In this visioning journey on which we've set sail, I volunteered to serve on the committee that writes a state-of-the-church narrative. Producing the narrative was one of the five recommendations in the Report on Congregational Health that a consultation generated last summer.
So when the five committees gather regularly around five tables in the Fellowship Hall to talk and plan, I sit at my table alone with enough pens and paper and markers for a whole team. Theresa Mathis moves among the tables, guiding and encouraging. Keeping tabs. When she gets to mine, she asks the same question she's posed to all the others, “Well, Bob, how's the conversation going here?”
“Fascinating,” I say. I guess I'm the only one who enjoys researching the past to write about the present. Chasing after the future must suit everyone else far better.
You can read the report when I'm done. It's six single-spaced pages so far. And growing. I'm sure it will be fascinating. So here are a few early fascinating observations. Back in 2005, there was another consultation. Maybe you remember. Average church attendance was 212 back then, and Sunday School was at 90 percent capacity for all ages. And yet, we lamented our present. “Where are the old days when we were better?” The church in decline needed help, a new direction.
The consultation talked about repairing the organ, building ramps, fixing lights, shortening pews, widening spaces, adding signs, changing here and there, inventing this and that. Since it seems I'm stuck on the word fascinating, I find it fascinating that 17 years later, in 2022, with daily church attendance far below 100 and Sunday School on life support, the laments of our latest consultation are essential the same as before. And again we are changing and inventing.
Father Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, wrote in a recent daily meditation about German scholar Heinrich Zimmer (1890–1943), who studied sacred images and their relationship to spirituality. Zimmer concluded, “The best things can’t be told: the second-best are misunderstood.” So we settle for easy talk about the “third-best things” – things like lamenting attendance and counting money and fixing things and changing here and there. It's a conversation that generates a reassuring sense of our own authority and a “sense of certitude, order and control.”
We ask third-best questions that require only third-best answers.
Those questions are necessary for forecasting and rebuilding structures and programs. But if they're all we ask, then our inquiries reveal a very common degree of spiritual poverty, Father Rohr says. There are also richer questions to ask. And richer answers to contemplate. Admission of that poverty, Father Rohr writes, “should keep us humble, curious, and searching for God. I offer that as hard-won wisdom.”
So, maybe while Jamie's here, he can help redirect someone like me, who spends hours and days fascinated about answering third-best questions, to admit his spiritual poverty. Maybe he can point the way to second-best things that point to first-best things. Maybe he can clear up misunderstandings. Maybe he can lead a new, richer and deeper, spiritual consultation. Maybe we'll learn both to work and to wonder. Maybe someone else will join my table.
Watch for my report soon.
Now entering my third week here, I’m slowly beginning to figure out what I’m doing, and praying that your patience will hold out! I’ve already made one mistake (I forgot to tell you to pick up the yard signs for Pentecost on May 22!) and am setting up a file to record my future ones, which I am sure will be many. But patience is a good trait, and we talked about it some at the recent Young at Heart lunch, so I have high expectations that you will consider any mistakes I make in the near future just one more opportunity to practice that virtue.
Pentecost will soon be upon us, and it’s my prayer that many of you will be in town to celebrate the birth of the church universal that day. I’m asking you to wear something noticeably RED, the liturgical color for the day. An interesting (to me) side note is that we ministers have red stoles we use only one day each year, Pentecost, unless we are attending an ordination, in which case we get to dig out the red stole again and wear it. You’ll find me robed and red on Pentecost, so someone please remember to turn on the A/C a few hours ahead of worship time!!
There is a lot going on here. I’m especially intrigued by the vision teams and what they are trying to do. I hope at some point in September we’ll all sit down over a big meal together and discuss the implications of doing this work as opposed to NOT doing it. From what I can tell, the vision teams are putting together plans that the whole church needs embrace and actually do. Christianity is not as much about beliefs as it is about doing (as illustrated by my favorite parable, the Sheep and the Goats). Doing nothing is just saying, “Lord, Lord,” and Jesus was pretty clear about the dangers of taking that route.
