Stained Glass and Stained Carpet

I consider Ron Cook to be my pastor. He is one of the best listeners I know. He love me. He is wise. He loves God. He once told me something like this, "God loves the church more than pastors know." How true. I was remided of this yesterday as I worshipped with our church family. I started crying tears of joy during the announcements and that set the tone. Jamie McCallum preached in our evening gatheing. It was a confessional message about God's work in our midst. FBC folks  - If you missed this please take a little time and read it. I love y'all.

Stained Glass and Stained Carpet: God Is Here

It is an honor to stand before you this evening and call you friends. When I first walked the steps to this pulpit back in January, I looked out on a room full of new faces, besides the one row of relatives and couple rows of friends from Truett that had come to encourage me and help calm my nerves. That was a great night- one that I’d remember for years to come, even if it had been my only interaction with all of you. For on that night, about 5 rows back and 3 seats in, sat my 90-year-old grandfather who has been a Southern Baptist preacher for at least 95 years it seems. I had only felt that God was calling me to preacher for a year at this point- and just like you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, it seems you can’t teach an old preacher new parameters of orthodoxy. So, my Papaw walked into this chapel a bit skeptical- a bit confused- quiet torn.

He wanted to be here to support his only grandchild out of 12 who was following in his footsteps by going into ministry. He loved that I had been a missionary. He loved that I was working for Baylor as a chaplain. But this idea of preaching- and serving the local church made him uneasy. Yet here he was- and one by one you embraced him and welcomed him- and you embraced me and welcomed me- as though you didn’t see that big of a difference between us. And through you, my Papaw began to see me as a preacher for the first time in my life. He saw that you were a people who loved God and served God- and who actually allowed me to offer a word from the heart of God. Because you believed in me that night, my Papaw believed in me. And, even if that had been the totality of my experience with the folks of the First Baptist Church of Waco- that would have been enough for me to love you forever. For on that night, 2 preachers walked into this room unsure of the other- and both walked out understanding each other better than we ever had before. We were preachers. We were family. And we encountered the living God in this place- through you.

And as I stand here tonight, my hope is to do nothing less than show you that the God who filled this chapel on the evening of January 30th and changed my life as a result of it, has continually filled my heart through the people and the work of this church since the day I walked the aisle and became one of you on May 22nd. He is here- He is moving- and His life resonates through you. I see it- can I tell you just how, just where, and just when?

You see, this concept of reporting what God has done is not just a random idea for tonight’s sermon, but rather is something people of the faith have done all along. There is something very biblical- very crucial to communities of faith- that comes from one within the community reporting to the others what God has done. It’s how we remember his goodness, when life just seems so hard- how we remember his presence when life just seems so ordinary- how we find the joy to gather in this place again and again- when we have already been gathering week after week, for decades.

So, as I report to you the signs of the Living God that I have seen in you I follow in the footsteps of the 70 who Jesus sent out in Luke 10. As they returned from their journey, they rushed back to Jesus overwhelmed with excitement because God had shown up! Verses 17-18 say,

“The seventy returned with joy, saying “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.”

They claim that they saw things happen they never would have imagined possible, and Jesus affirms that he saw it too.

Tonight, can I join with these disciples- and with a spirit of humble amazement, exclaim to you what God has done?

Along with those disciples, I want to follow in the tradition of the apostle Paul, as seen in Acts 21. Starting in verse 17, the author recounts,

“When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard it, they praised God.”

After being away from some time, Paul gathers around a church that is near and dear to his heart, and begins to tell them all the things God had done. Paul gives a testimony of the fruits of faithful service, and as a result the people praise their God.

They become convinced once again, that God is in the work of transformation, conversion, and salvation.

Tonight, along with the apostle Paul, can I report to you the fruits I see from your faithful service- fruits that convince us that God is at work- even if we haven’t been so aware?

For the next few moments I simply want to walk alongside Paul and the disciples- and simply proclaim how I’ve witnessed God at work among you? Would it be okay, if I just give a report of where I have seen Him in this place?

