Sunday, January 12, 2020

Baptism is a Really Big Deal!


Matthew 3:13-17; Isaiah 42:1-9

 

Why do we baptize our children?  We Presbyterians may get turned around backwards on some things but baptism is not one of them.  We know, or at least we claim to know, why baptisms are such a big deal.  We know, or at least we claim to know, why in the Presbyterian Church baptisms are done publicly in the midst of worship and not privately in someone’s home.  And we know, or at least we claim to know, that for the gospel writers and for the early church, the baptism of Jesus was a bigger celebration than Christmas!  That hardly seems possible.  Imagine Frosty the Snow Man or Santa Claus being replaced a John the Baptist doll, complete with animal skins and a pull string which allows the doll to cry out, “You brood of vipers; who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Sinners repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!”  

I hate to admit it, but as important as Baptism is in the Presbyterian Church, I worry that we have lost sight of why this event is so significant.  When I was a Christian Educator in Charleston S.C., I got an early morning call from the church organist.  Nancy was seven months pregnant and as you can imagine much of the buzz in the church centered on the birth of her first child. But this was a phone call no one wants to receive.  She had been rushed to the hospital when the pregnancy had gone terribly wrong.  The doctors could find no fetal heart beat.  Stewart, the minister of our congregation had been with the couple through the night. When I arrived, I sat and prayed with the distraught couple.  Then Nancy grabbed my hand and said, “My baby will be stillborn.  But that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t alive yesterday.  When he is delivered, would you baptize him?  We can’t understand why Stewart won’t do it.”

With tears flooding my eyes I looked at them and gave the wrong answer.  I blurted out, “You know I am not ordained.  I am not allowed to perform the sacraments.”   

Nancy responded, “We don’t care. We just want our child to know God loves him.”

What is Baptism if not a glimpse of God’s expansive love which embraces all people ……. no exceptions! Baptism reminds us that God is beyond our understanding and comfort zone. Baptism marks the moment people first hear the words, “You are my beloved”.   It celebrates the moment we begin our journey within the community of faith by proclaiming each of us are participants in God’s Holy covenant. 

Imagine being on the banks of the Jordan River.  You have heard about this preacher called John the Baptizer.  Unconventional hardly defines this man. More beast than human, this crazy Nazarene, stands in the middle of the water, daring people to come down and join him.  His sermons are quotes from the book of Isaiah, begging the people to remember that from the beginning that they were a covenant people.  He screams out, “One will come in righteousness.  He will open your eyes.  He will open the prisons and bring out the people who sit in darkness.  He will bring the former things to pass by doing a new thing.” 

You are stunned by the words of this mad man who seems strangely sane.  You remember hearing about the God of Abraham, Moses and David. You weep as you rejoice in the memory of God’s covenant.  You celebrate on being reminded of the ancient promise that in life and in death we have always belonged to God.  And then you witness the Baptizer as he looks beyond where you are standing.  The Baptizer gazes at a very ordinary man who is approaching the water.  In a voice that startles you John declares, “Here come the servant, the chosen one in whom my souls delights.  Here is the one I have told you about.  Behold the righteousness of our God.”  

    The man about whom John speaks makes his way into the water.  John seems to almost hesitate, unsure what he is supposed to do in this drama.  Finally he reaches down, cups the water in his hands and lets it flow over the head of the chosen one.  Then a voice larger than even the Baptizer’s is heard from above.  The voice spilt the clouds like thunder declaring “This is my beloved son”.  Your eye catches sight of what appears to be a dove descending toward the figure in the water.  This bird, this manifestation of holiness, lights on the man’s shoulder completing the covenantal coronation.

Yes, Baptism really is a big deal.  It is divine action and human response.  When a person is baptized, the water poured on the recipients head is a representation of the action of the crucified and risen Lord, uniting the baptized person with Christ and Christ’s church.  It is promise by the person baptized to respond to God’s gracious action and accept the role of child of God.  None of this is terribly complicated when the baptized person is an adult.  The decision and the responsibility following this confession fall directly on the person baptized.  But what about an infant?  How can an infant understand the significance of the moment?  How can an infant confess the desire to repent?  How can an infant be held responsible for actions beyond the child’s comprehension?

