For November 13, 2016
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by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
It was during Lent many years ago. I was the pastor of a very old church in rural North Carolina. On the wall of the apse, above the altar, there was a stained-glass window in the shape of a cross, lit by light bulbs. One Wednesday afternoon I was putzing around the altar getting things ready for mid-week service when I noticed that one of the bulbs illuminating the cross had gone out. I resolved to change it, but, as often happens with me, I got distracted and forgot about it until the middle of the pre-service Lenten supper. I excused myself and went across the parking lot to the church and then upstairs and down the Sunday School Hall and opening a little door into the back of the cross, I got down on my knees to change the bulb. This is when I looked through the stained glass and saw Seth.
Seth wasn’t a bad kid; he was just six, and mischievous; he got into things. This night Seth had wandered over from the Fellowship Hall into the church and he was pulling the big, heavy pulpit chair over to the front of the altar. It was set for communion, with a plate full of wafers, a stack of trays, and a cup of wine already set out under the veil. Suddenly I realized what Seth was doing; he wanted to get a look at that table. I visualized him pulling everything down on his head, and falling out of the chair and getting hurt, etc. etc. So, without thinking, I barked out; “Seth, get down from there, you’re going to hurt yourself!” I will never forget the look of pure terror that washed over Seth’s face as he jerked his head up and looked into the face of Jesus staring down at him from above the altar. He started crying and yelling “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” and ran out of the room. I left what I was doing and followed Seth out of the Church, across the parking lot into the Fellowship Hall, where he was weeping into his grandmother’s large and welcoming lap. “Grandma, Grandma, Grandma; Jesus yelled at me. I want to go home NOW!”
Most of the time, I find church to be a pleasant and happy place. A place where, like Seth I am comfortable wandering around, a place where I feel safe and welcome and at home. But, every once in a while, church can become a frightening, indeed a scary place, a place I would just as soon not be. Like today while I was reading that Gospel lesson.
That’s pretty scary stuff. All that talk about war and destruction and earthquakes and famines and pestilence and terror and persecution. Well, it scares me to death; and like Seth; I’m ready to go screaming out of the room, looking for my Grandma’s lap.
Before we go too far down this scary road, I think it important that we read this text carefully.
What Jesus is getting at here is something we all know both from history and personal experience: the world is indeed a scary and dangerous place; full of danger, trouble and heartache. Jesus’ point throughout this text is to remind us where to look for our salvation; for grace, for hope, for love, when trouble inevitably comes.
We are not to look to big buildings and institutions, we are not to look to governments (nations and kingdoms) we are not to look to kings and governors and multinational corporations.
All these things will fail you; indeed, will turn against you. When trouble comes, the one thing you can count on is God.
Prof. Marty Saarinen taught at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC.
He frequently told the story his first call in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Pretty remote and rugged; then and now. Not too long after Pastor Marty got there he learned of an elderly couple who lived way back in the woods and who seldom got to church anymore and he resolved to go visit them. He borrowed a jeep and drove the paved road as far as it went, then he drove the dirt road as far as it went, then he drove along in two ruts as far as they went, then he drove along a creek bed as far as that went, then he parked the jeep, and climbed up a hill, and pushed through a bramble of wild bushes, and finally found a cabin with a tiny wisp of smoke wafting into the sky from the chimney.
Young Pastor Marty walked onto the porch and knocked on the door and waited, and waited and waited. He knocked again and waited some more. Eventually he heard a noise. The door opened and a little old man stared at Marty for a long time, then he recognized the collar and turned around to shout to his wife in her rocker: “Anna, God has not forgotten us!”
In our hectic, secular, modern world; in the midst of divisive political campaigns, wars, natural disasters, economic uncertainty, and all the other more mundane trials and tribulations of ordinary life; Jesus reminds us of God’s love, concern, and presence. We are called this day to remember that the one who loves us has not forgotten us, and to share that good news with all the “Annas” in our lives.
Amen and amen.
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