[Written on Friday, December 3, 2021]
I had imagined how it would be, a thousand times, as I prepared for Advent. I wrote out my little reflection on each of the four parts of the beloved Advent story that the Christian church most dearly loves.
It was for my “Dawn Patrol,” a hardy group of diverse friends who have gathered from across the western suburbs and their several churches over the last decade or so to grace Edina’s Hilltop Restaurant and its inviting patio with its warm fire going, our faithful and kindly waitperson serving us as we greet each other, share an earnest gathering prayer, introduce ourselves around the U-shaped table that accommodates the 20 to 25 who come – each adding some deep thing about their life of faith these days. They are gripping, fascinating stories they tell that offer up their lives to each other.
Then, on Monday last, I lunched with four of “the boys of summer” who’ve been to Africa with our Pilgrim Center. We had a dear and tender time. They each had a question for me, assigned by our host, about life and ministry for me. I loved it.
Our host met me with a hug, drove me to Wayzata, and deposited me back at Covenant Living, holding my hands, and reciting the original, long prayer, known in AA as the “serenity prayer.” All a high time in the Spirit.
And then, on Wednesday, news came that our luncheon host had just tested positive for Covid after a family member of his had come down with Covid. He wanted all of us to take precautions.
Oh my! Did we ever. I am self-quarantined for this week. But what of my beloved “Dawn Patrol” gathering – the first of which was the next day?
Well, Christian friends are the most resourceful people. An elegant, gracious woman of the group was to drive me to the Hilltop. I phoned her. She went into high gear, getting from my long-time helper an electronic copy of my first message. She would meet the group at the door, welcome them, and host the meeting should they decide to stay. They did. She gave my lesson for me and they offered many responses. Then she gave them paper to write to me.
What a harvest of letters of love and encouragement and prayers for us all being together for our second Thursday morning. They had stayed, prayed, shared their lives, and had wonderful exchanges with their sudden hostess.
God was there. Even I was there, “in spirit,” they said. The beloved community picking up the ball and having a wonderful time which they led themselves. And I stand humbly amazed and grateful. God at work, among His people doing just what they were meant to do. My Christian friends, turning it all to good - led, deeply, by the Spirit!
So, we go on, in Hope, the theme for Advent’s beginning. I pray I will be among them the next Thursday. Want to come?
After Gardner Gay invited us to attend a Saturday “Rap on Race,” Molly and I have tried to show up as “Christian Visitors” at least once a month, at the church where Gardner had been helping out with some program projects.
A group of eight of us went to his northside African American Church that first Sunday. We were tentative, but determined, and were welcomed publicly and openly.
We go back every third or fourth Sunday. We miss our own church on those days, but we are welcomed truly as Christian visitors. Brian’s preaching is personal, confessional, intense, earnest, and clearly “full of the Spirit.” He gets “on a roll” with colorful language, intense descriptions of the human predicament, with always the urgent invitation to let Jesus be first in our lives. “Welcome Him INSIDE,” he and the choir insisted.
There was lots of singing, many “Amens!” and “Yes, Lord,” and hands raised, and bodies swayed in beautiful praise to the Lord.
On a recent Sunday, a young man of the church gave the sermon. He spoke of a period of incarceration in prison and how he came to Christ while there. He came out of prison a changed man. He invited everyone there into that change for themselves. It was a winsome call, and a deeply persuasive invitation. My heart would love to have at least stood up.
The sermon ended and it was Benediction time – blessing time. Two or three different people were invited forward to be surrounded for prayer.
As they walked back to their seats, Brian the Pastor, microphone in hand, said, “There are two others we want to pray for.” And he gathered several others as he came down into the congregation.
Suddenly we realized they were walking directly toward us. They surrounded us. They embraced us. They held our hands. For these two 90-something old people, it was our first experience quite like this.
“We want to pray for the Rouners,” Brian said. “They were called by God to go. To go to the lands of blood where genocide was happening. People were being murdered by their neighbors. The country of Rwanda was in chaos. But these two went and gave 25 years of their lives to washing the feet of that country, and opening the doors of forgiveness and reconciliation. Thank you, Lord, that they went, that you blessed them. And that they’ve come here in that same spirit. Thank you for these two. Pour out Your Spirit upon them. We love them and bless them in your Name!”
For long minutes we were held in their embrace, lifted by their prayers – which then turned into the benediction for the whole congregation.
We were lifted by the Spirit – ourselves so blessed. A visitation from the Lord Himself to wing us on our way home with an Advent joy and hope that has not left us.
They came praying. Oh, did they! My Advent blessing by visitation of the Spirit of Jesus, be with you these wonderful days of Christmas coming.
Nothing like a funeral, these days, to stir memories. And not just any old memories. But tender ones; deep ones. Memories of a life. A life lived with kindness. A life poured out for others. A life of generosity if you will, of passing on dreams, and visions, of character, and quality. A life given to music, and art, that for a lifetime stirred hearts, and lifted spirits, and, in the doing so, made history, left a legacy that made people better around that life.
Today we gathered to hear what God had done with the life of a man who loved music. Who made music – beautifully. How many times, for Christmas Eve, he sat in the balcony, and played on his euphonium “O Holy Night,” in a crowded church where, in the dark, during his playing, angels seemed to hover near, and hearts were open to ethereal things, to mysteries of the universe, to the very drama of heaven leaning close to earth, and calling God’s children to come to Bethlehem and see what God had done to give to earth His Son. Of a night when shepherds told angel stories, and ran from a stable to tell “everyone” what God had done.
Of course, that was only one night of a year, to one congregation of enthralled people, being invited to believe.
Many got up to tell of how one man’s life touched their life, whether they were grandchildren, or musical colleagues, or members of those many orchestras he’d played in, or conducted, from the Philadelphia Orchestra, to youth orchestras, to the Minnesota Orchestra, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble which he founded.
His students were everywhere, and his colleagues, and his friends. At 90, he crossed over to heaven’s side, and today we gathered to hear his music, and to hear great music played to honor him, and to hear a preacher who loved him, tell bedside stories of his faith, and to tell us all the great story of God’s coming to earth in Jesus, the Savior of the world, Who lived a life for us, from a cradle to the cross, so we too might live for others, in lives that would give memories to many.
And then, after a New Orleans kind of rendering of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” we went to the Pilgrim Pastor John Robinson’s Great Hall, to drink coffee and tell our own stories of life and faith, with “precious memories” thrown in.
One woman reminded me of the rock from Plymouth, Massachusetts shore which she brought, on her lap, to be our own mid-western cornerstone. Another reported of her husband’s new and conquering life of dialysis made victorious by faith.
And while I sat with coffee and a cookie a young woman I’d never met knelt beside my chair to thank me for the youth ministry that had brought her to Jesus, and still the joy of her life.
Even our 50-year organist and composer, colleague of the maestro we had sent home to heaven, said “and if you want me to play for your service, just call me and I’ll come.”
Promise of faith, prompted by love, as in the beloved community, we remembered eternal truths and spilled them out as blessings from our lives. Oh memories, precious memories, that one cold November afternoon, surfaced and said the deep things of our hearts, to be courage to each other, for the road ahead, which we each have before us.
Don’t discount them. They are the deep things of tender life that God gives us all.
[Written on Friday, November 5, 2021]
It’s a sun-filled Friday. A little team of women who love challenging themselves with Scrabble, are gathered at the little table in our bay window that overlooks the pond and gardens of the courtyard of our “Covenant Living.”
I sit in the next room – a convenient alcove I use as a study – a place to write, and listen to their voices. They rise and fall as they concentrate on their game. It is a pleasant and beloved sound to me. They are in a way, “visiting angels.”
Before the game, and their concern with vowels and consonants, we gathered at that table, drinking Starbucks coffee they brought to our tiny home and conversation went to classes and ancient disciplines, like the Ignatius Exercises that live on, among Christians, from the 16th Century.
The conversation had to do with understanding who you are, what kind of person you are, how you find wholeness and balance in your life, how you understand yourself in positive or negative ways.
