I think the word has gotten out – my application for a sabbatical grant has been approved, so my study leave scheduled for next year will be funded. That said, I have had a number of questions tossed in my direction. A little bit of Whaaat? With some When?, Where?, and How does this affect the rest of us?
Let’s start with the sabbatical. Eight and one-half years ago when we entered into a relationship of pastor and congregation, a sabbatical clause was written into the contract. After seven years, I would be awarded three months of additional leave time. Such time is a regular part of the world of professors, and they have become much more common in the ministerial world. Studies show that sabbaticals tend to produce renewed energy and purpose in clergy and they tend to be good for congregations as well. Some family situations have caused me to put off my sabbatical as well as an opportunity to acquire some foundation funding to cover some of the possibilities. And as a matter of fact, the word came back to us a few weeks ago that our application was accepted and a sizable portion of money will be given to undergird the costs of the sabbatical. I say “our” application, because the request to the foundation technically was written on behalf of the church. More about that in a moment.
But let me share with you a little bit about my plans. My proposal was to spend some time looking at congregational transition. I went this direction, in part, because FCC will celebrate its 150th year of ministry in 2020, and we need to think about how the future might claim us in new and exciting ways. I will be visiting some congregations, similar to ours, that are navigating their own transitions in vibrant ways. I will complete a course in church consulting to pick up some insights. And a broad theme for my reading and study during this time will center on sharing the Gospel in a pagan world, especially with respect to St. Paul’s work. Linda and I are going to spend some time in Rome and Athens – Paul’s world. That is a taste of the “what.” As for the “when,” we will be in Europe after Easter next year, and while I am still looking at some timing issues, at this point, I am thinking that will mark the beginning of my sabbatical time.
Now, I mentioned that there are some pieces of the grant that are to benefit the church. That is, FCC will hopefully get more out of this than a minister who returns in a good mood. A significant piece of funding is being provided to the church for two purposes: (1) to help provide resources to hire a part-time interim minister who will do more than just cover the pulpit responsibilities, and (2) to provide money to bring a transitional consultant in to work with us as we contemplate our future. There are some remarkable resources available, but they are not cheap, and this grant will allow us to get some expert conversation as we pause to think about who we are and who we shall be.
Anyway, it is all still in the planning stages, but as we all know, it is easier to plan with resources than with none. I will keep you up on how all of this is coming together. I appreciate the affection in the questions about how you will ever get along without me, but we all know that you survived – flourished even – for 140 years without me. My guess is that the time for all of us will pass too quickly.
So, God’s blessings and peace.
The work has been somewhat under the radar – more under the radar, I am sure, than what Linda would have wanted. But she has been surrounded by a host of faithful and imaginative visionaries in our community who saw the need and gave birth to the dream which is about to become a reality before our very eyes.
The Hope Station Westview House! This shelter for families will open in early September and will house homeless families – that is, combinations of single parents and their children, husbands and wives and their children. It has been the missing resource in Wilson. Hope Station, of course, has a shelter for single men and there is a facility in town for men struggling with addictions. Wesley Shelter is a marvelous shelter for women and children, though its priority of serving victims of domestic violence sadly keeps it at capacity most of the time. There has not been a place in Wilson where families could stay together until now.
I will tell you the story of how Westview House has come into existence – as with most stories like this, it is a story about money. It began with a gift from Westview Christian Church. As the members moved through the steps of completing the visible ministry of our sister congregation, they were determined to ensure the legacy of Westview’s witness. They met with Hope Station leadership which resulted in a seed gift of $150,000. Under similar circumstances, Covenant Presbyterian Church added a legacy gift, and several corporate partners have stepped forward to contribute. The HS Board launched a $450,000 campaign to fund the rest, after making their own commitments.
And yes, it is a story about money, but it is even more a story about people which at its core is very much a story about “our” people. Carol and Don Steffa, Janet Robbins, Fran and Jim Roberson, Ida Altayar, Curtis and Sue Ray, and Billy Forbes are among the former Westview members who have become part of First Christian, and we worship with these wonderful folks every week. A. J. Walston, Myra Powell, and Kathy Daughety have been part of this vision through their service on the HS Board. Bob Kendall gave his creativity and gift of words to design the “Turn the Tap” public campaign. Our CWF, the Disciples Class, and individual church members have written checks to the fund.
