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.
I got an email a couple of weeks asking my thoughts about the ways that lay people are “knowingly/unknowingly contributing to the decline within the local church.” This colleague, who is writing a book, was asking a number of ministers to offer their initial thoughts. A follow-up email this past week suggested that the laity has lost its sense of hospitality and are not welcoming people who are different.
I decided to weigh in.
I stood up for you.
You are welcome.
First, I said that while there is probably plenty to blame on laypeople, it strikes me that there is plenty of fault to go around – including the failings of ministers and the atmosphere in the larger culture. Second, I said that it is not clear to me that churches which are less open to a diversity of visitors are suffering over those churches that are highly welcoming. In fact, these last two churches that I have served seem to me to be more welcoming than most in the community . . . welcoming of people who are diverse in race, sexual orientation, and economic status and who are differently-able. It has not been clear to me that such openness has made these churches more popular than many neighbor congregations. Don’t get me wrong – I am all in on diversity and hospitality and openness. It is just that some things you do because they are right and godly, not because they offer a competitive advantage. (I also suggested that because a more pluralistic society is where our country is headed, I believe that in time most churches will become more accepting and welcoming of people who are “different”. . . because, in time, those people will come to be seen as not different at all.)
I wrote much more to my friend, but one other observation I offered was that even the way we tend to formulate the question is problematic. To be asking what is causing the decline in churches is to subtly suggest that churches deserve to exist and flourish as what they have been. The point is that if there is one thing that laypeople – and ministers, as well – do to turn-off people, it is probably the way that we cling to existing structures. Those of us in church tend to love the church we have known much more than the newcomers do.
Now, let me get to the point I want to put to all of you.
We seem to be in agreement that we like worshiping together.
We get to see everyone when we are in one service . . . the mass of people is greater . . . there is more energy . . . there is an efficiency, especially with respect to staff time and building set-up. For all those reasons and more, I hear us saying we should move back to one service.
But then, the wrestling starts: I like a less formal setting . . . with an earlier time, the day opens up for other activities . . . I am afraid we will lose guitars . . . I am afraid we will lose the pipe organ . . . if we stay at 10am, Sunday School is too early . . . if we move Sunday School, when would we count money?
And so on and so on.
Change is hard.
Curiously, it has occurred, our decision probably would be easier if we were starting a brand-new church – there would be no history to guide or restrict us.
We had a listening session a few weeks ago and decided to extend the single 10 o’clock service through this month, promising to gather again. And so we shall: Wednesday, October 10th at 6pm. It may be less a listening session and more a push to find the way we will follow for the rest of the year. So, come join us. But bring a spirit of openness . . . and trust . . . and adventure.
We can do this.
We CAN make this work,
God bless us.
Blessings and Peace,
#ccdoc #ncdisciples #fccwilsonnc #churchgrowth #wecandothis #grow #sprout #ourseasonoffaith #unity #weareone #welcometoourfamily #wilsonnc
How's your spiritual garden sprouting?
Is your soil fertile and always ready for planting?
What's already growing in your garden?
Are you growing plants from seeds you planted?
Or are your growing spiritual transplants?
Are you observant enough to notice and pull worrisome spiritual weeds?
Are you in spiritual drought … waiting and hoping for rain?
Is your garden open to new possibilities – new plant varieties, techniques or relationships?
Do you need help developing a more productive spiritual green thumb?
The seventh edition of Our Season of Faith (OSOF), which opens Sunday, September 23, will turn each of us inward to our spiritual gardens and ask all those questions. And more.
During OSOF's five weeks, we will examine this year's theme, Sprout!, by planting three “thought” seeds: how to sprout our personal faith, how to sprout our church on the inside and how to sprout our church on the outside in the community.
Then, we will watch our gardens, watered with conversation, meditation, study and prayer, to see what the seeds produce. Every thriving garden needs a gifted planter.
And OSOF is fortunate to enjoy the services of a great one. Be sure to meet and greet The Planter on Kickoff Sunday. In many ways, OSOF will have a different look this year.