Back and forth we went. Insights came from the grandmother of motherhood, but also of ministry from Africa, of souls scarred and wounded in Rwanda’s genocide.
I realize what privilege it is in our own life, to have been called to pursue reconciliation in that far-off and wounded land, that had to do with understanding the ways each of us need to seek forgiveness from others we have wounded, and take on the painful job of “ministry on our knees” when we washed, over the years, the many thousands of pairs of feet, and coming to realize the unspoken meaning of that simple act, that brings mending of souls: the healing of hearts, and the creation of deep answers that makes for friendship, and reconciled relationships.
It has grown on me, over the years, of how important it is to know who and Whose we are, and what we are about in the world. Knowing what we are about and our purpose for our life, and understanding something of what our life means in the world.
Who are we as we live out our days? And, what does it mean to be “Jesus’ person,” to be His presence and representative in the world, and to help the Body, the Church, to see themselves as God’s people in that way, rather than to be your own self – with all the possible pitfalls of self-importance. To be instead, quietly, and hopefully humble, there as an influence from above, because of what our heart knows and offers to the family, the community, and the church around us.
We have been taught for a long time, in America, to put self first. Jesus says to put Him first. I want still, to work on that. I pray we all can do that. - Toward a more civil, compassionate, generous, and faithful world.
So hard. So important. We will all need each other, to do it. Can we try?
This message was given by Dr. Arthur Rouner at Colonial Church of Edina on the occasion of Rev. Jeff Lindsay's Installation as Senior Minister on October 31, 2021.
Installation is a wonderful custom, in the Congregational tradition. It has a great and loving particularity. It is about one person, chosen by God for the ministry: but not in general. It is about ministry among one people, a congregation, whom God gives the new pastor to love, and make his or her own. Your people. Your own people – whom you will know, and love, and serve, and shepherd. It is the very pattern of the Good Shepherd, Himself.
You are installed, established, and anointed if you will as the one who cares, who knows, and understands through time and gathering and praying, and hearing their hearts. It is like no other relationship.
And you preach, and pray, and teach, and lead – serving - out of that relationship, that love that is different from all other relationships.
When Jeff Lindsay climbs the pulpit of this Meetinghouse, with the high window behind him, letting in the light of the world God made, at a tender funeral, he talks theology, he talks heaven and earth, life and service and he reminds us of what it was in the particular person’s life among us in the world. He talks of the journey that was taken, of the love that was lived, of the impact of this life and service.
It is very clear: he knew this person. He had been to the hospital. He prayed at that bedside. He walked with the family. Held them. Prayed with them – for life here and now, and eternal life on the other side.
He was their loved ones pastor. He was the family’s friend. He knew them – and THEIR NEED.
And, over 37 years, before he became their pastor, he knew the young of this company. He helped shape missions. He crossed the world to encourage their ministries where they were.
He came to see us old folks. And, at Covenant Village, where he and I were visiting by the fireside, another old man stopped by. Jeff’s face suddenly lit up. “Why I know you. Your son was my roommate at Bethel. We were friends.”
The old man was touched to be known, through his son, by this visiting minister. THE PASTORAL TOUCH. Instinctive. Utterly ingenuous. What the old man needed. And, what I, watching, needed.
This will be Colonial’s leader no matter what the signboard reads. They’ll know you here. You won’t be a number. But a name—a remembered face—a friend in Christ. Part of the body – of Christ’s people. Shining a Light. Showing His Way, in the days and years to come.
BLESS YOU, DEAR JEFF. We love you. We’re with you. Don’t be afraid. Be bold. Believe in the One Who called you. Jesus, the One you are sent to show us. And the One we want to meet, and know through you.
Hear the message the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision, saying, “Don’t be afraid! Speak out. Don’t quit! For I am with you and no one can harm you. Many people here in this city belong to me.”
Many, many people out there. They are waiting for someone to come along, with the courage to stand up and be a Christian.
They want to see that “the stock of the Puritans” has not died. That a “great awakening” is still possible.
You ‘da man, dear Jeff. You’re the man. Bless your good heart.
Several times the call came. “Arthur, we’re burying my mom and her husband on Monday, All Saints Day, and we want you to take part. Could you do the burial out at Ft. Snelling Cemetery?”
I thought, “unsteady me, trying to negotiate the cemetery out at Ft. Snelling? Out of doors, on a cold November Day? No, with my unsteady feet, trying to stay upright with my Cheyenne River Reservation staff?”
“I don’t see how I can take the chance,” I said. “I’m not confident I could keep my balance. I could easily fall. Please let me think about it.”
A few days passed – another call came from the young woman. She is a friend of many years, a Confirmation student of mine. I knew she had worked so hard to help her mother. How could I not help? This time she said, “We want so much to have you just be with us. You’ve been so important to our family. How about just coming for the indoor church service – even if you just say a few words, give a benediction, a blessing?” How could I let her down? Molly got on the phone: “Indoors might be possible. Could we leave it as a ‘maybe?’” “Oh, we’d love that. We’ll take it as a maybe.”
Finally, we said I’d do it. If they were to fix their hopes on a mere ‘maybe.’ My heart told me I should try to do this – for love’s sake. “I’ll try,” I said. “We’d be so grateful,” she said.
I thought, “This is the ministry of Presence. They’re saying, ‘We really just want you to be there with us.’”
Do we understand how much just being there means to people we love? One of the great lessons the Africans taught us in those 20 years of our healing ministry in the Great Lakes of Africa following the horror of the Rwanda genocide was that we were there. We weren’t wonderful. We didn’t have all the answers. “But you’ve come,” they said, “to be with us. To stand by. To listen. To hear our hearts. God uses your presence to heal our hurts. You’ve come all that way just to sit with us, to love us. God has used you to restore our hearts.” Amazing. So simple. Ministry on our knees. Every healing of the wounds was a miracle. It was so obvious.
The test was, would we go? Would we cross oceans and continents just to be with them in their sorrow? Because the answer was yes, God’s Holy Spirit could do this work.
And so it works, in all kinds of ways, in all kinds of places. This simple ministry.
So today we went. They picked us up at the front door of Covenant Living. We talked in the car. I met others of the family, and their friends at the church in Minneapolis. Just say a few words to us and then a prayer.” And so we did. We said, “a few words”: that we’ve known each other for decades, and love each other despite the years. And then I prayed, we held hands, despite our masks. Then had a blessing. And then went into the sanctuary for the service. The organ played “Children of the Heavenly Father.” Incense rose. Great scriptures were read. A winsome sermon by the pastor. The anointing of the congregation. Finally, the Dismissal. A straight Lutheran service, touching us all.
Two different people held out their arms to me, to walk me to the door and to their family car.
It was all the right thing. The sun shone. I got safely home. God was in it all. That’s the way He works. Praise His Name.
Love you all.
The Christian Church in America is declining in numbers, as reported by the pollsters and others who watch for trends in American life. They know the Church is connected to families and that the church influences families. They know it influences individuals, too. They guess at why people are absent from church at those times when it “gathers” together.
Back in the last decade of the 20th century the public press was interested in what the church did. When we celebrated our centennial Thanksgiving as the President’s proclamation urged us to do, the press was interested that the church had a “pilgrim family” dressed in the costumes of the Pilgrims of Plymouth back in the 1620s. And that they brought out the “Tything Man” who went about with his pole with a feather on one end and a brass knob at the other for him to tap sleeping parishioners awake during the service, and that a public official was invited in to read before the congregation the Governor’s Proclamation calling the people to gather to thank God for their many blessings. It was a public occasion and the newspapers and TV cameras came and gave those services their attention. And they were following the teen-aged boy, in Pilgrim dress, marching through Edina’s near neighborhood with drums beating as in Pilgrim days, “drumming” the people to worship.
It was a festive occasion, and the public paid attention and our Pilgrim drummers often made the fold page of the next day’s newspapers.
Visitors came, to see the celebration and learn what they could about God as vital witnesses of their life and faith. They came out of curiosity and often returned on other Sundays to see what these modern Pilgrims were all about.
