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.
Perhaps you’ve noticed: lots of good people need your help. They want to tell you the story of their good work. For many cases, it’s God’s work, so it’s got to be good.
And, they want you to gather round on an October evening to hear their story, of how God called them to distant places to tell remote places about Jesus and His love. And the power of that love to transform not only their lives, but your life, too.
They want you to hear about the wonderful works of God. Hope Academy wants you to know how dedicated teachers are helping inner-city children find a school that will love them, and help them learn and to have a dream for their own lives. And they want you to come and visit their children and the workers, and conclude that you could do that too. You could make a gift to help them do the work. Indeed, you could join them in the city, to give your time, your heart to helping miracles happen.
Or, our own Pilgrim Center for Reconciliation would love you to know them better, and understand their healing work in the human heart, through forgiveness, in bringing people together and making peace in places of conflict around the world - on the streets, in communities, in churches, in homes and families - and that you could help that work grow by your gifts, and by learning how to go yourself to the angry places to bring Jesus’ love.
Each group promises a wonderful evening of making friends, of having new understanding.
Molly and I are inviting friends to join us for such an evening on October 14, to just come and see what might happen to you, that would give you joy, and new—or renewed—purpose as “your heart is broken by the things that break the heart of God.”
It could begin a great adventure in life for you. Molly and I are particularly excited because our granddaughter Anna is now working for the Pilgrim Center. She is a winsome soul, with great gifts and abilities, which she wanted to use in healing work that she finds exciting.
Could you join Anna, and Dr. Jim, and Molly and me and see for yourself? At the very least, it will be an evening of learning, and making friends. We’d love to see you there. But, much more than that, it could be the beginning of a new chapter in life for you, whatever your age and stage. It could lead you across bridges of friendship with the northside community of Minneapolis, and with the vital, Spirit-filled Black church of America, and of the people of countries far from ours, and different from ours.
That’s what it was for Molly and me as we went to help Rwanda be healed in heart after its horrific genocide of April – July, 1994. Africa taught us that the way of healing was forgiveness, and a ministry of our own repentance, carried out on our knees.
Our president, Dr. Jim Olson, has brought the courageous, sweet-spirited pastor Brian Herron of Zion Baptist Church to help lead healing retreats for the Pilgrim Center. Brian holds out one of the sweetest, kindest invitations to follow Jesus that we have ever heard. We want Brian and his wife Rhonda to know you. We also want Rev. Richard Coleman, who went to Africa with me, and his Mary, of Wayman Church to know you.
It could be a day of new friendship for you and for them. We think Jesus wants you to try. Do you dare? We could do it together.
Your brother, with love,
We had visited the northside church which has welcomed us as we’ve tried to be little quiet bridge to the Black churches of our city. They even save us a seat when we come, and have invited “Mama Molly” to give a parting prayer at the end of the service a week ago.
They are a people “full of the Spirit” for me, and Zion’s pastor touches us deeply when, in a very confessional and personal way, he expounds “The Word.” We are always lifted as we come away from their two-hour service, and the kindly greetings of their people.
But today, as we drove away from Colonial Church, the church we’ve loved and served so long, Molly said, as a kind of pronouncement: “All the dear faces!”
And she was right. They were everywhere: people precious to us through our friendships now close to 50 years. So many relationships in dozens of different ways – people with whom I’d paddled the Boundary Waters; people who had been my young friends in Confirmation class; people I’d married, and families whose loved ones I’d buried; people at whose hospital bedsides I had prayed; people who had simply chosen to be our friends; some who had walked with us at different times; doctors who had helped in our healing; friends who had simply been our fellow journeyers; one person who had forgiven us much; old friends who had dropped out of sight for a year or more who were suddenly there.
It made me think what a strange and wonderful thing “church” is. For some, it’s the “band of brothers” – and sisters, who have stood together as Christ’s body, bringing His love to bear in our lives and many other lives.
They’re the people who smile at you, who cross the aisle to touch you, with a loving word; people who have been our partners in prayer, in ministry, in mission.
It was a sudden, huge awareness. It makes us think how “Blest be the tie that binds.”
Of course, “church” too, is where we hear “The Word,” sing the hymns, share the sacraments, and just live the life.
We both felt a great sense of gratitude for those three companies of people who had been “church” to us – the first little congregation in Williamsburg out in western Massachusetts, and then the Eliot Church in Newton, MA, and finally – Colonial: the people who had borne so much in their life with us. Some of them holding us and looking at us with deep, real, but unspoken forgiveness, and love in their eyes.