Materials will be delivered electronically for the first time, available at your computer in-box and on the church website. For those who depend on paper and ink, the USPS will handle delivery.
Right on time.
The traditional two-week devotional book will be replaced by a three-week personal study – one week for each of the three seeds – complete with daily insightful questions and thoughtful readings. And for three Sprouting Sundays – one for each seed – we will gather at 9 a.m. in the Fellowship Hall before worship at 10 a.m. in the sanctuary to consider what grew in our spiritual gardens during the week.
In the end, when the crops are grown and harvested, we will have clearer understandings about how each of us can sprout spiritually and how our church can sprout both inside and out. How well our gardens grow will depend entirely on us – what kind of spiritual farmers we are – how willing we are to water and weed for the entire five-week sprouting season.
On Harvest Sunday, October 28, when we gather to present our annual giving commitments for 2019, the congregation will share a lunch meal of items prepared from produce (peas, corn, okra, peppers, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, eggplants and pie pumpkins) grown in the quarter-acre Our Season of Faith garden at the Glover Farm in Elm City. (By the way, John Glover is OSOF's Secretary of Agriculture.)
Get ready to plant.
Get ready to sprout.
#ourseasonoffaith #fccwilsonnc #ccdoc #doc #disciplesofchrist #growth #sprout #reborn #harvest #stewardship #bountifulgiving
My grandmother lived to be 99 years old. We called her “Nano,” and she was in remarkably good health for most of her years, keeping an active church life and painting landscapes up until she was about 95. I doubt that anyone would have predicted her longevity—her brother and sister died at relatively young ages, and she was a lifelong smoker. Somewhere in the midst of my obnoxious teenage years, I started calling her the old bat—I cannot believe now that my parents didn’t smack me good, but she loved it. It gave her a certain status in the collection of her grandchildren’s friends who were in and out of the house.
My favorite story about Nano has to do with her assault on turning 100, and it is a story we are not sure is true. The last five years of her life, she lived to hear Willard Scott (the NBC Today Show weatherman, for you youngsters) call her name out on air, which he did each week for folks who had passed the century mark. But she died about two months prior to her 100th birthday. Six months later, my mother shared with me that she had taken possession of the family Bible and some other records, and there was no mention of Florence Hogue until the age of 14 or so—there was a Myrtle who dropped out of the family annals about that time who was about 16. My mom is not sure, but she thinks Nano might have changed her name and age as a teenager—becoming something of a spinster in the eyes of that era—and if so, she seems not to have told anyone. Of course, those of you who are quick with the math will realize that if this is true, she made it to 100, but she couldn’t tell anyone, not even her only child, that she had been living a lie for most of her life. Great story, and if it isn’t true, it should be.
Well, many of you are aware that we have in our midst, a dear lady who is about to turn one hundred—honestly and without challenge. On Sunday, September 23rd, Catherine Cubberley will do what only 1 in almost 6,000 Americans do. We should celebrate.
And celebrate we shall. The Elders are working at getting Catherine and her friends and family to be with us for our worship service that Sunday, and we will hold a reception at 11am following the 10am service to greet Mrs. Cubberley, share a few stories and honor her remarkable accomplishment. Plans are just starting, but you can rest assured that there will be cake . . . perhaps a party hat or two . . . and who knows what else. So, all of you get along over to the Hallmark store and get yourself a card to bring with you that day.
The only thing left to say is that five months from now, we will do it all over again as we help Jim Boswell celebrate his 100th. And the only other thing left to say after that is that while we celebrate these lives, we find ourselves giving thanks for the blessed lifetime of faith and witness that has been poured out in our midst. Catherine and Jim—thanks be to God for generous lifetimes of love and grace poured out before us.
Blessings and Peace,
#fccwilsonnc #ncdisciples #happy100th #100yearsyoung #ccdoc #theyareourheroes
I have been in a couple of places lately where all the cylinders did not seem to be firing: a warehouse store, a restaurant, an emergency room. What I mean is that people were moving slowly, if at all. If I tried to make eye contact with someone working there, what I mostly got was an immediate glance in another direction or at a computer screen. If I was persistent, I generally got short answers as the person stepped in a different direction.
