To those physically present, to those listening via the internet, and to those who will read these words; grace to you and peace in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ – the author of our salvation and the perfector of our faith. To those whom God has gathered in this place, to the faithful saints who laid the cornerstone, and to the great cloud of witnesses who spirit fills this place: grace to you and peace.
I am writing to you to proclaim the word of the Lord that has come to me over these past months as I have been praying for guidance and wisdom. I am writing with the word that the Lord has given me through my prayers from you; whom I give thanks for and whom I love.
I love you. I love you all in a way that you may never understand. I know I am not the greatest pastor you have had; I know I have a multitude of failings; I know that; and yet, you continue to embrace me as your pastor. You take me in all of my brokenness and imperfections and still call me your pastor, and I am forever grateful. It is a privilege and honor to serve you.
And so, I want to lift up this gift that you – this community gathered by God – I want to lift up this gift that you have: you have the unique gift of seeing this truth in whomever walks through the doors of this building. You are able to see them for who they are and welcome them and embrace them as someone God has brought into this building. You, since my time here and longer, have a history of welcoming those other churches may reject. In doing so, you have entertained angels unaware.
You carry in your hearts the joy of the Lord, and yet of late I have come to sense a certain sadness in some. From my seat I have seen the looks of concern, I have heard the whispered conversations in the hallways asking where everyone is. You see small numbers in the sanctuary on Sunday and see the parched land laying in front of you. You see the budget with its year after year deficit. You wonder why the church is not full.
You remember the days when there were few empty pews; when the choir in the loft led the singing of the hymns; when boy scouts filled the basement. You walk through the doors of this building and see the days when there were multiple children’s Sunday school classes. You remember the days when the harvest was plentiful and the fields flourished. And now, when you walk through the doors you hear the wind blowing across a parched land.
You look as the empty space next to you and wonder where the people are. You – we – have been conditioned to value our success on visible and tangible outcomes. The more of something you have the more successful you are. The bigger the house, the larger the nest egg, the higher the test scores – our worth is directly connected to what can be measured. And when certain standards are not being met then you are considered a failure and your church dying. Drought is slowly choking away life.
As the days, weeks, months, years of aridness amble forward you begin to look for excuses; find scapegoats for the lack of rain. You start to blame others and yourselves for the warm winds blowing; or, you deny the truth that things are bad; or you throw yourselves into survival mode -rationing everything you have in order make it another day.
It the later here that I wish to focus on for a moment.
When you look at the arid plain before you, you start to see no hope on the horizon. There are no clouds in the sky and the sun bakes the land. You know that if you are to make it though you must start sacrificing. You know that if you are to survive you need to close the doors and batten down the gate. You see your survival as directly related with the people in the pews and when you don’t see them then you know your days are numbered. You become focused on survival. You turn inward. You vision gets focused on only two things – the dry land and the never ending need for nourishment.
But my friends, my friends, like I said you carry the joy of the Lord in your hearts. You continue to gather week after week; month after month; year after year even in the parched land. That says to me something much more profound than any navel gazing and why me-ing. The fact that you continue to gather – even in the drought – says to me that even though you might not be able to say it; even though you might not be able to articulate it – in your heart of hearts you know the rains are coming. Your faithful persistence is a testament to your trust in God’s plan for this place. Something deep within you said to you, I just have got to be with the people of the Lord today. Something deep within you said, even thought the land is dry and parched there are cloud gathering on the horizon and the rains are about to fall.
My beloved friends, this is the message I have for you today. The drought is over. The rains of revival are coming. You just need to look to the horizon and you will see the signs that the showers have started.
The Bible says,
For I will pour out water on the thirsty land
And streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring
And My blessing on your descendants
Look around the corner and you will see children of God gathered in the chapel to worship together and beginning working with us. Listen in the parlor and you will hear children of God gathered together praising God in the language of their hearts. Sit near the front of the sanctuary and you will see children engaged in worship. Come to the church during the week and you will see children of God gathered to learn together. You will hear children singing and laughing. You will see that the rains of revival are beginning to pour and the drought is over.
If you look outside of the walls of this building you see that our field is full. The harvest is near. You will learn that because of the work of this church, someone who doesn’t come to worship, recommended this church to another person who is wanting to start a pre-K program, and this person didn’t call it Emerson Ave this person said, why don’t you talk to my church.
If you look outside the walls of this building you will see that the flowers are beginning to bloom when you walk though the grocery store and see one of our food pantry guests, and they say “Hey, Rev. How are things at my church.”
If you look outside the walls of this building you will see that God has been upholding Gods promise to bring the rains to those who are faithful You will see that the rains of revival are beginning to water the parched land around New York and Emerson. You will see that the drought is over and you are a part of something so much bigger than you ever imagined.
You will see how lines of connection are being drawn between this church on the corner and the lives of our neighbors. Those who are in need and those with a need to serve. You will see how because of an arts academy we have a new congregation worship here. You will see how because of a dance school, we may become the home of a pre-K program. You will see how a food pantry guest shared her story with neighbors and has helped bring revival to ICAN. The rains of revival are starting to come and soon because of this church on the corner a flood of God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s justice, and God’s love will fill this neighborhood.
All you have to do is change your seat; shift your perspective and you will see that this church is not a parched and barren land, but an oasis of hope in the middle of the city. God has planted the seeds and the rains are coming. The harvest will be here soon, my beloved, the drought is over.
Hear again this promise from God:
People of Emerson Avenue Baptist, shout with joy
and happiness in the Eternal, your God;
The drought is over; He has sent the early autumn rain as a sign of His faithfulness.
He has poured down heavy rain, autumn and spring, as before.
The threshing floors will be covered in grain;
the vats will spill over with new wine and fresh oil.
The Eternal One Says: I will compensate you for the years
that the locusts have eaten—the swarming locusts,
The creeping locusts, the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts—
My great army that I unleashed against you.
In that day, you will eat plenty of food and always have enough,
so you will praise My name,
The Eternal One, your God who is merciful to you.
Never again will My people be shamed among the nations.
Return to Me and you will know that I live among My people Emerson Ave.
and that I, the Eternal One, am your God and there is no other.
Never again will My people be shamed among the nations.
Ahhh and here’s what’s going to happen…
Then in those days I will pour My Spirit to all humanity;
your children will boldly and prophetically speak the word of God.
Your elders will dream dreams;
your young warriors will see visions.
No one will be left out. In those days I will offer My spirit
to all servants, both male and female.
My beloved friends – The drought is over. The rains of revival are coming. The day of the Lord is at hand. Let us step out in the rains together.
Grace and peace you. In the name of the Father and the Son and The Holy Spirit.