Surprise, I Got You!

contributed by Rev. Nathan Kilbourne, Jacksonville First UMC

One of my daughter’s favorite activities is to crawl into our bed in the morning, hide under the sheets, and surprise my wife while she is getting ready. Often, I’ll still be in bed, and she’ll say, “Daddy, hide me so I can surprise mom.” So, we work together in hiding her and wait for my wife to come into the room. When she does, I’ll say something like, “Wow, Lynn, have you seen how swollen my leg is?” Suddenly, from underneath the covers, giggles begin to erupt. Then in a swift motion, blankets are thrown back and a 7-year-old emerges yelling, “Surprise, I got you!”

This image dances in my heart as I look over the past couple of years of ministry.

For many of us, we have trudged through trenches of ministry. We have been in survival mode as we seek to respond to the next challenge then the next challenge. It didn’t help that the pandemic only seemed to exacerbate our weaknesses, or at least expose them, and now we are in constant rebuilding or recovery mode. The past couple of years have been a mixture of emotions. In fact, it’s downright easy to be discouraged.

Yet, over the course of the past year, I’ve been surprised to discover the joys of ministry hiding in plain sight. Like a 7-year-old emerging from underneath a blanket saying, “Surprise, I got you,” God in Christ has continued to show up in this part of the Body of Christ known as Jacksonville First UMC.

In the midst of our hybrid online and in-person services, when the technology was nothing but a headache, I had an individual come to me and say, “The sermon God laid on your heart this week caused me to get a Study Bible.” To provide some background, we had been in a series called, “Being Better Students of the Bible,” in which we were equipping our congregation with skills to read the scriptures better. And this man was moved by God to take the next step in his study of scripture and buy a Study Bible. While my attention had been focused on sound issues, camera problems, or dipping numbers, God snuck through, transformed a life, and said, “Surprise, I got you!” This moment shifted my mindset. Rather than wallowing in dismay or discouragement, I realized God hadn’t given up on us or the world.

I began looking for signs of the Resurrection, rather than remorse or repose in our congregation. In doing so, I found within the church God’s fingerprints. I heard of individuals calling to check on one another. I saw small groups figuring out hybrid zoom classes and not giving up. I saw our feeding ministry, which last year pivoted from in-person meals to to-go meals, giving away over 900,000 pounds of food. I heard of our LIFE groups (small groups) talking about how an empty chair means an opportunity to fill it.

Over and over again, I’ve heard Isaiah blasting in my ears until it has finally sunk in, “Be not dismayed, I am your God.” In large and small ways, God continues to remind me of this.

Indeed, hindsight is always 20/20, and it’s worth looking back to see how God has been hiding in plain sight. If you listen closely, God just may giggle and say, “Surprise, I got you!”

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