I have been on the phone lately, talking to a couple of companies that seemed to have more important business to transact than talking to me: an internet store where I needed to make a return, a doctor’s office, a customer service entity. I say I was talking to these customer service representatives, but if I was striving for accuracy, I would say that I was on hold with these folks. And when I was actually engaged in conversation, it seemed to me that there existed a discernible lack of enthusiasm about the issues that had prompted my calls.
I launched a little problem-solving expedition a couple of weeks ago on behalf of a person who needed help getting some services to which we believed she was entitled. This required navigating a monolithic bureaucratic agency. Need I say more?
I entered the drive-through of one of our local establishments not long ago to order a breakfast sandwich and a large coffee – two Stevia, no cream. Twenty minutes later, I had my coffee – with cream and what I would judge to be no sweeteners. I did not drive away with a breakfast sandwich since they had run out. Understandable – it was already 7:30 am.
Now, believe it or not, my intent here is not to gripe or to tell anyone under the age of thirty how it was back in the day. No, what I want to report is that at every one of the establishments I have referenced above, I could also relay other very positive experiences – either eventually during these recent encounters or at some other call or visit. At every one of these enterprises, I have had occasions when someone greeted me with a smile or a cheery voice and worked diligently to serve or solve. Each time before the exchange ended, the person working with me checked to make sure that he or she had done everything they could to meet my needs. And they expressed their hope that the rest of my day would be wonderful, and they did it in a tone of voice that made me believe them.
How? Why? Explain it. I don’t know. Maybe I caught a few brand-new employees who hadn’t yet become cynical and irritated because of all the rudeness they endure on a daily, even hourly, basis. Perhaps. And in truth, I think what we most often pass forward is not the beautiful stuff. Rather, when someone treats us rudely, we are quite apt to treat the next person who walks in front of us in a foul way. Someone lies to us, we probably will be inclined to judge that the next person we meet is lying. Linda and I talk about this from time to time – she works in a world of people who have their hustle on, and yet it is crucial to her work that she not make any assumptions about the person who is walking into Hope Station. Because otherwise, we rob everyone of dignity. We can be strong and determined, but to banish trust and good-will from our encounters with our fellow-human beings is disastrous.
I think from time to time about an old Jimmy Buffet song about a happy streetsweeper:
He said, "It's my job to be cleaning up this mess
And that's enough reason to go for me
It's my job to be better than the rest
And that makes the day for me"
I’m not saying it is easy. I am not saying it comes naturally.
But it almost seems like living out faith to me . . .
being a light for our community . . .
being salt for our world.
Blessings and Peace,
Out at the end of our driveway, Linda has planted a garden where before there was only roots and hardscrabble ground. Looks pretty good, if I may say so. Anyway, I was watering the garden one morning last weekend while Linda was in Florida, when a woman who was out walking her dog passed by. She said, Your wife did a lovely job with the garden. I replied, Thank you. She helped me quite a bit. The woman hesitated before resuming her walk, but I heard her say under her breath, Your wife is the only one I ever saw working on it. Yes, some of our neighbors are busybodies.
The next day, I was out at the Glovers’ farm hoeing in our “Season of Faith” garden. I was using my new 2-prong/hoe with a telescoping, 34-inch handle (Lowes, $17.98) when John walked up, examined my work and said, So you actually can do a little farming. I did not like his attitude.
I ended up talking to my brother and complaining that my farming prowess has not been garnering the respect I feel I am due. I figured Dale would understand since he has completed all of the coursework and has received the title of “Master Gardener.” He keeps all of the Kansas family stocked throughout the summer with okra, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, peppers, squash and such. Anyway, Dale says, You know, Gary, I hear that the federal government pays some farmers not to grow crops. His voice trailed off, Maybe you could get in on that. Third child – need I say more?