We might all do well to think what church really is to us—what we learn there, experience there, change in us from being in that company. And how we are touched by the love of God by our daring to be in that company of Jesus’ followers.
May it be humbling joy to you.
Love you all.
Today was another Sunday for Molly and me in a black church on the northside of Minneapolis. We go there a fellow Christians. If anyone asks, we say we are “Visiting Christians.”
Zion Baptist Church is an unabashed charismatic “spirit-filled” Christian company. They sing loud, raise hands, pray earnestly, and preach truth – about God’s love for all people and His ready forgiveness through sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and the calling of Jesus to follow Him into the hurting world, where wounded people have done terrible things to each other.
It put us back in the world of genocide, where in Rwanda and Burundi neighbors killed neighbors, and World Vision helped us find ways to take Jesus’ forgiveness into those lands of blood as a pathway to reconciliation, and healing – 20 years of wonderful work, not only in Rwanda and Burundi, but also in Eastern Congo, in Uganda, in South Sudan, in Ethiopia, and Kenya, in Tanzania, Lesotho, and South Africa. God even helped us bring it home to Minnesota, and New Hampshire, and Minneapolis. Work that is still going on, and expanding under the successor leadership of Todd and Mary Bertelson, and Dr. Jim and Annette Olson.
With other pastors and people, Jim Olson and a host of friends, the idea of a “21 Days of Peace” was born on the north side of Minneapolis.
On September 8, 2021, The Washington Post published the story by two north side leaders, Louis King and Jerry McAfee, of this shrewd, simple, faithful approach. Here are excerpts:
“On May 28, Gloria Howard, an elder with Shiloh Temple, opened a lawn chair and sat down on one of the most dangerous street corners in North Minneapolis. Every day since, as part of the 21 Days of Peace community organizing project, she and others like her in our city have sat on street corners that are threatened by violence. Through the simple act of publicly taking a seat – staking their claim to a peaceful neighborhood by interrupting violence – they have undoubtedly saved lives.”
“Being a violence interrupter isn’t the only answer, but it is clearly helping in Minneapolis.”
“Our group asked the Minneapolis Police Department to identify the most dangerous spots in our neighborhood, the 4th Precinct, and then we went there, pulled out our chairs and sat down. For the past three months, we have conferred daily with the precinct about the number of volunteers (two to 15, usually) and hours needed. We work in shifts, using a sign-up log online. In the winter, we’ll work on relationship-building with young people in the community.”
“The city’s overall violent-crime statistics have improved across the summer. In June, homicides in Minneapolis declined from June 2020, the first such drop this year. Then the same thing happened in July and August, according to the Minneapolis Police Department. Rape and aggravated assault also declined year-over-year in June and July. We hope the conspicuous effort at violence interruption in the Northside has had a ripple effect across the city.
“What makes this simple act of sitting apparently so powerful?
“The people sitting on these corners in their chairs are members of the community. We know our young people, and they know us. But more important, we represent one of the strongest bastions of moral authority left in these areas: the Black church. We draw on the power of congregation—of family, of friends and of community—to try to interrupt the violence. And our faith gives us the courage to put ourselves in harm’s way.
“We are encouraged by what we’ve achieved in Minneapolis, and we take heart that we are not alone. Groups in the city such as MAD DADS and A Mother’s Love have joined us in taking a stand.”
“We’re not declaring victory, by any means. But as elected officials look for answers to end the violence, they would be wise to pull up a chair and take a look at what’s working.”
We haven’t taken a lawn chair to a street corner, but every few weeks we take our bodies to a pew at Zion to hear a passionate word of love from the Lord through Rev. Brian Herron and take a step of “presence” toward our comrades in Christ, who welcome us. A very small step with Jesus. You’d be so welcome to come along.
Love to you and fellow followers,
I am home from church today. My young brother Jeff preached his heart out in a great call to his people for unity. He painted the picture of what we could do for God in this day if we were united.
He was preaching to the name-change issue. Some people, younger and newer, think the word “colonial” in American history means slavery and the horrors that went with it, and stands as a barrier to anybody coming to be part of a church with such a name.
They don’t understand why our church founders, back in the 1940s, chose such a name. To the founders that name recalled the brave young pilgrims of the Puritan movement who left their native land, crossing a dangerous ocean to find freedom in the New World that would become America, where they would be free to worship God without the interference of the English State that declared the Monarch to be the head of the Church.
