A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.” –Matthew 3:17
Last Friday marked five years of Rev. Trent Williams serving as Associate Pastor at Friends Congregational Church. On Sunday, a reception was held in Pastor Trent’s honor, where he was presented with gifts affirming his ministry and service to our congregation, including cards signed by several members of our church with notes of gratitude and praise. I even had the pleasure of saying a few words publicly to point out just how special Pastor Trent is, and how blessed our community of faith is to have him among our leadership.
Then, on Tuesday, there was a gathering on Zoom of our United Church of Christ’s Heart of Texas Association clergy, licensed lay ministers, and retired clergy, all of whom are shepherded by an association minister named Liz Nash. Rev. Nash is retiring, and Tuesday’s online meeting gave us the chance to shower her with praise for her 15-plus years of ministry with us. One by one, we unmuted and spoke affirmingly of her contributions to our association, reminding Rev. Nash and one another of how valued and truly loved she is.
Both of those occasions have me pondering the importance of extending thanks and praise. It’s crucial that we seize opportunities to celebrate people when anniversaries and retirements come along, but we need not wait for milestone moments to remind those we cherish of their immeasurable worth. And not just to people we deeply appreciate—it’s good and necessary to extend words of affirmation to people who serve silently, never expressing a desire for praise, who often go overlooked even by the most observant of us. Whether we are public servants or quiet contributors, we are all God’s children in whom They are well pleased; and we are all fallible in our humanity, in need of reminders of that we are valued and loved beyond measure.
Think about Jesus’ ministry. The timeless words and deeds of liberating, revolutionary, transformative goodness he shared during his brief time on this earth that we still give witness to today as followers of Jesus, they all started at his baptism. That was the starting point of a transcendently world-changing ministry delivered through an agent of divine love named Jesus. And the first thing that happened when Jesus came out of the waters of his baptism was that God spoke publicly to him with affirmation and praise: “This is my Son whom I dearly love; I find happiness in him.” Jesus’ ministry started with a reminder of who he was and his importance as a person. Out of the waters of baptism, he walked with that sacred, unbreakable confidence, shirking criticism from all sides and shaking off deathly taunts so that his true self always shined through. Would he have been able to do all that he did without life-affirming, confidence-building praise from the God of us all that he endearingly called Abba (Father)?
Words of affirmation and praise are being shared this week about Colin Powell, the four-star general and first African American secretary of state who died Monday at the age of 84. The complicated nature of him being a public political figure aside, it is refreshing to hear and read things praising his service and thanking him for his personhood and leadership. But as with anniversaries and retirements, we shouldn’t wait until someone passes into God’s marvelous light to express praise for what they do and gratitude for who they are. There is no time like right now to tell someone in words or actions that they are God’s beloved child in whom God finds happiness. Reminders like that can build each of us up to continue the work of Jesus in transforming God’s world for the better, one act of love at a time, with the same confidence expressed by the psalmist: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).