In the early church, the rite of Infant Baptism became a reminder to the community that the church was forever bound in a covenant relationship with God.  This was not something that children just sort of got by osmosis.  It had to be taught.  That responsibility fell to both the parents and the church.  The Magna Charta of the Hebrew religion, Deuteronomy 6:4-7, proclaims, “Hear, O Israel, our God is one God.  You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul and mind.  These words shall be upon your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children.  You shall teach them when you sit in your house, when you walk along the paths, when lie down and when you rise up.”  This is why during baptisms in a Presbyterian Church the parents are asked, “Relying on God’s grace, do you promise to live the Christian faith, and to teach that faith to your child.”  It is also the reason members of the congregation are asked, “Do you the members of the Church of Jesus Christ promise to nurture and guide, by word and deed, with love and prayer, encouraging them to know and follow Christ to be faithful members of Christ’s church.”

  My dear friend Stewart knew he could not baptize the child mentioned in the beginning of this sermon because Stewart felt restrained by his ordination. As Presbyterians we believe Baptism to be more than a magical admission to heaven. It is a sacrament, a sacred promise that the baptized a child will be taught the story of God’s grace.  But sometimes our rigidity to doctrine supersedes the cry of the human heart. I am still haunted by Nancy’s impossible request.

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury writes, “Baptism is a restoration of the humanity God originally imagined. Jesus steps neck-deep into the swirling waters of our chaos in order that each of us might be reborn.”  

Baptism for the most part has become a ritual, a celebration of birth, a pre-wedding ceremony complete with white dress, attendants, and a party afterwards. Presbyterians have tried our best to use baptism as a gentle reminder of parental and congregational responsibility for the Christian upbringing of the child. Along the way perhaps we have forgotten that the original baptism was a transformational event. Baptism reminds us we have been contaminated by death. One cannot go into the waters of chaos without stirring up a lot of mud. In the midst of suffering and pain, in the midst of confusion and disorder Jesus stepped neck deep into our pain. Forty two years ago a childless mother understood this far better than I. She cried out, “We want our child to know that God loves him.”

She knew baptism is a really big thing.

To God be the glory.   Amen.

 

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Should I Bring A Gun to Church?




        I live in a very small world and yet I encountered five people in the last week who wanted to know if Rockfish Presbyterian was a safe place to worship. This concern was generated by the events of the last week. First, a man wielding a machete entered a house celebrating Hanukah.  Five people were wounded. While many have suggested this to be an isolated incident initiated by a mentally ill assailant, his actions were proceeded by tension over zoning laws and accusations against what some have called a Jewish “voting bloc” in Rockland County, New York.

        The second incident happened outside of Fort Worth. A transient recently given assistance by the minister of the West Freeway Church of Christ opened fire with a shotgun as the service began. He was shot and killed by the churches volunteer security team. Two members of the congregation died.  The minister praised the security team giving them credit for saving the lives of many members of the congregation.

        Like public schools, churches have become targets of human rage. The majority of these attacks have been burnings or destruction of church property at times when the buildings were empty. But as this week has exhibited, human lives have been lost while participating in the sacred act of worship.

        Your session, on more than one occasion, has discussed the safety of worshiping at Rockfish. We are fortunate to have a number of folk, including Jim Wright, whose professional lives revolved around working with Federal Agencies that dealt with such tragedies. Your session has listened carefully to their advice.

        More than one of you has told me you are licensed to carry a firearm and do so on a regular basis. I have not had the inclination to inquire if that includes times of worship. I am certain all of you know my views on gun violence and you have little desire to hear them again.

        But that is not the question I have been asked. Folks want to know if it safe to worship here. Here are the facts:

  1. The majority of places of worship attacked have been African-American congregations, Synagogues or Mosques. We are none of the above.
  2. While most of our request for financial help is transmitted through a phone call, we are engaged in more ministry projects than any other church in Nelson County. People know who we are.
  3. By declaring ourselves to be “The Light in the Valley”, we have identified ourselves as a congregation which welcomes the LGBTQ community. We celebrate this but not everyone is so enlightened or delighted.
  4. Our location near Wintergreen insures that we often have visitors who do not live in the area. On many Sundays I do not know everyone worshipping in our congregation. This is where we are dependent on the observant eyes of a selected few.

Keeping all of this in mind I have concluded since we are not a racial or religious minority our chance of confronting a violent situation is at best minimal. That does not mean nothing will ever happen. I am certain neither Emmanuel AME in Charleston or First Baptist in Sutherland Texas imagined such a tragedy occurring. But because the possibility of violence exists, do we drastically change who we are?