All through the years there were holy moments like candlelight on Christmas Eve, communion on Christmas Day, a quiet “Watch Night Service” on New Year’s Eve, the quiet commitment times of Ash Wednesday, the wonder of Holy Week, Good Fridays’ Last Words of Christ led by ministers from across the community as well as the glory of Easter Sunrise Service outdoors at Cornelia Park. We experienced again the call of the cross “on a hill far away.”
Pentecost became another anticipated celebration. Memorial Day too, giving us a chance to honor those who died for their country. Even the 4th of July’s Independence Day allowed us a chance to honor the faith foundations of our country’s birth.
We came as a gathered company on so many days that reminded us of Jesus’ critical place in our life as people.
Those, and many other occasions, called us to “gather by the river” and declare that we were Jesus’ people with a peculiar privilege of showing our fidelity as faith brethren and faith workers in these modern days.
So, a host of memories were held in our hearts each Sunday as we came together and found ourselves greeting each other with the embrace of brothers and sisters in the great enterprise of our common faith that bound us together as a true family, a “company of love” – exactly what Jesus said we were to be. Every person sitting near us in our “meetinghouse” reminded us of the community we were. Of high moments shared and deep times experienced in our life together.
Each week we are surrounded by the beloved faces and tender memories. And as we greet each other we are remembering – even the relationships where hurts were healed by deep forgiveness, and the anger passed and now is healed.
Oh, the church is, in our real lives, a “many-splendored thing.” And when we sing “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love,” we know that something Divine lives in us and between us.
We are “a blest communion” – “like that above.”
Oh, God bless the church, that surrounds us with miracle, and upholds us in love.
That’s the great commandment that Jesus gave us: “Love each other.” What a privilege and joy to be part of such a company.
Praise God, and bless His Name!
The good folks of Colonial Church decided that, before they changed our name, and lived out a new identity in these so troubled times, they really ought to gather people who’ve been through many of the 75 years, to think back and to reflect on the meaning of those years to them. Thus, a “Legacy” Luncheon.
It was a wonderful occasion. Half a dozen people were on video with their personal experiences of what their church had meant to them. It went all the way from planting flowers and shrubs along the banks of our beautiful pond, to the planning, fundraising, designing, and building our prize-winning architectural, 11-building pilgrim village.
And friendships were renewed and made stronger as about 140 people gathered to eat and talk, and even dream a little of what our future as a Christian company might be.
Legacy, I am told, is not what we leave to people, but what we leave in people. What is stored away in their hearts—of memories of high experiences shared.
So, I suppose, for those of us who’ve been around a while—if not 75 years—that day of remembering – a wedding here, or a tender funeral, or the march across town to possess the new land: the beautiful village that we built full of hope for the future. Or, maybe, the first mission trip to Africa, and the dying Pokot people, or the Bicentennial, where we sent Paul Revere and William Dawes through Edina on horseback, calling out the Revolutionary warning: “The British are coming! The British are coming!” Or maybe Easter Sunrise Service, where we felt Jesus really came across the grasses of Cornelia Park – to tell us to have hope.
The things that made the high moments and the deep experiences, and those Journeys Out with Jesus so real and important, was that they fulfilled, and gave us hope for life--personally, with that baptism of a child, or the giving of those Confirmation promises—and they reminded us that, in Jesus, our Risen Lord, we had assurances of the great victory of eternal life—love and hope beyond, that would outlast, and overcome any differences or disappointments we may have had with each other along the way.
I felt very grateful to have had the chance to be together, to look back, but also ahead. It was a blessing to be at the 75th reunion of this people called “Colonial.”
Most of us want to believe others are who they say they are. They don’t have to be something we want them to be. We just want them to be who they are.
Generally we like the differences in people. The different “takes” on life that is peculiar to each of them. When they express an opinion, we enjoy coming to terms with that, even finding our own thinking broadened by someone else’s unexpected view.
After all, Jesus Himself was often very different from the person those around Him assumed Him to be, or felt He ought to be. Jesus always proved Himself to be very different from the world’s expectations.
He didn’t hide who He was. He was quick to declare His difference from the popular expectation. He was very honest about who He was.