Well, disrespect aside, I think this Season of Faith garden is going to prove to be a blessing – to me, at least. After our Saturday planting session, Linda and I got away to the beach for a couple of days, but on our journey back to Wilson, we traveled on the back roads: NC-50 out of Holly Ridge, staying north on NC-41, then on to NC-111. There are a lot of farms along that stretch. It was near dusk, the end of the work day, and everything seemed quiet. Faint memories floated through my head of some days spent a half century ago at a farmhouse sitting on a couple hundred acres of land between Sherman and Van Alstyne, Texas. Rocking on a porch . . . burning the day’s trash . . . looking out on the fields as darkness fell. Pure nostalgia wrested from no more than a handful of days in my life.
The thing is this: City life has made us look at work in different ways. Something to be done . . . something necessary . . . productive even. But not always something to be embraced. Vacations have become about getting away . . . far away. And I cannot tell you how many of my friends and family members talk for years about retiring before they actually can pull the trigger. I know a barrel of folks, who when they were fifty-some-odd years old with a life expectancy of eighty-plus, could not let a day pass without talking about the day they would retire.
But there I was, standing with my co-workers in a plowed field with a hoe in my hands as darkness began to envelope me. The half dozen rows that we had worked were pretty with the darker, up-turned soil showing and the nut grass chopped out. I even allowed myself a few minutes to wonder and worry about whether it was going to rain. Someone said we even had a couple of peppers on the plants – eight days of a garden and we already had a harvest on our hands. God is good, I know, but that doesn’t even begin to say it properly.
So, I hope you get away for a few days this summer. Away from your work. But I also hope you get to spend a few evenings surveying what you have accomplished here: a mowed yard, a painted fence, a mighty barbeque . . . whatever. And I hope you can taste and see that life is good and work can be holy. And that God blesses all of it. Amen and amen.
And remember one more thing –
I can hoe with the best of them, and don’t you forget it, John Glover.
Blessings and Peace,
#fccwilsonnc #ncdisciples #wanderings #revgarywalling #ccdoc #gardening #ourseasonoffaith #faithblog #allarewelcome #taketimeforyourself #icangardentoo
Linda and I spent a couple of days at the beach this past week. Topsail. The plan was to spend as many hours laying out on the sand as we could without incinerating our bodies . . . eat some seafood . . . and read.
The first afternoon we arrived, we dumped our luggage and headed over the dune and down to the beach. We spent a few minutes trying to erect a little tent we had purchased that would supply a scrap of shade. Then we slathered suntan lotion on our pasty bodies, laid out the beach chairs and plopped down for the duration of the afternoon. But you know what hot summer days in eastern North Carolina mean as well as I do. It was not all that long before we heard some rumbling in the skies . . . off to the north. It got closer and the skies got darker. We probably hadn’t been out more than an hour or so when we saw the first bolt of lightning. A few minutes later, we saw another. Some folks up and down the beach began to close up and head to safer places. And though we did not want to, we decided to do the same. Chairs, towels and tent came up in reverse order, and after a little climb, we found ourselves on the back porch of the cottage watching the rain and the bolts of lightning. The storm made itself known with gusting wind and the sights and sounds of the lightning and thunder. But Linda and I just rocked away peacefully – safe from the storm, inside our shelter.
As the week progressed, and another afternoon storm blew through, I found myself thinking about a story that Garrison Keillor once told entitled, Storm Home.
When I get scared now, one of the ways that I have of quieting myself down is to think back on when I entered Fourth Grade and so didn’t go to Sunnyside School anymore but caught the school bus to go into town to go to Lake Wobegon High School. And Mr. Hedman was the Principal there, and though it was September, he was already thinking ahead to winter and to the blizzards we had every year. And on the first day of school, each of us children who rode the bus in from the country was handed a little slip of paper that said, 'Your storm home is and then a name', and each of us was assigned to someone’s home in town where if a blizzard came during the school day, they wouldn’t try to ship us home on the buses, but we would go to our storm home and spend the night there.
