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  • Adam Schell

A New Normal | So Now What?

Chris Hogan, who’s a best-selling author and retirement expert, shares a story in his book, called Retire Inspired, about the first time he truly appreciated his mother’s cooking. As Chris tells it:

When I went off to graduate school in Pennsylvania, I knew one of the things I would miss about home was my mama’s chili. Mama Hogan was an unbelievable cook, and her chili was amazing! Fall arrived, the weather cooled, and I decided to stop on my way home from class to pick up what I thought I needed to make some chili. I ran through the grocery store and grabbed a basket full of ingredients, got to my apartment, and began cooking right away. I was boiling and stirring, and I thought everything was going just right. I couldn’t wait to have some chili for dinner. A couple of hours later, I poured some into a bowl. Man, I had been waiting for this all day. I took a big steaming spoonful, closed my eyes, and tasted it. Then I ran to the sink and spit it out. It didn’t taste like chili at all! I might’ve invented a recipe for brown glue, but it sure wasn’t chili.

And it was in that moment that Chris Hogan truly appreciated his mama’s cooking. But that’s not the only thing that happened. You see, right after he spit his brown-glue-tasting, sorry excuse for his mama’s chili out of his mouth, Chris Hogan also had what I like to call a “So what now?” moment.

A “So what now?” moment is a moment when you find yourself ill-prepared for the circumstances you’re in.

A “So what now?” moment is a moment when you find yourself ill-prepared for the circumstances you’re in.

And we’ve all had these “So now what?” moments.

We’ve had them when we’ve climbed back in our car after a trip to the grocery store when we’ve turned the key but the engine just wouldn’t start. And as we’re standing in the parking lot, looking under the hood of the car while our ice cream’s melting in the trunk, we’ve wondered, “So now what?”

We’ve had them happen when we’ve gone on a dream vacation, and safely arrived at our final destination only to learn that our luggage didn’t make it there with us. And as we think about the possibility of spending an entire week in a tropical paradise without a change of clothes or a drop of sunscreen, we’ve wondered, “So now what?”

We’ve had them happen on the first night our newborn baby comes home and we can’t figure out how to get them to stop crying. We’ve had them when our kids start calculus in high school and we can no longer help them with their homework. We’ve had them when the whole family is on their way over for Thanksgiving dinner, and we just burned the turkey.

And, of course, we have all had plenty of “So now what?” moments as we’ve lived through a pandemic. We had them when our economy shut down. We had them when many of us had to start working from home. We had them when our kids started virtual school. We had them when our church could only meet online.

We’ve all had these “So now what?” moments, and that includes me.

I remember one of those moments happening during my freshmen year of college. At the time I was attending a church on the corner of campus with several of my friends who were also studying religion. And since we all dreamed of growing up to be ministers, we always tried to dress the part when we went to church. So every Sunday morning, after I rolled out of bed, I’d start picking out my clothes. I’d start with the tie, then pick a shirt to match, and finish up grabbing one of the two suits I owned out of the closest.

But on this particular Sunday, as I slipped my suit jacket on and reached down to button the top button, the button popped off. And at that moment I did what any other 18 or 19-year-old guy would’ve done, I grabbed that button and tried to stick it back on--like somehow the broken thread would miraculously wind back around the button and secure it to my jacket. But, needless to say, that didn’t work.

So then I walked over to my desk and grabbed a piece of scotch tape. I looped it around my finger, stuck it on the back of the button, and pressed it hard against my jacket. But I didn’t even make it back to the door before the button fell off again.

At that point, I was running late so I just left the jacket behind and headed to church. Since I was running late, we didn’t have the chance to discuss my missing sports coat until we were headed back to our dorms after the service wrapped up. And one of my friend’s responses when I told him that a button had popped off pretty well summed up the way the whole group felt about it, he said, “That’s too bad. It was a nice jacket.”

