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From the Pastor

Dear friends,

It’s November, which begs one simple question: Where did October go?!?

October is normally one of my favorite months. Cooler weather, colorful leaves, nights on the porch that beg for a sweater or a pair of wool socks.

But not this October. I’m pretty sure it was 98 degrees one day and 62 the next. Not much transition at all for Mother Nature this year.

Sometimes life surprises you. My preaching professor in seminary said that we have to be prepared for the occasional left-handed junk ball. I never played much baseball, but I always remembered his vivid description of the junk ball, a pitch designed to throw off a hitter’s timing because it’s either significantly slower and/or has confusing movement between the pitcher’s hand and the catcher’s glove.

Life throws left-handed junk balls at you sometimes.

Early October, I was surprised with a phone call from a friend who told me that our close friend, Paul, had just died. 54 years old. Totally unexpected. It threw me for a loop during a pretty busy time of our year. A playground campaign, Consecration Sunday, G2G, a new staff member, expanding our 3rd grade reading model to other schools, bringing the racial equity workshops to Rowan County. I didn’t have a choice but to keep busy …

… until the funeral. Krista and I took the day off and drove to Grace Moravian Church in Mt. Airy, a church on the outskirts of the neighborhood where Paul grew up. We passed his high school, some local hangouts, and the business his dad owned downtown. When we walked in the sanctuary, I was handed a bulletin … and that’s when it hit me. As we do with every funeral bulletin we print at St. John’s, there was Paul’s name in bold letters, the date of his birth and death directly below it.

It hit me like a ton of bricks.

I have the privilege – and often the terrible misfortune – of walking with a lot of people through some very dark patches of life. The left-handed junk balls you’ve experienced are sometimes overwhelming and can seem down-right confusing.

Many of you have done the same, in far more profound and remarkable ways. You’ve prayed, cooked, cleaned, driven, and sacrificed time and resources .. all for the sake of walking alongside a friend in need.

And here’s what’s beautiful. You’ll earn nothing for your care. There are no extra jewels for your crown or fast-passes through the heavenly gates. That’s not why you care. You care because God cares.

“We love because God first loved us,” John writes (1 John 4:19). Our love is to be a reflection of God’s love, a love given without expectation of reward or recognition. It’s like grits served with a good, Southern breakfast. You don’t order it; it just comes.

A few days after Paul’s funeral, I pulled up that day’s scripture reading from the Moravian Daily Text, which Paul first shared with me when we were in college. I was stunned to read from Psalm 56:8, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in a bottle.” I needed to hear that word of comfort, a beautiful reminder that God hears my cries and has not overlooked my/our grief.

When life throws a left-handed junk ball at you, my hope and prayer is that you’ll feel the strong support of this community of faith .. and that you’ll know the hope that is ours – of a God “who comforts us in all our sorrows so that we can comfort others in their sorrows” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

Blessings to you and yours this month. Thanks for your partnership in the garden.

+Pastor Rhodes