February 15, 2022

“God, my shepherd!
 I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
 you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
 you let me catch my breath
 and send me in the right direction.
Even when the way goes through
 Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
 when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
 makes me feel secure.
You serve me a six-course dinner
 right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
 my cup brims with blessing.
Your beauty and love chase after me
 every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
 for the rest of my life.”

Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved scriptures. Because it is so frequently read at funerals, we often associate it with grieving and the end of life. But this version from The Message has been a constant companion for me the last couple of years. There are stretches in life that are just hard. We are collectively sharing in one of those, and it is easy to lose hope that we will make it through, that there is any goodness out there. And yet, this psalm reminds me that I am not alone. God knows the journey I am on, provides for me in that journey in ways that restore my soul, and even more, there is love and beauty chasing after me, asking me to stop and see what is here even in the midst of the challenges.

Under the theme of “Jesus. Healer.” our scripture for our 2022 Annual Conference will be Psalm 23, along with John 10:10-11 (“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd.”). We are planning for an in-person gathering Tuesday and Wednesday, May 24-25, in St. Cloud. We will begin with a lunch banquet, God setting a table before us. There will be lots of time for conversation and re-connecting with one another. We will sing, and tell stories, and laugh and cry, and share our hopes and dreams for the future. There will be plenty of opportunity for joy breaks. We want this to be a time where we can gather as a joyful community, tasting the goodness of God’s love, and open ourselves to the healing power of Jesus. We will end late afternoon on Wednesday. If COVID prevents us from gathering in-person, we will gather in smaller groups around the state on Wednesday to be in community for worship and conversation with one another, and then have a virtual business session on Thursday. Registration and a full schedule will come out on March 15. But mark these dates on your calendar now, and come to the waters to be replenished. How sweet it will be as we sing: And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face? Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace!

The other word I want to say about “replenish” is an invitation as we enter the season of Lent. Again, Lent has its historic connotations. We think of it as a season of sacrifice and discipline. We often seek to spiritually enter into the suffering of Jesus. It can be a somber, penitential time. But when I look at the life and ministry of Jesus, his suffering and death was one small part of his journey. What he modeled for us as a way of life was one rooted in abundance. He frequently took time away to replenish and re-ground himself in his own identity and his relationship with God. He spent lots of time with people at table fellowship. He enjoyed parties. Yes, he was focused and purposeful, but there always seemed to be time enough for people, for life in all its fullness. And the invitation he offered that sits with me is in Matthew 11: 28-30, and I especially appreciate how it is stated in The Message: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Life has been hard. We are tired and on the edge of burnout. So perhaps this Lent, instead of focusing on sacrifice and giving things up, we allow ourselves to receive. We keep company with Jesus by sitting with loved ones around a table and eating good food and telling stories, taking some time to go off on our own to talk to God about anything and everything, gathering with our faith community to sing and listen to the teaching that reminds us of the goodness of God and the kingdom reality that is indeed all around us. And when we hear Jesus’s voice whisper in our heart, “What do you want me to do for you?” we let go of the façade that we are fine, name our need honestly, and open ourselves to his healing power. And in this keeping company with Jesus, we move through Lent to Easter, truly experiencing a recovery of our lives. We will have reconnected with the unforced rhythms of grace, and we will discover that is its own resurrection! So may this Lent be one of seeing how beauty and love are chasing after us every day to bring us back home to ourselves and to God where our life, our real, full, abundant, joyful life is found and sustained.
Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries and clergy assistant to the bishop for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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