~ Pulpit Ponderings ~
I think this may be the most inspirational email I will get in a long, long time.
Father John Powell, a professor at Loyola University in Chicago, writes about a student in his Theology of Faith class named Tommy:
Some twelve years ago, I stood watching my university students file into the classroom for our first session in the Theology of Faith. That was the day I first saw Tommy. He was combing his long flaxen hair, which hung six inches below his shoulders.
It was the first time I had ever seen a boy with hair that long. I guess it was just coming into fashion then. I know in my mind that it isn’t what’s on your head but what’s in it that counts; but on that day. I was unprepared and my emotions flipped.
I immediately filed Tommy under “S” for strange – very strange. Tommy turned out to be the “atheist in residence” in my Theology of Faith course
He constantly objected to, smirked at, or whined about the possibility of an unconditionally loving Father/God. We lived with each other in relative peace for one semester, although I admit he was for me at times a serious pain in the back pew.
When he came up at the end of the course to turn in his final exam, he asked in a cynical tone, “Do you think I’ll ever find God?” I decided instantly on a little shock therapy. “No!” I said very emphatically. “Why not,” he responded, “I thought that was the product you were pushing.”
I let him get five steps from the classroom door and then I called out “Tommy! I don’t think you’ll ever find Him, but I am absolutely certain that He will find you!” He shrugged a little and left my class and my life.
I felt slightly disappointed at the thought that he had missed my clever line – “He will find you!” At least I thought it was clever.
Later I heard that Tommy had graduated, and I was duly grateful. Then a sad report came. I heard that Tommy had terminal cancer. Before I could search him out, he came to see me.
When he walked into my office, his body was very badly wasted and the long hair had all fallen out as a result of chemotherapy. But his eyes were bright and his voice was firm, for the first time, I believe.
“Tommy, I’ve thought about you so often; I hear you are sick,” I blurted out. “Oh, yes, very sick. I have cancer in both lungs. It’s a matter of weeks.”
“Can you talk about it, Tom?” I asked. “Sure, what would you like to know?” he replied. “What’s it like to be only twenty-four and dying?” “Well, it could be worse.” “Like what?”
“Well, like being fifty and having no values or ideals, like being fifty and thinking that booze, seducing women, and making money are the real biggies in life.”
I began to look through my mental file cabinet under “S” where I had filed Tommy as strange. (It seems as though everybody I try to reject by classification, God sends back into my life to educate me.)
“But what I really came to see you about,” Tom said, “is something you said to me on the last day of class.” (He remembered!) He continued, “I asked you if you thought I would ever find God and you said, ‘No!’ which surprised me. Then you said, ‘But He will find you.’ I thought about that a lot, even though my search for God was hardly intense at that time. (My clever line. He thought about that a lot!) “But when the doctors removed a lump from my groin and told me that it was malignant, that’s when I got serious about locating God. And when the malignancy spread into my vital organs, I really began banging bloody fists against the bronze doors of heaven.
But God did not come out. In fact, nothing happened. Did you ever try anything for a long time with great effort and with no success? You get psychologically glutted, fed up with trying. And then you quit.
“Well, one day I woke up, and instead of throwing a few more futile appeals over that high brick wall to a God who may be or may not be there – I just quit! I decided that I didn’t really care about God, about an
afterlife, or anything like that. I decided to spend what time I had left doing something more profitable. I thought about you and your class and I remembered something else you had said: ‘The essential sadness is to go through life without loving.’ But it would be almost equally sad to go through life and leave this world without ever telling those you loved that you had loved them.
“So, I began with the hardest one, my Dad. He was reading the newspaper when I approached him.” “Dad.” “Yes, what?” he asked without lowering the newspaper. “Dad, I would like to talk with you.” “Well, talk.” “I mean – it’s really important.”
The newspaper came down three slow inches. “What is it?” “Dad, I love you, I just wanted you to know that.” Tom smiled at me and said it with obvious satisfaction, as though he felt a warm and secret joy flowing inside of him.
“The newspaper fluttered to the floor. Then my father did two things I could never remember him ever doing before. He cried and he hugged me. We talked all night, even though he had to go to work the next morning. It felt so good to be close to my father, to see his tears, to feel his hug, to hear him say that he loved me.”
“It was easier with my mother and little brother. They cried with me, too, and we hugged each other, and started saying real nice things to each other. We shared the things we had been keeping secret for so many years.”
“I was only sorry about one thing – – that I had waited so long. Here I was, just beginning to open up to all the people I had actually been close to. Then, one day I turned around and God was there. He didn’t come to me when I pleaded with Him. I guess I was like an animal trainer holding out a hoop, ‘C’mon, jump through. ‘mon, I’ll give you three days, three weeks.’”
“Apparently, God does things in His own way and at His own hour. But the important thing is that He was there. He found me! You were right. He found me even after I stopped looking for Him.”