This place in which we worship has been identified with a radical concept, sanctuary. This is a place where we dare to admit how frail and limited each of us really is. It is a place where we claim a mystery, a God, as having a fundamental meaning over the way we approach life. It is a place we can dare to think thoughts that make no sense on Monday morning. It is a place we welcome the stranger. It is a place we offer hope to the lost. It is a place we utter “The Lord is my shepherd” as well as “ I shall not fear” and at least for a brief moment, believe those words to be true.

If I should walk toward this pulpit and one of you pat your hip and say, “Don’t worry, I have got your back”, I would instantly feel in conflict. This is my sanctuary. This is my holiest of holy places. To carry an instrument of violence within these sacred walls challenges the very notion of the idea of sanctuary.

One might argue this space is not exclusively mine, it is ours. Therefore the risk of our sanctuary being violated is shared. I would counter this logic with an illogical consideration. The spirit of sanctuary challenges protection from the very instruments which threaten to disrupt our holy refuge. I refuse to believe the answer to gun violence is more guns. I choose to trust within this sanctuary we try to speak and think and act in God’s way, not in the way of a fear-filled world. Our security comes from embracing something beyond what makes sense to those outside these walls. The logical mind would suggest I am risking lives by not arming myself. My illogical response would be, why make the church another haven for frightened people? God has called us to be an incubator for creative and courageous thought. This sanctuary is where birth happens. Our discoveries here give hope to a weary people out there.    

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Other Christmas Story


Matthew 2:13-23
 
        I imagine we have told the Christmas Story about every way imaginable.  We ponder Luke’s version which has Mary, Joseph and the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manager.  We kind of include Matthew’s story which is told from the perspective of Joseph.  It includes Wise Men from the East who confront and rebuke the advances of Herod.  I think most of us prefer the Luke story with Jesus being taken to Jerusalem and presented to the priest Simeon.  After the ceremony Jesus and his parents return to Nazareth where the child “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom and the favor of God.”
        Matthew has a different story to tell.  Sometimes I think that it is good that the passage we will read this morning comes the Sunday after Christmas.  A lot of folks are traveling and to be honest a lot of folks came to the Christmas Eve service and are done with church for the week.  For whatever the reason, the Sunday after Christmas tends to be a pretty sparse crowd.  So maybe this passage is best read when most of the folks are home.  Or maybe this is a passage that should be read when everyone is here, so no mistake is made as to why God felt it was necessary to dwell among us.
        Let me refresh your memory. King Herod went ballistic when the wise men “went home by another way.”  Historically we know Herod was not the most stable of personalities.  He was convinced everyone was out to take his throne.  Herod took the kingship by murdering his father and he kept it by killing his two brothers and even ordered the death of one of his sons.  Herod trusted no one.  When the Wise Men informed Herod of the birth of the Messiah, the king set into action a horrific law declaring every child under the age of two would be killed.  Jesus managed to escape but many a parent had an innocent child ripped from their hands.  Quoting Jeremiah, Matthew wrote, “There was wailing and weeping throughout the land from mothers who could not be consoled.”    
        There is no disputing the evil and tyrannical nature of Herod.  But Herod represents more than an historical psychopath.  Herod embodies the underbelly of the human experience.  Herod is those unspeakable horrors that conflict with God’s desire for harmony.  Herod reminds us that God’s plan for the salvation of humankind is just as necessary today as it was 2,000 years ago.  Jesus was born to embrace you and me and anyone else with the unfathomable boundaries of God’s grace.  Herod is a microcosm of the world in which we live with all its dangers and uncertainties.  Herod might be that person who is trying to undermine you.  Herod might be a job which enslaves you.  Herod might be a friend who overwhelms you.  Herod might be a lifestyle that leaves you crippled in more ways than you can imagine.  Sometimes we become Herod, leaving a path of broken relationships in order to grasp some mysterious aspiration that seems always just beyond our reach.
        Whatever the circumstance, when Herod disrupts our lives, we long for a place of respite, of safety, of escape.  We search for a place to wipe the slate clean; a chance to start all over; a land where Herod cannot follow us.  Mary and Joseph, much like their ancestors fled to Egypt.  The long arm of Herod could not stretch across the Nile.  The Holy family was safe among the Pyramids.  Jesus could be nursed without fear of death.  But the destiny of Jesus was not in the land of Egypt. 
        In many ways Egypt symbolizes something just as perilous as Herod.  Egypt is the place to which we rush when the world begins to crash down on us.  Egypt seems safe, an oasis.  But there is always a price to pay for the hospitality offered.  The sons and daughters of Abraham welcomed the generosity of Egypt when famine ravaged Palestine.  They loved it so much when the drought ended, they chose to say.  They forgot all their customs; they forgot what it was like to be free.    Worst of all, they forgot their God.  By the birth of Moses, the children of Israel had been enslaved not only by Pharaoh but by their failure to remember their Holy covenant.  Egypt, the place we flee to escape adversity, quietly rocks us into a false security where we forget our past and ignore our future.  Egypt numbs our minds and extinguishes our destiny. 
        But God does not forget.  Just as Yahweh lifted the children out of captivity and sent them on the treacherous road to the Promised Land, God brought Joseph home.   Herod had died, but the road Jesus was to travel was not less perilous than the one his ancestors had trod years before.
        To cross the Jordon,
                One must walk through the wilderness.
        To cross the Jordan,
                One must face a death threatening personal crisis.
        To cross the Jordan,
                One must risk the unknown.
        Imagine the decision Joseph had to make;
                Stay in the imaginary safety of Egypt,
                                                Or
                Travel in the real world,
                        Where Herod lurks
Around every corner.
 
