Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
who brings out chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise. — Isaiah 43:16-21
As you may know, my sister and I have been settling our mom's estate. This process that has been going on since November has been both a joy and a challenge. The challenge has been the sheer amount of her stuff. They say it is not correct to use the word hoarder, anymore; rather one should say "she was fondly connected to her possessions." Well, this fond connection has led us to give away five truckloads of sewing material to mission projects, and to rent 25 dumpsters so far for the stuff that didn't make the cut for any mission project or estate sale.
Yet, there have been joyful discoveries. The other day we started on the storage unit called the garage. A friend of ours found a button. It reads, "Seniors '66 Savanna High School." This was mine in the past and it reminded me that it will be 50 years since I graduated. Now, I haven't heard of any reunions; even though for once in my life I am available to attend. But, this is not the only anniversary upcoming. 2017 we will mark 60 years since our family moved to Buena Park. Now, dad said that it was the search for a house with 2 bathrooms that fueled our move to Orange County. But, the best by product of our move was that mom and dad joined Orangethorpe Methodist Church, one Sunday after it was chartered. They were "almost" Charter members. From my perspective, that was also a momentous turning point in my life. My life has never been the same again.
Let us look at our scripture again. In Isaiah 43:19, the Lord God says, "Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" This word of the Lord came to Isaiah for the people of God exiled in Babylon. It signaled a new start for their lives. They will be returning to the Promised Land. So, don't dwell on the past captivity, said the Lord, watch for the new thing I am doing. If you see it, and believe it, your life will never be the same again. Later, when Christians read their Hebrew scriptures, they reinterpreted the prophet's words. This word in Isaiah signaled the new thing God did for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the word of new life, joy and salvation! Perceive it, believe in him and your life will never be the same again.
Today, this scripture asks us, what new thing is Lord is doing in our lives now? Are we watching for it? Are we stepping out in faith to claim the new thing the Lord has in store for us?
This morning, I come to witness. Ever since I became a part of this faith community in 1957, God is constantly doing some new thing in my life. And every new thing is refreshing like a river in the desert, like a drink of cold water. It revitalizes my faith. And it leads me often to give the Lord praise. The interesting thing is that from the beginning God gave this congregation here at OUMC its vital role in conveying God's new thing.
To explain, I return to mom's treasures. Among her things I found a 1964 edition of the OMC pictorial directory. My o my, were we young then! In addition to family portraits, group pictures were included. I found myself in 2 photos: the youth choir and the Senior High MYF. My presence in both of those groups is very significant. I don't know if I have ever told anyone what I am about to say. These groups along with Sunday school were like rivers in the desert for me. You see life outside of this church and my family was not always pretty. How many of you were bullied in school? I was too. With a name like Adlof I was an easy target. You've probably heard of that German dictator Adolf what's-his-name? Kids purposely connected me to him. "No, it's Ad-lof, not A-dolf!" Anyway that's his first name. Still, the severe teasing never let up. To top it off as I became a teenager, I had a terminal case of acne, it seemed. And my voice was changing. Not only would I hear the name, "pizza-face" but I was dropped from boys' choir because the teacher said I couldn't sing. Sometimes it was just no fun.
But, that was not the case at this church. Here I could tell God was doing a new thing. Sunday school teachers respected me. Youth did not tease me. And they pronounced my name correctly. And the choir director welcomed me. This was like rivers in the desert—rivers of respect, acceptance and love. It was not only refreshing, this was empowering. I grew in my faith and my delight for the community of faith. I sincerely believe I would not have heard my call to the ministry had I not found acceptance by this congregation. You let me speak at Youth services. You welcomed me as part of the lay worship leadership team. And, in 1970, you approved me as your candidate for the ordained ministry. Praise God. And thank you for letting God use you to bring a new and exciting thing in my life. But that is not all, there is more.
