Friday, April 30, 2010

The Invitation

A few days ago a wedding invitation showed up in the mailbox. It came from someone I remember as a child. Molly was the first child of Burley and Debbie. I had the privilege of baptizing her a long time ago when I was pastor at the St. John Church in Columbus. It turned out to be a three generation baptism. Her Dad who was not a believer before her birth came to faith in Christ, in part, through the miracle of her birth. I had the great joy of baptizing him as well. After his baptism this father started sharing his new faith in Christ with his mother who was terminally ill with cancer. I still remember the day we gathered at her home to receive her profession of faith and baptize Molly's grandmother.
When I opened the card and saw that Molly was about to be married, I was honored to be remembered by this family from so long ago. Neither could I help but to have my heart warmed by the remembrance of the way that God allowed me to have a small part in the faith journey of these three family members. This story of faith in Christ has found found a place in many a sermon preached over the years and its witness has inspired many gathered congregations.
The invitation reminded me of what ministry is all about. You would think from eavesdropping on the Administrative Board meetings of most United Methodist Churches that ministry is about money, building maintenance, and power politics. Time obliterates those kinds of things. The number of new members received in a certain year may have seemed important at the moment, but has long ago been forgotten. What is remembered and carried in the heart with such joy and gratitude are stories of faith, stories like the three generation baptism. Those are the only ones which really count!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Bell

One of the things I enjoy doing every Wednesday night before our Wednesday Worship is ringing the chapel bell. Maybe it brings out the kid in me! Actually, I seldom ring it without remembering the bell in the Susan B Harris Chapel at Young Harris College. I spent two years there being educated and nurtured by this Methodist institution. More fortunate than I realized at the time was I in attending this small college in the North Georgia Mountains.
When I tell folks that my scholarship job was ringing the bell, they usually look at me a little strange. But, it is true. Young Harris did not have an electronic bell system to change classes. Instead, someone rang the chapel bell which could be heard all over campus and beyond. My work day started at 7:50 AM when I rang the bell serving notice that it was time to get out of the sheets. I rang it again at 7:55 AM to let everyone know they had five minutes to get to class on time. And then, at 8:00 AM, I rang the bell for the last time as a signal that classes could start. Every hour until 4:00 PM, I repeated this task. Ten minutes before the hour, I rang the bell to end classes, five minutes later to hurry folks on to the next place, and then, on the hour to start the next class period. One of the perks of the job was having an excuse for arriving late to class and leaving early!
It was also my first taste of power. I can still remember the face of a friend looking my way as he ran across campus to class and my decision to ring the bell a minute early to insure his late arrival! And, of course, there were times when I felt merciful and would delay the bell long enough for someone to make it without the disapproving eye of some professor. It was a great job! I am not sure when YHC quit using the chapel bell to change classes, but I am happy to have it on my resume!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Mysterious Morning

If I were not trained to think theologically, I would say about this morning that it is magical. Instead, this morning set aside for remembering and celebrating the resurrection of Jesus seems mysterious. Knowing that it is such a day causes everything about the new day to be viewed differently. The sun seems brighter. The air feels crisper. The blooms of flowers look fuller. On those Ester Sundays when it rains, the rain feels more cleansing. It is like walking into a picture that is still being painted. Suddenly, all our senses perceive how vibrant and full of life are all those things around us. Yes, indeed, it is Easter.
Even though sunrise services are a part of the Easter tradition, there is also such a sense of anticipation about returning to the Sanctuary of the Lord on this day. Having been there on other days such as this one, we find ourselves being filled with a holy anticipation. The crowds will be in the overflow mode. Trumpets will sound. Bells will ring. The singing will be unparalleled and full of transcendence. The preachers will strain to proclaim the profound truth that "He is Risen!"
It is day filled with the crispness of something new, a day filled with the anticipation of the holy, and a day filled with a divine mystery that is glorious. The Savior who was born as flesh among us, the Godhead who came from glory to earth, and the divine Son of God who chose to live in our midst died on the cross as a sin sacrifice for each one us and has been raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit destroying both the power of sin and the the power of death in one full sweep! It is, indeed, a day for celebrating a great mystery.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Good Friday is now yesterday, but still, it was only hours ago that I walked from the Good Friday worship service remembering Jimmy. He was the one who brought me to a point of offering a tradtional three hour worship experience on Good Friday which focused on the Seven Words of Jesus from the cross. At the time he was at the Glenwood Church and I was at Vidalia. He was young, barely out of seminary and I was in my fifth appointment. When he told me about offering this worship service, I was a bit surprised. "Who," I thought, "would go to a three hour worship service?" I asked him what he would do if no one came. His answer I have never forgotten. "If no one came, I would still read the lessons. It is important that they be read."
Somewhere in those Vidalia years, I started offering that three hour Good Friday worship experience. I discovered that people would come. While it is the kind of worship setting which provides for people to come and go, staying whatever amount of time they want, there are always some folks who come at the beginning and leave three hours later when the benediction is pronounced. I also discovered that something powerful begins to happen in my life as I am involved in such a lengthy service that takes me to the foot of the cross and keeps me there. And, I have also learned that I am not alone as those who share in those moments of worship bear the same testimony.
While too many churches think it is something only Roman Catholic Churches do, it is a thing of great value to the church. More and more the cross is being pushed out of the picture of what God has done for us through Jesus. We do Palm Sunday one week and jump to Easter the next. No one is invited or encouraged to stop at the cross and meditate on its place in our spiritual lives. That omission can lead to a watered down theology. I left Good Friday worship thankful that Jimmy spoke that word to me long years ago. Had he not, I would have missed such powerful blessings over these years.