A world aching for the gospel

July 15, 2020 by Rev. Erin Hayes-Cook

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” – Romans 7:15-25a

This past Sunday, our church attempted our first worship service via Zoom. For 12 weeks we shared a prerecorded worship service online. As I began the intro to my sermon, someone “Zoom bombed” us, screen shared lewd and racist images on our screen. We were more than shocked at this display. I know our church isn't the only one to experience it. How ironic this happened as I was sharing about the disruptions of COVID-19, racial tensions, riots, and protests.

The year 2020 challenges us to be the people of God in the midst of disruptions to our economy, social connections, worship, and work. Fires burned on the streets of major cities in our country, and the voices rang from underneath masks, “Black Lives Matter.” Pastors strive to create community in unknown territory. The nights are long, and the days seem even longer. We've pivoted our expectations so many times that we look like professional ballerinas.

All of these disruptions have led me to reflect on the role of the Church, my role as a Pastor, Wife, and Mother. When I take a breath, I think about how God might be challenging us in the midst of these disruptions. How can we be scrappy enough to uncover the gospel when the world feels so upside down?

And here comes the book of Romans to remind us of our human fragility and sin. Right now we don't need to look far to see those examples. We've been given the power to heal and restore by the power of the Holy Spirit. But we too, are human. Or as one mentor said to me, “When you get up in the morning, thank the Lord that you aren't God, nor do you need to be.” The book of Romans helps us to hold up a mirror to ourselves so that we can be authentic and vulnerable.

Our call to lead right now might look different. Some of us are called to prophets speaking truth to power, others to teach, others to offer words of comfort, others to gather people to march for injustice, others to walk with those who are dying. All of us are called to be a witness to the believability of God's existence right now.

Perhaps it starts with offering ourselves the assurance that we are fragile but strong in God. God will work through all of it. You may not see it today or tomorrow or the next. When we offer our authentic selves to God and God's beautiful and broken world, we see the power of God move. May you have courage, authenticity, and power to uncover the gospel in the midst of a world aching for it.

In January of 2013, Rev. Hayes-Cook accepted the call to be the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Rahway, NJ. Her subsequent ordination was on April 7, 2013 at Westminster Presbyterian Church. She has served First Rahway for seven years as the first woman of color to pastor the community in its 275-year-history. Gaining great joy in walking alongside the diverse community she serves through her local presbytery and synod. She is looking forward to studying for a Certificate in Executive Leadership from Duke Divinity School. Rev. Hayes-Cook and her husband Lawrence welcomed their first child, a daughter, in June 2019.