Imagine a church with such beautiful architecture that you can look up and see the clouds gently painting their pictures of angels and saints we use to know. The sunlight streams in at just the right angles that you can almost touch heaven. There seems to be a gentle breeze that brings a refreshing lift to your spirit. The music was majestically sweet and soul warming. The sainted preacher stands in the grand pulpit to deliver a sermon with the voice of thunder and the power of God strong enough to reach even the darkest soul. We sit in our pews stilled and awed by this powerful personification of God’s Word.
As the sermon reaches its climatic conclusion a young confirmand is brought forward for baptism. The sacrament is so real that it leaves blood dripping from the preacher’s hand. What a powerful day! What a beautiful church!
Ever been to a church like that? Ever been in a service like that? I have. As Paul Harvey would say: “Now the rest of the story.”
The church was the side yard of our parsonage in Bryson City, NC. Of course the great architecture was God’s nature all around us on that Spring morning. The grand pulpit was the old tree stump and the old sainted preacher was my 6 year old brother. I (4 years old) was the song leader, the entire congregation and the one who helped to bring that young confirmand to the Baptismal Font: that is bring the scrawny neighborhood cat to the mud puddle in front of the tree stump. The blood came about because that cat must have been of some other faith since I am pretty sure he didn’t like the idea of baptism and fought tooth and claw not to receive this Wesleyan Sacrament. My brother preached with some sort of book in his left hand so he could used his right hand to point at the sins of the congregation. I would shout out amen at the appropriate times (I think he instructed me when to do that).
My brother and I grew up to be United Methodist pastors. We never saw that cat again. I guess he went as a missionary to China?
Isn’t it strange the games children play. I wonder, do surgeon’s children carve up the neighborhood cat with a “butter” knife and talk with the family afterwards? I do know that some teacher’s children play school. Do we do what we see others do, especially if they are people who are role models for us? When I was in college as a student pastor (serving a church and going to college at the same time) I would try to spend time with my son, Stephen. He liked baseball, so we would get out in the front yard and I would throw the waffle for him to hit. He had watched enough baseball to know what to do. He would rub dirt on his hands, take a few practice swings, and spit on the ground before I pitched each ball. I think he was in the first grade then. Later in life he turned out to be quite a short stop in slow pitch softball.
Once, when I was three or four, my dad noticed that I was watching him and doing everything he did. Later he told my mom that he prayed that he did only that which would lead his children to be good Christian men. I do thank my mom and dad for doing just that. This little story and many just like it are played out all over the world every day. Children are doing what they see adults of influence doing. Here is the question: If we continue to do what we are doing now, and our children continue to watch, what will we have contributed to the kind of people they will become? I believe, one way or another, we make a difference in the lives of others, especially our children.
Dear Lord, we are proud of our son, his wife, and our grandchildren. They are people of great character and solid faith. They are faithful to the church and devoted to you. If Shirley and I had some small part in that, we give you all the thanks and praise. We sought to love and be real, but your love taught the real lessons of life. Help us to continue to always live lives of courage and faith. In and through Jesus. Amen.