus say “go and make Christians?” or “go and make church members?”

Welcome all.Jesus never discriminated against anyone, nor should we. We must be Open and Affirming, because followers of Jesus have no business being closed and condemning.

Love unconditionally. We are to love others without reservations expecting nothing in return. Jesus never said to love someof our neighbors if… We are to place no limits on the power of God’s love to forgive, to restore and to welcome.

Do Justice. We must be pro-reconciling, anti-racism and anti-every-other-horrible-ism and phobia. As followers of Jesus, we must have a heart for people who are poor, marginalized and oppressed and do all we can to bring them freedom, restoration and peace.

Practice forgiveness.Love demands that we be a movement of grace, because love keeps no account of wrong-doing.

Be ministers.We don’t pay clergy to be ministers for us. We all have been given gifts to be caregivers, grace-givers and hope-givers to one another. Clergy with training and experience can lead us to be ministers, but all are called and gifted to serve as ministers.

Live authentically.God created human beings. Thus, we should not be afraid to act like one. We must openly confess our shortcomings and never act like we are better than anyone else.

Embrace mystery.No human being can grasp the full meaning of God. If we think we can, then our concept of God is too small. A safe environment should be created for questions to be freely asked, and doubt freely expressed.

Serve Ecumenically. We partner with all who believe in the Golden Rule and in the greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Interfaith relationships and partnerships should also be fostered.

Communicate Transparently. Fully disclose where every dollar goes and how every decision is made.

Go Green. We will avoid plastics and Styrofoam by using washable or biodegradable dinnerware. Plant a community garden. Serve fair-trade coffee (Disciples Exchange). Limit and recycle paper. Share documents via Google Drive and email.

Take risks. Jesus’ love for others got him killed. If we make this new venture about sanctuary, comfort, safety and security then we have missed the whole point of who Jesus calls us to be, where Jesus calls us to go, and who Jesus calls us to love.

Stay flexible. The ministry plan is always subject to change. When we fall or falter, we must be ready to bounce back up to keep patiently moving forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Extended Mission Trip

New Church Ministry

On the Sunday we recognized our graduates this year, I shared some disconcerting statistics. According to a recent Barna Research poll, 59% of Millennials (22-35 year olds) who were raised in church have since dropped out of church completely. Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe that attending a church is worthwhile. And 35% of Millennials believe the church today does more harm in the world than it does good.

Nearly all church growth experts agree that this means that church, as we know it today, will slowly cease to exist during the next 50 years.This is the reason that mainline denominations are encouraging the planting of “new church expressions.” The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is committed to “become passionately involved in birthing, nurturing, engaging and encouraging sustainable new churches in as many ways as possible” (https://www.hopepmt.org/plant/new-church-movement/).

Believing that I possess the gifts, passion, vision and call to give birth to a new church expression, I have accepted a position to work in partnership with the Great River Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), New Church Ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Grace Disciples of Christ Church, to create and lead a new expression of church north of New Orleans, Louisiana called, Northshore Disciples: A Movement of Selfless Love. I will begin this work January 1, 2020.

In another recent study, Pew Research reported that 26% of Americans self-identify as “religiously unaffiliated.” This is up from 17% just 10 years ago. However, the number of people who identify as “atheist” or “agnostic” has risen only slightly. This means that although people are leaving the church, they are not leaving the faith. In other words, they may be giving up on church, but they are not giving up on Jesus.

Therefore, I believe that looking like the authentic embodiment of Christ in the world is what is most needed today. You may have heard me say that we need “to overdo it” or “go overboard” to love like, serve like, and live like Jesus. Northshore Disciples: A Movement of Selfless Love will seek to do this by following a model inspired by the first biblical account of Jesus sending the disciples out to do ministry (Mark 6:6-13). The vision is to be a mobile, first-century expression of church that will offer weekly Dinner Gatherings (with Communion) and Service Projects (for more on this expression see: A New Church Expression).

Although I am resigning as the Senior Minister of First Christian Church in Fort Smith, I do not understand my resignation as leaving this church, and I am by no means giving up on them. I see it more as: “going on an extended Mission Trip” to do what I can to help First Christian Church and the larger Church discover new models that will enable us to continue sharing the love of God with the world. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to lead First Christian Church to be the hands and feet of Christ in Western Arkansas, as I am grateful for this new opportunity that will hopefully help us to proclaim the love of God in the River Valley for generations to come.

I will also have the opportunity to continue to push for inclusion as the new Ainsley’s Angels Ambassador in New Orleans. Ainsley’s Angels in NW Arkansas is in capable hands as Lindsey Berg has agreed to enter the Ambassador in Training program. Lindsey and Rob Berg are fortunate to have a team of Angel Runners and Guardian Angels to help them continue the mission of Ainsley’s Angels in Western Arkansas.