“It was a nice jacket.” It’s not like a sleeve had fallen off or I had thrown it in the washing machine and it shrunk two sizes. My jacket had lost a button, but none of us knew what to do. So when I made it back into my dorm room, and I held that button in one hand and the jacket in the other, all I could think was, “So now what?”

And I think Jesus’ closest followers, his disciples, had one of these “So now what?” moments in the aftermath of Easter. In the aftermath of Easter, right after the women have found the tomb empty and we’ve found out that Jesus has risen, in the Gospel of John--or John’s biography of Jesus, we find the disciples hidden away behind locked doors because they were afraid. And you can just imagine them looking around the room at each other asking, “So now what?”

And then Jesus appears to them. Jesus shows them that he is alive and that he’s still active and at work in our world. He reminds them of their calling to follow him and encourages them even as they’re trying to wrap their minds around everything that’s just happened.

So when Jesus ascends to the heavens forty days after the resurrection, you’d think the disciples would know what they’re supposed to do next - just like you’d think that a twenty-two-year-old would be able to cook a pot of chili or an eighteen-year-old should be capable of sewing a button back onto a sports coat. But you’d be wrong.

And, if you’ll grab your Bible and turn with me to the book of Acts, I’ll show you what I mean. Now, the book of Acts tells the story of how our faith grew and spread in the decades after Jesus’ crucifixion, his resurrection, and his ascension. And today we’ll be reading from Acts 1 starting in verse 1. So let’s listen to what Luke - the author of Acts - tells us the disciples do. Luke writes:

1 Theophilus, the first scroll I wrote concerned everything Jesus did and taught from the beginning, 2 right up to the day when he was taken up into heaven. Before he was taken up, working in the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus instructed the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God’s kingdom. 4 While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. He said, “This is what you heard from me: 5 John baptized with water, but in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

6 As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?”

7 Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

9 After Jesus said these things, as they were watching, he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going away and as they were staring toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood next to them. 11 They said, “Galileans, why are you standing here, looking toward heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you saw him go into heaven.”

Acts 1:1-11 (Common English Bible)

In this story, the disciples are with Jesus. They’re sharing a meal with him, asking him questions, listening to him teach. And you get a feeling that they expect Jesus will be there with them forever—that’s why they ask if he’s going to restore the kingdom of Israel now.

It’s the same way kids feel about their parents. We sit down and share meals with them every day. We ask them questions. We listen to their answers. But we don’t really pay attention because we assume they’ll always be there.

But then Jesus isn’t there. Jesus ascends into the heavens. Jesus returns to the right hand of God. And the disciples are left alone. And all they can do is stare into the sky because they have no idea what to do next. So they were having a “So now what?” moment.

It’s the same way that Chris Hogan felt while he was standing over his failed attempt at chili. He had no idea what to do next. So, as he tells it:

I had to call my mama for some help…when she answered the phone, I said, “I tried to make your chili…” I could already hear the pity in her voice.

“What happened?” she asked.

“My chili is broke,” I explained. “I mean, it’s absolutely disgusting! I’m not even sure the dog would eat it.” She thought this was hilarious. She must have chuckled over my “broken chili” for five minutes. Eventually, she asked me to get out a pen and paper, and she walked me step by step through her recipe.

As it turns out, I had missed a few really important ingredients—including the chili powder! Next time I went to the store, I had that list of ingredients I needed to make chili. And when I came home to cook, I had a better idea of the process I needed to mix those ingredients together. I knew when to add each one, how long to boil, how long to simmer, how long to keep it covered. My next attempt to make chili didn’t come out perfect; it wasn’t exactly like my mama’s chili, but it still tasted pretty good. You know why? Because I had a recipe. I had a plan.

So Chris’ mama came to the rescue and helped her son figure out his “So now what?” moment. She walked him through her recipe, and she made sure he was prepared the next time he wanted to cook.