A few years ago, a friend of mine was talking with a church researcher from the Alban Institute, Rev. Loren Mead. Mead said to him that the church has three tasks to perform, and all are important and necessary to stay alive: love God (worship and personal prayer); love each other (looking after our own within these walls); and loving the world (service and mission outside these walls). We cannot neglect any of these and call ourselves “Christian.” Saint Teresa of Avila said that we are the body of Christ: his hands, his feet, his voice. Un-saint Jamie says unless we do the things that Jesus would do, unless Christ is our first and basic foundation, then the Church, and Christianity, will be nothing but one more fairy tale that no one really believes.
How about it?
Let’s be the church!!!
Spending most of my summer and fall after graduating from N.C. Wesleyan College in 1970 at Fort Polk, Louisiana, was not part of my plans. I'd studied four years to be a biologist. Now Army basic training and advanced individual training were to be my new courses. I'd graduate again in November, this time in uniform with a rank and a military occupational specialty. Infantry.
Basic training, in addition to fundamental military skills, taught the men in my training company, Alpha One One, a new way of thinking. During nine hot weeks, we set aside the old, sometimes not very willingly, and absorbed Army new.
One July afternoon, during hand-to-hand combat training in the sawdust pit, I had a nose-tonose conversation with Drill Sergeant Reno, who didn't care for my morning shave. I was only 22, and I didn't shave every day yet – there were no whiskers. Only a little fuzz. Like a tender peach.
“Your face isn't up to standard, trainee! Do you understand me?” “Yes, Drill Sergeant!”
From then on, I took the razor every morning, and I shaved my face naked. That six-month journey was the transition from civilian to soldier. From old to new. From fuzz to whiskers. Drill Sergeant Reno made his point loudly, and I learned a valuable lesson – just let
It wasn't easy.
This next period of time at First Christian Church is only weeks old and could stretch months and months and months. Maybe beyond. For me, it will be a kind of spiritual basic training – a time to set aside the old, to await actively what will be new. What I recall fondly about my church and hope to be true once more, what I didn't care for and want no part of again, what I wish to be fresh in the future belong to me alone. They're old baggage, really. And they will get in my way. They will interfere with my waiting. I took thoughts like those about my own young life to Louisiana more than 50 years ago. And I left them there. And I came home new. And far better.
Almost seven years ago, Gary preached a sermon titled “Leader of the Band.” It's one of the fabulous dozen in kernels from a farmer's pulpit.
He wrote and spoke:
“What if he means to say that it is so easy to make our accommodation with the existing order that we stop raising our eyes to the horizon and believing in something better … something more holy?
How, after all, shall we prepare the way of the Lord if our lives are filled with everything else?
How can we open ourselves to new ways of thinking and acting and seeing the world until we clear some room? And yes, it may feel like trauma … upheaval … something crashing down. But the surest way to avoid the new is to hold fast to the old.”
We've published our call for new leadership and a new tomorrow. It's time to let change happen. It's time to clear some room. It's time to look to the horizon. It's time to wait for something new because new is coming … if only we will let it.
Old is already here.
Let it go.
I have it on good authority.
Drill Sergeant Reno said so.
March 1, 2022
Hello from the Elders,
At each bi-monthly meeting (and at other times individually), the Elders pray by name for those among us who need special care. We receive those names and circumstances primarily from the senior minister. Those prayer concerns are up-to-the-moment current and correspond to the list shared during Sunday worship.
Until an interim minister arrives, and probably beyond, the Elders will assume the primary responsibility for gathering/receiving information about those who need prayer (and their circumstances).
If you have an emergency, new or ongoing prayer requests or updates you'd like to share about those already on our prayer list, please direct that information to Jeannette Etheridge. Jeannette will share with the Elders or others as situations require and with the congregation during Sunday worship prior to a pastoral prayer offered by one of our upcoming visiting ministers. The Elders are bound by the same discretions about sharing personal information that you would expect from clergy.
