A note from
Rev. Rob Warren
There is an old story about a minister that is tired of the way “his” church did business. So, during a week’s vacation, he stopped shaving, borrowed some old clothes from a friend, dirtied them up with some mud and fertilizer, found himself a hat and then camped out on the church’s front steps the Sunday morning he was supposed to return. As the story goes, members of the church told him to leave when they arrived, they threatened to call the police and not one of the people invited him in to come inside and get cleaned up, have a cup of coffee or cookies or come into the sanctuary to worship God with the congregation. The minister comes into the sanctuary with a dramatic reveal and then stands before the gathered people of God and pronounces shame. Shame! SHAME! Upon the church.
Early on in ministry (back when I knew everything), I thought about trying this little exercise so that I could judge how “haughty” the congregation I served was, I could evaluate how compassionate they were and how they would handle the situation. But a funny thing happened on the way to the pulpit – I had second thoughts. There were some problems with the execution – for one thing “disheveled” is not that out of character for me. I’ve carried a toilet through the Meadow Heights Woman’s club annual meeting.
It was an accident, because I didn’t know they were meeting early that day and the toilet in the women’s restroom of that wing needed replacing. I’m not sure Ms. Jenny has forgotten having to explain [sigh] “No, that wasn’t our sexton, that was our new pastor.” So, within a few weeks of arriving at that church, people figured out that anything out-of-the-ordinary on a Sunday morning was probably tied to worship in some way. I joked that I could fall through the ceiling of the church, land face-down on the sanctuary floor on a Thursday, and when people got there Sunday morning, they’d take their seats and start prelude on time thinking, “Oh, he must be doing the paralytic on the mat today.” So THAT was a no-go. But I had a point to make, so, I decided to flip the example. I wore my robe to the local grocery.
Now, I have to say, when you do something like that – you’ve not only changed your “normal” (even if you buy almost exactly the same items you bought last week) but it interferes with the “normal” for most of the other people in the store (the local Greek Orthodox parishioners didn’t even blink because their priests wore cassocks all the time). Some were very quiet and avoided me, some responded to my chattiness by nodding and silently moving away slowly, and one employee, someone that would become a friend, complimented me on my “armor” and started singing, “Are You Washed in the Blood” right there next to the Hot Pockets. I joined in and she knew immediately that I was from a different branch of the vine of Christ. About the only one that looked horrified was Ms. Jenny when she looked up from her intense stare at tomatoes and saw me grinning at her (this would become somewhat of a theme over the next decade and I admit that I genuinely miss her).
I miss Ms. Jenny because, in her own way, she interrupted the “normal” of what was going on to hold me accountable for being a representative of the Kingdom of God and “her” church. She reminded me of my role, my authority and responsibility to the people God had placed in my care. All she wanted was what was best for her church in her eyes. Even when we weren’t seeing the same picture of the future of the church, we at least had the desire for God to be at work.
Which is where I finally arrive at the point of today’s more-than-musing. I want to assure you – God is at work. I know because I watched it happen yesterday. While most people were watching the news, I was privileged to take part in resetting the sanctuary for non-Advent worship. Watching them demonstrate such care taking apart trees and preserving Chrismon ornaments, talk with each other, laugh – I was too busy watching God’s people work to pay attention to what was going on in the world. The Fellowship, happy to gather for any reason – but here is what was left unsaid.
The faith. The faith that it took to make sure the sanctuary was set up not only to record, but to be used in the future for worship. The hope that shows, that we WILL gather in the future, we WILL worship God. It seems like such a small thing, but I believe that it declares something more powerful than what will be accomplished by the rioters and protestors of the same day – God is still at work. The “normal” of the pandemic was interrupted to allow for God’s Word to continue to be shared.
The darkness of the world, that we have not only come to anticipate, but on many levels accept was, in a sanctuary in Marion NC, interrupted by people sharing the light and renewing their commitment to serve through those that have gathered and will gather again at 79 Academy Street.
To God be the glory, now and forever, Amen.