We Were Methodists

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7

A seminary friend of mine, serving in another denomination, shares this story with us: This summer we were Methodists. We worshipped at a small Methodist church in the little town near our cabin in northeastern Oregon.

What did we find? Basically, we found the church being church – and it was a blessing to us.

We were warmly welcomed. Mostly. There was Sharon who sat down next to me one Sunday and told me I was in the place where she had sat every Sunday for fifty years, but I was welcome to stay if I moved over.

We prayed together, sang together, heard the story of Jesus, and were drawn into common labors. One of those was working at the “Magic Garden,” where the church grows vegetables for the local elementary school and town food bank.

One Sunday in August there was an emergency plea. A farmer, Gene, had died suddenly, a brain tumor. Gene’s family needed help right now with this year’s crop of beets, carrots and potatoes. Three dozen folks – Methodists, Catholics and maybe a Buddhist or two – showed up to work. It felt sort of like an old-time “barn-raising.”

There were the usual foibles. The announcements went on too long. When the microphone was passed for prayer concerns, some folks took the opportunity the make yet more announcements, after which the rest of us said, “Lord, hear our prayer.” Our real prayer was, “Don’t let that person have the microphone again, please Jesus.”

It was all pretty ordinary – an earthen vessel – and yet somehow the extraordinary power of God really was/ is at work in that church.

As a bit of an outsider I saw more clearly how amazing church is. It may not seem like much, but really it is. I wonder what my friend, Tony, would have experienced in our church? If it is some of the ones I have served, I know he would have found Jesus present in those churches.

Dear Lord, give us eyes to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, to see the beauty and power in the church, in our church, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


Would You Look At That!

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

At the gas station recently, a pickup truck pulled up next to me at the pumps. The man who emerged from the black Ford looked like a thrash-metal guitarist.  He was bald and covered with tattoos.  They climbed his arms and swarmed around his neck, face, and skull, which was also littered with piercings.  His leather clothes were grimy.  His hands were greasy and scarred.  He looked like an ominous villain from some horror movie.

He looked at me and said, “Hello,” in a clear, articulate, tenor voice — and over the next five minutes we had an amazing conversation.  Out of what looked like an angry face came kind words and the sort of small talk you would expect to have with a frail grandmother while waiting at the checkout line. Once we were both finished pumping gas, he said “nice to meet you” and “have a great day” before we parted.  As I got back into the car I felt gratitude and shame: gratitude for having met this man who made me all the richer; and shame over the prejudices that almost prevented me from having a conversation with him.

The phrase “never judge a book by its cover” came to mind, but even more the words from 1 Samuel: “for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

So often we judge others on their appearances, but God judges the heart.  May we learn to do the same.

Merciful Jesus — thank you for encountering us in surprising ways.  Teach us not to judge, but to be open to your gracious, unexpected presence, in and through Jesus.  Amen.

Grace and Peace


Welcome The Stranger

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” – Matthew 10:40

A colleague tells the story of how years ago, out of great trust or great foolishness, I hopped a plane to Mexico on short notice to meet an author whose writing had affected me profoundly. The foolish part was that I had not made lodging arrangements and my Spanish was wanting.  I did have a housing list, and was destined for a convent.

A long bus ride into the countryside later, I arrived not at a convent, but a monastery.  Less than welcomed, I was offered a phone, and called each number on my housing list, getting nowhere until  finally reaching an English-speaking woman.

Turned out I was far from any lodging, and the last bus to town long departed.  “No taxi driver will come for you unaccompanied.  The only way you’re going to get to town is for me to take a taxi to come get you,” she said, and directed me onto the road to wait.

Time passed. Darkness fell. Coyotes howled, sending chills as they mocked my foolishness.  Finally, a taxi pulled up about 20 feet ahead of me; a young woman burst out, threw her arms around me, kissed me and whispered, “You’re my husband.  I’ll explain later.”

In short, the taxista had attempted to take advantage of a woman alone. She was only able to discourage him by saying she was pregnant and needed to get to her husband.

In the end, this woman escorted me, a complete stranger, to a hotel, saw me safely registered and bid me farewell, asking nothing in return.  This in spite of understanding the risks to her safety.

I have recently renewed my interest in ancestry.com and my search in discovering where my family is from. I am reminded that my family came to America by way of France, England, Scotland, Ireland. We came to America in the 1770’s. This was not our home, but we were welcomed and became Americans.

In my friend’s story we are reminded that if this lady can do what she did, what can we do to welcome the stranger to our church, our neighborhood, and across any border that might separate us?

Dear Lord, help me welcome the stranger, knowing that when I do, I welcome not only her, but you, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


PS: Thanks for the many Happy Birthday wishes.

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