Mine was the Krugers. My storm home was the Krugers, an old couple who lived in a little green cabin down by the lake. And I can see it now because I have walked past it so many times. . . . It was the kind of house that if you were a child and lost in a dark forest and came across it in a clearing, you would know that there was a kindly old couple living there that would take you in and rescue you, and that you were a lucky child who had gotten in a story with a happy ending. . . . I often dreamed of going to see them when things got hard. Blizzards aren’t the only storms, you know, and not necessarily the worst thing that can happen to a child. And I often dreamed of going and knocking on the door. And she’d open the door and say, Oh, it’s you. I knew you’d come some day. Won’t you come it. Get out of those wet clothes. Come on into the kitchen and I’m going to make you some hot chocolate. Would you like an oatmeal cookie? . . .
I never did go there. We never had any blizzards that came during the day that year or the year after that. They were all convenient blizzards – evening, weekend blizzards. But they became a big part of my imagination. But I always thought that I could go to the Krugers. And I didn’t, I guess, because all of my troubles were bearable troubles, but I am certain that they were more bearable for imagining that the Krugers were there. (Garrison Keillor, “Storm Home,” Winter – Stories from Lake Wobegon)
The writer of the Second Gospel gives us this story about a storm that blew up on the Sea of Galilee. You heard the story – Jesus is asleep . . . the disciples wake him . . . he calms the storm. And the first thing that I would offer is that it is hard to believe that the story is really about a storm at the beach. As Keillor says, Blizzards aren’t the only storms . . . and not necessarily the worst thing that can happen. Most of us have lived long enough to have been through a blizzard or a lightning storm or even a hurricane, and I doubt we would say that any of those days have been the worst days of our lives. Because most of us have lived long enough to have been through some other storms . . . storms which shook the very ground beneath our feet, but not because of anything that Mother Nature was throwing at us. Illness, loss, fear, pain. Oh, there are other kinds of storms in this life that are much worse than some rain and wind and lightning. And there is a promise in our story that if Jesus is in the boat with us, we will be able to weather those horrible storms . . . that in time, we will again step out on solid ground.
But the other thing that I want us to think about this morning is the question that is put to Jesus in the story: Don’t you care? Don’t you care about us? That, of course, is a crucial question.
Well, I said that Garrison Keillor’s story about his storm home came to me because of the beach storms I rocked through earlier this week, but truth be told, I think the story came back to me because of all the other disturbing events of the week: children crying . . . separated from parents . . . the cages. Blizzards aren’t the only storms, said Keillor, and not
necessarily the worst thing that can happen to a child.
Now before any of you say that that is political and not a proper topic for preaching, let me say that is ridiculous. First, I know that it is political. I know it is political because of all the demagoguery that has been flying around. I know that it is political because there has been so little desire to solve and so much intent to blame. I know that it is political, but here is the thing – it is not only political. Anyone who would tell me that is simply wrong. When we begin to consider how we will treat others, we are in the purview of faith. We are back to wrestling with one of the first questions that we, the created, asked our Creator in scripture: Am I my brother’s keeper? And how we answer that is profoundly an expression of faith.
So let me tell you why the events of this week have hit me so hard . . . have created such anguish. In the end, it isn’t the politics as frustrating as that may be. And oddly, it is not the human suffering, as awful as that seems to be. Not the pain or the hurt. Not those things, because we have known such suffering. The United Nations refugee office reports that 68 million people had to flee their homes last year – an all-time high. 68 million. So, we have seen suffering that far outstrips what we are seeing now on our southern border. Not that we should ever be desensitized to pain and suffering. But that is not what has created such a crisis of faith for me.
It is something else. It is something in the news coverage where people who have had microphones shoved in their faces in diners are saying, Stop trying to make me feel guilty about the children . . . it’s their parents’ fault . . . they shouldn’t even be there . . . I don’t care!
There, that’s it.
I have read it and heard it too many times in the past week from people I don’t know. Christians mostly, I am guessing.
I don’t care.
