Unexpected grace

This month’s Perspectives on Hope remind us that life has some surprises along the way.

REV. DR. JEROME (Jerry) DEVINE
Director of Connectional Ministries, DAC

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”  ~2 Corinthians 5:17

It had been raining for five days. Cold and overcast skies made everything feel dreary. We were heading to southwest Nebraska where I would have the joy and privilege of officiating our nephew’s wedding. The wedding for James and Emma would be at the First United Methodist Church in Kearney, and the reception would be out on my sister and brother-in-law’s farm. They had worked so hard for weeks transforming the yard and barn into a gracious and lovely place to gather a rather large group of family and friends.

But it rained—and rained– and rained—and rained! Four inches fell over the several days leading up to the wedding. This was all a part of a large weather front stretching from Texas to Michigan. It began to place extra stress on everyone directly involved in preparing the way for this great celebration of love, faith, family and friendships. My heart went out to all of them, yet I knew, as did they, that there are some circumstances in life that we simply have no control over. The only thing we can control is our response and adaptability in those circumstances.

“There are some circumstances in life that we simply have no control over. The only thing we can control is our response and adaptability in those circumstances.”

The day of the wedding came, and the water-soaked soil required last minute adjustments to some of the original ideas for the reception. Instead of being a usual 75-degree sunny May Saturday, we awoke to a misty 42-degree day.  It required adaptability in the midst of the unexpected circumstances. I had the opportunity to watch closely the responses of those involved in the final preparations, even in the moments leading into the marriage ceremony itself. In the midst of normal or even unexpected stressful details of a wedding, I saw genuineness and a sense of faith-filled response to the unexpected. As I prayed with the groom and his attendants, and then with the bride and her attendants, I sensed that they were all in this together and in spite of being a bit frazzled their hearts were in a good place.

As I hugged my sister, the mother of the groom, she simply proclaimed, “This is a good day!” regardless of the sprinkling still taking place outside. The circumstances did not control her response. Her faith and love guided her response to the circumstances. Unexpected obstacles simply prompted adaptability with a clear focus on what was ahead.

The wedding ceremony was simple, faith-filled and beautiful. As I watched the faces of the bride and groom as they shared their vows with one another I could see the stress melting away through the gift of God’s grace they knew was present. The scriptures and songs they chose gave a message of their desire to live as faithful disciples in their new marriage. Unexpected circumstances had not stolen their faith or their focus for this day. I was humbled and grateful. Spring had sprung, even on a cold rainy day! The humorous irony was that the very next morning the sun was fully shining as we all gathered to help with the cleanup following the reception the night before. The yard now looked crisp and pristine, ready to welcome all, yet one day late. I turned to my sister and joked, “Great day for a wedding!”  She laughed loudly, finding humor in a time of unexpected circumstances.

Spring often provides the unexpected. We shed the doldrums of winter, hoping for a steady climb into full sunlight. Yet we should not be too surprised when we spend a few days in the clouds before we can see clearly again. A friend recently posted on social media this scripture from 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” I would love it if I always looked and felt like a fresh spring flower, vibrantly blooming and shedding its color for all to enjoy. After all, in Christ I am a new creation. Yet, that does not mean I am complete all at once. I am to be made new each and every day, in each and every circumstance, and in each unexpected situation. If I am only made new once and for all at one time and place, how can I be new in unexpected places?

“We are being made new every day and in every circumstance through the working of the Holy Spirit within us and within those circumstances.”

One of the foundational things I love deeply about our United Methodist theological heritage is our emphasis on the ongoing nature of sanctifying grace. We are being made new every day and in every circumstance through the working of the Holy Spirit within us and within those circumstances.

Over the past few days I have noticed a number of my clergy colleagues reflecting in social media about how many years since they were ordained, or how many years they have been serving in ministry. There have been comments of celebration of the journey as well as acknowledging that there were some surprises along the way. Some of these colleagues are transitioning to a new journey called retirement, wondering what might be their next spring adventure. Others are simply pausing to reflect and give thanks.

As I read through their postings it made me mindful that I am in a transition year myself. I served under appointment in the Peninsula-Delaware Conference for 18 years before moving to Michigan. As I come to annual conference this year I will be completing 18 years under appointment here in Michigan. As the year ahead unfolds I will now have been in ministry here in Michigan longer than any other place. Perhaps this is a new spring unfolding. After all, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come!”

May God’s grace guide all of us in the unexpected circumstances ahead of us as we become the new Michigan Conference. May this sanctifying grace guide our responses as we gather and as we serve.

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