And so, the building has been coming to life. You may well have driven past it during the construction phase – it is at 310 Tarboro St, just up the street from the church. The location was selected for reasons that would take too long to detail, but conveniently, it backs up to Hope Station. The building renovation is pretty well done, and now the finishing touches are being checked off: beds and furniture, stocking towels and linens, clocks, landscaping, and so forth.
You can get the story beyond these words by checking the Hope Station website or by striking up a conversation with any of the aforementioned people who have kept an inside look at the project. And no, it is not too late to be a part of this good work beyond applause. Something approaching $100,000 is still in the process of being raised – you can make a three-year commitment of support. And, of course, a gift of any kind will help get Westview House across the finish line. Let me know and I will make sure you get a commitment card.
But that applause I mentioned. Well that is important also, and we are being given an opportunity to put our hands together on Sunday, August 18th at 2pm when Westview House will be officially dedicated. I hope you will join me that afternoon for a little celebration. I will be looking for you.
Blessings and Peace,
#hopestation #familyshelter #westviewhouse #ccdoc #ncdisciples #fccwilsonnc #compassion
So, I put the idea out there: Suggestions for Summer Sermons. I am thinking, give the people what they want. For a few weeks this summer, I will preach on topics of your choosing. Anything you ever wanted to know about God, Jesus, church or faith, and I am going to show up for you.
I think I mentioned that I tried this one summer when we were in Macon, Georgia . . . crashed and burned. One fellow wanted to hear a Disciple minister preach about hell, and another guy requested a sermon about some obscure biblical character (like one verse in Hebrew scripture) whose name had been foisted on his father. So, it has taken me some three decades to work up the courage to try this again.
So, let’s see what we got this time around from the dozen or so folks who turned in a card.
Job was blameless, what about us? – you are not. Maybe this will be easier than I thought.
A couple of requests to preach on forgiveness – okay, I can see that.
Ezekiel 25:17 – what, I have to look up something? You people think I have every chapter and verse memorized?
I want to learn more about women in the Bible – knock it off, Linda.
Is there an afterlife? – any volunteers to find out and check back with us before the end of August?
Tell us about the theology in popular hymns – now this seems like it might have an ulterior motive, like a way to kill those new-fangled praise hymns. (I will assign Casey to preach this one.)
Similarly, someone wants to know why we do the things we do in worship – so do I.
The Trinity, what does it mean – this has to be one of the clergy in the congregation because no one has been asking about the Trinity since the Council of Nicea in the fourth century.
There was a smattering of other requests, but I think there is enough here to get us close to Labor Day.
So, I have come up with a plan. Well, not exactly a plan in the sense of something that has been well thought-out and carefully crafted, but I have come up with a plan in the sense that I am going to start on the second Sunday in July and keep going until I get distracted or the Elders intervene. I think we are going to start with that request to explore the theology of some of our popular hymns. I am getting Casey to help. We haven’t come up with an exact format, but I am thinking about having her play a verse of a hymn, popular or otherwise, and I will tell you how wrong she was to play it. Or some variation of that approach. As I said, we don’t have an exact strategy yet.
So, come on in and worship with me this summer and we will see what happens. I think we could have some fun and maybe even learn something. If not, well, you have only yourselves to blame.
Blessings and Peace
Think Globally..and act locally...
Think globally, and act locally.
To the best of my recollection, I first heard this phrase when I was in seminary. And again, to the best of my recollection, some important theologian said it the first time it was said, but now that I compare my memory with facts, I discover that no one knows who said it. Doesn’t matter – it was important to say and important still to hear.
At any rate, I thought about that sentence of advice as I was planning my summer. Each year, the pace changes for a few months which offers possibilities if one is looking. Around here, we tend to have fewer meetings and a chance to take some deep breaths as we look to launching our new program year in the fall. It is time to take some vacation days, and there may be a little leisure to catch up on some reading (I am compiling my list now which will include my yearly selection on baseball). The point is that summer allows for some projects, even around the church – a couple of those projects that I never have time to do during the rest of the year.