In the recent news we were intrigued by the attractive woman who emerged as a “whistleblower” from within the Facebook company. Now, a day later, we learn that she was hired two years ago to eventually act out the role of someone telling an unknown truth about her company. She was a fake—hired—whistleblower, employed to hoodwink the company’s critics. She was hired to manipulate the public.
We want to be able to trust our friends, to trust leaders in the world around us. Telling the truth is what we expect of our colleagues, our family, our friends, our leaders. We want to be ourselves trusting people.
If we cannot trust each other we cannot really be a husband or wife, a parent or child, a community of believers. The joy of life is to trust others, so we can be loyal, true friends.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” To be followers of that high standard makes the beloved community possible, whether it is the family, the church, the community, or the nation.
God help us all to be true to ourselves. True to the Lord we follow. True to the best we know. May Jesus give us courage to tell the truth about ourselves, so that those who love us can be sure of us, and we can be loyal to each other. All that is possible when we are loyal to the Lord we love.
What joy, and freedom, life has then.
Loving you all,
“Church” is many things. It is the place of Good News for life. That God loves us. That Jesus died that our sins could be forgiven. Church is where Jesus can be found. He meets us there, in the fellowship of believers.
Church is the miracle place, where spoken word from God, Himself, combines with soaring music of massed choir, and the hymns of the people to make for “wonder, love and praise” in our hearts.
It’s where mission is conceived, sent out, and supported. It is where the Spirit stirs the heart, and new hope is born, and individuals and groups decide to live lives of greatness, and goodness, believing that with God’s help they can change the world.
It’s a place where vision comes, and people are drawn out of themselves to take chances with their own lives, and strangely determine, like Joan of Arc, to “dare, and dare, and dare, until I die.”
It is so many things, this mystical company of people.
But it struck me this week that, in some ways, friendship in church, is the strangest and most wonderful thing of all.
Jesus, after all, did much of His ministry, at the tables of friendship. In the Upper Room. At Mary and Martha’s home. At Zacchaeus’ house. “Come down, Zacchaeus. I am coming to your house for dinner tonight. To talk with you, as a friend.”
A dear friend of many years came to see me a while ago. She is a great soul. She loves Jesus. And loves many people. And serves them. She is a deeply thoughtful Christian. But, like many, she has wounds in her life. In her tender, caring heart.
We talked of many things. Of faith. Of family. Of life. Of church. She is making a move away from her fellowship of many years.
We did not weep together. But, on the way home, alone, we may both have wept. I surely felt that gathering loneliness. For we have shared precious experiences as fellow pilgrims on the great journey of life.
We don’t live nearby. She and her husband reside several towns away from Molly and me. We won’t bump into each other on the street, at the post office, in the store, not even at church.
There are a number of people I will not see in the natural course of things. They are all fellow pilgrims on the way.
There will be treasured moments of passing, out there on the trail. Words spoken, adding to the memories.
Perhaps life just is that way. Memories, of friends. That really only enrich our relationships. That hold us close, as comrades of the heart. We pick up where we left off. We lift the phone. We write a note. We remember – what my Molly calls, “all the dear faces.”
Maybe it makes us yearn for heaven, taking seriously Jesus’ promise. “I will come and get you, that you may be where I am.” For, with us, it is really Jesus, and His part in all our friendships, that gives meaning to that love we have for each other. He has shown us how to love, how to uphold each other, how to walk together – and BE THE CHURCH. BE HIS FAMILY. HIS FRIENDS.
What a company! No bonds broken there. For forgiveness and its reconciliation is an “ever factor.” A present, eternal reality. A miracle of Divine love.
So, we go on. Remembering. Cherishing. Affirming. Being friends in Christ. Being “We few. We band of brothers.” AND SISTERS. THE CHURCH. That makes friends. That binds us together – eternally.
So, we belong to each other, in that ever-strengthening “tie that binds our hearts in Christian love.”
Let that bond, brothers and sisters, lift us above the divisions of the world and even above those differences that can divide us only for a time. For “we are one in the Spirit, and one in the Lord.”
Bless you all – so dear.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
|Arthur Rouner Ministries||
ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES
All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. . ."