with all due respect

I’ve been told- repeatedly- that New Covenant is the best kept secret in Champaign-Urbana. I’m never quite sure what to make of that. Do we like it that way? Is it a point of private pride? Am I supposed to do something about it? I’ve been quoted and pictured in the newspaper more since taking this position than ever in my whole life. But I’m not sure that’s changed anything.

Then the Lord’s messenger came and sat under the oak at Ophrah…. Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to hide it from the Midianites. The Lord’s messenger appeared to him and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior!” Judges 6:11-12 (CEB)

Separating the edible grain from the straw is strenuous manual labor. That’s why the ancients used oxen for the job. Working alone in hiding is…well, it’s a lot harder. I don’t think we try to hide what’s happening at New Covenant. Do we? But maybe we have a tendency to work alone, and keep it quiet. We believe the first part of the messenger’s statement- that the Lord is with us. But the mighty warrior part applies no more to us than it did to Gideon.

But Gideon replied to him, “With all due respect, my Lord, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Judges 6:13a (CEB)

I think we could insert our own objections in the “all this happened” category. Individually and as a fellowship. Why?- we ask. Perhaps, like the Israelites, we too have been worshiping the gods of the land in which we are living. Clinging to our privileges, rather than sharing the wealth. Maybe we have difficulty claiming our identity or embracing our role in the mission.

Then the Lord turned to him and said, “You have strength, so go and rescue Israel from the power of Midian. Am I not personally sending you?” But again Gideon said to him, “With all due respect, my Lord, how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I’m the youngest in my household.” Judges 6:14-15 (CEB)

New Covenant is small; we don’t have the army of church volunteers and pastors that we did before. I am not a podcast personality, drawing followers with my magnetism. Religious alliance meetings tend to exhaust, rather than inspire, my leadership. I would rather hide in a winepress. 

The Lord replied, “Because I’m with you, you’ll defeat the Midianites as if they were just one person.”  Judges 6:16 (CEB)

Injustice and inequality. Education, housing, health & safety, and the environment. Many issues seem to defeat us. Maybe they are one enemy at the core? I think Reparations will mean a deeper investment in what we have already begun. Staff and kids at Spring Initiative and in CU schools. Habitat houses here and in Mississippi. The Champaign County Christian Health Center- perhaps an even better kept secret than NCF? Could churches with solar energy partner to put panels on Black churches in our community? Too much to take on alone. We are small, insignificant, hiding ourselves and our work from possible enemies.

But. I am always relieved to remember that God’s thoughts are not like the thoughts that we think. As the messenger said, and Jim and Janalee Croegaert sing:

Hidden from sight, we affirm and believe
The Lord is with us….
With might to protect us
With strength to defend us
The Lord is with us….
With wisdom to guide us
With peace to refresh us
The Lord is with us….
With love to enfold us
With joy to crown us
The Lord is with us….
This day and this night
Now and forever
The Lord is with us.


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