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We’ll understand it better by and by


For now, Festival of Homiletics preacher says, we must be visionary people ‘more moved by our possibilities than our present realities’

November 3, 2021

The Rev. Dr. Neichelle Guidry

The Rev. Dr. Neichelle Guidry opened a recent Festival of Homiletics worship service by singing a hymn she’s returned to often during the pandemic, “We’ll Understand It Better By and By”:

“When the morning comes/All the saints of God are gathered home/We’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome/For we’ll understand it better by and by.”

“I think of this song, and it’s hard to divorce the lyrics from the memory of mass choirs decked out in robes, rocking from side to side and singing those powerful words,” said Guidry, the dean of Sisters Chapel and director of the Women in Spiritual Discernment of Ministry (WISDOM) Center at Spelman College in Atlanta.

“We the saints of God will gather in our eschatological home and we will tell the story of how we got there. It will be clear to us how we persevered and made it home to glory, how we endured trials and tribulations and made it over to eternal life on the other side, and why we were born at this time,” Guidry said. “The song talks about hope for the future, and it also speaks to a hope that can hold us in the present.”

Those lyrics make her think of her grandmother. “When I was confused about anything, she always said this: ‘You’ll understand it better by and by. Just keep on living.’”

Paul says something similar in the text Guidry selected for her sermon, “A Visionary People,” heard by more than 800 people during the final day of the online festival. In 1 Cor. 13:12–13, Paul writes: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

“We don’t see everything as we ought to, but we will,” Guidry said. “We will understand it better by and by.”

In the verses of 1 Cor. 13 preceding verse 12, “Paul laid out the case for love. He says we won’t understand it fully until completion comes,” Guidry said. “We need to live in a state of not knowing,” much like we have for the past months, living in multiple pandemics. “For some time, we’ve become accustomed to ambiguity and confusion,” Guidry said, and our vision “is often obscured” by police violence, poverty and hunger, “continuous mass shootings with no legislative intervention in sight,” migrant families “held captive,” misogyny, patriarchy and domestic violence, among others.

“These are but some of our domestic narratives,” Guidry said. “They threaten our ability to hope and see and pray for a different future.”

“How are we supposed to hope,” Guidry asked, “if right here and right now some of us are literally choking on hopelessness?”

The tools of God “aren’t given to us merely to exist,” Guidry said. “These days are ours to claim, to create. It’s time to become visionary people more moved by our possibilities than by our present realities.”

It’s time “to become visionary people who can speak our dreams into existence and subvert the apathy that has become our norm,” Guidry said. “This text provides a roadmap to becoming a visionary people.”

The first step is to renew our faith, because “it gets hard to keep our vision when it’s obscured by bad news and hatred,” Guidry said. “We can’t get to a future if all this turmoil is the only thing we see.”

That renewal includes refreshing one’s spiritual sources, also known in Guidry’s tradition as the “spirit of Sankofa,” the symbol taken up by the Co-Moderators of the 224th General Assembly, the Rev. Gregory Bentley and Ruling Elder Elona Street-Stewart. “You may feel the world is crashing down around you, but it isn’t the first time,” Guidry said. “What happened back then did not break us or stop us from pressing through to the present. We are proof that God is not done yet.”

“Every now and then,” Guidry advised, “remind yourself that this is precisely when God does God’s best work. God is still doing new things. Can we not perceive it?

 Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Festival of Homiletics

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
César Carhuachîn, Mission co-worker serving in Colombia, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Olanda Carr, Senior Ministry Relations Officer, Presbyterian Foundation

Let us pray

O God, may the saving power of your Holy Word and Holy Spirit continue to bring us out of darkness and into your wonderful light. In the name of Jesus, our Savior, we pray. Amen.

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