Molly and I went “Church Visiting” today. When Gardner Gay invited us months ago to attend a gathering at a northside church he had been helping, for a “Rap on Race,” we decided to go. In the course of the meeting with Gardner and Brian, minister of one of the long serving churches in the black community, Molly said, “Why don’t we do what the churches in Africa do and gather a few people to visit sister churches? That’s the way churches there get to know each other – by building bridges of friendship.”
They liked the idea, and so did we. With help from Colonial’s Mission Minister, Paul, a group of about ten of us set off on a late fall Sunday to visit Zion Baptist Church, just down Hwy 55 from Golden Valley, through Wirth Park to Zion – closer to where we live than Colonial.
It was a wonderful experience. We were welcomed by many folks, and embraced by Dr. Brian Herron, Senior Pastor. The choir sang winsome choruses with arm-waving and many Hallelujahs and Amens.
The congregation applauded their approval. There were announcements, testimonies, and prayers. The preacher gave us a deeply personal and confessional sermon which ended with his coming down from the pulpit in tears to sit alone upon the steps, himself overcome by the Spirit. It was deeply moving.
With Molly’s prodding, I shuffled my way forward to sit with him. Others joined us. It was a tender time. Soft singing all around. Lots of praying.
We were, somehow, wonderfully, together. We all felt the presence of the Lord.
Earlier, as we were finding a place to sit, a woman of the church greeted us, saying, “Why Dr. Rouner, we were together during the riots of the 1960’s.” So, we found friends.
On a later Sunday, a few of their folks came for lunch with some of us, under a tent at the Hilltop Restaurant. We ate lunch, told stories, sang, and prayed.
Others have gone back and begun to help Zion with projects of service in the community, like their “21 Days of Peace” they have already established on street corners of the northside.
So, bridges of the heart are gradually being built. We went today with a caring couple from home, to be present together when our Dr. Jim, our Pilgrim Center president, went as guest to preach at Zion on HEALING, a sermon deep in Gospel truth, on the healing work of Jesus, and how it can be our healing work.
It was an exhilarating day, stimulated by the earnest, Biblical word God had given Jim to offer to us all. A great stirring beckoned us all and lifted our hearts. A Word of hope, meant for us in these days of such conflict across this land, where the American Church still holds the dream that we are “A city set upon a hill, with the eyes of the world upon us,” with a vision in our hearts to be a “servant nation” to the world.
How great the need. How high the call! Bless you all, Pilgrim friends.
In Jesus, the Hope of the World.
We read of many lives, as the emails come. So many brave people. We feel the honor of their friendship. So many of you are livers of faith in the living of your lives. Courage to you as you carry on.
And some come to see us. When it’s both Molly and me they can hardly get a word in edgewise. We are excited to see them, moved by their stories, touched deeply by their courage, so grateful to learn from them.
We are tempted to be sad at where we’re not. But then, I look down into our garden courtyard and I thank God for where we are.
The Rotary magazine in June had a wonderful article on friendship, of how Rotary started when a lonely man dared to enter into friendship. And I realized how many there are surrounding us here, just waiting to be our friends. We need to take time to reach out and listen. I hope you’ve had some surprising offers of friendship that have come to fill and bless your day.
You may not realize how many need you. Yes, you – to be their friend. They don’t announce their need. But so often you can see it in their faces – the hope they’re feeling that you’ll stop and make a gesture in their direction, and that a word, or a touch, will start something so good.
People’s need is physical, and spiritual – not just incidental. A person came the other day to talk, all dressed up in summer wear. But, how heavy was her heart. What pains she bore for the world all around us. She had need, but also so much to give. Sharing that blessed us both and made me feel I needed to commit to being her friend in the new ways she needed.
When we worry about our country and what’s happening to it, and about the church in America, and even our own church, and wonder what we can do about it, God’s example, through Jesus, is that we start right where we are, with people in need before our eyes, or with injustices being perpetrated in our presence, or hypocrisies of our religious leader out in public where people gather. Remember that Jesus once went into the temple and threw over the tables of the money-changers, saying, “You make my house a den of thieves.” He told it like it was. He knew the consequences. But He didn’t shrink from the truth.
Do we dare to stand up and demand fair play and justice on the spot? – We could do it. You dared to follow Him.
The world around us soon would be a different place. It would respond to what’s real and true.
And so might grow stronger and bolder in the doing. Who knows how far the changes we make might go? There would be a price. But also a reward: Jesus’ commendation – “WELL DONE, GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT.”
Love you all,
Over here, at Covenant Living, we think a lot about dying. The news, announced in chapel, is often about who is in hospital, or hospice, or who has died.
But part of the real news about death coming, is the heroics of living, which we see all around us. The aging couples who are helping each other live. The witness of the husbands or wives who are left behind. The amazing good cheer with which they carry on, and bear their grief. Or the courage of men who are alone, although their wives have not died. Their wives have gone “across the street” to live in the “memory care” unit because of the encroaching dementia or Alzheimer’s. The life they have lived together has now become more than the husbands could cope with. How bravely, and usually how faithfully those men manage to live, “crossing the street” to be there at visiting hours but not sure that their wives will even recognize them.