And I am thinking that one of those projects should be to think a little deeper about how we at First Christian Church could protect God’s creation a little more. I have been part of some conversations since I first arrived, but I was spurred a little last week by the news that there has been an effort to remove garbage from Mount Everest – something close to 45 tons of garbage has been removed during this climbing season though another 30 tons still remains on the trails up the peak. I can’t do anything about that I suppose, but maybe I could make a difference around here. There it is: Think globally, and act locally.
Around the church, we recycle, but are we doing it to the best of our abilities? When we have a church dinner, we find ourselves asking: china or paper, and if so, what kind of paper? And when we use plastic plates and cups, are we rinsing and recycling, or are we just tossing it all in the garbage? And have we thought about all of the other supplies we use? I bought some biodegradable garbage bags last week because I have been thinking about how we put compostable paper and food in plastic bags. The Disciples have a Green Chalice program that might guide us.
One side benefit might be that a summer filled with this kind of exploration might spur some of us to think about what we can do individually. My son has me coveting an electric car. This after preaching solar at me for three years. Doing some gardening isn’t just a chance to get that perfect home-grown tomato . . . it also offers possibilities to avoid preservatives and to keep from poisoning the soil. For sure, these call attention to national and international policies, but how can I pretend that I really care if I am not modeling sound practices in my own little world.
So, some texts and emails are going out between me and some like-minded spirits. I think we will be finding a time to sit-down and talk in the next week or two – to see, in the words of Kenny Rogers and the First Edition – what condition our condition is in. If you are interested, let me know and we will make sure you hear when we shall gather.
In the meantime, check in and I will let you know which baseball book I have selected. It is summer, and we have so much about which to sip and talk.
Blessings and Peace,
#fccwilsonnc #ncdisciples #greenchalice #ccdoc #thinkglobally #climatechange #makeadifference #thefutureisinourhands
I remember a woman once telling me how she kept her sense of balance and priorities in perspective, in light of the very public life she led. She said when she had too many demands on her time, she tried to remember that when she died, it would be her children - and not all of the other people who were constantly drawing close to her – who would be standing there when she was lowered into her grave.
I don’t know why I haven’t thought of it more often when I am in a cemetery – probably because I usually have things to do and words to speak – but I thought about it last Saturday when I was standing at the mausoleum in Shawnee Park Memorial Gardens. Linda and I were there with my brother as his wife was settled into her final resting place. Standing around were her sons and granddaughters, in-laws, nieces and nephews, and a small smattering of friends. As the words were offered up and the granite was fixed into its place, I surveyed the people standing in the light mist and thought how many people she had known in her life, but how I was standing among the folks who loved her the most . . . standing among the folks she loved the most.
And here we are, working our way through these Lenten days.
Soon, Good Friday will come upon us.
The truth is that it passes quickly – often almost without our noticing.
One Sunday, he is alive, and we are waving palms.
A week later, he is alive again, and we are decked out in our Easter finest.
In between, there was the heartbreak.
The crowd that gathered at Jesus’ tomb was smaller than the number who gathered for “Queenie” . . . markedly smaller. Really, it was just the women, and really only a handful of them. Hurriedly that Friday night as the shadows fell, and quickly two days later as the first beams of sun began to light the skies - the whole thirty or thirty-five hours is told in the fewest of verses:
The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid . . . at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.
Of all the people he had known, of all the crowds to whom he had preached, of all the influential ones whose path his had crossed, it was just these couple of women. But, I suppose it was true then too. They were among the select few that had loved him the most . . . and who he had loved the most.
And I tell you this: while I have never thought of it in quite these terms before, I suppose I came home thinking that maybe God is calling me to be at more gravesites. Which is just an off-beat way of saying that maybe God is calling me to embrace the heartache of giving and receiving love more deeply. With more people.
What we recognize and celebrate in cemeteries is the best that has happened within the dash . . . that hyphen between the dates on the monument. And all of us who worship him have known that somehow . . . that this great drama we are living through in these Lenten days is finally a revelation of and a call to love. And when that has happened, there is that one other truth to be spoken: death has no power.
None at all.
None at all.