I practically gasped, “Tommy, I think you are saying something very important and much more universal than you realize. To me, at least, you are saying that the surest way to find God is not to make Him a private possession, a problem solver, or an instant consolation in time of need, but rather by opening to love. You know, the Apostle John said that. He said: ‘God is love, and anyone who lives in love is living with God and God is living in him.’”
“Tom, could I ask you a favor? You know, when I had you in class you were a real pain. But (laughingly) you can make it all up to me now. Would you come into my present Theology of Faith course and tell them what you have just told me? If I told them the same thing it wouldn’t be half as effective as if you were to tell it.”
“Oooh.. I was ready for you, but I don’t know if I’m ready for your class.” “Tom, think about it. If and when you are ready, give me a call.”
In a few days Tom called, said he was ready for the class, that he wanted to do that for God and for me.
So, we scheduled a date. However, he never made it. He had another appointment, far more important than the one with me and my class.
Of course, his life was not really ended by his death, only changed. He made the great step from faith into vision. He found a life far more beautiful than the eye of man has ever seen or the ear of man has ever
heard or the mind of man has ever imagined. Before he died, we talked one last time.
“I’m not going to make it to your class,” he said. “I know, Tom.” “Will you tell them for me? Will you…tell the whole world for me?” “I will, Tom. I’ll tell them. I’ll do my best.”
So, to all of you who have been kind enough to read this simple story about God’s love, thank you for listening. And to you, Tommy, somewhere in the sunlit, verdant hills of heaven – I told them, Tommy, as best I could.
If this story means anything to you, please pass it on to a friend or two. It is a true story and is not enhanced for publicity purposes.
Rev. John Powell,
Professor, Loyola University
With all that we are experiencing right now – virus, injustice, violence – I think we have also forgotten one more fact that we can always rely on – God will never let you down. God will never turn you away. Only trust Him. Only trust Him. Only trust in Him!!! You can!!! Trust Him today and always!
I hope everyone remains in good health from this virus. And I pray that we all trust in God to take care of us, provide for us, and sustain us through His over whelming love. And Remember:
“Be Safe While You Keep the Faith.”
As Always, In His Grip …Shalom Aleichem (Peace Be Unto You) …
Until the Nets Are Full,
Letter from ECO:
April 30, 2020
Dear Church Family;
Your Session met last evening to discuss the next step forward for worship during this pandemic. I assure you they take this very seriously. They have reviewed all orders and statements at the federal, state, and local level that recommend caution and provide detailed instructions maintaining good health and prohibiting the spread of the virus during worship services.
During the meeting, the Session reviewed and discussed the various concerns of members and several courses of action for worship. After lengthy and detailed discussion, it was decided to have worship in the sanctuary (11am) AND continue the recorded worship as provided by LINK to YouTube since March 22. Therefore, and until further notice, when worshipping in the sanctuary the following guidance will be observed:
The Session is fully aware of possible hardships due to these procedures which are very contrary to our way of habitual worship and fellowship. They are resolved to the fact that in order to get back to freely worshipping, the church family must abide by these procedures to ensure the safety and health of everyone. As this is uncharted territory, please be kind, patient, flexible, and dutiful. Any concerns, suggestions, and/or questions, please let us know. God bless you and your families. Until next, I will remain,
Your Most Humble and Obedient Servant,
Pastor Buddy nnDnn
~ The Lighter Side of the Church ~
(When we get past all this maybe I can include something lighter –
but right now, my heart isn’t in it.)
~ And on a Serious Note ~
We opened the sanctuary for worship services May 3 and since then we have had 20-30 members in attendance each Sunday. Though indications tell me that fewer and fewer members are watching, I am still recording the services and will do so for the next few weeks. With the Sessions approval I will eventually only send the recordings to those who are at risk and those who let me know they still feel unsafe. I want to remind the membership that Sabbath worship is directly for God; a time where we offer Him praise and thanksgiving. It is not a time strictly for fellowship or personal reasons. If we depart with joy in our hearts, a skip in our step, or lighter from burdens, that is all just fine. It means we have done our job to worship God without seeking something in return. And right now, with all that is going on, we need to be in church; coming together as God’s Children, Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus. Please, unless you feel unsafe or at risk, come to worship.
Hope we have more definitive instruction on the lifting of the social distancing. Once that is obtained the Session can met and determine just WHEN we can get back together and HOW. We just have to ride this thing – whatever it is – out once and for all. Hang in there!
Diane Herridge, wife of our church piper, passed away last Thursday morning after a tough illness. Bill asked me to preside at a memorial for Diane and details/arrangements are pending.
Please keep everyone in our prayers – sick, getting sick, afflicted, injured, and grieving.
If anyone needs a visit, please let me know and we can phone, or do a “curb-side” for now.