Consistent with our call to be the spiritual leaders of the church, the Elders are committed to continuing a deep level of pastoral care and concern during the weeks ahead when ministerial leadership will be absent. Our ability to fulfill our role depends on the congregation's devotion to identifying and sharing concerns about those who might need care.
As Elders, our responsibility to this congregation is a full-time duty. However, we are not fully present in the daily traffic that directs the course of each church day. And we do not hold special pastoral privilege, nor are we privy to the trusted channels of communication that a senior minister cultivates over time. The seven Elders will depend on you to help us continue to share the love and concern that makes this congregation special.
On behalf of Todd Brame, Wanda Brown, Jeannette Etheridge, Kathy Sandifer, Tish Scott and Wanda Sutton, and with prayers for peace and good,
Chair of the Elders
It has been quite a party. And I don’t just mean yesterday, which was touching and joyous and beautiful and perhaps another dozen adjectives. But I am thinking of more than yesterday - for ten years, my work with you, friends, has been quite a party. I am grateful beyond words. I tried to express that yesterday, but maybe that is what beyond words means. No matter what I say or how many words come out of my mouth, it fails to convey the depth of what I feel. But let me give it one more shot in this last Wanderings.
First, I am going to set-out some boundaries and rules – I shall not name names. Yes, I was aware of the numbers of people in the building last week: setting up tables, putting on tablecloths, washing dishes, gathering food, decorating and more. I caught glimpses of the sneaking around getting old photos and contacting friends from way back. I overheard some prep for pieces of my favorite music. And more. I may not have had the whole thing figured out, but I caught glimpses of what was happening out and about. But I shall not name names, not so much out of the fear of leaving one name off (which is a worry), but because I have only so much space here. And as I say, my deep gratitude is for yesterday, but even more, for a decade. I know who you are and what you have done for me – recently and for a long time. Thank-you.
Second, I am going to name names. I cannot imagine being blessed by better colleagues. Casey has been a remarkable partner for the entirety of my time here. I came to have confidence in her early on as someone who would trust my impulses for worship and whose instincts I could trust as well. Her passion, creativity and good spirit have been a blessing. Charles came to help me go on sabbatical without too many anxieties, and apparently, he hasn’t found the door out of the building yet. His constant question to me is always, You need anything from me? He has met every want and more. Connie comes in each week and takes care of all things financial– and by all, I mean ALL. It is a tight ship she runs, but she has even forgiven me for a few lost receipts over the years. These three have been more than colleagues – one of the few descriptions I would put above the respectful colleagues is the warm friends. Casey, Charles, and Connie are friends.
I have shared this office with other colleagues through the years, and I have been blessed by a never-ending line of Board Chairs, Officers, Elders, Deacons, Committee Heads, and wonderful people who have shouldered our ministry and served Christ through our common life. I am back to not naming names, but my life is richer for each and every one of you.
Okay – a couple more names. It meant everything to have Kristen and Jeff in for the day; Ryan and Ali tuned in from 1,700 miles west. I hope my children can say that having ministers for parents has not ruined their lives, but I know there have been some days that were bewildering. Plus, they were shamefully ignored for an entire month before all of their formative Christmases. I love these four young people, and the last thing you should want is for me to begin talking about how proud I am of the people they are – you won’t be able to shut me up. And Linda. We were each ministers when we married, which has made for an odd personal/professional stew. I would never have wanted for my work to overshadow hers, but you know her well enough to grasp that such a concern was never well-founded. She has been a Christian educator, church musician, ecumenist, health care advocate, and servant of those who are poor or homeless. I cannot conceive of my ministry apart from hers. She is the love of my life, and I know that the smartest thing I have ever done is say Yes when she proposed to me.
This has become way too long, dear friends, but this is what is on my heart on this last day as your Minister. I look forward to continuing to share life and faith with you in the years to come – in a different role, but as authentically as ever. And may God bless us with something to laugh about.
