Thursday, February 14, 2008
The Preacher’s Corner
If you can rearrange the kitchen without a quarrel...
Last Saturday there were so many cars parked around our church you would have thought it was a Presbyterian prayer meeting! Alas, our agenda was much more prosaic; it was a congregational work day. A dozen strong backs and willing hands from the congregation, as well as our ever-cheerful friend M.H. “Sugar Bear” Hampton, contributed “energy, intelligence, imagination, and love,” (that’s a favorite phrase from the ordination vows for our church officers), and the place was made to sparkle and shine.
Small churches live and die by minutiae. All churches probably. But who is going to paint the white letters on the sign out front, or repair the catch that holds open the door into the sanctuary? Those are “piddling” jobs for professionals, and the minister really hates to ask talented church members to do such odd tasks. So a lot of things go undone for years, unless someone appears who likes to play Mr. Fixit. If that’s your game, have we got a place for you!
Preachers like to tell the story of Mary and Martha, two women of Bethany on the outskirts of Jerusalem, who with their brother Lazarus opened their home to Jesus. Martha was busy in the kitchen but Mary “chose the better part” and sat at the feet of her Lord.
All I can say is that Jesus was never the rabbi of a congregation, else he would have known you cannot run a religious assembly without a good many Marthas! Really, I wonder why we have to make a choice. Cannot a person do both? That is what most of the members of my congregation do. In fact, we had several gentlemen Saturday who came and helped the “ladies circle” with their cleaning.
Our church opens several times a year for tour groups, and frequently for individuals. So we like to keep it polished and nice for those who come to see us. That is not easy since we “cannot afford staff” and most of our members are employed full-time.
I calculated once that there are more light bulbs than members in our church. I think there are about two lights per communicant. It seem that on certain Sundays both humans and light bulbs seem to burn out. It is a rare Lord’s Day that I do not pull out the ladder and change a bulb or two before Sunday school. But that is minor compared to the Sunday the chandelier shorted out with all the fire of a Roman candle, sending members in the pew scattering like geese in a hail storm. Needless to say, that ended the sermon for that morning.
Some of the ladies made sandwiches for our group, and as we munched I caught up on lots of news and details from people’s lives. As I say, the small church lives by its minutiae. I think our little congregation is remarkably harmonious. I say that because a group of ladies rearranged the entire kitchen, and (at least I) heard not a discouraging word! If a congregation can arrange a kitchen without a quarrel, then no issue will divide it.
I know at least one church that split when the altar carpet was changed from red to green, and they told us in seminary that churches do not divide over issues like the definition of the Holy Trinity but over what color to paint the fellowship hall. And I do believe this.
It is not that religion is hopelessly trivial, it is just that such things illustrate the realities of human nature. There is a beautiful prayer that our ladies clubs use to begin their meetings, and it bears repeating here: “Keep us, O God, from pettiness; Let us be large in thought, word, and deed. Let us be done with fault finding and leave off self-seeking. May we put away all pretense and meet each other face to face, without self-pity and without prejudice. May we never be hasty in judgment and always generous. Teach us to put into action our better impulses, straightforward and unafraid. Let us take time for all things; make us grow calm, serene, and gentle. Grant that we may realize it is the little things that create differences; that in the great things of life we are one. And, O Lord God, let us not forget to be kind.”
If we live by that, there is hope for all mankind.
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