Monday, November 26, 2012

A Passion to Witness

Several years ago the United Methodist Church (General conference) added to our membership vows the word “witness”. We now uphold the church with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness. We added the word but it’s difficult to get a handle on. I grew up in Union, SC, a small mill town. In our county alone, there were 17 Baptist Churches and 13 United Methodist churches. That doesn’t add in all the others, including Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal, Catholic, and Church of God, and Church of Christ, to name a few. It seemed in those days that everybody went to church, although I knew it wasn’t so. Some of my friends did not go to church. They were good people, but they didn’t go to church. Some of my own family did not go to church. I remember some cousins who would show up at our house on Sunday mornings as we were getting ready to go to church. My mother would say: “We are going to church and we would love to have you join us…or, you can stay here until we get back.” They never went with us but the invitation was always given. My mother wasn’t going to let anything or anybody keep us from getting to church. She was nothing if not hard-headed, I mean, committed. She stood up for her own faith. That’s the witness I grew up with. I also remember a young man who came to our door on a Sunday afternoon and sat on the front porch witnessing to my mother. He tried to tell her she wasn’t saved unless she had been immersed. My mother loved a good argument, and she gave him what for. It was fun to watch. I remember some Jehovah’s Witnesses who came by a couple of times and my mother was always ready for them. That’s what I remember as witness. That and the Mormon’s who rode bicycles and wore white shirts. Now, every once in a while my grandmother’s Baptist friend out the street would visit my grandmother, who lived with us. When she came to see my grandmother, we knew that the preacher at her church the Sunday before had gotten on them for not witnessing enough. And, though my grandmother was a good Methodist, she let her friend witness. Now, in some of the churches I have served, I have found that most of them were family. The only way to get into the church was to marry into it. I remember when I was a boy that a few times someone from the neighborhood would come to our church and they would get “run off” as my mother said by someone who didn’t want their kind in our church. Now, the culture is much different. You can’t even say God without getting into trouble sometimes. But, I live and work in a culture where there are large and small churches, and churches of every brand and stripe. It’s become a real competition for people in the community. Also, in our area Christians witness has been abused by those who almost attack and try to manipulate you into a decision. One nearby University sends out students to torment others. It’s part of the requirement to graduate. OK. I get it. Jesus has called us to bear witness, to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and all over the world. How to do it? Well, sometimes we have to use our mouths, though often we use our mouths to serve our own ends, not God. I often think that if we Christians would just refrain from gossip and talking negatively about others that would be a great witness. Or, maybe if we used our hands and arms for more embracing others in our community than judging and pushing away. Or, maybe if we used our feet to run to help others instead of running to watch a train wreck or something… It’s all about our lives, isn’t it? Any discerning teenager can tell you that. Let the one who has ears to hear, hear. Blessings! Dave Nichols

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Passion to Serve

On last Sunday, we celebrated All Saints’ Sunday. We had sent out letters inviting the families of the honored dead to worship with us that day. We sang the great hymn: “For all the Saints...” And, people came to worship God and to remember their loved one. This is always a difficult service. We name the ones who have died in the last year; so, some of them have just died and some only died a year ago. This very public service is hard because none of us likes to cry in public. Well, most of us, maybe, don’t like to call attention to ourselves. And yet, what better place to cry than in worship? One of my professors used to say that church was where we go to weep in common. He quoted the great writer, Miguel de Unamuno, who said that life was at its best tragic. All of us are living in grief. Our one sole common grief is that no given moment lasts forever. It’s the truth that strikes you throughout life.. A mother goes through this when her child gets his first haircut. Or, it happens in experience when a father sends his child off to school the first day. A million times in our lives we experience the grief of life= that no given moment lasts forever. The only constant in life is change. We’d like it not to be so. Much of life is lived, I’m afraid, as if we could grasp life and hold it in our hands. We would love for some things and some moments to go on and on. And, then it all comes to reality in the face of death, our own, or the death of someone we love. I was 12 when my grandfather died. My father was gone when I was one year old; so, my mother’s dad, my grandfather, was my dad. But, I was thirteen when he had his third heart attack and died. It was devastating. I remember the pastor, who meant well, pulling over to the side and saying: “You’re the man of the house now…” My mother heard him and immediately took me into the other room and said: “You’re not the man of the house; you’re my boy.” It was tremendously freeing to hear my mother say that. I knew I wasn’t a man. How could I be responsible for anything or anybody yet. The grief was overwhelming; Life had been hard enough, but now. But, surrounded by a family and a church and a community of support, I experienced the God and came to see that God in Christ was my hope and the hope of the world. How much grief have you experienced? Some seem to have more grief than their share. But, all of us have some grief. It really is all about this: no given moment lasts forever. So, Sunday, we gathered and named the honored dead. We gave thanks for their lives, that God allowed them to pass our way. We also prayed that we might live by their example of love and commitment. I said in my sermon that none of the honored dead would like it if we tried to call them Saints, but they are Saints to us. They are servants of God whose lives were a reflection of God’s love in the world. It was hard to read the names; it always is. But, it was good to name them out loud and to acknowledge our loss. And, it was good to remember that in Christ there is always more love, and now for them, even more life. For all the Saints Who from their labors rest Who thee by faith before the world confessed… Blessings! Dave Nichols

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