It is late in the afternoon of June’s last Sunday. Seven weeks or more away from the church I love- that company of the dear people that God gave me to know deeply and love as spiritual family.
I miss the regulars in our corner of the Meeting House. The pals who save me a seat in our “reconciliation corner.” Brother Rod across the aisle; Mary Ann, one row up on that side. Her friend from the north side for whom she saves a seat. The wise dermatological doctor whose unerring insight saved my life 20 years ago. The tall Dale who sits alone but faithfully cares for his wife who has lived long with Alzheimer’s. Near him is the doctor couple who keep an eye on him. Then there’s the ever-watchful Jeff who patrols the aisle and greets us with cheery welcome and encouraging word as we find our places.
And, flowing out, so many others, row upon row, who are there for each other, but for more, for Jesus who is “the draw” that brings all of us to the table.
Molly looks at it all and says, “It’s the pew ministry.” Quiet and unassuming, but from the heart, lives crisscross back and forth across the aisle, from Allen across to Dick on our side. Back and forth, woven together by love. What the church should be, but now, for these many weeks, could not be. Will the separation never end?
God knows, and I, and so many friends, must patiently, faithfully wait – and be ready when it comes.
Younger people, who understand high-tech connections, are watching Colonial’s services online. In the meantime, Molly and I are glad for Joel Osteen on regular TV. And for Sunday Vespers on Covenant Living’s in-house channel.
And, I write letters, and blogs, and try to stay in touch in my own “ancient” way.
It is clear to me, as I watch and wait, that Christ, the Holy Spirit, comes in a variety of ways, unseen but real, bringing Jesus and the Father into my life directly and lovingly.
Jesus made a promise long ago, that “where two or three gather together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.” If they gather faithfully and expectantly, I will come. They will find Me present as they listen to the words of others, they will hear Me calling to them. And they will know Jesus. That is what the regular monthly “church meeting” in the Congregational tradition is about: Jesus coming to His gathered people, and through their voices, speaking His Word to them of what His plan is for them as a church company. The sign of His presence is the fact that He leads them from many different views to one view, so that they can say afterward, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us.” The gathered people are His body in that place and His purpose is to lead them into being of “one mind and heart.”
Unanimity, not just a majority vote.
It is an exciting, disciplined way to do business, and to come together. Then, the church is able to move, to take action, under the Spirit’s guidance, and wonderful things get done.
I'm reading a thick book about Thomas Jefferson. It's called, "The Art of Power." It was of great concern to Jefferson that people speak directly to each other. That they share their interests and philosophy of life. That they tell the truth. But also that they speak with civility, which he tried to do.
But there was friendship, that after many years of working together, went aground over political differences, and was not mended until near the end of their lives, when they died on the same 4th of July. That was with John Adams.
As a minister, it has always been difficult to speak about true things in the world around us, to the congregations of people I dearly loved, knowing full well many would likely disagree, some to the point of leaving the church.
We are living now through a similarly difficult time. Not only are we trying to live in a time of health pandemic, but we are living through a time of turmoil in the streets of our city, where a man was arrested and brought to the ground and suffocated to death with the knee of a police officer on his neck. He couldn't breathe. The man was black and the officer, white. A video taken by a bystander made it clear it was intentional.
And, so we speak to each other, seeing a multitude of points of view, coming from our own experiences, our own sense of justice and of right and wrong in a community outraged and grieving at what has happened, and trying to express truth and our sense of right and wrong at the same time.
We don't even need to be standing on a street corner trying to speak truth. It can happen with a family gathered to celebrate a birthday or Father's Day, and the tinder of deep feelings can suddenly explode and we are driven apart instead of bonded together.
Jesus wants us to come together as His followers, to speak the truth in love. I doubt we can do that just by logic or a philosophy of right or wrong.
Something deep inside our heart is needed. And that is the claim of love. Not any love. But, love from the cross. Dying love. Giving up your life for another, kind of love. The kind only Jesus, come from the heavenly Father, brought to the world, taught to the world, demonstrated to the world.
The Africans of Rwanda, and Burundi, taught us it is the on your knees kind of love. On your knees in tears kind of love. Washing others' feet kind of love. Very hard. But we know it can be done. Molly and I saw it done, from our own knees. Through our own tears.
The change was dramatic. Transformative. People who hated each other forgave. People who had killed neighbors and friends came out of prison to serve those who were left of families they had mortally wounded, or destroyed.
In three days their glances of still burning hatred and fear, turned to embrace a new kind of love. And so their countries, to this day, are being healed and united.
Such healing retreats are still happening in Minnesota. People from George Floyd's family and neighborhood could come. Police from the 3rd Precinct, whose building was destroyed, could come. Young white and black protesters could come. With God all things are possible. We ourselves could come - even just us, for starters. Drawn by that "old rugged cross, on a hill far away, the emblem of suffering and shame." "O, I love that old cross, where the dearest and best, for a world of lost sinners was slain."
Seem strange? Even impossible? Maybe not. - Maybe not.
Arthur, with love.
A lovely privilege fell to me this past Saturday to write a letter of congratulations and encouragement to a tall and lovely granddaughter on the occasion of her choosing to follow Jesus in her young life.
What a big thing for her to do, and for me, as her grandfather, to acknowledge and cheer her on. I pray it will be a decision that will give her joy all her life long.
It is not easy of course, in a day when mocking such serious things comes so easily in our secular culture. She knows who she is, and knows well the step she is taking, to be confirmed.
What a gift to her family, that she dares, and is unafraid to declare herself in Jesus. I am so grateful that she will have Jesus beside her in the long, uncertain years before her now. He will bless her in so many ways, praise God.
For us who are older, it is a special honor in life to be able to encourage a young person of our own family, with our love, and our faith, - and even our advise and counsel should it be asked for.
In the meantime, we pray. That it will be a real and wonderful companionship. Even that it will be a witness to those around her, that she is there to encourage them, and share her faith with them.
So many around us need “a good word.”. And, will take it from us. Don’t miss the opportunities that may come, to encourage the young around us, with assurance – from our own experience, and our own faith. Let us be brave too, as we “pass it on.”
Most of us want to be good people. We want to do good. We want to make it clear that we love our fellow human beings.
But, the issue of racial differences makes that very difficult. How do you show love to your black friends in a way that convinces them that you are for real, and that they are for real to you?
We see killing in our streets, of a black man by a white man who is an officer of the law, and we feel remorse over the hatred behind that, and our heart hurts, unbearably. And soon our minds are measuring where we stand on the issue of the hour which seems to be “racism” with its hopeless convictions of your superiority to people of any other color, based on white vs black. That what you feel, no matter what you say or do, is deeper than anything you can change. That you are incapable of being a true friend, or of honestly caring about those different from you.
Words don’t seem to help. We are all condemned to be what others assume we are, because of our white color.
A dear friend of mine died some weeks ago. He was black. He called himself “the old hymn singer.” He came many times to Colonial Church, to sing the hymns of faith. He walked up and down the aisles shaking hands, singing to our largely white congregation. Our people loved him.
He and I traveled to India to be part of a crusade put on by our friend Yesu from Kijayawahda. Tom Tipton called us “the Salt and Pepper Team.” He sang and I preached. He was a pied piper as men lined up after the service asking Tom to lay hands of blessing on their children. Tom was moved by that. For him, the Spirit was at work in all that. He and I shared a room in a small hotel near the Gospel Hall – for two weeks.
One morning we left for the Crusade – until Tom stopped us. “Aren’t we going to read our scriptures before we go?” He reminded me, “I didn’t grow up with the scriptures. I learned the gospel from the hymns my mother sang.” We went back and read the Word as we’d done every other day.
As Tom sang, in the Crusade service that night, he walked around the stage and down into the vast congregation.
I preached from a message I’d written out and had given before, at home. That night, in our room, Tom said, “Arthur, what were you thinking of tonight? You need to get out from behind the pulpit and show them your knees! Let loose!”
A precious lesson I learned from my Christian brother. He told me like it was.
It was an honor to be part of the “Salt and Pepper Team” with Tom. We grew old together, and now he is gone. My friend and teacher.
Up north, in White Earth, is Father George Ross, retired Episcopal minister. An Ojibwe. He once said, “You know, we are the invisible people.” So hard to hear. but long ago he let himself become my friend. He invited me to lead worship with him in the little church in Redby on the Red Lake Reservation.
He put his Episcopal robes on me to share in the service. When his wife Angie died, almost a decade ago, he asked me to preach at the funeral.