Blessings and Peace,
I write these words early on a dreary, cold, rain-soaked morning. The darkness and the solitude seem appropriate as I put the final touches on the publicity for events and programs which will be part of our Lenten program. Over in the sanctuary, there are folks who are praying – or will soon be praying – to ready their spirits for the Lenten journey to come.
I write these words two days after the rash of texts and phone calls that told us that my brother’s wife had suffered a stroke, was not responding, and yes, had then left us and slipped into the mystery. She was the “other” Linda Walling – I have her in my phone as “Linda Walling 2” but she preferred the moniker “Queenie.” I have no idea how or why the rest of the family bestowed that nickname on her, but it kind of fit other than that she had a certain regal air about her. She was still a child when she lost her parents and was raised by relatives. She and Dale married when his boys were still pretty young, and she brought a great deal of love not just to Dale but to Max and Sam. In addition, she has two sons and two granddaughters. She will be deeply missed.
I write these words in the wake of the painful United Methodist deliberations about who can be ordained to ministry and who can be married to one another. We have good Methodist colleagues in ministry who feel deeply violated by the outcome of the vote, and we all have friends in Methodist congregations who are now left to suffer through one more judgment about the rightness of their loves.
I write these words with a congregation in mind that is enduring surgeries and illnesses, grief and mourning, loss and anxiety. I have often heard it said that “a mother can only be as happy as her least happy child.” It makes you wonder if a pastor can only be as happy as his or her least happy congregant. Probably not, but it is a reminder that we – you and I – are at every moment tied in love to someone who is walking uphill and carrying a burden.
I write these words . . . well, you get the gist of what I am saying. Lent will be upon us soon. Lent – those days of death and darkness . . . that season of sin and sadness. Lent – that wilderness time that is a reminder that Jesus spent time in the desert. Indeed, there is nothing that we experience that our Lord has not shared with all humanity. The Gospels assure us that the only path to resurrection is through the rough country . . . that the only true experience of resurrection is revealed in loss.
So, join me in the journey.
Write your words – your experiences of the painful quiet and the dark loneliness of our spirits’ winters.
Blessings and Peace,
And a Postscript . . .
And let me offer you a little heads-up about a new offering for us beginning this summer. Some of our worshipers have come to find communion by Intinction – that is by taking bread and dipping it into the cup – to be a most meaningful way to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. So, for the next several weeks, we will have one of our Deacons presenting a plate with bread and a chalice with juice somewhere at the front of the sanctuary. It could be a little rough as we work out the logistics, so bear with us. For most of you, the wafer and cup of juice will be served to you in the pews. But if you are one of those who prefers a loaf and a cup to dip in, find our Intinction Station.
It has been said that one hundred is the new seventy-five. (Okay, maybe that had not been said until I just wrote the words, but from this time forth, let it be said.) This weekend, we will celebrate Jim Boswell’s one hundredth birthday. On Sunday, after worship, we shall reassemble in the Parlor to sing and eat cake. It will be sort of a prelude to the Super Bowl activities scheduled for later in the day which I am guessing will be anticlimactic to the Boswell celebration. The fact is that we are getting fairly proficient at this centennial celebrating, having had a little bash in September when Catherine Cubberley hit the century mark.
At any rate, I thought I should try to put our dear friend’s time among us into some kind of perspective. So, consider the following: Jim was born on February 2, 1919 – a Sunday. Woodrow Wilson was President, and World War I had ended just three months earlier. Jackie Robinson was born three days before and Eva Gabor was born nine days after Jim. That year, the most popular boy’s name was “John.” So while our party will be on the 3rd, we note that Jim’s actual date of birth is the 2nd. That is to say, when we finally get around to singing “Happy Birthday,” we will technically be celebrating Jim’s 100.00003rd birthday. That is because more than 36,500 days have come and gone since Jim entered this world.
If he is average (which he most certainly is not), he has spent more than 12,000 of those days sleeping. By another measurement, he has been knocking around earth for more than 50 million minutes . . . more than 3 billion seconds – his first billion seconds of life passed sometime on October 11th, 1950. From another perspective, I can tell you that there have been 1,237 full moons in Jim’s lifetime. (Do you wonder which one he enjoyed the most – I’m guessing it may have been one involving Mozelle).
