- Nick Hatch
Looking Back Upon God's Hand
This past weekend thirty of us went on the High School Winter Retreat (formerly just for Confirmands). We visited a Hindu temple, enjoyed time on Michigan Avenue, slept in the UCC Chicago Theological Seminary classroom, and attended worship at Trinity United Church of Christ on the south side of Chicago. Rev. Moss’s sermon was geared towards starting Black History month and featured an “in-person” visit from Frederick Douglas a leader in the abolitionist movement. Frederick’s escape from slavery was a long series of near impossible circumstances where he almost never came to freedom. It was dangerous and frightening what he endured to make it North and begin his work of fighting deconstructing institutional slavery. He remarked in a memoir that it was not until he had years to look back on his life that “I could see the hand of God” shepherding him through his terribly painful journey. Rev. Moss called this “serendipity”: being able to discern God’s hand in retrospect working for good.
The Apostle Paul speaks of this “serendipity” when encouraging the Philippians through their hardships and challenges in their work of becoming a church. He says:
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Almost like an architect from afar, Paul is watching and speaking to the Philippians in their construction of a healthy and functioning faith community meant to carry on the salvific message of Jesus Christ. It is no easy task, but Paul had watched many of the churches founded during those early days groan under the weight of being attacked, even “imprisoned” by the Imperial Roman Empire seeking to oppress their growing power or harness it for the good of the emperor. Only in due time could these faithful disciples have the perspective to look back and see that God was always there, always working, even in greatly painful and frightening times.
To say God is present and at work in any situation, it’s a huge claim. To trust that God has never left our side even when we suffer deep hardship, it’s a leap some of us cannot make in the moment. And to be able to look back, through hope-filled eyes and know that all along the hand of God has been directing us to the land of milk and honey, well that takes endurance and commitment.
I wonder where, in looking back, you can see the mighty hand of God was at work in your life? Where might we see God’s hand at work in this church in this time, directing and sorting, coaching and holding us through this passage?
Let us be assured that The Architect of the Heavens and Earth is here, a firm foundation has been laid, and the Mighty Hand of God is shepherding us to a safer, more justice filled future. We just have to be patient to see that good things are happening all around us; for we can never fathom the greatness of the kingdom which is being built.
Here is to Serendipity!