George knows the tears of the “Trail of Tears” in his people’s history. He knows the injustices of the White man. But he chose long ago to be my friend. A man dear to me to this day.
Both Tom and George – and Yesu – chose the way of friendship- Christian friendship, friendship at the foot of the Cross, as the pathway to friendship with this old white guy.
Jesus had said, long ago, “I call you friends.” I cherish that, and have been blessed by that. The way through the barrier walls of today, and through the hurt memories that are there.
Perhaps all over again, that old way, is the new way to begin again. Taking the Way of the Cross.
Love you, friends.
The monthly newsletter of our first church, in the Berkshire hills of Massachusetts, listed in its program for the week “Sunday 10 AM: No Church until further notice.” Ouch! I feel we’ve had no church for the last 8 or 9 weeks, because of our inept aptitude, when it comes to high technology.
I miss church – the live sermons from my minister whom I love. And the surrounding people whom I also love. And their faces. And their greetings. And the memories they stir up.
But, the President, and the governor say we must distance ourselves for everyone’s safety. And so we do.
It does feel like “lock down.” Everything slowed down. Not the freedom to be out and about.
I’m grateful to have some things I can do: write letters, emails, blogs - and little notes. I can put “LOVE” on paper, so my friends and family can read, and re-read.
I walk a bit, and need to do much more. Even “row my boat” – [a rowing machine at Lifetime].
Even while my heart longs for the lake (only 1700 miles away!) But Molly keeps me close to reality. “I need to have a summer wardrobe,” and suddenly she produces moccasins. I think it will all work.
And I read. Most recently “The River of Doubt” (Theodore Roosevelt’s darkest journey), on which he came close to death. But also came close to the men of his expedition into Brazil’s daunting and dangerous rain forest.
Roosevelt, of course, had been the leader of “The Rough Riders.” He had been a cowboy in the Dakotas. He had big teeth, a hearty smile, a barrel chest, a thirst for adventure. He was a raconteur, and told stories around the campfire in the jungle. The men loved him. And when he died, five years after returning from the River of Doubt, they wept.
He had lost fifty pounds from terrible infections, and open, primitive surgery by the expedition’s doctor, on the forest’s floor, and was a “mere shadow of his former self.”
He had given it all, and died at age 60.
Hard to read. Tears came to me too, when, in the Epilogue, the news of his death was received.
So goes life. Even heroes are overtaken. And great men find they cannot make things work out for their children, their dreams, or their own life.
Which, of course, cries out to us: “What of God?” And that is surely the answer, for each of us. We cannot make the journey without the great leader from Nazareth. The listener. The lover. The healer. The Friend, forever.
So, in pandemic days, and protect days, of so much gone awry, I remember that we have Jesus, Who loves us, and will meet us when our time is over, and takes us home, to Heaven – our great, forever “HOME.” Yay!
It’s a mid-week day in June. There’s a Minnesota sky of blue above. There’s a full-bloom linden tree of golden green before me. An early afternoon sun fills the courtyard of our “Covenant Living” home. I sit alone on our little balcony. I am safe – partly, because I am old, and protected by others.
The news on radio and television is still about the anger on America’s streets, beginning with those that are only three miles away from where I sit. My heart weeps for our city. For police who want to do good, who endanger their lives every day, but on one day, just a week ago, played the bully, the strong man, and turned a small arrest at a neighborhood store into a brutal confrontation that brought a man to the ground and, in eight short minutes pressed the life out of him by one officer kneeling on his neck.
The man was black, and America cried out in wrath that such unfair discipline could happen, and, from the first moment, could be recognized as murder.
The protests have not stopped – in cities and towns across America. Anger everywhere, of every variety. The young in my family were there. Fellow minister friends of mine were there. Friends black and white of mine were there. But – I was not.
My heart wanted to stand there too. My presence saying, “Yes, even old men, with no pulpit to “protect” them, whose vigorous days are past, who still “have visions and dream dreams,” care, and would be there if they physically could.
Of course, over the decades my sermons were preached, I spoke out, I met on football fields with young people, I went to draft boards with budding pacifists. I longed to go to Selma, but stayed home to be a brother and persuader to my people of Minnesota.
And now the pregnant moment has come again, and I sit safe – only wishing. But, I say now what has always been true. God alone is the great answer. Jesus only, as “the way, the truth, and the life” is the answer. The Way of the Cross, of giving up ourselves, of daring to ask forgiveness, and of washing the feet of those we’ve hurt. Of daring to ask forgiveness of our black friends, our Native American friends, our Christian brothers and sisters whom we’ve hurt.
We can work harder at “presence.” Of going to sit in pews of other congregations of our city, perhaps carrying greetings. Making time and place for conversations. And prayer, together. Ways to show our heart.
How tame that sounds. But not if we really do it. Stepping out of the habits, the ruts of our lives, and doing something different.
Jesus walked, you know. But, He didn’t really march, he sat on hillsides, and talked. He invited friends to sit at tables and talk. He used situations as they arose.
We could too, if we tried. All those ways of being friends. Of opening our lives to others. Of acknowledging their need of us, and we of them.
Oh Jesus, help us be who we say we are!
Love you, friends.
Written on Saturday May 30, 2020
TOMORROW IS PENTACOST. The day of the mighty winds. And tongues of fire. And the power of the Spirit, overtaking the Church of God, the Body of Christ.
“Go into all the world and preach the Gospel, and heal the sick,” the risen Jesus had said to His friends. “But don’t go until you have received power from on high.” And so it came to the Church, gathered as it was in Jerusalem. And it was strange. There was noise, like the roaring of a mighty windstorm. There were shouts of praise, physical movement, wonderments. There was strange behavior – the praising of God in many languages.
People came running, from all over Jerusalem, to gape, and gasp at what was happening. There was even fire, tongues of flame above the heads of the followers of Jesus.
Observers said: “They’re out of their heads. They’ve been overtaken. They’ve had too much to drink.” But Peter stood and said, “No, they’ve been overwhelmed by the very Spirit of God. We are witnessing an invasion of The Spirit. God has come and gripped their lives. This is the beginning of New Life. Pay attention! God has come – IN HIS SPIRIT – to take over the world.”
It was the amazing beginning of Jesus’ work in the world. Work that would be done “Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord.”
People came flocking. Something new, something wonderful, was happening. It was the BIRTHDAY OF THE CHURCH. It was the day of power being given, for the work of the Church.
It has always been the Church’s strangest day. The day of God, taking over His Church. It was the beginning of the ministry. The day of the sending of the Church into the world, with new power.
“I will send my Spirit,” Jesus had said. And so it was.
And all this long Pentecostal Saturday, we have been watching the news stories of Minneapolis and St. Paul, under siege: The streets wild, people from everywhere, coming in, caught up in a whirlwind of moving – a human storm, defying order and police control, smashing store windows along Lake Street. Lighting fires. Creating a city out of control. A city roiled by emotion. Angry rage everywhere. People fearing for their city and themselves. The Governor imposing a curfew. Police, and Highway Patrol, and the National Guard, helping to restore order.
The late afternoon sun lowers in the west. The Governor is soon to speak over radio and television.
What does it all mean? A city swept up in anger. Wind and fire. Shouting. Defiance. Fear.
A historic pandemic to begin with. And human emotions out of control. This is God’s Day, with His people struggling to win the day. To still the rage. To restore order. To bring peace.
Surely, it is not the coming of God in His mighty Spirit. But maybe it is the calling of God, giving us a chance to confront the rampant forces of evil, even new fears of disease, as well as the uncontrolled rages of our fellow citizens.
What if this odd, historic, coming together of two strange phenomena at once is a “sign unto us.” God’s using wind and fire, noise and confusion, to grasp our attention? To stop us in the middle of our weariness with the lengthening days of the pandemic to say to us: “It is time for you to look to Me, and realize that these disruptions are calling you away from yourselves, to take these disruptions of “normal” life as a sign for you to look back to Me to see if it’s time, to look back to Me for the answers in life, and even to see in Pentecostal wind and fire that I am ready and willing you to the most exciting work of your life: LIVING FOR ME. And receiving the power I offer you to follow Me, and do My transforming work?
Daring to see these days as a heavenly message to us for new work and direction in our life may be a sign of God’s great gifts to us of a Pentecostal call to us to a new, free receiving of the Spirit, and undertaking the life and work of the Spirit.
Could it be? For joy of power in the Spirit,
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES