Dear NUMC Friends, 

Someone said to me this week, “I feel like I live in a ‘touch desert.’  Surely many feel the same way. It made me stop and think about the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 4th century.  I wonder if they have something to teach us during this time of pandemic.  

For the first 300 years or so Christianity was not accepted by society or the government as a legitimate religion; in fact there were many periods of active persecution. Then in 313 the emperor Constantine decided that Christianity would be the religion of the state. Christians were suddenly the “people to be” and conversions increased rapidly.  Suddenly the same people who might have been persecuting you for your faith were now sitting next to you in the pew.  “Nominalism” happened — you could nominally be a Christian but only because that was the thing to do; not because you gave your life to Christ and tried to follow him. Of course we still have nominal Christians today.  

During this same time period, those who were serious about their faith struggled with how to deal with this new and different world. Some of them withdrew to the desert and lived a life apart from the world so that they wouldn’t be corrupted by the world. Those who first went into the desert as an act of faith became known as the Desert Fathers (and Mothers) and eventually they formed desert communities and became the basis for the development of monasticism. Their wisdom has come down to us in sayings and in stories, often with a strong punchline and even funny surprises.

Here’s one of them: 

A brother came to visit Abba Sylvanus at Mount Sinai. When he saw the brothers working hard, he said to the old man, “Do not work for food that perishes, for Mary has chosen the good part.” 

Then the old man called his disciple, “Zachary, give this brother a book and put him in an empty cell.” Now when it was three o’clock the brother kept looking out of the door to see if someone would call him for the meal. 

But nobody called him, so he got up, went to see the old man, and asked: “Abba, didn’t the brothers eat today?” The old man said, “Of course we did.” “Then why didn’t you call me?” he said. The old man replied, “You are a spiritual person, and do not need that kind of food, but since we are earthly, we want to eat and that’s why we work. Indeed you have chosen the good part, reading all day long, and not wanting to eat earthly food.” 

When the brother heard this he repented and said, “Forgive me, Abba.” Then the old man said to him: “Mary certainly needed Martha, and it is really by Martha’s help that Mary is praised’.

Perhaps one of the things that the Desert Sayings teach us is to dig deep for clear understanding and faithful living.  We’re not comfortable; we miss our old ways; sometimes what we thought God wants from us is turned upside down by new circumstances. But still we have much to learn and much to gain through the experiences God gives to us. May God grant us wisdom to change the things we can; accept the things we cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference (Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer).  

Blessings always, 

Pastor Mary 

Three things:  

  • UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) has started a special fund for helping people in the U.S. and around the world to meet challenges presented by COVID-19.  You can learn more at the link below; if you’d like to give, you can use the link or send your check to NUMC with “UMCOR COVID Relief” in the memo line.
  • NUMC Volunteers are assisting with St. Vincent de Paul/COAD’s distribution of food in the YMCA parking lot tomorrow from 12 noon to 4 p.m. People needing food don’t have to get out of their cars — just drive up and the food will be loaded.  Spread the word!  
  • You can worship online. Zoom links go out via email so get on our email list if you’d like to receive the link.