Doing it again for the first time

This Sunday starts the first week of Advent. It is also the first time I will preach since August. I got an ‘unintentional sabbatical’ for 12 weeks. For any of you first time readers, I contracted a “breakthrough delta variant” covid infection which put me in the hospital for 18 days. For the last almost five years I have served as the lead pastor at First Christian Church in Greeley—I failed retirement. The first three years we were experiencing an exciting growth and visioning—then Covid.
Last year we had ‘hoped’ to reboot for Advent and Christmas, the second wave hit and we remained virtual. Tomorrow is Hope Sunday. As I approach such an inviting topic, I realize that the Mark who has take a homiletical deep dive into “Romans 8”, is not the same Mark who was skipping along blithely three months ago—I had a “Significant Emotional Experience”. It got me to thinking about the times in my life that what I experienced changed how I view the world. Hope means something different to me today, having had my flyby with the ‘grim reaper’.
These turning points will come to all of us. We don’t control them, all we can do is examine how we react to them and learn from them. I am thinking about those times in my life where a significant turn was taken. I am going to list a few of them (people love lists) and I would invite you to do the same:
*** 1953– My mom was hospitalized with “postpartum psychosis” after the birth of my brother. Then, for the next four years she battled a deep mental health crisis. Needless to say it affected all of us. I am blessed to share that she came though it and helped many other people with their struggles.
*** 1958– On a trip to the North West I got a case of Ring Worm. I had to have my head shaved and wear a sailor cap for four months. It became sport for other kids to… be cruel. I honed my capacity for empathy.
*** 1965-66– We hosted a foreign exchange student from Belgium, named Paul. He remains my brother—we FaceTime once a month and hope to resume our trans-Atlantic visitations—post Covid. Our relationship opened up a much bigger world to both of us.

*** 1979–In one month I found myself divorced and couch surfing, and then my youngest brother Don was killed. I learned more about grief than I could imagine.
*** 1987— I had my last drink and found AA. I learn more everyday about what really matters.
There are many more.
The question I am having to ask myself today is, “What really is Hope?” I just read an article about “Luxury Advent Calendars” from the Wall Street Journal. “Advent calendars were once a humble fun way to count down to Christmas. Now they disgorge expensive beauty products, gin, flavors of pork cracklings or $150,000 of Tiffany jewelry”. As for me give me a good daily devotional and a candle to light.
If I learned one thing from my recent “viral experience”— what still gives me hope is the kindness and generosity of so many of you!!!
Onward and Upward, Mark

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