As We Look Back … and Forward

As We Look Back … and Forward

One Sunday evening years ago, prior to 9-11 and before our children were even born, Patty and I drove to Washington and took a walk around the U.S. Capitol Building. We climbed its steps, meandered through the colonnades, and enjoyed the views it offered of our capitol city as the sun went down. It was peaceful, beautiful, majestic, and inspiring. I assume that police were in the vicinity but have no memory of it. From the Capitol we walked over to Union Station, enjoyed dinner at a restaurant named America, and overnighted at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill nearby. (Patty worked for Hyatt at the time and qualified for a free room!)

As you might have guessed by now, I thought of that beautiful evening as we all watched the recent violent attack on the Capitol Building and our government at work by an angry mob of fellow citizens, resulting in death and destruction, negating the peaceful transition of presidential power for which our nation has been known, and transforming our symbol of democracy into a fortress to be heavily guarded by our military forces in advance of the inauguration of our new leaders. In the dictionary, such an attack is known as an insurrection.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic rages. In-person worship at St. Andrew remains suspended at a time when many of us rightly long for it. Though vaccines are underway and Maryland’s numbers are improving as of this writing, the overall situation in recent weeks has been worse than last spring when we were “shut down.” While we hope and pray that we’ll re-open soon as hospitalizations decrease, vaccines increase, and consequences of recent holiday travel resolve, we’ve been told that, in the short run, things could get worse before they get better. That said, I remain thankful that in the midst of our appropriate caution in these days, those who have worshiped in-person at St. Andrew in recent months have experienced it to be a safe space relative to other activities in which so many still participate. I thank you again for your patience and understanding.

Needless to say, our nation is sick and it is broken in ways few people alive today have seen before.

But, as I also like to say, in good times and bad, it’s a great day to know the Lord! Christians are called to be people of hope who “rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) As we have been taught, the kingdom of Jesus is, in His words, not of this world. It’s within us and in our hearts where no one can take it away. That’s what makes it so powerful. From my own pastoral heart I encourage you to hold these words close to your heart in the uncertain days ahead. I also encourage you to pray.

Pray for peace in our nation and for peacemakers in every place throughout our society, remembering the warning of Jesus that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Mark 3:24) Pray for the “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) and that the world cannot give, especially in the ongoing pandemic. Carry with you the perspective of Jesus who said “In me you have peace. In the world you have trouble. But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)

Pray for justice and the accountability of those whose words, actions, and violations of the law threaten and disrupt our life together. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Ephesians 5:11) As I said following the murder of George Floyd last May, peaceful protests have been and remain acceptable and sometimes necessary and righteous forms of expression in American life. But riots, violence, and the recent insurrection at the Capitol are unacceptable and illegal expressions to be met with justice and condemnation no matter who the perpetrators are or what our opinions or political preferences happen to be.

Pray for our leaders, including our new president and vice president, for their wisdom and safety as they assume office. Our congregation has always prayed for our newly elected leaders regardless of their political party. Pray that they and all of us will be reflections of God’s will and witnesses to the truth even when that truth doesn’t support our desires. Pray that their debates and our conversations with each other will be civil, humble, truthful, and respectful even when we disagree.

Pray for healing in the ongoing pandemic. Give thanks for first responders, medical professionals, caregivers, scientists, and the speed at which vaccines have been developed, that they may be administered at even greater speed. Pray that our citizens may act responsibly and that those who suffer personal or economic hardships or have lost loved ones may be comforted and helped.

Pray for the church, that those who bear the name of Christ would use this time to be examples to the world of what it means to follow Him and to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3-4) Give thanks for the spirit of unity in the midst of the diversity with which God has blessed our church family, and pray that it may be more fully realized as we keep working toward it.

There’s a phrase in Latin that originates in the 6th century monastic practices of St. Benedict whose motto was Ora et Labora – Pray and Work. With those words, I finally encourage us all to commit ourselves to the task of working toward the things for which we pray: peace, justice, godly leadership, healing, and the dynamic mission of the church for which Jesus died and rose again, which was not an insurrection, but a resurrection! Work as hard as you can to bring the word, spirit, and truth of Christ to the troubled world in which we live for the glory of God and the hope of better days ahead.

America (the restaurant at Union Station) is gone. I don’t know if and when we’ll ever be able to walk around the Capitol as we did on that Sunday evening years ago. I don’t know when the pandemic will end. I long for the day we can return to a crowded restaurant for dinner, though not as much as I yearn for a crowded church where we can place the Body of Christ into your hands. But to know that He is Lord, that our peace is in Him, and that His church will never perish makes all the difference in the world. I pray that this assurance will give all believers joy in Him, even now, and strength to pray, work, and serve as agents of much needed healing and renewal in America and revival in the church that proudly bears His name.

To that end, Pastor Gonzalez, our staff, and our leaders are praying for you and sending you our love, always, in Jesus, our Lord.

Mark Hricko