Okay – here is something interesting. In dog years, Jim is now 465 years old. (Doesn’t matter – he still has the firmest paw shake I have ever felt.) Well, enough of my foolishness. I know I speak for all of us when I say that we are looking forward to Sunday. Jim is a wonderful family man, a giving friend, a national hero and an extraordinary man of faith, and as always in such moments, we can say that we have been the ones truly blessed by his days among us.
o, assemble on Sunday.
Bring a card with you that shares some of your memories and affections for this good man.
And let the candles be lit and the cake be cut.
Blessings and Peace,
#fccwilsonnc #ncdisciples #ccdoc #turning100 #100yearsyoung #century #happybirthday
There are moments which define life and faith and work and the ties that bind. There are moments that open our eyes and tell us more than we knew or even suspected. The Christmas Day community lunch went off with hardly a hitch. Leslie Kendall spent December overseeing weddings, so she tasked Bob with the duty of organizing the event. That assignment might have been daunting for many folks, but Bob is the consummate planner. Plus, Leslie handed Bob a notebook . . . a very thick notebook . . . with an abundance of memos.
So, in the weeks leading up to the event, people signed up to bring tableware, fruit, candy, green beans, fruit cocktail, and punch . . . and they brought it all. The CWF anchored the desert table with a dozen cakes while others added to the decadence. Plas-tic ware got wrapped and tied in napkins. Tables were set-up and decorated. The preced-ing weekend, Robert Wells and Ricky Brown cooked extra Boston Butts (the original donat-ed butts had been delivered to others because the CMF had such a successful sale).
The day came, and the Episcopalians showed up with potatoes. The Methodists opened their doors for some post-meal gifting. Kathy Sandifer took up her station at the piano. Theresa Mathis gave instructions to some 60-70 volunteers. The doors were thrown open. The banquet was on! I am told that we served a record 233 men, women and children.
Now some of you may be wondering what the preacher’s job is for an event this immense. By Christmas day, ministers are in a state of some exhaustion. We are moving slowly, so this preacher tries to stay out of the way. I put up half of a sign . . . I unlocked one door . . . I located some extra garbage bags. The rest of the time, I chit-chatted with volunteers and guests.
It was in pursuit of this last ministerial function that one of our volunteers told me that one of the children at the table she was serving said to her, "This is my best Christmas ever!"
There are moments which define life and faith and work and the ties that bind. There are moments that open our eyes and tell us more than we knew or even suspected.
To imagine that a child of some unknown age could say that a meal in a church fellowship hall constituted the very best of his Christmases, however many that had been – 5, 7, 10. A glass of punch and a plate of food . . . a bag of fruit and candies . . . a couple of moments to pick out a toy in the hallway outside the food area . . . a couple of people offering a smile and a greeting – to try to imagine how that makes for the best Christmas ever will bring you to tears.
Someone asked me whether I thought there were more children this year than in previous years. It seemed like it to this observer. I can’t really say. What I can say is that when you break it all down, a fellowship hall can serve as a kind of stable – it has a barn-like quality, after all. It is large and mostly empty until you fill it with hay or tables or whatever. But of all the places through which I wandered this season, I am pretty sure that it was in our fellowship hall/stable/banquet room that Christmas was most alive.
Presumably, Bob has returned Leslie’s notebook though it may be a little thicker now. On we go, into 2019 – Ring out the old, ring in the new!
Blessings and Peace,
One of the Walling holiday traditions is watching the classic, Christmas Vacation. Kristen and Ryan have watched it with Linda and me for most of their lives, and we put it on the television again this year while they were home for Thanksgiving. We have memorized virtually every line, and we stop and back up the recording to play through our favorite quotes.
There are other movies that we will watch: I put on Fred Claus every year; Ryan has Elf with Buddy’s (Will Ferrell) four food groups (candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup); Linda and Kristen have their Hallmark movies. Other assorted flicks get regular air time when we are together at Christmas: Skipping Christmas, Four Christmases, Deck the Halls, and Santa Clause 1,2, 3, and up. A fight almost broke out this year over the merits of Prancer – I said, Absolutely; Kristen said, Probably; Ryan said, Not even Top 25; and Linda asked, Have I seen it? And yes, we reach back for the classics from time-to-time: White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life.