As I grew up I discovered new ways of wanting to express my Christian faith. Doug, my son-in-law, found some other buttons in mom's garage. They were mine as well. One caught my attention. It says, "McGovern/Shriver '72" In 1972, I was about to vote in my first presidential election. At that time I was going to seminary, as your candidate for the ordained ministry. Now, at this church, the pastor developed an evening program called an Election Forum; where our church came together to discuss the upcoming election. Local candidates were invited to speak. Ballot issues were discussed. And certain church members were invited to give a short speech on behalf of their particular presidential candidate. The evening was informative and fun. Vastly different from the debates we see played out on TV today. I'll never forget the day when the pastor asked me to be the one to speak on behalf of George McGovern. That was an honor. After all, McGovern was a United Methodist. I worked hard on that speech—weaving faith and political insight. I think I still have it... hey, we Adlofs, save everything! I remember that night. After giving my faith based, heart-felt pitch for George, Mary Harvey's husband shook my hand and remarked, "Dennis, I enjoyed your speech. I don't agree with your candidate. But, you did a good job." Wow, that was like a river in the desert, a refreshing drink of water. Praise God! Because only weeks before, in Newport Beach, someone had ripped off the McGovern sticker from the bumper of my truck. What a difference!
Here in the church we could disagree about election candidates, but still accept and support one another. You let me express myself. You let me be myself. And even though I voted for McGovern; you still supported me as your candidate for the ministry! I could see, God was indeed doing a new thing. It wasn't hard to perceive. Your affirmation reaffirmed my call for the ministry. Praise God!
Well, today I am retired from the ordained ministry; in the sense I am retired from the ministerial appointment system. Do I enjoy it? You bet! But I realize that God has not stopped doing new things in my life. God doesn't let you off the hook because of your advanced age or retirement. Three years ago or so, my wife Linda, and I both felt God's pull to an aging United Methodist congregation in Mid-town Tulsa. We were both drawn to St. Paul's United Methodist Church because of their outreach to the homeless and poor. Each Friday noon I and, Linda, when her work allowed, helped serve Manna Meals. Our team served between 150 to 250 residents as they sat around tables in our fellowship hall. It's been an amazing journey with Manna Meals and I could tell you some great stories. However, there was another surprise God had in store for us, a really unexpected new thing.
As we worshipped with that congregation, whose general age range reflects, in many ways, the same here at Orangethorpe, we discovered the congregation takes inclusiveness and diversity very seriously. They welcome and accept all persons—even those of the gay community. In fact, gay and lesbian persons make up a significant portion of church attendance and leadership. We found that these persons were not weird. They are young and senior citizens, students and professionals, a firefighter, a school principal. But they all have great spiritual needs like any person made in the image of God. They come to the church seeking the love of Jesus Christ; for there is too much hate and condemnation in the world. We know God is calling them to the church to experience respect, acceptance and compassion, because they have told us. And they serve in the choir, bell choir, worship leaders, administrative council and even Manna Meals.
Now, there are those who disapprove of this ministry. However, for Linda and me, we find it refreshing; like a way in the wilderness, like rivers in the desert. Two years ago we were invited by our pastor Twila Gibbens to head the committee to develop a formal welcoming statement in order to become an official Reconciling Congregation in the Reconciling Ministries Network of the United Methodist Church. Last Sunday, as I worshipped with you all, St. Paul's celebrated their first anniversary as the first Reconciling UMC in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Is this an example of God doing a new thing? There are those who would answer no; but when I look back on my life and I remember what I experienced right here at Orangethorpe: acceptance, dignity, respect, love and freedom to express who I am and the faith I hold; I cannot say anything but yes! With the upbringing you gave here; how can I refuse to be an advocate for those who seek the same from the community of faith?
So, I ask you: ponder this morning: where is God doing a new thing in your life? Where is God providing a way in the wilderness for you? Where are you experiencing rivers of grace, love and acceptance as you travel the often desert of this life? The love of the Lord is awesome especially when it is experienced in the human heart. And I want to thank you church for setting me upon an amazing walk with the Lord. So, that I can stand before you and say, Thanks be to God!
March 13, 2016