The first church I pastored was in rural Wisconsin. Farm country. We lived on the town’s main thoroughfare, and our toddler son often stood glued to the front window watching tractors roll down the street.
A man in our congregation heard that Daryl had never driven a tractor (why this surprised him I do not know, since Daryl grew up in Los Angeles…), and he pulled up to our front door in a John Deere the very next day.
“Take her for a spin,” he said.
It was a beautiful church filled with beautiful people. Teachers, nurses, business owners. Police officers, journalists, a couple of veterinarians with stories I could listen to for hours, insightful and compassionate teenagers, and one little girl in particular who became legendary for rolling all the way down the chancel stairs in a donkey costume because she was oh-so-over the Christmas pageant.
My first Sunday I stepped up to the pulpit at the start of worship without planning what I’d say. I had a sermon ready, of course but it hadn’t fully occurred to me that I was the person leading things and would need to say some sort of welcome, too.
I stood at the microphone, looking down the center aisle, expectant faces in the pews all raised as if to say, “We know we hired a 28-year old fresh out of seminary with no experience, but you’re going to do great. Go ahead. Let’s hear it.”
There was a pause, and I realized in that split second that this welcome needed to set the tone for not just worship that day, but for my entire ministry.
I had no earthly idea what to say. So I prayed one of those, “Dear God, this is totally my own fault for forgetting to plan, but please help me anyway” prayers.
In that split second, from the recesses of my memory came something I’d sung in Sunday School as a girl: This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Turns out that’s a pretty good way to start a worship service.
In fact, a great way to start each day. Every day.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the brilliant young German pastor living under Nazi rule, had seemingly little reason to start his days with thanksgiving. And yet, in his 1939 work Life Together, he wrote,
For Christians, the beginning of the day should not be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day’s work. At the threshold of the new day stands the Lord who made it.
When we begin the day with Jesus it will go better. Not because the outer circumstances change, but because when we have been with the Lord we are changed.
He gives strength and courage for the tasks ahead.
He brings reminders about what is truly important. What is truly at stake.
He offers clarity of mind before the cacophony begins.
It’s no secret that we are living in anxious times. It can be tempting to hook ourselves up to a steady drip of media, letting the pundits and the pollsters and the commentators and the talking heads tell us what we should fear now or next.
We cannot bury our heads in the sand. There is work to be done for each of us, for the church, for the world. The work of truth-speaking, peace-making, and bridge-building. Hard work. Faithful work. Essential work.
But we can do nothing if we aren’t properly fed and watered.
Let us start, always, with Jesus.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. –Psalm 118:24