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Return - Monday Musing, October 4, 2021

Dear Church,

Return – the act of coming or going back to a place or activity. All over the news in the past week are the headlines “Brady Returns!” If you are scratching your head because you have no idea why this is a newsworthy story, you are probably not alone. New England Patriots fans know exactly what I’m talking about.

Tom Brady. It is a no-brainer – Brady takes the top spot on many lists as the best quarterback ever. He is the most decorated NFL player of all time – winning seven Super Bowls, five Super Bowl MVPs, and three regular season MVPs. His “return” is buzzworthy because you either love Tom Brady for being the best quarterback in history, or you hate him because he left Foxborough and defected to Tampa Bay.

For the sports minded person, Brady’s return trip to New England is exciting – the former friend returns as an enemy. While ticket prices are genuinely unfathomable, the Sunday football game is historic because it marked Brady’s first (and, likely only) chance to beat the Patriots, the only NFL team he has never beaten. Coincidentally, it’s the only NFL team he’s never faced. Why is news about an overpaid football player in an overpriced sport important? In the grand scheme of things, it probably isn’t important. But the word “return” is what has stayed with me this past week.

In COVID news, it appears that we may have turned a corner – COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are all trending downward nationwide. Are we on the verge of returning to normal? We have been worshiping in-person and live-streaming since December 2020. Although our COVID protocols have changed the way we gather and interact, it doesn’t quite feel that we have turned the corner because not all of us who left because of COVID-19 have returned. So the question for us – when will we return; or perhaps the question ought to be – will we return?

In our faith tradition, Advent is a season of repentance, which is more than contrition, being sincerely sorry for sin, confessing, and perhaps doing penance, but rather emphasizing change. To repent is to turn/return to God. In the Hebrew Scriptures, its meaning is shaped by the Jewish experience of exile: it means to return from exile to the place of God’s presence. In the Christian Scriptures, repentance continues the Hebrew Scriptures’ meaning and adds an additional nuance. The root of the Greek word translated as “repent” means to “go beyond the mind that you have,” to enter a new mindset, a new way of seeing. To repent means to begin seeing differently. To repent is to change.

The Federated Church of Orleans has changed considerably over the years: downward trends in membership, attendance, participation, leadership, and financial giving. COVID-19 has highlighted our already challenging statistics. “Rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing” (Joel 2:13, NRSV). Has COVID changed how we are the church? Or has the church already changed, and we need to catch up?

Yesterday Tom Brady showed that you can return home again, albeit changed. How about us? Will we return changed, or not at all? See you in church!




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