I will miss my service with Fort Smith Kiwanis and my place on the boards of Antioch Youth and Family and the Sack Lunch Program. I will also miss literally “running this town” with the Western Arkansas Runners and the True Grit Running Company. I will forever be grateful for my time in Fort Smith. I am not saying good-bye as I will be back in 2020 for the Regional Assembly of the Great River Region hosted by First Christian Church, for the Ainsley’s Angels Arkangel 5k, and hopefully for a Pub Run, and of course for a Beer and Hymns!

A Movement of Selfless Love

As you may have noticed, I have changed the name of my blog to: “A Movement of Selfless Love.” The reason for the change is simple. I believe a movement of selfless love is what our world needs now more than anything else.

 

We need a movement.

Not a gathering of good people;

not a philosophy class;

not a social club;

not an assembly of worshippers;

not a group of day-dreamers;

not a church of well-wishers.

We need a movement.

We need a movement of goers and doers, going and doing all that we can, when we can, where we can, with all that we have been given

working for wholeness in a world that is broken;

working for justice in systems of inequality;

working for mercy and grace in a society of bigotry;

working for peace in a culture of violence;

working for truth in a nation of politics;

working for hope in a state of despair;

working for love in a world of hate.

And the love we work for must always be selfless.

Not a love that expects anything in return;

not a love that is conditional, prejudicial, exclusive or elusive;

not a love that is self-seeking, self-regarding or even self-interested.

But a love that is always self-expending, self-giving and self-denying;

a love that is forbearing, forgiving and free;

a love that is gracious, grateful and generous;

a love that is encouraging and empathetic;

a love that never gives in, gives up or gives out;

a love that is positive and pure.

It is a love that is forward-thinking and forward-marching, going out to give hope to those the world leaves behind.

It is the love that Jesus modeled, taught and commanded.

It is the love that is God.

It is the love that can heal sick religion, restore a distorted morality and rebuild a broken world.

It tears down walls that divide and barriers that exclude.

It is the love that has the power to change the world.

 

The Miracle of Pure Positivity: Reflections from the 2019 Marine Corps Marathon

 

MCM2019 JOSH FINISH

Josh France has Angelman Syndrome. He is non-verbal. He has excessive hyper-activity and has trouble resting. He has a difficult time walking and with all motor skills. But his smile and his laughter are infectious. He is a gift of God to the world. As of Sunday, he is also a marathoner.

Josh’s journey to the 2019 Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC began early this year with our fundraising campaign. Thanks to some amazing people with generous hearts, we were among the first Duo Teams to meet our fundraising goal to be an Ainsley’s Angels Charity Partner by raising $1,750 in just a few weeks. Having experienced the incredible joy Josh receives participating in local races, and understanding the powerful symbol of inclusion that Josh’s participation in what is called “The People’s Marathon” conveys, members of the Western Arkansas running community and members of Josh’s family did not hesitate to give generously.

Pub run

Inspired by Josh’s love for racing with Ainsley’s Angels, Josh’s father, Mike, recently became a runner himself. To prepare Josh to cover the 26.2-mile distance, Mike trained with Josh all summer by pushing him several times each week. Mike also pushed Josh in the weekly Fort Smith Pub Run and in every local race in which Ainsley’s Angels participated.

MCM 2019 GO TEAM JOSH

During last week’s Pub Run, the local running community came together again for a $5 5k to raise money to help the France’s travel expenses to Washington. The previous week, at a group run sponsored by True Grit Running Company (our local running store), runners and storeowner Melissa Vitale surprised me with a generous gift of a new Garmin running watch, a pair of Mizuno running shorts and Balega running socks. The love that Josh and I have received from Western Arkansas has been humbling and something that I will forever cherish.

One week before I planned to depart for Washington DC, as I was on one of my final training runs, I badly injured my left knee. The next day, it hurt to walk. I was unable to run one step. The day before I boarded the plane, I was still unable to run a step; however, several of my running friends assured me that they were praying for me and had faith I was going to be able to run on Sunday. I responded: “That will take a miracle! If I can run the first mile, I will be surprised.” I boarded the plane on Thursday with my running shoes packed, hoping for such a miracle.

MCM 2019 Ambassadors

Athlete Riders, Angel Runners, Guardian Angels, Caregivers and Local Ambassadors from all over the country began gathering at our host hotel in Crystal City shortly after I arrived. The place was exploding with pure positivity, as I was surrounded some of the most selfless, most giving and most dedicated people in the world. Ambassadors Michelle Smith and Bethann Wilkie, who first introduced me to Ainsley’s Angels, were there. Rob Cass, who swam across the Chesapeake Bay earlier this year, was there. Maggie Seymore, who ran from San Diego to Virginia and donated two of Arkansas’ first three chairs and helped light a fire of inclusion in Arkansas, was there. Shaun Evans, who pushed his son Shamus, who has Cerebral Palsy 3,200 miles from Seattle to New York City was there. And Ainsley’s Angels Vice President Joe Orth, who pours all he has into this event every year, and Ainsley’s Angels President and founder Kim “Rooster “Rossiter were there. And many others, too many to name. It soon became very obvious that nothing in heaven or on earth was going to be able to tell any of us, “No you can’t.” Not the forecast of torrential rain, not the warmer than average temperatures, not the increased World Series traffic, and not the bursitis that had inflamed my left knee. On Thursday night, Joe Orth asked me how I thought I was going to be able to run on Sunday. Although it hurt to pick up my left leg, I responded: “Like a gazelle!”