Sometimes the Christmas Season can give us a false sense of security.    We think to ourselves, “Why can’t the whole year just be Christmas?  Why must we leave this warm place of peace and tranquility?”  The answer begins and ends with the question Joseph must have asked, “Why do we have to go back to the land of Herod?”
I think the angel of the Lord probably said to Joseph, “You are not going back to the land of Herod.  You are going back to fulfill the promise of God.”
 Imagine how our lives would be different if we could come to believe that the mystery of Advent and the celebration of Christmas could really make a difference in our lives.  Imagine how this January might be transformed if our eyes are opened to the possibilities afforded by God’s grace.  Imagine taking one small step to change the way Herod has disrupted our life.
A midnight trip to Egypt, or perhaps the Christmas season, has always served as a respite from our personal Herod.  Truth is we all need to be rescued from something  and sometimes we even need to be rescued from ourselves.  God knows this.  In the next couple of days we will  go back into a world filled with Herods.  How might tomorrow be different from yesterday?
Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Salvation is a word for the divine spaciousness that comes to human beings in all the tight spaces where our lives are at risk.  Sometimes it comes as an extended human hand.  Sometimes it comes as a bolt from the blue.  Either way, it opens a door through what looked like a wall.  This is the way of life and God alone knows how it works.”
We all love Luke’s cozy story of Christmas. But we better not ignore Matthew’s. Why?
Because Herod is always out there.
But so is God. 
        Amen.
 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Walking Beyond Darkness


Isaiah 9:2-7

 

        Christmas is three days away. I’m sure you were expecting a sermon about Mary and Joseph. Some of you would be thrilled if I had opened with, “Jacob Marley was dead.” Instead I have retreated deep into the Old Testament to retrieve a promise to a people overwhelmed by darkness.

        Why such a Grinch-like attitude? Is succumbing to just one Ho-Ho-Ho beneath my melancholy personality? Maybe one of Dickens’s spirits should invade my dreams and offer an invitation to celebrate a new dawn. You would think I would rejoice at the lights which blazes from each lamp post.  I should celebrate the constant jingles declaring Santa’s arrival in every department store. I know it is Christmas because my mailbox is filled to capacity with gracious holiday greetings. Even Kline’s is selling peppermint ice cream. So what is my problem? Why can’t I get with the program and give Amazon some business?

        Maybe I am too busy reflecting on the ghost of Christmas past. For many of us Christmas is a time flooded with memories. I am fortunate to have wonderful yuletide recollections. I am old enough to have walked the Duke of Gloucester Street with a lamplighter who hollered to local residents, “Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Jones, light your candles.” I remember Christmas caroling in the back of a truck filled with hay where snuggling with your girl friend became permissible when the temperatures dropped below freezing.

I spent one winter near the DMZ in an oversized tin can lamenting a ham stolen by a Korean saint.  In Virginia Beach, Deb, the kids and I spent Christmas mornings delivering meals before our first gifts were opened. Then there was Emma, an ancient wonder ravished by time who one Christmas taught my son everything he didn’t want to know about death. These stories of redemption fill my soul each Christmas. They are my light against the darkness.

