Thursday, March 19, 2009
The Preacher’s Corner
Being a minister is a 24/7 calling
In the constitution of my denomination are six things called “the great ends of the church.” Your denomination probably has some similar list. Ours are:
1. The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind. 2. The shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God. 3. The maintenance of divine worship. 4. The preservation of the truth. 5. The promotion of social righteousness. 6. The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.
These form a nice summary of what our little church tries to do, although I sometimes feel that item number 3 is somewhat understated. I would like to see us do more than just “maintain” divine worship! But I have had to learn that some Sundays that is just what you have to do.
One of my old friends and mentors, the Rev. Murphey Wilds, who was a pastor in Senatobia and then Oxford, married a planter’s daughter down in the Delta. Mary Rose’s father was Frank Mitchener Sr., of Sumner.
One Sunday, Murphey and Mary Rose were in Sumner to visit her family. Mr. Mitchener was along in years, and had been a faithful elder and supporter of his longtime pastor, Dr. Fred R. Graves, who served the Sumner Presbyterian Church from 1917 to 1943.
Making conversation with his elderly father-in-law, Murphey asked Mr. Mitchener if Dr. Graves had given a good sermon that morning, to which Mr. Mitchener replied that “Unfortunately, I really did not pay attention.”
Feigning dismay, Murphey exclaimed, “Oh! Why not?” To which Mr. Mitchener replied, “I am sure that whatever Dr. Graves may have said was perfectly all right!”
“The maintenance of divine worship.” Some Sundays that is just what we have to do.
Dr. Betty Achtemeier, my preaching professor at Union Theological Seminary, used to say that being a small town pastor was a lot like being a fireman. Sometimes there would be great excitement, but most of the time you just have to sit and wait. Like the Boy Scouts, you have to practice your motto, “Always be prepared.”
A minister never knows when he or she will be needed, and in a small church you can’t say, “Don’t bother me on Tuesdays.” It’s a 24/7 calling, and I suppose, therefore, it’s a good thing that the “excitement” is not constant.
Last Sunday was a gray, cold day. It was the kind of cold that went straight to your bones. Much of my flock was out sick, or caring for those who were. A small huddle of us, therefore, saw to “the maintenance of divine worship.”
On the other hand, when you think that not a Sabbath Day has passed in 2000 years that this has not been done in little churches across this globe, filling our place as a small “link” in that great chain may not be so shabby after all.
Divine service among Christians, along with the prayers of the Hebrew synagogue, is the longest-running institution in western civilization. The styles of clothing may change, along with the tempo of music, but the basics stay the same. It’s not always exciting, but there is a comfort in the continuity. So I am always glad for “company” as the church goes about her God-appointed tasks.
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