Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
Many congregations install officers on the first Sunday of the year. Congregations commission their workers and give them an opportunity to pledge their faithfulness in the performance of their duties. The leaders promise to work to the best of their abilities, with the help and to the glory of God. After all the appointed and elected workers are installed, maybe this would be a good time to commission every man, woman and child in the congregation to their role in God’s mission.
A story is told about a woman named Martha who, from the time she was widowed, spent several days each week at her church. Every Monday she would help the janitor straighten up from the weekend’s activities. She cheerfully assumed any forgotten chore. She picked up after Sunday school and Bible classes, put hymnals and Bibles back in place, washed overlooked coffee cups and pots, etc.
On Wednesday she answered the phone for her friend, the secretary, who was then free to post records, type, file or feed information into the church computer without interruption. Then on Friday, she returned to help fold bulletins, set out orders of service, put hymn numbers on the hymn boards, or anything else to ease the workload of the secretary or janitor. Of course, she came once more every Sunday morning for worship and Bible study.
This regular activity kept her mind sharp and her body relatively strong. Her eyesight, however, had always been weak and the years made it worse. It came to the point that even with her glasses, she could not see clearly beyond the reach of her arms. One day, while driving to the church, she almost hit a child on a bicycle. The experience terrified her, and she vowed not to drive again. She went to her friend in the church office and asked the cost of the church’s envelopes and stationery. She gathered up 500 sheets and envelopes, put the money into the petty cash fund, and asked for a printout of every member’s name, address, and date accepted into membership. Then she called her son for a ride home.
On the way, she stopped at the Post Office. Later that evening, after some calculating, she called her son again and sold her car to him for $3,000. Since it was worth twice that much, he refused at first, but she proposed that he repay the difference by driving her to church every Sunday as long as she was able. She added that all she needed was the interest on $3,000 to perform her new service to God and the church.
About two weeks later, the pastor noticed a member at worship whom he had not seen in quite a while. On the way out of the church, the man reached into his lapel pocket and pulled out the corner of an envelope. He smiled rather sheepishly and said, “Thanks for the reminder.” The pastor confessed that he knew nothing about the letter and asked to see it. It was handwritten in large flowing letters and a style the pastor recognized. It read:
Dear friend Tom,
We wanted to take this opportunity to thank God for you and to rejoice with you on the anniversary of your membership. It was on January 7, 1990, that you first became a member of our congregation. We continue to love you and pray that God will grant us many more years of Christian service, friendship, and fellowship in His kingdom.
It was signed, “Pastor Smith and all your fellow members at First Church. All 492 members of First Church received a similar letter that year. In fact, every member received one every year for the next six years — right up until the day that precious Martha went home to the God she loved so much and served so well.
In Sunday’s Epistle lesson, St. Paul reminded the Ephesians that they were chosen, dedicated, destined and called. These words all remind us that there is a direction for our lives that goes beyond our appointment books and work schedules. (How many calendars did you get just before Christmas?)
The four words Paul used are very common in theological circles, and not all that uncommon in most circles. Politicians and all kinds of products are said to be chosen — “the people’s choice.” Buildings, organizations and persons are all dedicated. People, usually the successful ones, are said to be fulfilling their destinies. Pastors and other certified ministers are officially called by congregations, agencies or by the church at large. Many members of professions, occupations and the arts are also said to be called. The big difference between the common references and Paul’s use of the words is in Who does the choosing, dedicating, destining and calling.
I have quotations from four relatively famous men who share the same first name. Each has something valuable to say. The first three emphasize our responsibility for who and what we are, and where we are going. William James said, “Man alone, of all creatures of earth, can change his own pattern. Man is the architect of his destiny. The greatest discovery in our generation is that human beings, by changing their thoughts, can change their lives.”
The rather famous words of William Ernest Henley are:
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced or cried aloud,
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed;
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll, I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Finally, William Jennings Bryan said, “Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”
As we begin a new year, we often set goals, make resolutions and plan accomplishments. Sometimes, we just dream or wish for what might be. Two women were waiting for an elevator in the Smithsonian Institute. One said, “I just returned from a vacation in the Bahamas.” “Oh?” asked the other, “Where are the Bahamas?” “I don’t really know,” said the first, “I just flew in and flew out of there over the weekend.” A lot of people will fly in and fly out of the year 2000 with the same indifference to their destinations.
The fourth quotation is from William Cullen Bryant. He introduces another dimension — a direction for the choices we make. While observing the phenomenon of migrating birds, he wrote:
He who from zone to zone
Guides through the boundless sky
Thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright.
St. Paul said that God chose us to be dedicated, to be without blemish, to be full of love. He destined us to be His children and called us to hope. Martin Luther once used an analogy that when we believe in God, it is like receiving a cure for a deadly disease. We are pronounced cured and the righteousness of Christ is ours. The residual effects of the illness are still there, however, and we are involved in a rehabilitation process.
When I had a serious heart attack in 1995, I received an experimental drug that breaks up and dissolves blood clots. The medication is now used regularly to help coronary and stroke victims. I received four injections of the stuff to the tune, I learned later, of $7,000 each. The pharmaceutical company reimbursed my insurance company for all of it, but I was shocked when I saw the bill. The fact that I am here, writing this, is proof that it worked wonders.
The “cure for a deadly disease” that Luther mentions was a great deal more expensive. The price was Christ’s coming to earth, His life, His torturous death on the cross and His resurrection. No one can reimburse that. It was and it is a wonderful gift of the love and grace from our amazing God. That price was paid for the eternal life and forgiveness of every person on earth. Most have never seen the bill. Most do not know how much God loves them. We must tell them.