These brothers send me to my knees, to hold them up in prayer, and to ask God to help me be “strong and of a good courage” for whatever will come my way.
And here, I must say, is where the church seems most heroic itself, as over the years, time and again, I have watched the people who are the church, who are the body of Christ, come rallying around, first in a hundred unseen ways, of going off to hospitals to hold the hands of the sick and dying, to sing to them, to pray for them.
These friends in Christ, trained in the seminary, operate out of loving instinct, and into hospital rooms without fear, and bring the love of Jesus. And if death comes they know what to do. They stand by the family. They deal with undertakers. They are there at the funeral. They pray with the gathered family, and lead them to reserved seats in church. They help the pallbearers to line up to carry the casket.
But, the church’s ministers have also gone to the hospital, prayed at the bedside, met with the family, praying with them, and then prepared profound messages to bring healing and comfort.
When the friend comes as minister – though now in his Senior Minister role, has been on the church’s staff now 38 years. He is an instinctive and consummate pastor. You know that as soon as the service begins. His call to worship is a welcome in the faith, here, in the company of Jesus. He helps the people know what they can do, and their importance to the family. And when he preaches, and prays, you know that he knows the man who has died. He’s been to hospital. He’s talked and prayed out the one who has now crossed over into death. He is speaking of a friend.
It is all deeply personal. It is no reading of a formal rite. It is the word of the beloved pastor about his friend in faith, and to the family he has come to know, and care for.
This man of God knows and loves the brother or sister he is sending across to heaven’s side. This pastor has listened with his whole heart. And watched. And in confidence and joyful faith, has the words of hope these families need to hear.
In the life and death times he brings THE WORD OF GOD. He brings Jesus into the center of the whole drama of this deepest service in the church’s life. It is dignified. It is loving. It is redemptive.
It becomes a time when the church shines, and the light of God is everywhere. It is what the church is called to do, and be. It is the touch of love that sick and dying people need. And what the sorrowing families need. It is what the whole community needs. Here, if anywhere, the church of Jesus is profoundly and beautifully alive.
Do we not want it so?
Written on 7/30/2021
I met an old friend today. She’d come for Friday lunch at Covenant Living with wonderful musicians who have now come to live here. She recalled a Mother and Sons canoe trip I had led to the Boundary Waters (one of the 45 over the years) every June, just after school let out for the summer. “I’m not sure I did very well in our race back to the camp.” I said, “Well, you were by bow-man and my recollection is we won that one.” We had a good laugh.
Such a tiny snippet of memory that refreshed us both, recalling that week in the woods with our little motley team of five or six pairs of paddlers who had traveled the portage paths and the route of lakes that had been worked out by the Voyageurs coming to trade for furs back in the 1600’s, at the same time of the Pilgrims’ landing and living on America’s Atlantic coast.
Around the campfire, we talked of that history. We talked too, of faith. We prayed, and came close in our lives. My bow-man was one of the mothers who had brought her son to experience the woods of the North Country together along with other mothers who had brought sons for the same experience.
We imagined Jesus, walking on the water, coming to meet us in that quiet world.
The canoes and paddles of our days on the water, tested our mettle and challenged us to relive the experience of the Voyageurs. But, more importantly, the woods, and the water, the centuries-worn paths and the packs and canoes on our backs challenged us with the same exertion and effort that had faced the French voyageurs three or four hundred years ago.
We all came out of the woods and off the lakes different than when we went in. We had worked together. We had appreciated each other and trusted each other – especially the mothers and sons. We felt differently about the church that had taken us there, and the Lord of the church and the world that met all of us personally and stirred our faith in Jesus, who had invited us to come on that journey with Him. And indeed on the journey of our whole lives. Because we learned we weren’t sufficient to ourselves.
We needed Jesus the encourager. Jesus the challenger. Jesus the leader. Jesus the Savior. And besides that, the Great Friend, and lover of our souls.
It was the church as Beloved Community that invited us to experience Jesus in these different ways. Not just in church, but out on the road of life. In the prickly challenges of relationships under stress – paddling or portaging our canoes together. Bearing heavy loads. And, at the same time drinking in the staggering beauty of God’s wonderful world, made for us. Given to us for the deepening of our understanding and the challenge to live by faith.
And now, 30 or 40 years later, two of us remembered how it had been, and what we had learned for life. Sweet memory. Enriching recollection, even now, of where we are, and how we were led, and what it means to be part of the beloved community that is the Body of Christ in this world.
All of our life is journeys with the One who loves us the most. And gave His life on the cross so we could have life, surrounded and strengthened by His love.
Bless you, dear friends from the road!
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
|Arthur Rouner Ministries||
ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES