2 My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4 and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
-James 1:2-4, NRSV
For us clergy, it’s part of the rules, part of the ritual. Before we vote for a new candidate to be brought into membership in the Order of Deacons or Order of Elders, a few clergy — usually, those who know the candidate particularly well — will rise and speak on behalf of that candidate. They’ll speak of the candidate’s faith… or character… or God-given gifts. The candidate will wait nervously outside, pretending not to listen through the door, yet unable to resist the chance to hear these words of affirmation from the mentors and soon-to-be colleagues who have guided them in ministry.
This year, of course, this rule — this ritual — will look a bit different for all of us. The clergy will gather via Zoom. The words of affirmation will be pre-recorded. Transcripts will be provided, just in case the technology doesn’t work. The nervous candidates will wait in a Zoom waiting room rather than behind a door. For the first time, they won’t have the chance to eavesdrop on this ritual of affirmation.
This year, this rule — this ritual — will look a bit different for me as well. For the first time, I’ll be speaking on behalf of a candidate whom I’ve mentored through the process. I’ve already recorded my testimony, right there on my iPhone. In the video, I described this candidate as a woman who is “undaunted by adversity.” It’s true — she has had to handle more than her share of what life can throw at a person, and she has met that challenge with strength, and with grace, with determination, and with an increased faith in Christ.
And then I continued: “Right now, the church needs leaders who can meet moments of challenge and adversity, who can meet those moments with strength and grace and determination and faith.”
The author of the letter we’ve come to know as the Book of James was a person acquainted with adversity, with “trials of any kind.” He knew that adversity was a given, something God’s people would inevitably face. He knew back then that God’s church would need people who could meet adversity with something other than frustration or desperation. He knew that it was possible to meet adversity with… well, with joy, a kind of joy borne out of endurance.
This season of covid-tide is a time of adversity. Yet in this time, may God bless you with the gifts you need to meet that adversity head-on. That, friends, is my prayer for you. May God bless you with the kind of gifts I see in my friend and soon-to-be colleague: gifts of strength and grace and determination and faith. May God bless you with the kind of gifts James mentions: gifts of endurance and joy. And may God bless you with whatever gifts you’ll need to face whatever covid-tide throws at us next.
Never underestimate the power of God’s gifts, friends. After all:
Our God is bigger than coronavirus.
Our vision is bigger than coronavirus, too.
We are people blessing people.
We are Wesley Church.
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