I have seen him as I gathered around the table with some of you. Whether it was over a cup of coffee at Starbucks, a meal at your kitchen table, or lunch at a local restaurant- we have sat and have shared stories of life with God. You have asked me about my calling, my journey, singleness, studies, and the transition. I have asked you about your family, your work, your life in this church, and your life outside this church. We have found that we are more alike than different- and we agree that we’re better for having broken bread together. God showed up when I met with you. And for that I’m thankful.

Then, I have seen our Father as I walk the halls on Sunday morning and pass by some of you who I know struggled to get out of bed that morning. Last week we awoke to a rain storm- some of you awake to that most every day. Some of you, I’ve come to know, wake up with grief many days. Others to physical pain that makes each step from the house to the church and back difficult. Some have been hurt by the church in the past- either this one or another- and to come back each week stirs up old feelings of regret and disappointment. Yet, here you all are- week after week, with each step proclaiming that somehow being here is worth the effort- even worth the pain. You have helped me believe that church is worth it too. And in this shared conviction, I see God- and I praise him for you.

I see God each day- as I look around and see families, single people, young folks and older folks simply wanting to be a part of what God is doing. Some of you spend months out of the year preparing for one week in Guatemala, praying that the children you serve will see Christ in you. Others help volunteer at the Gospel Café as often as they can- choosing to know and serve our homeless population- praying they see Christ in you.

And then each month the fellowship hall is packed with folks who give up their typical dinner time to sit alongside and serve the homeless who come to us to be fed. I was talking to a homeless man in my first month here- and when he found out I worked at First Baptist he said the Agape meal was the day he looked forward to the very most each month. He said at least that night I know I will leave full and will be treated well. You pray they see God through you- and it seems those prayers are answered.

And each Saturday a bunch of little kids with their cleats and shin guards on make their way to FBC- because this church has determined that fun should not be regulated to those who can afford it.

From LIFT workshops, to summer meal programs, to ESL, to VBS canvassing in Kate Ross- you show that our God will not be contained in this building. He’s on the loose and you’re out there with Him!

As you walk out these doors week after week and long to be the presence of Christ for those out there, I also find myself challenged to not get too comfortable inside these church walls. God is present in your belief in his kingdom- and as you serve He shows up all over this town, all over this world.

I’ve seen God in deacon’s meetings- yes even in deacon’s meetings- as a room full of folks put the prayer needs of this church before any issue on the agenda, week after week. It was in these meetings that we celebrated that birth of a new child and mourned the death of Mrs. Dodee Jackson. It was in one of these meetings, that just a few weeks after her death, Dick Jackson stood and shared a word of encouragement from Scripture- as though he needed to encourage us in his time of loss! In the midst of his pain, he wanted to offer a word of life to the church that loved him- and in that moment that room became a holy place. This church is still a place people cling to in life and in death- Our God is still the One you cling to in life and in death- and each day in between.

I could go on to talk about how I’ve seen God at work as a senior adult class pulled their funds together to send a young 13 year old boy to summer camp. They had never met him but decided he was worth taking a chance on. That week this young boy’s life was changed and the life of our entire youth group was changed by him.

And on these Sunday evenings, when a group of you gathers to hear one seminarian try out this thing called preaching after another. God knows you could get better speakers up here. It could be more interesting- it could be more entertaining. Yet, you don’t seem to care too much about that. You’re too busy offering hugs and words of encouragement to those of us who are terrified that we’re not really cut out for the call on our lives. I see God in your selflessness- it often seems church isn’t about you at all.

Or I could tell how I see God each week when parents and leaders throughout who have put in 40 hours at work and who knows how many hours at home, come into their respective classrooms with a lesson ready to go. In the midst of busyness and being pulled every which way, you come to this church ready to give some more of yourself- because you seem to take Jesus’ command to make disciples literally. You care that He is known- you care that each one in this church from the youngest child to oldest adult has the opportunity to really love him. I see Christ in your care and in your efforts.

Or we could speak of the Sunday School class who adopted and elderly couple and gave up a weekend to give them the anniversary celebration they would never forget.

Or what about those college students who fill this very room every Wednesday night, until an hour past my ideal bedtime, worshipping and digging into the depths of Scripture together. We all know college students have plenty of options for where to be at any given hour of any given day. And yet they’re here- they’re worshipping- they represent the next generation that stands alongside each of you and says God is worth it! And the church is the Bride of Christ!

And then, there’s those youth who know the codes to the doors in this building better than I do. That probably makes insurance companies nervous, but it reminds me that you have given them a place to belong- a place to call home- they call this church their own.

And then once they break into the building, they could proceed to show you every knick and cranny of this church. From secret rooms, to dungeons, to the top of the dome (not that I’ve gone up or down there in case Cecil is listening). As they lead me around the maze that is First Baptist I can’t help but smile. The fact that they know this place so well tells me that they’ve been allowed to live in this place- to enjoy- to kick back and realize that sometimes God’s presence must be responded to with reverence and awe- and other times His presence is best responded to by kids laughing, and running up and down the hallways- truly believing that there is no place they’d rather be in that moment.

Or I could mention how I’ve seen God in the lines that almost go out the sanctuary doors as you all gather to welcome new members and new believers. This family is not closed- but is always ready for who God will send next and what he wants to do next. By the time the last hand is shaken, those standing in the front have a coarse voice and a full heart. They realize you cared more about welcoming them than beating the lunch crowd- and in that gesture you stand with our God who always puts people above agenda.

I see God in the carpet stains that show signs of activity- of eating and creating together. I see him during the children’s sermon, as boys and girls rush to sit closest to our pastor. They cling to him, because he’s not just mom and dad’s pastor- he’s their pastor too!

I see God as folks who have shared passed disagreements stand pews apart week after week and lift their voices simultaneously to the God of reconciliation- to the God who heals. They pass the bread and cup to one another, acknowledging that we’re all broken, and by sharing in or Savior’s brokenness we can all be made whole.

I see him in the group of 10 or so WMU ladies who meet the third Monday of every month with a simple desire to know what God’s doing in the world and pray on behalf of those serving far from home. They don’t think they’re doing much, but as one who spent a couple years far from home I can testify that they are. There were many days that I didn’t know much about why I was there or what I was doing, but the one thing I did know was that the WMU ladies were praying for me and for God’s work through me. These women are prayer warriors- women who still believe God has a heart for the nations and prayer matters. Their years of faithful service inspire me to press on as well.

And I experienced God through you on July 31, as I had the opportunity to preach that Sunday morning and then accompanied a group of youth to serve at the homeless shelter that night. You have given me a place to embrace my calling just as I am. You have believed in me, and in so doing have helped me believe in the church that I was so afraid would never want me. You see me as a minister- and I see each of you as one as well. For in a time of great uncertainty, you ministered to me- by believing God could actually use me- not because of my gender, experience, or skills- but simply because God is faithful to work in and through his church.

Friends, this is just the beginning of my report of what God has done. Praise him there’s even more- more that you know that I don’t. More that some of us will never know- and most definitely more to come. In Scripture, when a report was given the purpose was to proclaim to the hearers that this God really is who He says he is. To remind the believers that He really is at work- that he really is present- that He really is on the move. Friends, if nothing else may we leave this place tonight convinced more than ever that God is here among us. May you see him in the sanctuary as you find yourself gazing up at the massive dome where light trickles down. Mat you see him as you look up at the baptistery imagining the many feet that have walked down those steps, and the many that will. May you see the story of his work among us is in the beautiful stained glass windows and in the beautiful stained green carpet. May you see it in the ancient pews and the month old futons that already show signs of donut icing and taco night. May you hear him in the songs you sing, the words of life you offer, the laughter that arises, and the tears that are shed.

As we live life in this place, our Father is living it with us. You- the ones who are even here on a Sunday night- are the ones who tend to be here most every night the doors are open. Sometimes when life becomes pretty normal, and worship routine- we need someone who is utterly convinced that we’re living in the midst of a miracle- that we’re dwelling in the presence of the Living God- to help us remember and believe it to. Like our friends the disciples and Paul I’m here to confess that God is at work, that the miracle of his presence is here, and that I see him in you. May you leave rejoicing- convinced once again, that God is in place.

1 comment:

EmeraldMosaic said...

Thank you for posting this; I wasn't able to be there.

Post a Comment

Copyright © Broken Steeple