But, I digress – back to Christmas Vacation. In the absurd chance that you have not seen the movie, Chevy Chase plays Clark Griswold, a bumbling guy who is trying to pull off the perfect Christmas for his wife, two children, and visiting parents and in-laws. This involves decorating his house with 250 strands of lights, 100 individual bulbs per strand, for a grand total of 25,000 imported Italian twinkle lights. Everything goes wrong: his wife’s idiot cousin shows up; his boss is meaner than Scrooge, and along with his own terrible decisions, soon his perfect Christmas is crashing . . . and by “crashing,” you should be thinking SWAT Team.
On a side note, this is the 30th anniversary of the premier of the movie, which has led to Hallmark creating special ornaments which Linda found and gave to each child. I did even better – she gave me a pair of eggnog glasses that are shaped like a moose head, complete with antlers. (You had to see the movie.)
So, my favorite line above all my other favorite lines, comes when a squirrel gets loose in the house and terrifies everyone. They are hiding behind Clark who is working up the courage to capture the squirrel, when his father steps out, squares his shoulders, and says with determination, I’m going in with him! I hoot and howl. I replay the line five times. I high-five Ryan and promise him that when the moment comes, I too will go in with him.
Yes, that is how a minister’s family prepares for Christmas. We are not proud of ourselves. But what we learned long ago due to the hideous December schedules of not one, but two ministers, is that there has never been, nor will there ever be, a perfect Christmas. We have been left to find the hope and the peace, the joy and the love in the margins amid microwave meals and finding out at 1am Christmas morning that we have twenty gifts to wrap and no scotch tape (see if there’s a Christmas movie on . . . it’s going to be a long night.) Not that you need to worry about us . . . we have always found the Christmas spirit, sooner or later.
As for the first Christmas, my guess is that it was more like the Griswold-Walling Christmases than the ones you see on Christmas cards. A pregnant woman riding a hundred miles on a bouncing donkey . . . no room at the hotel . . . sleeping in a barn . . . scruffy shepherds knocking on the door. A squirrel loose in the stable would have been the least of their problems.
But they found the meaning of the night – the hope, the peace, the joy, the love. They discovered the gift from God. As shall we again this year . . . as shall we.
Blessings and Peace,
#fccwilsonnc #ncdisciples #wanderings #christmasvacation #advent #calmandbright #hope #ccdoc
Careful What You Pray For
What more can you tell us, you ask me, as I move to the second sermon in this series that could just as well be titled, Things That I Have Learned Sitting at the Foot of John Glover. Well, over the years, John has told me a half-dozen times that it is best to be careful about what you ask for.
The advice surfaced again early this summer after we had planted the Season of Faith garden. We hit an immediate dry spell, so I was fretting about all the young sprouts that had fought through the ground. They were young, fragile, without much in the way of root systems. As a result, they were forever wilting. In the city, we would know what to do – turn on the sprinkler. And we actually had a hose and a sprinkler running from a faucet coming out of a well next to the garden. But you will understand that that is a lot of watering for a garden that is 40 acres . . . er, a fourth of an acre. Whatever, John is used to farming hundreds of acres, and for the most part, it just won’t work to go to Lowe’s and get garden hoses.
No, when you are farming over against gardening, you have to irrigate the old-fashioned way – by imploring the Almighty to help.
Which is what some of us were doing. There were all the bad jokes about how the preacher has connections with the good Lord and therefore should take responsibility for getting some rain. And one Saturday morning, I laughingly made the promise: I guarantee we will have rain . . . by Tuesday. Our Secretary of Agriculture cringed. He said, Slow down, Preacher! I looked his way, and he was shaking his head. My daddy told me a long time ago that a dry July can hurt you, but a wet July can ruin you.
I thought about his words of caution after Hurricane Florence dumped ten inches of rain on us. I went out to the garden to try to pick the last eggplants and okra, but I had to sink into the mud a half-dozen inches to get to them. The wind and rain had pretty much demolished everything, even the pumpkins we were hoping to harvest this fall. And yes, it was a wet September, not July, but John’s point stood out nonetheless. You think you want rain? Be careful.