After picking up our race bibs on Friday, Ainsley’s Angels Ambassador Caitlin Espy from Raleigh, who is a physical therapist, massaged the ligaments around my knee. Ainsley’s Angels Vice President Chris Wood bought me a beer or three. On Saturday, Peggy Wolfe, who was Ainsley’s therapist, taped my knee up. Ambassador Kristy High and Angel Runner Sharon Wood supplied me with plenty of ibuprofen. I received texts from friends in Fort Smith telling me that I was going to be fine and assuring me they were praying for me. Josh continually blew me kisses all weekend as if to say: “Jarrett, I am going to love you no matter what.” And although the pain in my knee was so intense that it prevented me from falling asleep on Saturday night, I got up on Sunday morning at 3:30 am and laced my running shoes up to attempt to run a marathon. As I experienced pain in my knee while putting my shoes on, I thought: “If my knee hurts this bad before the marathon, I wonder what is it going to feel like afterwards, even if I only run part of it? And I wonder how am I going to sleep tonight!”

MCM 2019 josh and jarrett ready to go

There are so many miraculous images in my mind from Sunday; however, the image I know I will never forget is the parade of 100 positive souls, including caregivers, Ambassadors, Angel Runners, Guardian Angels and Athlete Riders, making the half mile journey from the Ainsley’s Angels equipment trailers to the marathon starting line. It was 6 am. We had already been up for hours. It was pouring rain. It was dark. And it was very wet. But together, we marched and rolled to the starting line with joy, excitement and confidence. No one was complaining. No one contemplated turning back, and no one even thought about sitting it out. Not one ounce of negativity anywhere. It was miraculous.

I should not have been surprised. The dedication I witnessed overcoming the chilly rain before dawn on Sunday morning in that parade of positivity was really nothing compared to the dedication that our Athlete Riders and caregivers possess to overcome greater obstacles every day of their lives. Of course no one was complaining. Of course there was no giving up or giving in. Of course no negativity was present. This was nothing. This was just a little inconvenience. This was just a little annoyance. This was just a little water, a little early.

MCM 2019 Frances

And I was only experiencing a little pain. How inconsequential is the pain in my knee compared to what caregivers like Mike and Hong France and Athlete Riders like Josh endure 24/7? Pain, by the way, that was caused by running, by doing something that Josh will never be able to do on his own.

I then thought about where we were standing. We were standing just a few feet from Arlington Cemetery, where the bodies men and women were laid to rest after sacrificing life itself, so we could be free.  A little rain; a little pain— Inconsequential.

It was not an easy race. No marathon is. But we ran every mile of it. At times, the rain was blinding. But Josh kept smiling. Josh kept laughing. Josh kept giving spectators high fives and blowing them kisses. The sun came out at mile 20 transforming the nation’s capital into an 80-degree sauna, but it didn’t phase Josh. He kept waving to the crowds that were lining the streets. So, I kept running.

MCM 2019 JOSH Capitol

I would have never finished the race without my new friend for life and Angel Runner Steve Ruggles, who helped push Josh, alternating with me after every mile. This was not only Steve’s first time pushing an Athlete Rider, this was Steve’s first marathon! He also hurt his knee during one of his final training runs, and like me, he was unsure if he could finish the race. But as we like to say: Together, we shall.” And together, we did.

This was also Josh’s first marathon, but this was certainly not his first race. During the last two years, Josh has completed over 50 races with Ainsley’s Angels. Each time a medal is placed around his neck at the finish line, he immediately takes it off and throws it to the ground. And then he laughs out loud. Every single time. It has gotten to the point where we have almost stopped putting the medal around his neck. However, when the Marine placed the beautiful Marine Corps Eagle, Globe and Anchor medal around Josh’s neck, as I was prepared to pick it up off the ground and to apologize to anyone that might get hit with it, Josh grabbed the medal, held it to his face and kissed it repeatedly. MCM photographers took several pictures that should be available soon.

MCM 2019 JOSH FINISH JARRETT

I spent Sunday night at Rooster and Lori’s house in Virginia Beach. It was good to see Lori and Cameron. I knew this was always a very emotional weekend for this special family. I had the privilege to sleep in Ainsley’s room. I closed my eyes thinking about Ainsley, how the Marine Corps Marathon was her last race. I thought about Rooster and Lori’s dedication to her, and now, to her amazing legacy. Unlike the night before, the pain in my left knee did not prevent me from falling sound asleep. As I slept, I dreamed of Josh and the other Athlete Riders I am blessed to know. I dreamed about the privilege of being pulled by them in races. I can’t recall every detail of my dreams, but I know I dreamed pure joy, goodness and positivity.

I awoke refreshed. I was a little sore, like I had run a marathon. However, my left knee felt like it had never been injured.

It was a miracle. But I am not surprised.