I know a preacher, God rest his soul, who preached the same sermon five straight Sundays. When asked about that, called by some of his most faithful church members as “excessive,” he smiled and said, “I’m not sure you get it, yet!”
Getting attention. I know another minister who preached, sort of, at the national conference of his denomination. He stood in the pulpit, hand-adjusted the microphone. Nothing more. He stood without saying a word for three minutes. You can only imagine how many legs were crossed and throats were coughed clear.
Then he said, “I’ve not said a word for three minutes. You are restless, angry, fit-to-be tied. Okay. Just think how African Americans are who’ve been waiting for two centuries for us to treat them fairly, equally and justly.”
So, the prefacing paragraphs give me self-permission [yes, redundant!] to share a story not new, not kept out of previous blogs.
It’s about Faith.
When a pastor in Colorado Springs, 1980—88, I volunteered one night a month as a Police Chaplain. There were 30 of us, every corner, and to some, center, of religion. We rode one night with an officer and were called to be at critical situations…you could guess. Homicides, Suicides, Domestic Quarrels [they were the worst], Death Notifications. [The first one I went to for that, it was 4 a.m. and we ended up at the wrong address. Hey, accidents happen.] The worst, as you can imagine, were the Domestic Quarrels, during which sanity hid in the corner and shouting was the main style of voicing.
Most memorable was my first chaplaincy ride was with Sue. We met, for the first time, in the main police station. She outlined her expectations. Ah, right out of the manual. I was impressed.
As I put on my seat belt, Sue was alerted by the Dispatcher, a call for immediate action…a robbery at a dry-cleaners.
Okay, I wondered, at 9 p.m. at night why would someone rob a dry-cleaners? [You can fill in the options here.]
So, off we went, as if we were filming a new movie…speed was essential, sirens and lights flashing. Damn! Did I sign up for this?
Other police were summoned, but probably breaking any speed limit, Sue arrived first, turned everything off as we parked at the end of the back alley to the strip mall. I could see a door open. It was the dry cleaners!
Sue jumped out of the car, pulled her revolver. Stopped. Looked in and pointed to my door, “Come on Pastor, let’s go!”
I gave my best puzzled face, “Sue?”
She said, “Come on, we’re in this together. Yes?”
I shook my head, “No, not tonight. I’m okay right where I am.”
She shook her head with authority, “Come on.”
“That’s not fair!” I imagine my voice shook more than declared, “You’ve got on a bullet proof vest.”
She didn’t hesitate, “Yes, I do. But don’t you have a bullet-proof faith?”
She turned and left me. It was so good to be left sitting in the police car.
Okay, turned out a false alarm.
The rest of the night Sue and her new pastor friend, had a conversation. Turned out she had read Rabbi Kushner’s book, “When Bad Things Happen To Good People,” and took from that about faith: the more faithful you are the less untoward will happen to you. In a word, faith is for protection.
At the end of the evening, and yes, in many sermons decades following, I did my best to affirm faith…not for protection but for endurance. Being faithful didn’t mean no one would run a red light in your way. It didn’t mean you wouldn’t get cancer. Having faith means, literally and profoundly, that we are never alone from God. Never alone. Faith sustains being with God.
To that, Tom Ehrich shares the closing affirmation about faith,
“Faith requires effort, grounded in a willingness to try and leading to strain and then pushing through the strain. If faith were as easy as buying a Bible for one’s desk or attending church on Sunday, it wouldn’t mean anything.
Faith requires self-awareness, so that one doesn’t get lost or discouraged by unrealistic expectations, but has a mind for growth through challenge. Faith is a journey into the unknown, not into the impossible.”