Blessings and Peace,
We were in Raleigh recently – Linda was there to exchange something at Macy’s and I was there to make our obligatory Costco run. As we prepared to head back east, she asked if I was thirsty. Well, I’m always thirsty, so she steered the car through a McDonalds where you can get any size drink for $1. The problem was that actually you can get any size drink for $1.07. The further problem was that I had a couple of twenties, a ten, a five, and an assortment of ones but no coin. And there was a sign pleading for us to pay with exact change. Do you think there is really a shortage of coins?, she asked. Makes no sense to me, I replied to which she countered, I understand that it is because the pandemic has driven people to online buying so that we are not paying with coins as much.
Ever the thinker, I said, Perhaps, but then again, if we are not dealing in cash as much, we aren’t being given change, right? Well, now we were at the window, Linda apologized while she handed the cashier my three dollar bills, and a moment later got one of the bills handed back to her, thus verifying that the coin shortage is a real thing. Our study of the matter lasted past Knightdale, and I would report it to you except I am imagining that you are all giving thanks you were not imprisoned in our car that evening suffocating with boredom. (Subsequently, I have discovered that early in the pandemic, the U S Mint was producing fewer coins because of worker shortages, but I verified that Linda, as usual, was correct, about the cause of the continuing shortage – we are not circulating coins though I still would argue that businesses aren’t circulating them back.)
Well, that set me to thinking about other shortages. Before our first storm of the year, I paid more than $7 for one of the last two cartons of eggs in Harris Teeter – organic and free-range as it were – an extravagance necessitated by broad supply line problems and exacerbated by weather conditions. There were several other cartons in the refrigerator section, but they all had broken eggs in them. My guess is that every mom in Wilson was planning a special breakfast for the impending snow day.
Any of you who do the shopping for your families have seen it. Brisket was over $5 a pound at Costco—untrimmed brisket which is like $10 per pound when you cut/cook away all the fat and gristle. Gatorade has been sparse on the shelves in the past year or so. I have been able to get it, but a couple of times I have had to drink blue instead of red. Could not find any decent lettuce a couple of weeks ago. Elaine asked me to fetch her some Lactaid vanilla ice cream, but chocolate was all they had. Yes, I have lost some weight, but the truth is that it has been an accident.
Okay, put the trivialities aside and let’s look at a more serious shortage. I give platelets regularly, and I have been getting a constant barrage of messages from the Red Cross about the shortages of blood products. The day after I donate, I get a message pleading with me to donate again. I can’t, I want to say, for another six days. I assumed that they were just doing what they do, but then I discovered that this blood shortage is more than real – elective surgeries are being postponed because blood donations have dropped more than 10% since March of 2020. Before that, the need for blood products had been rising 6% annually while donations were going up 3%.
But here is the hopeful piece in all this. In running through a couple of articles to check my stats, I ran across one person’s reflection about the shortage of blood products who observed that the good thing is that it is in our power to fix. Of course, it is. We are not short of A+ blood, plasma, or platelets because the blood volume of the average American has dropped from 10 pints to 6 in the past couple of years. No, this is a shortage that is eminently solvable. I don’t know about all of the shortages I have mentioned, but my guess is that many may fall into that category.
And theologically, our proclamation ought to be one of abundance. Is that not the whole point of Jesus feeding the multitude? The disciples saw the situation as a problem – we don’t have enough. Jesus said we have plenty if we just come together and share. The possibilities are endless. Let us remember that the next time we feel like running around like Chicken Little. No, the sky is not falling. Together, we’ve got this.
But here is one more thing you can do. The next time one of you is at Triangle Town Mall, go through Mickey-D’s and give them 14 cents. Tell them your preacher is worthless.
Blessings and Peace,
After 10 years as Senior Minister at First Christian, Gary Walling has signaled his intention to begin his retirement on March 1, 2022.