It was a daring adventure for those who brought their vision of a free church in a free land – epitomized in their Mayflower Compact, in which was an inspiration for the later revolutionary generation’s Declaration of Independence, and later Constitution of the United States.
The Congregational Way of church life in America grew directly from the settlement at Plimoth and Boston, the major settlements of English Christians on the Eastern seaboard of what was to be America.
The heart of the Congregational way of church governance was the periodic gathering of church members to bring their concerns together in open discussion – and prayer – that would lead them to a common view – a unity of spirit that enabled them to undertake important tasks together.
The church of ours experienced steady and even dramatic growth in the decades of the 1970s and 1980s. It was a controversial time. Many issues. People left. But new people came. From about 1500, Colonial membership grew ultimately to nearly 3900.
We couldn’t hold all the people. We talked of building larger where we were. But that was all too close and impractical. A committee searched for a new site – which, at the last minute changed to a 3+ acre site at the Crosstown and Tracy Avenue. A site on which Pemtom had hoped to build townhouses, but finally gave up and offered to Colonial for half price. Our fundraiser was dismayed and our fundraising chairman resigned (temporarily) in disagreement.
Many church meetings were held. We did not achieve unanimity but the votes were lopsided, like 300 to 10, or 400 to 12 (approximately). Finally, it all came together and a new church rose from the midwestern plains. It became our promised land, and on a January Sunday in 1979, a thousand of us, led by Paul Revere on horseback (left over from our Bicentennial celebration), marched across town to the new land, where hundreds more waited to greet us and join in a great celebration service.
Jesus said, “When two or three gather together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.” And so He was leading us into new life and new ministries, in Edina and across the world. Surely, all a miracle. Indeed, a cluster of many miracles.
There is a “Congregational way” to do business, if God’s people will dare. Very different from a council of 10 or 12 making the decisions. The challenge is to dare to follow Jesus into visions the people can embrace, and say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to me.”
Some of you know I have a “patron saint,” the Very Reverend James S. Stewart of Scotland, lyrical, eloquent preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen victorious from the dead. He was my teacher in New Testament during my year of study in Scotland, in the coronation year of 1953. He was my friend.
But he also saved my life. I was a first-year divinity student at Union Seminary, living in the old “prophets chambers” with my young wife, who gave up a Harvard degree to finish college at Barnard College in that city idolized by so many.
My “practicum” was teaching a Sunday School class of 7th grade boys, some from New York’s East Side, and others from upper Broadway in Manhattan. My seminary friend, Harvey Bates, and I decided to have a Saturday swimming outing for our two classes in the Madison Avenue Church’s pool.
One of my students was Eddie Frank, only child of his middle-aged parents in their modest East Side home. I went by subway to pick up Eddie, terribly excited, his parents told me to be having this swim day.
The two groups of boys jumped into the pool, splashing and playing. I was an Eagle Scout with a swimming merit badge, and a Red Cross Junior Lifesaving badge. I was a swimmer all my life from summers in New Hampshire.
While checking the boys we suddenly could not account for Eddie Frank. High and low, we looked. No Eddie. Until suddenly, something blue at the bottom of the pool. It was the body of little Eddie. We brought him up, started artificial respiration. Called the police. We could not bring that so eager boy back to life. My responsibility. I had not done what I could have easily done – asked them all “can you swim?”
The church looked to insurance and legalities. Eddie and his parents were left to me. Eddie’s parents were devastated, yet somehow kind to me. I was mortified, sunk in grief for the remainder of that year.
A classmate, in Holy Week, said, “Arthur, James Stewart of Scotland is preaching at Brick Presbyterian Church, why don’t you go?” I did. He was, somehow, a delivering angel to me. On Good Friday, he came to Union Seminary Chapel and preached on “The Renting of the Veil. I can hear his Scottish voice crying out the great truth of the crucifixion day. “As Jesus breathed His last, the veil of the temple was rent in twain, from the top to the bottom, as from the hand of God.” And that veil of exclusion that hid the Holy of Holies was opened. Where only the High Priest was allowed into once a year, the Holy place of God’s presence was open now, to all sinners to come.
It was opened for me, that day. My sin, my guilt, ever mine, was FORGIVEN that day.
I said to my Molly that night, “I need to go where that man is.” She immediately agreed. I worked construction that summer and we boarded the SS America in late September, bound for London. On our first night there, we cried together, wondering what we had done.
