Why do we not know what we do not know?

Our text today is from John 16:12-15:


12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.


Why don’t we know what we need to know? Why don’t we know where we are headed and what our future looks like? Jesus, in his last moments with his people let them know…simply that they don’t know yet…but that one day they will. I can’t help but wonder if that was perhaps less than helpful…less than comforting. Isn’t there anything else you can tell us? Don’t we already know that we don’t know?

On Friday I came home from annual conference, where it took more than 15 ballots to get our lay people to elect the people who will make the decisions about how the church will go forward in 2020. It is an incredibly mixed group and there is much work to be done in the greater UMC and the way forward isn’t as clear as I wish it were. But we do have our next steps, our next conversation groups, our marching orders until next year and for now that is enough, even when we wish it were more.

As the pastor of this little body, there isn’t a day I didn’t wish I knew more about our future, our direction. I have a general direction. I know our next steps. I know the two year plan, but I don’t know exactly how things are gonna shake out. I don’t know what the church will look like in 15, 10, even 5 years. I just don’t know.

Perhaps you too? Perhaps you also are at a personal cross roads. And even if you THINK you know, the fact of the matter is you don’t. You don’t know, and you don’t know what you don’t know. I was supposed still be a teacher. I was supposed to be living in Indianapolis, I even had the neighborhood I was going to live picked out, if not the actual house. Yet here I am, spending my entire adult life in Atlanta, living in a house in a neighborhood I had never heard of, and being the head pastor of a church wasn’t on the radar until I was asked to do it.

Sign post pointing in two directions

God works in mysterious ways, and friends as I thought about the text this week, I realized what good news that mystery really is. We still don’t know anything. God is still revealing it to us, and that isn’t a design flaw. That is how God has orchestrated it from the beginning.

God’s work being a mystery keeps us close the the creator.
God’s work being a mystery keeps us close to the redeemer.
God’s work being a mystery keeps us close to the sustainer.

All of that is good news, especially on Trinity Sunday.

Because we don’t know the HOW, but we do know the WHO. The who is our triune God, and so we can trust that the how will be accounted for well. Just like Jesus explains to his disciples that because they know Him they know the father, we know God by the way God relates to us.

New Hope has been eeking along for years, and there the people are faithful because God has been faithful to them. They do not always know how, but they do know who. They do know who is caring for them and just how faithful that God is.

At conference I was asked to think about long term planning. I have some emails and grant applications out but I would appreciate your prayers. I have more I don’t knows and perhapses than any good leader is supposed to have. That’s ok. God is showing me how to walk it out.

Please pray for, provision for tiny houses that could be section 8 housing in Atlanta.

Relationships with the neighborhood that we could build something across all people.

A woman who is seeking residential drug treatment.

How can we be praying for you?

Hello From Annual Conference!

Sunday was Pentecost. 

It is Pentecost, and I have been thinking a lot about that big day. The day the fire came down. The spirit was disseminated. Everyone was speaking at the same time and the whole thing was such a mess that some people asked Peter if everyone was drunk. Instead of saying No! These are upstanding people, Peter says, these people can’t possibly be drunk it is only 10 in the morning. I love that so much. Y’all, the church has ALWAYS been accused of being scandalous. The church has ALWAYS been messy. I love the text from Acts, Acts 2:1-21 which is the traditional text for Pentecost. But this week I preached from John, 

John 14:8-17, [25-27]

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it. 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

[25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.]

In Theology school, the class that is most like to give you headaches is systematic theology. Within systematic theology the most headache inducing subject is the trinity. How do you explain how the trinity works? How do you use words to describe something that is beyond description? I am not sure you can.

If I am honest, I think Jesus kind of talking in circles with all this I am the father and the father is in me and the spirit is coming business. I am not saying that Jesus is doing a bad job, I just think words don’t do it. I have a lot more success painting my understanding of the Holy Spirit than I ever have described it using words. How do you tell people what it feels like when your grandma says your name? How do you describe what your favorite birthday cake ever tasted like or the way you feel when they play the theme song from your prom? There aren’t words for that. I don’t know that there are supposed to be. 

The trinity, God’s love, the Holy Spirit is all like that. How do you describe the indescribable. Jesus tries, Peter tries, and yet we are still without words. 

And Phillip, right at the beginning of this text is asking Jesus to explain it. Even after hanging out with Jesus, watching the miracles he did, sharing meal after meal with him, Phillip still wants just a little more proof. Don’t we all? Don’t we all want just a little more proof than we have? Don’t we all just want a little bit more just to be sure? Phillip just wants to see the Father, is that too much to ask? But Jesus insists that Phillip has already seen that! We ALREADY have what we need. I know it feels impossible to believe somedays, but how many times are we asking for what we already have? 

The end of this passage is particularly interesting to me. Have the peace of God. Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid. Oh. Okay. So the Holy Spirit comes down and reshapes the whole church, and changes….pretty much everything…and you don’t want us to be afraid? That seems insane! Of COURSE we are afraid! Everything is changing! The church loves to romanticize the coming of the Holy Spirit. They love to talk about how the early church had it right. But I wonder if the early church had people who were really really sad that the church was changing. Did they miss their old ways? Their old songs? Their old ceremonies? Were there people who liked the way it was before the Holy Spirit came and messed everything up? 

We are in a massive shake up in the church universal. New Hope has had SO MANY changes, and I am so proud of the ways that they have adjusted. It is truly remarkable. The UMC is in the midst of a major shake up, and the church at large. Y’all we literally don’t know what to do with the church. The ways we have worked in the past, just aren’t working now. Our society is different. That is okay. And the truth is….we don’t know what will work in the future. We just don’t know. 

But here is what we do know. We don’t have to be afraid. The Pease of God is with us. We are going to get somethings wrong, but we will eventually work it out. Not knowing is scary. Radical uncertainty is just so hard. Yet this is what they are called to, to go forth with the Love of God, confident that we also carry the peace with us. 

Amen

Please be praying with the church as we think about how best to serve the community this fall. 
Be praying for our young adults, they are under a lot of pressure. 
Be praying for me (Abby) as I keep filling out the Methodist paperwork! 
 
What we are doing, having a physical church and inviting more than that into it, this is new. So how can we pray for you? What do you want us to know about you? How can I pastor your heart? Please know I am praying for you and would love any feed back you have! 

Pastor Abby

Are you hungry?

I wish I could go to a church like yours. 
It sounds like you are doing something that matters. 
It feels like I am welcome here, it feels like each person is welcome here. 

These are the things people say to me, the pastor, about my church, New Hope. And, they are correct. At this tiny church on the south side of Atlanta, every person matters and we are doing amazing work. I wish I you could go to a church like New Hope too. I feel very blessed to lead it. At New Hope we do one thing really really well: We feed hungry people.

New Hope has been feeding hungry people for years out of the fellowship hall on the back of the property, resourced with relationships they have built for years. Someone from the neighborhood picks up the extra pizzas from down the street. The bread man drops off extra bread and pastries, sometimes we have 100 cases of cherries or 78 gallons of chocolate milk, and because the church is good at feeding people, two members without cars redistribute these blessing to neighbors who are hungry. Watching 100 gallons of chocolate milk disappear in 24 hours, is a tiny modern day miracle.  If you are hungry, there is something for you at New Hope. 

Didn’t Jesus specifically ask us to feed his sheep? 

Before I was a pastor, I was a blogger. I sort of wrote myself into this job. On the internet I found community where I was afraid I was all alone, in my doubts, with my questions, looking for a way forward. And now, as a pastor I remember what it was like to be hungry for a community that is trying to follow Jesus. I recognize the longing I hear in the voices that say, I wish I could find a little church with a big heart. I know that hunger. 

And didn’t Jesus specifically ask us to feed his sheep? 

If you are hungry for a community like that, here is your invitation into it. Sign up for the New Hope Newsletter and we will figure out how to do an online church with a physical home together. We want to feed you. You have a place with us.

Right now, this is what I know: 

On Mondays I will be sending out some version of the sermon, whether the link to the audio or a written version or both. 

This will also include the songs we sang (we are unabashedly a hymn church) and the prayer requests I can share.

I would love to be able to share your prayer requests with the physical community, so reply to these emails with how I can pray for you. If you do NOT want me to share with the community, just tell me. 

I am figuring out how to share Thursday night dinner with you. It is weird and awkward, and really good and holy. God shows up there.

I will likely screw some of this up, we are doing something new here. I don’t know exactly what it looks like. Attempting to bridge a physical and online community is weird, and wild, and I think our next right step. I don’t believe in a church you have to pay to be a part of, so everybody can come to this newsletter community. There will be a link soon if you would like to financially support this community. 

Mostly I know that some of you are hungry, hungry for a community that is feeding people right now. 
Hungry for a place where we are dreaming of being the actual New Hope of the gospel to people. 
Hungry for God to show up in the mess. 
Hungry for some good in this world in the name of Jesus. 
Hungry for love to win, and everyone to have a home, and a place where everyone gets a cupcake on their birthday. 

New Hope isn’t perfect but we are trying, trying to love our neighbor well, trying to love God well, trying to let Jesus have his wild way with us. 

If you are hungry for that community, you are invited not matter where you are. 

Jesus told us to feed his sheep. If you are hungry, you are his sheep, you belong with us. 

I have so many dreams for our little church with the big heart, there is so much good work to be done, I think God might be excited by all of this too. I would love for you to be a part of what God is doing at New Hope, so sign up to the newsletter and we will figure it all out together. I can be your pastor. We can feed each other. 

Aren’t we all hungry? Aren’t well all His sheep? 

Much Love and Welcome, 
Rev. Abby Norman and the New Hope Community