The Shepherd, the Farmer, and the Apple Butter Maker
The shepherd, the farmer, and the apple butter maker. This could be a great opening line for a sermon, right? Maybe someone should tell Gary. By the way, you know these three. And, hopefully you will agree that, together, they share a great story…
The shepherd has cared for numerous flocks across the country over the course of his 40+ years in the shepherding business. And, during these last 10 years, he has been the faithful shepherd of a flock he found in Wilson—providing spiritual guidance, abiding love, and comforting counsel.
With a commanding presence for a shepherd, he’s quite gentle in nature. His caring heart guides his words of spiritual influence, and his calm demeanor is welcomed when he reaches out his hand to those in pain or grief. He speaks softly into the ears of his lambs, especially those newborn for whom he prays, as he cradles them in his arms and casually walks down the center aisle of the church to introduce them to their new church family.
Known for his monthly “Wanderings,” this wind-weathered shepherd will be forever young in spirit. He has a penchant for tunes by Jackson Browne, but like Jimmy Buffet, he seems to have “a school boy heart and a novelist eye.” He’s extremely well read, from the masters of great literature to the books of thoughtful philosophers and faithful theologians. Each Sunday, he shares deep thoughts for parishioners’ contemplation, as he combines the sacred Word with engaging questions for our consideration.
Never a loner, this shepherd often reaches out into the community to serve in a variety of roles, including but not limited to emceeing “Seeds of Hope’s “Family Feud” fundraiser and overseeing Hope Station’s annual Halloween Golf Tournament. And, following a season of community-led Lenten services, he’s often found helping to carry the cross with fellow Christians on Good Friday.
We know the farmer as a multi-tasker. His work ethic is strong; he’s up early and often home late from weekly meetings. He can always be found among volunteers on selected Saturdays, spreading bales of pine straw, trimming shrubbery, applying a fresh coat of paint where needed, or helping to re-wire a light. He’s been known to jump on a tractor and till the rows for planting come “sprouting” season. And, he’s planted a bounty of crops over the past decade, including hope, gratitude, choices, and even imagination — always harvesting during the “Season of Faith.” Even in the midst of the COVID pandemic, he harnessed his team to glean the fruits of past harvests so that the congregation could celebrate its milestone Sesquicentennial Celebration with joy and thanksgiving.
The apple butter maker always finds ways to nourish others. He knows the right ingredients and spices to blend the perfect batch of ribbon-worthy apple butter. So too, he recognizes what his FCC family needs. Whether through food, or fellowship, or comforting conversation and prayer, he’s always reaching out. He’s quick to suggest “tossing some hotdogs on the grill” to feed the crowd bringing donations for Hope Station. He keeps spirits high with his tongue-in-cheek sarcasm while supporting the Boston butt grill-masters, and he never misses an opportunity to praise the bakers that donate their famous coconut and chocolate cakes and sweet potato, pumpkin, apple, and cherry pies. He loves to fill the fellowship hall with his FCC family and tables laden with bountiful spreads. And, at Christmas, he joins his flock to serve lunch and offer fellowship to those from the surrounding community whose spirits are in need of warmth and kindness. However, this apple butter maker serves best when he presides over The Table where everyone has a place. He never tires of reminding us that the Lord has prepared a meal for all who are hungry and all who thirst.
You know the shepherd, the farmer, and the apple butter maker. They are in our midst as a man of God - perhaps even better known as the Reverend Gary Walling, Pastor Gary, or just “Gary.” He is all three, faithfully serving our congregation for the past decade.
This month, we celebrate the Reverend Gary Walling’s multi-talented ministry, and we thank him for his many gifts and graces shared with us for these many years. You will not want to miss this last month of Sunday services led by Reverend Walling. No doubt, the shepherd, the farmer, and the apple butter maker will make us feel welcomed, nourished, and loved.
We prepare to enter into another Season of Faith which, of course, is about stewardship, but under Bob Kendall’s guiding hand, our SOF is always about far more than money. (The designers of every commercial campaign will tell you that it is really about faith rather than money, but in how Our Season has been conceived over the years, that is true.) Anyway, my angst this year is that OSOF, coming as it is after the hoopla of the Sesquicentennial Celebration, will get no more than a cursory glance. Let’s all slow down enough to let Our Season speak to us.
This year, we are being challenged to reflect upon our personal Founders – those men and women who helped give us the gift of faith. I encourage you to have a seat, to take an hour, and to think about your journey . . . to evaluate the ones that helped show you the way.
Parents will be on many of our lists – they are on mine. Grandparents perhaps. Aunts or uncles or such. Youth sponsors. Ministers are apt to make the list, I suppose, and my list would include Myron Willard, Edwin Kirtley, and David Matthews – preachers from my childhood, youth, and college years. Al Pennybacker, my mentor, is way up the list. And because I love words, I can quote portions of sermons I have read or heard from the mouths of Carlyle Marney, Frederick Buechner and Fred Craddock. All of these, and many more, are due some credit (or blame, depending on your perspective) for who I have become.
In recent days, I have been thinking about some words spoken by one of those others – a fellow by the name of Gilbert Davis who was a minister, but whose ministry was mostly devoted to raising money for Texas Christian University and Brite Divinity School. Gilbert and Hilda were members of University Christian Church where I worked during and after seminary, and I got to know them during those years. But it was much later that Gilbert spoke the words that have bounced around in my head and heart since. He was preaching at one of our General Assemblies, and the closing words to his sermon went something like this:
When we die and our will is read, our boys may be in for a big surprise. Oh, there will be something in there for them, but it may not be as much as they were anticipating. I hope they won’t be shocked and I hope they won’t be hurt. But of all things, God forbid that in that moment what they learn is that their old man preached one Gospel and lived another.
Now let me be clear – I am not quoting Gilbert to anchor this year’s OSOF. We are not talking about money, because he wasn’t talking about money either. Not really. What Gilbert was saying was that the easiest thing in the world is to announce what matters to us, but the world will see what we hold dear by the way we live.
And I don’t offer up the words to suggest that I am the best example of stewardship or that my life should be the model for how all Christians should live. No, I suppose the reason I have remembered Gilbert’s words all these years is not because they validate my life but rather because they press me to constantly question my living. What I mean to say is that I can declare for all the world to know that I love Jesus, but would anyone know that if I did not shout it? I can wear t-shirts with holy slogans and I can put bumper stickers on my car; I can even put it all out on Facebook, but that is not nearly enough. I can say I care about the poor, but do I act like I care: do I support local hunger and housing programs . . . do I lobby for legislation that is compassionate and vote accordingly? Saying I believe in prayer and praying are two distinctly different things. Promoting the virtues of forgiving while not speaking to a half-dozen people rather leaves your conviction about forgiveness out in the cold.
I trust you get me, or more accurately, I trust you get Gilbert. So, I hope that you will spend a little time to consider and name your personal Founders. My strong suspicion is that when you have your list and you review your names, you will discover that the chief reason those people made your list is because they have lived the same Gospel they spent their lives preaching.
Blessings and Peace,
We are going to house The Arc this summer. Not that ark. The Arc . . . of Wilson County.
This organization serves those people in our community who have developmental disabilities, and two summers ago, FCC provided space for their day camp. So, I can speak firsthand to what a remarkable job the staff and volunteers do with these young people.
After a year off due to Covid, it is good to have them returning this summer.
And some of that is what is on my mind. I am thinking about this past year when The
Ark – and pretty much every other group – was absent. When we think about the past year, much of what grieves us is what we personally have missed: family get-togethers, holiday gatherings, favorite restaurants (some of which did not survive), movies and popcorn in a bigscreen theater, workouts at the gym, and much more. As for me, my sabbatical imploded . . .
my modest string of blue ribbons from the county and state fairs for my apple butter was
nipped. And, of course, here at 207 Tarboro St., we have mourned our inability to worship together, to study together, and to eat together. We have been left to care about our sick and homebound from afar, and we have laid some dear friends to rest in cemeteries standing at a distance and forgoing hugs with others who shared the loss. We have missed so much – personally and collectively.
But if we can hit the pause button on that, maybe we can get out of ourselves enough
to recognize that loss which has been more communal. Our building has been something of a ghost town for many of these months, missing not just our folks but missing those who we have welcomed to do good work, even ministry, in this place. Like The Ark . . . and the Girl Scouts . . . and others. Advent/Lenten noon concerts and community worship services went virtual if they happened at all. We have missed hosting Music for Hope and other community concerts. We have shelved our annual summer food drive, and without people passing through the building, our regular food collection has been meager. With schools closed, our schoolyear CHEW program was not possible. Oh, we managed to open the doors for critical blood drives and pulled off a variation of our Christmas Community Lunch, and volunteers have continued to help at the Hope Station food pantry, with the summer CHEW program and elsewhere in the community. But you grasp my point – the loss we have suffered because of the Virus is not just personal but is collective and communal.
You have seen on the front page that we are taking a giant step towards a more normal
church life. I am overseeing this step with some angst and worry, but also with some significant relief . . . with the hopefulness that as our building begins to fill again, our sense of discipleship and commitment to serve and compassion for those given to our care by Christ himself also will swell. I am filled with optimism that First Christian Church is not just open for business, but that we are open for ministry.
So, welcome back to our blessed friends from the Arc. And for the rest of us, remember
to snag a bag of groceries next time you are coming to church. Paint a wall or clean the
kitchen or plant some flowers – whatever you can do to welcome people to FCC. Because if this resumption of church life and activity is only about what we personally have missed in the past year, then why would we think it even matters.
Blessings and Peace,
There is a flow to our worship life . . . a mood, if you will. Not every worship experience is supposed to be the same as the one before or the one to come. And so, there are seasons for our worshipping.
There is a flow to our worship life, and this, of course, derives from the fact that there is a flow to our lives and hence to our faith. While we may strive for some consistency, the reality is that we find ourselves up or down at any given moment which means the particular word that we most need may differ in any given moment: encouragement or caution . . . forgiveness or a calling to account . . . a plea for understanding or a push toward conviction.
There is a flow to our worship life, which is why I have found the lectionary so useful over the years of my preaching. It covers the landscape. It takes me to the passages I might not have gotten to on my own. And it has born out my belief that rather than vertical, truth is always discovered in the tension of opposing attributes. Grace would seem to be everything, yet it means nothing without taking judgment seriously. Guilt and
Forgiveness are both true, but each is revealed in its relationship with the other. Get too far to one side of the tension, and the truth erodes.
There is a flow to our worship life. This notion presses on me especially during Holy Week each year. It is easy to be in such a rush to get to Easter that we rush through the week . . . we just drop the palms and run to the empty tomb . . . move straight from our hosannas to our alleluias. Of course, the opposite can be true. Some people are mesmerized by the thirty-nine lashes and the nailed hands – it is all sacrifice and suffering. And, we have witnessed people whose faith is expressed in each of these extremes – a dreariness that pushes people away or an enthusiasm that cannot relate to real life.
Take the week – the entirety of it – as the horrible and lovely gift that it is. Hear the shouting crowds – plural remember – the crowd that shouted for him and the one later in the week who called for his crucifixion. Consider whether you can hear your own voice in the screams of either or both of the masses. Go to the upper room – chew and sip. Visit Gethsemane. Stand out in the cold and see if anyone accuses you of being one of his followers.
Get acquainted with Barabbas and make up your mind again about which man you prefer to see set free. Do what ever helps you to experience the highs and the lows of these days. (I will confess to having spent some Holy Saturday hours walking through cemeteries.)
There is a flow to our worship life.
Blessings and Peace,
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.