But, we found our way to Scotland, to temporary “digs,” and finally a lovely apartment for the year. Molly studied Education at Moray House, taught school. I studied with James Stewart, John Bullic, Tom Torrance, and old Dr. Burleigh – and found myself on the University of Edinburgh crew. We traveled with Molly’s parents on spring vacation and hitchhiked Europe in the summer, came back to Union, finding the president of the seminary had discovered the Holy Spirit among the Pentecostals of South America.
My heart was healing and Jesus was my Great Physician. “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” And Jesus became my companion in a whole new way. I own the beginining of my own journey with the Spirit. It is the Great Gift I longed for the church I loved, to have.
This afternoon, as I wakened from my nap, I found the trees in our courtyard being blown by a high wind under full sunshine. Could this be a sign of the Spirit?
Several caring people, great lovers of the church talked about the church that means so much to them. “I talked with another couple,” one woman said. “We agreed we must speak-up and speak-out.”
And I must too, for there is a way – the Spirit’s way to come together, to be one, just as our preacher pleaded from the pulpit. The Spirit is precious to me. He’s the way Jesus comes to us – alive and unseen – like the very wind of Pentecost.
May I share my beloved teacher with you? He has long since gone to glory. But he has left his books – Heralds of God, The Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ, along with sermons. Abingdon Press published Wind of the Spirit. Hennepin County Library has the book. From its early chapter, “How to Deal with Frustration,” comes the following:
Winds of the Spirit, p. 12:
Easter and Pentecost! Bless the Lord that through all the chaos of the world, through all the complexities of your own life, God’s Spirit is forever active. On that fact depends all our hope and expectations. In the blackest night, if you open the windows and listen, you will hear the wind, and know that God is stirring, never slumbering, never resting, never desisting from His work of providence and redemption; and His cosmic patience is the salvation of the world.”
Bless you on the pilgrimage.
I’ve missed “church” for a couple of weeks. And I had slightly missed feelings about showing up. Two weeks ago our plans for church were scratched by a sudden, searing pain in my hip.
I confessed it to Molly at our rising from bed, saying I would somehow limp along. “Nothing doing” was her response. “Everyone has said: Call 911. Get examined. Don’t take chances.” It hurt enough, so I obeyed.
A friendly policeman came. Then the ambulance. They rolled out of Covenant Living and off to Methodist Hospital. When you come in on a stretcher, Emergency Room leaps to action. Everyone helped. A doctor came. Soon I was sent off to X-ray. Before long the doctor returned to my bedside. “Good news,” he said. “Nothing’s broken. We think it’s an attack of bursitis. We’ll send you home with pain pills and exercises.”
So, we spent Sunday with Joel Osteen and Wooddale Church on TV. The doctors were right. Over days the pain subsided.
The next Sunday our Pilgrim Center president, Jim Olson, was to preach at Zion Baptist on the north side. He is full of the Spirit and shows it when he preaches. He dips and dives in the great black tradition.
We moved with the rhythms of the morning and shared in the exhilaration of that remarkable Christian company.
So today was back to our own church, the church we love, with the name we cherish – while she still has it.
I leaned on my staff – a gift from the Cheyenne River reservation, held Molly’s hand, and made it to our “reconciliation corner.” It was good to be back. It felt like home. Wonderful, tried and true familiar faces were there. They turned. My great young Africa traveling companion came in, escorting his mother, whom he’d picked up at The Waters. He smiled and waved as he moved into his pew. He was welcoming us home. I was with “the beloved community.” The community of those 32 years, and the 25 Africa years that followed.
Then, across the aisle another old standby leaned around from his almost reserved pew, and grinned and waved. We were doubly home.
Then, at the passing of the Peace, he came across the aisle to give his welcome. “In the Jewish tradition,” he said, “the synagogue saves a seat for Elijah. Last week it was empty. But now, you’re back. All’s right when you and Molly are in your place.” While it may have been over doing it, the company of love was saying like the Youth Group’s song, “there’s a place in the world for a Christian.”
The church – home for the heart. The lovers of Jesus saying, “Welcome home. You’re where you need to be.”
It is where all of us as “the church” need to be – together. Praying. Singing. Learning. Listening – for the Words of God. Being prepared for mission in the world. Encouraging others just by your being there. An amazing phenomenon. There’s “a place” for you, and me. When we can stand and show we love Jesus. The sinless Savior, who gave His life on the cross to make possible the forgiveness of our sins. All of them.
It is a Divine dynamic. It is the way given for us to live – in hope. And our smiles in church, and our waves to each other, assure us that we are in the right place – with Jesus and His people.
Love you. In Him.
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?
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
|Arthur Rouner Ministries||
ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES