Lots of people have had close calls - and lived to tell about it.
Today I was speaking to a group of 40 men of faith who have gathered together as a group every Friday in early morning to tell their stories of life to each other. To encourage each other. Often to tell very intimate things that have been life-changing events in their personal history.
And this day they had invited me to tell mine. To tell perhaps the little-known things in my life, that were turning-points, life-changers.
Long ago, for some years, I had been their pastor. Two and a half decades have passed since I was in that role with them. I had gone on to work in Africa, to try to bring about reconciliation after the 1994 genocide between the ruling Hutus and the Tutsis, their targets. It had been something awful. One million people brutally killed in four months time. And, not just by police, or soldiers, but by neighbors - friends - with whom they had grown up.
Rwanda was a traumatized country. No-one knew how to fix it. Only prayer seemed to offer any hope, and the reminders of Jesus' love - the reason why He had come.
We worked at it slowly. But determinedly. And, it worked. Jesus always came. And, by love - His everlasting love - He healed.
There are so many stories, which we love to tell. Of how the great change was wrought.
And this early morning, I was able to tell a few of these, to help them look back to their own incidents and issues, and see that in their encounters, almost always the hand of God was present. Time and time again, Jesus had come to them, and offered Himself and changed their lives.
One man was eager to tell of a time, years ago, when he and I had prayed, about his addiction. Jesus came then, and healed him that day. And following that, God gave him a wonderful, growing ministry conducting "interventions" that have in turn led over and over, to healing and freeing and restoration in the lives of men and women all over the state.
I had told some Molly stories, and one man said, "We all need to thank God for our Mollys."
There was affirmation all around. Though I had hesitated to go, it was a chance for continuing and deepening reconciliation with these men. I found they loved me, and believed me. I came away uplifted by a great and brotherly affirmation.
These things always go both ways. We love and affirm each other. And we find healing in our lives. And they find healing in theirs.
We need - all of us - to be about the loving work, because it is the healing work, and uniting work. The way great mending takes place and the restoration that every family, community, church - and yes, country, needs.
Let's all work at doing it - for the healing of the nation, and the bringing of the peace that this land we love, craves.
There was a big party recently. To celebrate my getting to be 90 years old -------.
My dear successors in the Ministry: Dr. Daniel Harrell of Colonial Church, and Dr. Jim Olson, President of the Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation, got together to make it happen. What a gift: to see all those dear faces together, precious friends in my life. And, my children, and grandchildren, and my dear companion in life, my fierce and faithful, wise and humble Molly - who went to her knees in Rwanda, asking forgiveness of the Africans, putting the unique mark of her humility upon the whole deep and tender work of the Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation - across Africa and the world.
They have all loved me, and forgiven me, and encouraged and taught me the ways of Jesus - Who called us, sent us, and showed us how to make peace and to love all people.
Would I want to say something? Dr. Jim asked. I thought - "Of course." But what? So much I would want to say.
I even tried to write something out. But it didn't work. Till my dear wife bounced up to me on Friday morning, "You need to just thank them. Tell them what they mean to you. Thank them for the years. For standing by, and what they mean."
"And I will begin by thanking you, Molly, my wife, who has taught me, and encouraged me all my life, and who has worked so hard to keep me alive. I am so grateful."
"Well, you don't need to do that," she said. "I already know that." So humble she is.
But, being grateful is always the thing. It is always the most important thing to say: Thank you. Thank you.
We would of course, never get to a great age, never do a good work, never succeed at anything, without the help of so many others along the way - who've believed in you, loved you, taught you, encouraged you, given you so much from their own lives.
Teachers: dear James Stewart, chaplain to the Queen of England, lyrical preacher of the love of Jesus, my New Testament teacher at New College, Edenborough, my friend, and patron saint, if you will. He wrote a book about St. Paul, called "A Man of Christ," but his humble, winsome life was all through it.
Bob Seaver at Union, teacher of speech, who taught me and a handful of others the crucial importance of words, and THE WORD.
Coaches: my Harvard rowing coach, the "saintly" Tom Bolles.
Christian friends, like Bill in Williamsburg, who said when I left, "Arthur, you always preached one thing, the Church, what it means to be the Church."
There were so many others. Dear Prof. Stanley Ross, professor of economics at South and Amherst, and faithful Moderator of our own country church, who said, when I confessed to him my trembling heart and knocking knees when I entered the pulpit to preach, "Arthur, the day your knees don't knock and your heart doesn't tremble, is the day you can no longer be my preacher."
So, on it went, through the years: Agnes Sanford teaching me the healing ministry of the church; all the dear people of those three congregations, who, like Karl Barth's little congregation in the Alps, looking up and asking, "Is there any word from the Lord?" The Campus Crusades staff intent on winning the world as their mission, the Lutheran minister who baptized me in the Holy Spirit in front of the Abbey Church at St. John's University, and the handful of wise women of faith, who showed me courage as they lived boldly for Jesus - like Mary Lou whose funeral I shared in yesterday.
We all need to look back, and give thanks. And, look forward to each day's life, and the hope of heaven.
Written on Sunday, April 28
How dark is death when it comes. We rage against that night, that pulling of the shades, and closing of the shutters, and welling of the tears.
And, how inept we stand, at the edge of the crowd, when that one who has been left behind is our minister, our preacher of the immeasurable love of Christ, and of the victory of life, in the Resurrection, the purveyor of hope Sunday by Sunday, on this day when, at last, in church, he must lay away his beloved, his partner, even - in ways of faith - his teacher, and let her be taken from his arms, his daily life, his family, his ministry - his hopes and dreams of raising their daughter, and their growing old together.
He knows the answers. He knows the truth. He is a good and wise, faithful and following disciple of Jesus. But oh, the hurt of this day, to send that magnificent woman home to heaven. How deep that wound, beyond the real understanding of any of us.
Even as we know our time will come, of either letting our dear one go, or our being the one to go through the dying, and the crossing - to the far shore - ourselves. We know it's time, we must "walk that lonesome valley, we must walk it by ourselves. Oh, nobody else can walk it for us, we have to walk it by ourselves."
So this day of the gathered friends, and the beautiful service is both the sad, glad day. The parting day, the home-going resurrection day, the suddenly alone day, on this side.
So, pray on, brothers and sisters. Still rally round, faithful company, do not abandon our leader, more beloved than ever. Find ways to be there. Keep him in prayer. Love him through these days, and all his days, and our days.
Holy Week this year has seemed so much a dying time. Dear Dawn gone Home - on Easter morning. And Mary Lou, beloved sister in Christ, wise woman of faith, courageous defender of every child of God's right to life - a brave battler too, of the dread disease, "went home to Jesus at 5:00 this morning," as her Floyd called to say. And, too many others, it seems, walking that road these dying days.
This week I spent with one, still young, son of this church, a Jesus man, an oarsman - like me - but, a historian, a teacher of America's history, a studier of the tumultuous decades he remembers here of the Christian task, the preacher's work and words, of call, to the life of "our utmost for His Highest," to point out the Jesus journey through this time. He wanted to read those sermons he heard as a teen-age lad, and see what hope there was, for the people of faith, in those days.
We talked of complexity, of conflict, of compassion, even of courage demanded of the Jesus way.
It is a stab at a legacy that can perhaps be left, for those who care. Not probably so much for children and grandchildren, as for perhaps strangers of generations yet to be, to see visions and dreams once brought to these shores by Puritans and Pilgrims, who laid here, in their churches and communities a foundation of the heart, that can be claimed again, and lived out and built into a people whom God sent to these shores to be as a "city set upon a hill, with the eyes of the world upon it." The servant nation with a heart for all people, and their life and hope.
Dawn herself has set visions and dreams, in her waiting, in her fierce believing, in her trust in the One with whom she dared to die.
So also, with Mary Lou, herself a courageous woman of faith, who died today. So many wise sisters - and brothers, too - to be the Lord's servant daring to march with love, into the critical days and decades ahead.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES