“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 NRSV
Anxiety. Worry. Stress. Each of these words seems synonymous with our experience in 2020. COVID-19, racial tension, the election, seasonal storms, death within the church family, and countless other occurrences have done much to weigh our hearts down in the past year. I have heard from a number of individuals, and most likely have voiced a similar thought, “The new year just has to be better!” I would have to say that, while this is true for most people from one year to the next, it is perhaps even more so as we embark upon 2021. A new year means a fresh start as it is an opportunity to do things differently from the past and to anticipate good fortunes that will hopefully counter the difficulties we have experienced. We hope. We pray. We brace for. But, in reality, we do not have any idea about what the future may have in store. None of us has experience peering into a crystal ball; neither have any of us traveled to the future so that we might return with a full report. Even if we did have access to such insight, would it really change anything for us? Sure, we might be better informed, but most likely it would do little to ease our concerns.
As we think back upon the year that was, it can be easy for us to dwell upon the difficulties experienced and unsettling changes to our “normal” routine. Many have wondered, myself included, just when life as we have known it might become a reality once again. To be fully transparent, I do not know. In fact, none of us knows for certain. One thing that I can say with conviction is that, regardless of what the future has in store, God continues to be faithful. God’s goodness, love, and mercy have not ceased to exist as a result of our recent challenges. As the Scriptures teach us in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” God is, as the theological term describes, “immutable” or “unchanging.” This is a good word for the living of these days as we continue to see an increase in COVID-19 cases, hear of a Christmas Day explosion, or deal with a sudden diagnosis. Our surroundings can change quickly and without warning. The foundations which we often depend upon may shift. Much of what this world affords can prove to be inconsistent. However, God remains true to God’s word for humanity. God will not fail!
I share these thoughts in light of our present situation and not merely as individuals, but also as a community of faith. The new year brings with it not only the turning of the calendar, but also marks our one hundred and fiftieth year of ministry within Lucama. This is a major milestone in our congregation’s history and is one worthy of celebration. Since 1871, the people of Little Rock OFWB Church have left a mark upon Wilson County, the OFWB denomination, and also the Church Universal. I have only been a part of Little Rock’s ministry for just over four years, but I have come to appreciate the faithful efforts of my predecessors, the congregational leadership, and diligence of countless “unsung heroes” of our tradition. God has without a doubt accomplished much good for the cause of God’s Kingdom here upon earth through our church family and I believe God continues to have a calling upon this congregation to make God known within our world.
When we look at our present circumstances, this may seem a bit overwhelming or perhaps unrealistic. After all, our times have changed as well as our community. Many of the saints who have made our congregation a place for worship and Christian nurture have attained their eternal reward. Family dynamics have been through periods of transition. As with many facets of society, there has been a shift toward “bigger being better.” To look at our mission field, we might easily fall into despair thinking, “There is no way for us to do it.” We point toward other places that are better suited for Kingdom work; places with more people or resources to “make things happen.” However, to make comparisons or compete within the Kingdom of God does no favors to the overall task before us. It may make us feel better or, in some way, relinquish some of our responsibilities, but it still is no excuse for us not to follow through with what God has invited us into. We all have a place in the forward progression of God’s Kingdom both individually and as a congregation. This goes for our small town, rural community, and a body with one hundred and fifty years of history.
We have come far and performed a favorable work for the Kingdom since 1871, but God continues to have a place for us in God’s eternal vision. God has proven faithful and will continue to be so as we seek to remain faithful to God. This was true one hundred and fifty years ago and remains just as valid for days such as these. Thanks be unto God!
The Rev. Kelley Smart