        It is good to have these memories. When the shopping, noise, and expectations wear me down these anecdotes remind me that once upon a time Christmas wasn’t so complicated. That is not true for everyone.  For many, memories of Christmas are filled with darkness. A loved one lost during this season leaves a permanent shadow across any holiday. This is why I believe any celebration of Christmas should never be without with Isaiah’s ancient poem to those walking in darkness. Certainly Luke remembered this promise when he sat down to write the story of Jesus to a community which was desperately searching for light amidst their despair.

        Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus the people of Judah were filled with distress and anguish. The King was dying.  There was nothing particularly positive about king Ahaz but his death was about to place his very young son on the throne in an extremely perilous time.  Isaiah had the gall to announce this boy would be a godly king who would establish justice and righteousness. Isaiah promised Hezekiah would be celebrated as a wonderful counselor and prince of peace. While history records Hezekiah was a far superior king than his father, Hezekiah never lived up to the Isaiah’s expectations. But folks never forgot Isaiah’s words. His poetry continues to burn within the heart of anyone longing not just for a Messiah but an assurance of hope against the prevailing darkness. Isaiah reminds us that there is no end to the birth of God.

 

        In the deepest of night, there was a star.

        In the midst of the despairing, there was an angel.

        In a manger filled with no room, there was a birth.

        In a world consumed by darkness, there was light.

        I love what happens throughout December but I wish we could celebrate Christmas at a different time.  I love buying gifts for loved ones. It is fun getting cards from folks I miss. I enjoy the festivities and the food is great. I especially take pleasure in the generosity exhibited toward less fortunate folks in the week before Christmas. It is a wonderful way to celebrate the winter solstice. Cultures since the beginning of humankind have engaged in this sort of festivity. It is the last fling before the snow officially arrives and we are forced to flee into our caves and pray fervently for the early arrival of spring.

But why must Christmas be associated with darkness? Why does Christmas exhaust us? Why do we work so hard to decorate our houses but fail to decorate our souls? Why is Christmas for so many a time of sadness?

If we could eliminate the decorations, the silly songs, the gift giving, the cards, all the food, and dare I say it, even peppermint ice cream, what would be left?

Only a light,

shining in our darkness.

Only a son,

given to us.

Only a Wonderful Counselor,

establishing justice.

Only a Prince of Peace,

upholding righteousness.

Only a promise that

Despite our sorrow,

God will share our pain.

        Because God so loved the world.

                No single day can contain Christ’s birth.

        No amount of darkness can conceal God’s light. Because God so loved the world.

                Every day,

                        Unto us,

                                Hope is born.             Amen

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Privilege


Isaiah 11:1-9


 

        Writing a weekly sermon is a strange phenomenon. Normally I read the text a couple of times on Monday. I pick a idea and write a prayer that is printed in the bulletin. I think and sometimes dream about the text until Wednesday. Then I sit at my computer and begin to compose something I audaciously, sometimes fearfully, will throw your way come Sunday morning. The last couple of weeks have been different. Everything during our Advent season is revolving around four candles. Weeks ago I chose the scriptures that would complement the distinctive identities we chosen for each candle.  Today we lit the candle of Privilege. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines privilege as, “a right, advantage, or immunity granted to a particular person, group or class which is withheld from all others.”

By Monday morning I was paying more attention to the candle than the text. My imagination took me to the world of Charles Dickens. He championed the children of 19th century London more ferociously than anyone. Oliver Twist exposed the cruelty that befell orphans. Hard Times takes a critical look at English culture and the disparity between the privileged and the rest of society.  Perhaps Dickens’s greatest personification of the English gentry was exhibited in the character of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Tuesday morning I traveled to a prison, hospital and nursing home. Time alone in a car is a dangerous commodity for someone on a holy mission to expose the dark side of American society. I began a sermon that would have made a few of you angry, most of you guilty, and caused some of you to exclaim, “Finally, the sermon I’ve been waiting to hear.”

But often something happens on the road to Emmaus. A few members of the Adult Sunday School class took a field trip. Tuesday afternoon we gathered at the Zeus Theater in Waynesboro to watch It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. It was not the movie any of us expected to see. But it was the movie I needed to experience.

