The Rev. Joanne Martindale
Newsletter # 30
First Presbyterian Church Napa
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
 
Hello Friends,
 
Well, if you haven’t heard it already, your pastor has indeed tested positive for COVID-19. It is certainly not the way I wanted to end the year, but we will get through this, like we have gotten through so much this year: TOGETHER. 
 
After doing livestream church on Sunday (and we were so blessed to hear Mason preach), I went home but started feeling fever, chills, body aches, no taste etc. I went to sleep early that night and then went into David Grant Medical Center on Travis Air Force base, which is 3 minutes from my home. 
 
I was tested at 10:00 a.m. (on Monday) and they called me at 2:00 to say the COVID test was positive. Because I was at church on Sunday, and saw all staff (except for Jennifer Bator) they are all on quarantine for 14 days and I am in isolation for 10 days. 
 
Because of this, worship will be via Zoom, instead of livestream for the next two weeks. The Rev. Kaye Whitney will preach this coming week on January 3, and I will preach on January 10. 
 
Jennifer Bator, the PDS Director, will be the staff “on-site” all week. She will be aiding the Boys and Girls Club with all their projects prior to the children beginning at the church on January 11, 2021. 
 
Greg Dobbs, our Buildings and Grounds Chair, (and his team) are doing work around the church to repair the kitchen. He is also helping with projects in preparation for the Boys and Girls Club. First Presbyterian Church Napa has signed a contract with the Boys and Girls Club from January through June, 2021, so that they can use our gym and some of the upstairs classrooms for their “learning pods.”  
 
We will make it through this, friends, and I appreciate your prayers. All church staff are having COVID-19 tests this week and we should know more as the week progresses. Jennifer will check the mail daily and we will deposit all checks before the close of 2020. 
 

So that being said: Two days from now it will be 2021.
 
I’ve had some conversations, read some opinion pieces, seen some blog posts that all seem to be dismissive of celebrating the New Year. Mostly it’s people pointing out “it’s just an arbitrary set time, it’s not like the world gets a re-set.” Something like that. The point is that when we wake up on New Year’s Day, nothing will have changed. Whoever started reading a book late at night on December 31 will still be reading the same book that hasn’t changed on January 1. They’ll just turn the next page.
 
But that’s just it. When you read a new book, each time you turn a page you don’t know what you’re going to find. You can’t change anything on the new page, just like you can’t change anything on the page you just turned. You don’t have control over what’s on the page. But as you read, there will be plot twists you didn’t see coming, or resourcefulness you didn’t know the protagonist had. Maybe there will be a new character, or, if you’re reading nonfiction, on that new page the author at some point will take up a new idea or explain why something came to be. Maybe the page you turn will reveal a poem that brings words to the wordless needs or dreams of your soul.
 
We all have certain Bible stories that are our favorites. One of my favorite stories is Deborah and the story in Judges 4. The first time I remember being aware of her was probably when I was 10 or so, at church. We spent a lot of time studying the bible and learning verses, including a competitive little game called “sword drill.” The name refers to the bible as a two-edged sword, as we read in Hebrews 4. We would be sitting down and hold our bibles up: our fingers would be in the middle and we would be grasping the outside, with the binding pointing to the ceiling. Then the leader would shout out a verse like “Psalm 119:83” and the first person to find it would win. It was a game – it was fun. It’s in those Sunday school classes that I learned about Deborah, about how God had to choose her because there weren’t any men good enough to be judges in Israel at the time, so God had to go with second best.
 
What? I bought it. If I had actually mentioned all this to my Bible Scholar friends, they would have set me straight ASAP, but it didn’t occur to me to do that. When I was in my early teens, I went with a friend to her church youth group where we learned more about Deborah being second best, which I was so used to it didn’t even register. But I did bring to my pastor the question about whether it was really true that women had to be silent in church and couldn’t teach. 
 
It was that evening that I asked my pastor, after youth group, and I don’t think they could have disabused me of that notion fast enough. The pastor went through all sorts of sections of scripture to get to this: “don’t you ever let anyone get in the way of your obedience to Christ.” In other words, you have spiritual gifts that God has given you, so don’t put them under a bushel. 
 
Years later, I decided to go to seminary, we must have been studying the book of Judges because that’s what I was reading when we came on chapter 4, and I sat up straight and said out loud – emphasis on the loud – “she wasn’t second best!” here’s how the chapter starts:
 
The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years.
 
