‘Messages of Hope’ Brings Harvey’s Pandemic Sermons to Wider Audience
During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the midst of the Black Lives Matter Movement gaining prominence, the Rev. Dr. Sheila Harvey — pastor of Union Congregational UCC in West Palm Beach, Fla., and a CHHSM board member — found that many of her Sunday messages were having a profound effect on church members. It became clear to Harvey from the feedback she was receiving that the messages needed to be shared more broadly. Her recently published Messages of Hope: Preaching Peace and Justice for All is a collection of those sermons.
“The decision to write this book was based on my being a full-time pastor during a time of societal uncertainty and despair,” she says. “Many looked to pastors like me to offer prayers, sermons, and — most of all — hope. Many church members shared how my messages gave them hope.”
The messages contained in her new book begin on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020, and continue through Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021. The 53 messages include not just Sundays, but such days as Good Friday and Christmas. The book is divided into the seasons of the church year, and Harvey has written a thoughtful introduction to each section, as well as some summary thoughts before the final entry.
The Pentecost 2020 message talks about what it means to be a faithful witness when people are angry and frustrated over racism that still exists after years of work toward racial justice. “What does it mean to be a faithful witness in these times when it seems like the cries for justice for Blacks’ lives to matter are met with resistance from white supremacists?” she writes. “What does that mean for my little Black boy and other Black boys growing up in America today? What does Jesus say about all who stand in opposition to racism, or any injustice, for that matter?”
She concludes the sermon by encouraging people to model the early Christians: “Go out into the world preaching the Good News that the presence of God is with us always … advocating for a more just world for the sake of peace.”
Harvey says she hopes the book will help people to “become inspired by God’s loving hope for the human race to seek peace and justice for all” and that they are “inspired to believe that God has more love and light to break for upon a grieving world in dire need of healing and hope.”
The book also shows the evolution of the ideas she grappled with during the course of 2020. As Harvey writes in the Epiphany sermon Jan. 3, 2021, “It is safe to say that 2020 will be one for the record books as one memorable journey that needed the saving and healing of the Christ Child’s love and light. God did not speak to us in a dream, a whisper, or even a shout. God shook us to our very core. … we dealt with deadly viruses that called for change whether we wanted to or not. One virus is a coronavirus, and the other is systemic racism.”
The book can have multiple uses, says Harvey, from personal reflection to book group discussions to a resource for clergy — whether for sermons, home visits, or hospital visits. Because it is biblically based, “these messages of hope can be an ongoing source for spiritual renewal and well-being for every season of our lives,” she adds.
Or, as she wrote on Aug. 23, 2020, the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, “What does it take to be transformed by God’s love? It seems that we are to open our hearts to allow God to guide our lives and transform us from feeling voiceless and powerless into being courageous and compassionate children of God.”
Messages of Hope is available from Amazon in Kindle, paperback, and hardback forms.
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