I remember watching Mr. Rogers with my children. Martina thought he was a rock star. I have to admit, I didn’t quite understand what all the fuss was about. To begin with, the show was too quiet. There were no dancing clowns, pies in the face, and sophomoric jokes. There was very little humor, just this mild mannered man and his imaginary friends having an intimate conversation with my child. The   production was amateurish and the message seemed terribly naïve, yet the message molded my children.

When I was in my 30’s and our world was struggling with The Cold War, Mutually Assured Destruction, and AIDS, Mr. Rogers seemed……childish. Mr. Rogers endorsed the absurdity of a wolf lying down with a lamb. I let my kids watch the show because I wanted them to be neighborly toward their friends. But I knew no one was going to bring about World Peace with a hand puppet.

I announced my skepticism to a clergy friend who told me of an incident that had happened years ago in Pittsburg. One Monday afternoon, with the temperatures rising close to 100, some African-American children climbed the fence of a local country club and went for a swim. The club was closed on Monday’s in order to clean the pool. Residents were outraged, local authorities were notified, and the children were hauled off to jail. A week later Mr. Rogers sat in front of the children of America filling a little plastic swimming pool with water when his friend Officer Clemmons dropped by to visit. Together they took off their shoes and socks and placed their tired and hot feet into the pool. The swimming pool incident was never mentioned. Officer Clemmons, a regular on the show, was played by an African-American actor. I quickly became a fan of Fred Rogers.

Needless to say, Tuesday, with tissues in my pockets, I joyfully sat down in my theater seat. Little did I know Fred Rogers was about to interrupt a sermon that was already bustling in my head and ready to be placed on paper.

I will not spoil the film for you. I just noticed that every time Fred Rogers, on or off camera, met someone he began the conversation by telling them what a privilege it was to meet them. Now those might not be the exact words, but it is what God allowed me to hear. Mr. Rogers stopped everything he was doing and made the person in front of him the most important person in the world. I watched as people were transformed by this incredibly act of kindness and recognition. He listened, and by listening, made each person’s life unique. He would take a picture at the end of the conversation and then write their name down in order not to forget them. Each night Fred Rogers would open a book filled with names and he would mention each by name as he began his evening prayer.

Tuesday morning I was hopelessly raging against the machine that always seems controlled by a small privileged group of the economically elite. By Tuesday evening I was transformed by two gestures of righteous behavior. 

People come up to all the time and will ask me why God is not more involved in solving the problems of poverty, inequality, climate change, racism, sexism, and I could go on and on and on. I always give the same answer, “God created us to lead the way.”

The quick response is always, “I am doing the best I can. It is all those other people who are the problem.” I understand that response. We don’t live in a world where the wolf and lamb lie down together because everyone we disagree with is a wolf…………and vise versa.

So allow me be a bit naïve. How often do we say to someone, “It is a privilege to meet you”, and then listen to their story? How often do we go home and put their name in a book filled with folks for whom we will mention is our prayers? You might be thinking, “I don’t have a prayer book.” Sure you do. It is called the church directory.

Deb and I moved to Wilmington NC in 1981. We had one baby, one job and one car. Deb needed to work so we could survive. This meant we needed a second car. I got a call from Carl Ferger, a man who lived down the street. Carl had a proposal. He had a car which he could no longer drive. Carl’s body ws being destroyed by arthritis and he could not function without a wheel chair. Carl said I could have his car if once a month I would drive him to his doctor. The car was in worse shape than Carl but the deal was struck. Once a month I would lift him from his bed, carry him to the car, and take him to the doctor.

Needless to say I spent a lot of time with Carl. We would sit together at the hospital. Nurses and doctors would come up to speak to him. I was amazed that he knew everyone’s name. The conversation would quickly switch from his health to their lives. I watched as this crippled old man became a healer.

After six months I began to notice the folks who spoke to Carl were just not five or six regulars. I couldn’t keep up with all the folks that stopped to talk. Finally I asked Carl, “How do you keep up with all these people and their stories.”  His answer was, “I pray for them every night.

By that simple transition from, “It is a privilege to meet you” to “It is a privilege to pray for you”, miracles happen.

A kind and gentle man talked to America’s children telling them he had the privilege to be their neighbor. Did he make a difference?  Ask my daughter.

A kind and crippled man sat in a hospital healing folks with his ears. Did he make a difference? Folks in Wilmington still remember Carl Ferger.

The spirit of the Lord rested on both these men. It was a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and knowledge. It was a spirit that delighted in God. And what was their reward for such righteous behavior? They sat down as wolves and lambs and became friends.      Amen.