1 Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
2 Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on his law day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;
everything they do shall prosper.
4 It is not so with the wicked;
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes,
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked is doomed.
For me, one of the joys of being part of the church are the wise old trees. In my first full-time role as associate minister, our congregation in Knoxville addressed issues of survival because of declining membership. (This is despite being a loving congregation doing its best to follow the Gospel.) The senior pastor and I had more than one visioning meeting with leaders and elders confronting our difficult reality of paying for an old building while still getting excited about ministry in the downtown. In one retreat, we walked the building in silence giving thanks for our memories we experienced in the building as we considered selling. I perceived members’ hearts being stretched. I never witnessed arguments, but feelings were evident. People were anxious, worried, scared, depressed, and resigned. Then, our senior pastor (my colleague and mentor) had a near-death experience fall, which caused him to be away for a couple of months (he survived and is doing quite well now!). What I remember is the night of a difficult elder’s meeting with questions about money and our future. As a pastor, the ground below my feet felt very unsure with a church in crisis, a mentor and friend in peril, and the direction of our church was not clear.
At the end of our meeting we gathered in a circle, and one of the elders, a 6 foot 5 tall slender man in his late 60’s who was the head of the choral department at the University of Tennessee began to pray. Suddenly, I had the distinct feeling of standing under an old oak tree. I questioned how I could feel sure-footed at this time. And yet in that prayer I felt protected from the elements and the presence of a deep abiding tree that said more in his very being than the words he spoke - “We have been here before and we will get through it again”. Standing in that circle, I understood that the “church” was going to be just fine.
In this Lenten season, I give thanks for those trees planted by the water bearing fruit in difficult seasons. I pray I might also give shade, fruit, and love to those in my midst no matter the circumstances. May we listen for the ways God is moving in our midst with trust that God will get us there. Amen
Rev. Audrey Connor
Chaplain, Grant Medical Center
The full Lenten Devotional Booklet can be downloaded by clicking HERE.