And life its ownself regularly furnishes us ample proof that we may not be able to discern what would be good for us. Fortune Magazine tells us that the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards says nearly a third of lottery winners declare bankruptcy—meaning they were worse off than before they became rich. Other studies show that lottery winners frequently become estranged from family and friends, and incur a greater incidence of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, divorce, and suicide than the average American.
It might lead one to conclude that maybe wealth is not all it is cracked up to be . . . or fame . . . or big careers . . . or whatever it is that we fall asleep at night dreaming about.
Perhaps we do well to distinguish here between praying and wanting. The Gospels record Jesus as assuring us that if we believe we will receive what we are praying for, we will indeed receive it. I have seen enough unanswered prayers to have my doubts though, of course, it could be that caveat – maybe people fail in prayer because they don’t really believe. Or maybe it is that other condition that Jesus is recorded saying elsewhere – that God gives
good things to those who ask, suggesting that there needs to be a rightness, a wholeness, to what we are asking for.
Or perhaps we do not have to distinguish between our prayers and those things we ask for in other ways. Ask for rain/pray for rain – I think John’s caution may apply to either.
But let’s move to get on point for today seed which is sprouting in our church’s life. What is it that we want? What are we asking for God to create in our life together here at Tarboro and Vance?
Well, here – and all the other places where I have been part of church as a minister or a lay person – I have heard church members talk about what they want for the church. Mostly, it has been to grow. Occasionally, someone has probed that ask: why do you want the church to grow? At times, someone has been able to articulate a sense of evangelistic calling . . . of bringing others closer to God.
But sometimes, the rationale for growth has been more awkward: to pay the bills . . . to replace members who have moved or died or gone to care facilities. Sometimes, the reason for wanting growth has been to put some people in the pews so the sanctuary won’t seem empty. (It is like going to a movie and there are only 5 other people in the theater – it is weird. When the bad guy jumps out, there is no angst or energy around us.) Maybe it is fair to ask how self-serving some prayers sound in the ear of God.
And here is the other thing – and I am fairly sure you have witnessed this as well from time to time. Sometimes, the church will experience a growth spurt . . . but what often follows is some irritation at what those newcomers are doing and saying.
I arrive some Sunday morning half-way through the first hymn – just like I always do – and somebody is sitting in my pew . . . the very pew that I have been sitting in since I graduated out of the nursery. What’s going on here?
Nothing can evoke the language of we and they like the arrival of some new folks.
I want the church to grow!
Well, be careful what you ask for, because if God sees fit to answer that prayer, then everything I love may get another look:
music . .
communion . . .
video screens in the sanctuary . . .
the translation of the Lord’s Prayer . . .
the time of the worship services.
Of course, numerical growth is not the only thing to ask for our church. Maybe it is to become a launching pad for service to our community and the world. Maybe it is to be a well where spirits are nourished and lives are refashioned. Maybe it is to become a place of intellectual depth where people can raise questions and hear more than just the pablum of religious words. Maybe it is something that no one but you has thought of yet but which could transform lives.
But whatever you ask for with respect to First Christian Church, be careful. Be careful. And maybe when we think it through, what we should really ask for is nothing . . . just for God to keep things like they have always been. Yes, that would be the safest thing to ask for.
Because if we ask for something more, any answer will come with a whole set of demands of us. For sure, the sprouting and growth is God’s miracle, but there is still much for us to do – the weeding . . . the fertilizing . . . the watering . . . the harvesting.
We can’t ask and then sit back and watch. We can’t ask and then say, But I’m too old or I’m too young or I’m too busy or I’m too whatever.
Our theme is sprouting. And maybe we should have thought about it more carefully before we chose this theme that if taken seriously will demand so much of us.
We should be surprised.
He told us – if we wanted to follow him, it could only be by going all in. Loving him above all else. With all our hearts and strength.
What do you want for First Christian Church?
Just be careful how you answer that question.
Be careful what you ask for.
A sermon preached by Gary L. Walling to the congregation of First Christian Church of Wilson, North Carolina on October 7, 2019.
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These thoughts and reflections come from our Senior Minister, Minister of Music and Board Chair. We hope that they provide both challenge and inspiration for your spiritual life.