But I have heard it from people I do know. Friends. People I love. Facebook has become an awful thing where people seem to be able to rant about anything. I don’t care! I even heard these words: They are not our children. Where do we come up with words like that? Not them . . . us. Church people. People of faith. Christians. I ask again – where do those words come to us – because I cannot fathom that they come from scripture? What came to my mind was a time when Jesus said, Let the children come to me and do not forbid them, in the face of the disciples saying, they are not even supposed to be here.
Leave the politics out there.
We are in God’s sanctuary now, and I am left to wonder – as a Christian . . . as a person of faith . . . as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: what is happening, to us – to our souls, to our goodness – that we could say such a thing?
I don’t care!
They woke him up. He was sleeping, but they woke him up. And in their heart of hearts, they cried out to him, do you not care?
It is a question that we ask him . . . it is a question, I am sure, that he asks us. It is a question that is hanging there still.
#fccwilsonnc #ccdoc #ncdisciples #dontwecare #idontcare #storms #stillingthestorm
A sermon preached by Rev. Gary Walling to the congregation of First Christian Church, Wilson, North Carolina on June 24, 2018.
Linda likes to power wash.
She borrowed William Wooten’s power washer over the recent Memorial Day weekend and spent two days spewing water out of a wand that she was pointing at any sign of dirt or mildew that came into view. She started on a fence we intend to paint, but before she was done, she had cleaned the front porch and sidewalk, the back patio, the carport, the driveway, a fair amount of the brick on the house, the grates on my barbeque grill, a birdhouse and three birdfeeders, and one of our neighbor’s dogs who was out for a walk. It is a fine looking Golden Lab, by the way, whose coat has taken on a lovely sheen.
During the two days, I asked at least a dozen times if I could have a turn, only to hear her say “no” an equal number of times. My job was to keep running to the gas station to fill
up our 1.5-gallon gas can – a size, in retrospect, that was nowhere near adequate. Otherwise, I kept myself occupied by mowing, trimming, blowing, cleaning gutters . . . and getting a fine case of poison ivy. Something about the results of the weekend struck me as unfair.
My whole life, my sisters have told me that I have been simple minded since birth. My brother never says anything like that; he just looks at me and shakes his head. As do my children.
Linda generally just gives me a sweet smile. Which she can do since she is not battling a case of poison ivy.
Anyway, that is pretty much the reason that I was up at 4am this morning, sitting in my recliner. Couldn’t sleep. I was busy itching and wondering how long I had to wait to put the next layer of calamine lotion on my hands. That gave me a couple of hours to listen to the talking heads explore the Roseanne Barr tweet storm/rant/cancellation.
And while my sisters may be correct about my simple-mindedness, even I can grasp that comparing an African-American woman to an ape is offensive, racist, deplorable and
perhaps another thirty or forty adjectives, adverbs and nouns. I am slightly reassured that I am not seeing much of a defense being mounted. Her words, after all, ought to embarrass
family, friends, political parties, Hollywood personalities, educational institutions, and most particularly any person who believes in a God who created all of us. Lastly (and least of all), the tweet in question gave Ambien a bad name.
Okay. I’m done. Probably one rant does not deserve another, but there I sat with nothing to do but itch. After a half hour, I reached for the television remote, flicked a button and settled in to listen to the talking sports heads assure me that my Cleveland Cavaliers have no chance to beat the Warriors. I feel another rant coming. The best basketball player in the
world suiting up in burgundy and blue.
So, I just sat there in my recliner until the light of dawn began
to glow. Mostly, I just thought about how nice it would be if we could power wash souls as easily as we can hose down a driveway. There are some stains that need to be hit and hit hard. And I know just the person to do it. I’ll go for the gas. But we all know that the blemishes, discoloration and mildew on the inside of us is harder to clean than whatever dirt settles on the outside. I rather imagine that is what Jesus was suggesting when he said, Listen and understand: it is not what
goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.
To be sure, we live in a rough talking time. But we, of all people, need to understand that the words that come out of mouths can do immense harm.
Blessings and Peace,
#ccdoc #ncdisciples #fccwilsonnc #poisonivy #couldntsleep
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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.