And something similar happened to me when the button came off my sports coat. Now, I didn’t call up my mom to get sewing tips. But I did remember what she used to do when she sat down with her sewing box. And I tried my best to remember everything she did.

She started with a needle, so I needed to get a needle. Then there was the thread, of course, so I needed to buy some thread. And she poked the needle through from one side to the other, and then went back. And she’d follow that pattern back and forth from one side to the other until the stitch or seam was strong enough to hold.

So that’s what I did. I went to Walmart and I got a needle and some thread, and I sewed that button back on my jacket. And I’ll tell you, it wasn’t pretty, but it worked. And it was because I remembered what my mom had taught me, so I didn’t have to figure out the “So now what?” moment on my own.

And, you know what, Jesus’ followers don’t have to figure out our “So now what?” moment on our own either.

Jesus’ followers don’t have to figure out our “So now what?” moment on our own either.

Like in the story we just read. Yes, Jesus has just ascended into the heavens, but the disciples had spent the last three years of their lives following him. They sat at Jesus’ feet as he taught them about the Kingdom of God. They watched as he performed miracles that gave glimpses of how the world is supposed to be. They were there when he was crucified, and they saw him raised from the grave. They knew what they were supposed to do because Jesus had already told them.

So even as the disciples were standing there staring at the sky, wondering “So now what?”, they already knew the answer. They were supposed to:

[G]o and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.

Matthew 28:19-20a (Common English Bible)

And that’s what the disciples did. They stopped staring at the sky. They stopped wondering “So what now?” And they went. They went from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria. They went as far west as Rome, and as far east as India. They went as far north as modern-day Georgia (the country not the state) and as far south as Ethiopia.

And when they went, they made disciples. The book of Acts tells us that after one of those disciples, Peter, preached his first sermon, about 3,000 people were baptized and added to the church. But they didn’t stop with baptizing. The disciples also started churches in every town and city they ministered in. And even after they left, they continued to teach the people there everything that Jesus commanded them by writing letters that make up the majority of the New Testament.

But what does all of that have to do with us? What does cooking chili and sewing buttons and “So now what?” moments have to do with us?

Well, right now our church is living in one of these “So now what?” moments. We’ve found ourselves in a situation that we feel a little unprepared for. April 4, just two Sundays ago, was the first time that we had the chance to worship together in-person in more than a year. And we had not had the chance to worship together in-person for more than a year because of a pandemic.

But just because we started offering an in-person worship service again, that doesn’t mean the pandemic has gone away. The truth is that even after 70 to 85 percent of our population is vaccinated and we reach herd immunity, it will still take a long time before we can truly put this pandemic behind us. So we’re all wondering “So now what does this mean for our church?”

And I wish I could stand up here today and tell you what the future holds for our church as we continue to live through this pandemic and what the future will be like when this pandemic is finally over. But I can’t. I don’t know exactly what the future holds. And no one else does either. And that leaves us all wondering “So now what?”

So now what? How are we supposed to move forward? What are we supposed to do next?

Well, that’s what we’re talking about right now at Melbourne Heights. We’re talking about what our church’s priorities need to be as we enter into our new normal. And, the good news is that we don’t have to figure out what our new normal is going to be like on our own. Just like Mama Hogan was there to help Chris and just like my mom was there to help me, God is here to help us. And whenever we wonder what’s next for our church, God wants us to hear the same thing the disciples heard from Jesus.

What are we supposed to do now? We’re still supposed to go and make disciples. And that mission has not changed in over 2,000 years. That’s what the church is and will always be about. Church isn’t about having an in-person worship service or doing everything online. Church isn’t about what programs we’re able to offer or what programs we have to cut. The church exists to make disciples. We exist to make disciples.

We exist to make disciples.

And that’s never going to change. So that’s our “So now what?” We are supposed to go and make disciples. So let’s remember that. Above everything else, we are here to make disciples. And we can do that no matter what our new normal is like.

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