“Imagining our New Normal?”

“Behold I make all things new!” – Revelation 21:5

Twenty years ago my life changed forever in an instant when I flew over the handlebars of my bicycle and landed on my head. Like Humpty Dumpty I “couldn’t be put back together again.” The name for my new situation is traumatic brain injury (TBI), the injury so many of our troops return with from war.

Everyone’s TBI is different. In the Brain Injury community, we say, “If you’ve seen one TBI you’ve seen one TBI.”  Still, all TBIs share the family traits of neurological deficits and behavioral changes that are challenging for both the one who has them and for the loved ones who must deal with them.

As I was trying to stay afloat in these new uncharted waters, my thoughtful neuropsychologist, Sarah, threw me a lifeline with the term “new normal.” She said, “Don’t compare how you are today with how you were before the accident. Compare how you are today with how you were after the accident.  That’s your new normal.”

One of my disabilities is an impaired “executive function,” the part of the brain that allows one to multi-task. Sarah told me, “Before your accident you could probably cook dinner, talk to your wife, and listen to NPR all at the same time. Now pick one.” So I have learned how to do one thing at a time. Sometimes I get very frustrated by this, especially if I compare myself to before my injury, but measured by my new normal, I can see improvement.

This idea of new normal has been so helpful to me that I have begun to think about it as a metaphor for the life of faith. Since my injury I have been paying attention to the word “new” wherever I come across it in our faith.  Scripture is full of it: the Revelation passage above is just one of countless verses where “God is doing a new thing.”

And our hymnody is also full of allusions to the new: “morning by morning new mercies I see” and “new every morning is the love.”  These phrases carry so much emotional power for me.

They remind me that ours is a God of new starts, second chances, the God who raised Jesus from the dead. And you don’t have to have a disability to benefit from thinking about your “new normal.” The everyday bumps and shocks of life set us all back at times, and the aging process will in time diminish our capabilities. But this God of the new is never done with us, even in the face of death.

It occurs to me that “new normal” is a useful way to think about what happens after the pandemic. Many are eager to go “back to normal.” But there is no going back to the status quo ante.

Recall when the prophets like Jeremiah spoke of “restoring the fortunes” of Israel it didn’t mean going back to the way it was. It meant creating something new, something better, something more just, and fair and kind. It meant seeking something closer to God’s intention for his people and world

The upheavals in our society, the protests against police brutality, the cries for justice, and the revealing of the inequalities and inequities in our society call for more than a return to the way things were. The twin viruses of Covid-19 and racism share a trait: they are powerless without a host. These viruses invite us to imagine not a return to business as usual, but to a new way to be a society, a new way to be church, a new way to be a person of faith.

Let us imagine what our “new normal” might look like.

Prayer

God of the Exodus and the Resurrection help us to see and know the new things you are doing in us and in the world around us. Keep us from discouragement about the things we can longer do, and let us be grateful for the things we can. Open our imaginations to what new things we might do.

(Photo: RL Floyd, 2020)

“A Different Story; a Better Way” A Sermon on Matthew 4: 12-23

Over the years I have preached a number of Epiphany sermons here, as Brent often takes time away during the season. One particularly memorable one was three years ago. It was the conjunction of three significant events: the inauguration of a new president, Martin Luther King Day and the first Woman’s March. My sermon was called “Looking for Light in the Shadow of Death.” I worked hard on it, and indeed, I still think it was one of the best sermons I ever wrote. Sadly, it is not the best sermon I ever gave, because some of you will recall the plumbing failed us that morning, and the toilets weren’t working, so we abbreviated the service and sent everybody home. There’s a parable in there somewhere, although I’m not sure what it is.

So here I am, and here we are, three years later with the same text: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in the shadow of death, on them has light shined.” Continue reading

“I Have Seen Enough” A Devotion on Hebrews 11: 1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1 (NRSV)

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews doesn’t subscribe to the popular axiom that “seeing is believing.” On the contrary, for him faith is believing in that which cannot be seen.

I wouldn’t disagree with him, but I would add that I have seen enough in my life to confirm such a faith in things not seen. Continue reading

“New Shoots from Old Stumps” A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year A

I’ll tell you a secret. It is something every pastor knows. Also, any therapist, social worker or anybody else who deals with people at a deeply personal level. For many people this is not “the most wonderful time of the year.” For many it is a sad and troubled time. Advent invites us to consider even the darkest parts of our world and of our lives. And that is a good thing, because often the deepest truths are found in the darkest times. That certainly has been true for me. Continue reading

“Heads Up!” A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent, Year A

Advent is my favorite season of the church year. It has a different feel to it than the other seasons. There is a sense of yearning in Advent. A sense of anticipation. It is a time of watching and waiting. A time to remind ourselves that there are forces at work beyond our control. Continue reading

“Rich Toward God” A Stewardship Sermon on Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” —Luke 12:13-21 NRSV Continue reading

“A Horizon of Hope” A Devotion on Jeremiah 32: 14-15

“Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” – Jeremiah 32:14-15 (NRSV)

It was the early 1970s when I first studied Jeremiah. It was the time of Watergate, Vietnam, and the Cold War. We were discouraged about the state of our nation and the world. Jeremiah prophesied during one of Israel’s worst times: the armies of Babylon had surrounded Jerusalem, and Jeremiah was under house arrest because his words had been too painful for King Zedekiah of Judah to hear. Continue reading

“Living the Risen Life” A Devotion on Colossians 3: 1

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. – Colossians 3:1 (NRSV)

On Easter Day we all sang “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” as we joyfully celebrated the astonishing claim that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Resurrection is not a once-a-year happy moment, but a living reality in the lives of Christians. I am always deeply moved at baptisms by the church’s bold assertion that “we die with Christ in a death like his, and are raised to life with him to live a new kind of life.”

“A new kind of life” sounds pretty good to me since the old kind of life I have lived often has left a lot to be desired. Those “new kind of life” promises—resurrection promises—remind me that Christ keeps working in me and through me and with me. And not just me as a lone individual, but me as a member of his church, his body, his fellowship.

When Christians say, “if Jesus were alive today…” I know that they merely mean “if Jesus was still walking around and talking as he once did in ancient Galilee.” But the truth of his risen and continuing life with us is even more astonishing than his earthly life.

The risen life means that in life, in death, and in life beyond death, we are not alone. In life, in death, and in life beyond death, Jesus is with us. Because Jesus is alive today!

Prayer

Living Christ, may we grow more and more each day into the risen life we share with you

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotion for July 29, 2019. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the UCC Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here.)