At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’”  Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 
 
So, as it turns out, there is nothing here about her being second best because there weren’t any men good enough. It’s just a statement of fact that Deborah was a judge, hearing disputes and so forth, making decisions. Actually, she wasn’t just a judge, since she also led the army. In chapter 5 she even starts singing praise to God with Barak, so she was what we would today call “the whole package.”
 
I had gotten stuck in the perception I was taught. The Sunday school teachers and youth leaders were so confident of their interpretation that I simply assumed they were right. I was conditioned to see and hear it in a particular way, until that time when I was surrounded by fellow students, teaching assistants, and the professor, all focused on the same passage. The passage I had read time and time again was now brand new.
 
This is why in many sermons I have encouraged you to read scripture for your own growth, for conversation with your siblings in Christ, and to hold me and your session accountable. By that I mean that we need, all of us together, to share our insight and receive insight from others, to be corrected and offer correction, as we read the word that bears witness to Jesus Christ, the Word of God. Every single time I preach I am studying anew a passage that I have read before, and because I preach in your presence – within community, including a community that gathers online – I am seeing something new all the time. 
 
So what’s the connection between Judges 4 and January 1? God. Creator of all that is. The one who is always about to do a new thing. 
 
In seminary, I learned something brand new from the bible which was not new to me at all. It was an old thing, in fact, something I had been around, something that had been read to me, something that I myself had been reading for many years. Of course, by that time, I had already read Isaiah 43, several times. 
 
Do not remember the former things,
    or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
 
These verses are specifically about God acting in time, in a new way.
 
When we mark the beginning of a new year, we remind ourselves that anything can happen. That, in fact, something new will happen, lots of somethings. Those of us who are people of faith remind ourselves that, in fact, God is doing a new thing. Isaiah 43 continues with the marks of what God’s new way is like.
 
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
    the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
    rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
    the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.
 
We will know the new thing is God at work when we see a way forward where there was none, needed nourishment where there was none. What God has always been about and always will be about is new life and signs of new life.
 
Human beings have been tracking time from their beginning. Being able to identify periods of time gives meaning to how we understand ourselves and world. We know this also from scripture, in Matthew 24: 
 
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: 
as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, 
you know that summer is near.”
 
We say to each other “wasn’t that the year when…?” or “in the early years…” and so on. Time helps us assess meaning and communicate the stories of our lives to others. 
 
So later this week, on January 1, we will wake up thinking about what will happen this year, and perhaps remember that God is already doing a new thing that is about to spring forth. Then we can also remember that the new thing God does is always, somehow, new life: water to drink where there was none, things blossoming where nothing could grow, a way forward when we felt trapped or lost. 
 
We can also remind one other about God’s new thing, the new thing that it is already happening. 1 Thessalonians 5:
 
Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
 
Many friends, family and churches have done this for me and continue to do this for me. 
 
My son Ryan is surprised by how many people are bringing food by the home and how many flower arrangements have arrived at the doorstep, when they found out I had COVID. 
 
I told Ryan well when you are OLD you have more friends. (And we laughed)
But in reality, Ryan said, “Mom it is because you are loved by so many people.” 
In reality we are all just trying to do our best with all that God has given to us. 
 
 
So, who knows what will happen this year! You will, at some point, be a way-maker, a counselor or drink-giver yourself, even if you have no clue you’re doing it. 
 
Maybe you will just call someone, and that will do it. Maybe you will cook for someone. Maybe someone will cook for you, give you a call, run some errands for you, or leave you food at your door if you have COVID.
 
No matter what: 
 
Do not remember the former things,
    or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.
 
Friends, you have an amazing First Presbyterian Church Office Team and together we are strong, even during isolation and quarantine. 

The office will open up officially on Monday, January 11, 2021. 

Jennifer Bator and Greg Dobbs and others will be working around the church for the next two weeks getting it ready for the 50 + children from the Boys and Girls Club who need to be tutored and cared for and loved while their parents are at work. 
 
Friends, what an amazing opportunity we have to provide this in our wonderful church building. It will be a very busy in the next few weeks but God is doing A NEW THING. 
 
MANY BLESSINGS
Pastor Joanne 

First Presbyterian Church of Napa
1333 Third Street
Napa CA 94559
Website: fpcnapa.org
Phone: 707.224.8693